It is known that every trail is different, but when it comes to CDT things go a little bit further. No wonder that unofficial motto of the CDT is Embrace the brutality. That sentence sums it up pretty well. But, let me be more specific.
While on PCT hikers can roam and hike for hours without looking at maps or apps on their mobile phones, CDT hikers don’t have that privilage. Unlike CDT, PCT is visable trail, you can clearly see it all the time, it is well maintained and quite logical. On other hand, CDT is practically without a foot path. You have to navigate thru wilderness and every 20 minutes or so check on you maps, compass or apps. This is a big difference and quite a big challenge for me, since I liked wondering thru landscapes not giving a shit what my map said. So, CDT is going to change some of my routines.
PCT is closer to the Pacific Ocean which affects weather conditions on that trail. CDT, on the other hand, is deep inland so rain, snow and afternoon storms with electric discharge are more common. Considering all of the above CDT is tougher on hiker so one needs better equipment, as well as experience and knowledge regarding how to stay dry, warm and how to get out of trouble if something unpredictable happens. For example, I used micro spikes all together for 30 minutes on PCT. I will probably need micro spikes for weeks when I’ll hike thru San Juan’s in Colorado, or Winds range in Wyoming on CDT. Some hikers even recommend crampons, but I am going to decide about that once I see how big be the snow pack will be in 2018.
There are lots of hikers on PCT, at least in the beginning or near trail heads, National Parks or roads. CDT is more remote and it is natural that there are not many people out there. CDT is more brutal in many ways so not many people find it fun to hike. On PCT I’ve met people every day…at least few of them. On CDT hiker can go for days without seeing anybody….accept maybe mountain lions or bears. So, loneliness is big thing and one should be prepared for constant solitude. Even if hiker meets another hiker it is really tough to stay together due to the fact that everybody has a different pace and once you separate it is likely you will not run into each other for a long time…or even ever again. Remember – no visible trail here – most of the time everybody cuts his own path across wilderness.
Before PCT my main fear regarding animals were black bears. Once I’ve encountered them, spent a lot of time in their habitat and learned important lessons regarding their behavior I can say I don’t fear them anymore. Moreover, I like them better. I think it will be the same thing with grizzly bears, but until I finish this grizzly school my fear is justified. Grizzly is essentially bigger than black bear and as far as I know he can be more aggressive. So, there should be a few changes in daily routines when hiking in grizzly country: be loud, don’t eat near the place you sleep, store your food properly (hang it on a tree) and carry a pepper spray.
All summed up you get the idea why one needs to keep constant focus when hiking CDT. There is a lot of work to be done and things to keep in mind all day long. Keeping constant focus is tiresome, but that’s the only way to hike this trail. I think hiker can adapt to new situations and make some of these things to be more like routine, just like some other things were annoying on PCT, but later on they’ve became routines. In that case constant focus can become casual focus.
All in all, CDT is not PCT and vice versa. People die on thru hikes (already two hikers died on PCT in 2017. ), so extreme caution and preparation is essential for a safe thru hike. I will give my best to do just that!!!!!