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Traveler's Journal: A 1,600-mile hike along America's backbone
by Dick “Giraffe” Pattee
For the Sequim Gazette
Water … such a vital substance. Water is absolutely necessary to sustain all life on Earth. Without it we would perish in a very short time. And yet, most of us in the Pacific Northwest take water for granted.
I found myself constantly thinking about water as I hiked along the arid Continental Divide Trail in southern New Mexico. As I walked toward the Mexican border it became increasingly difficult to find potable water. It was fall 2012, seven years into an extended drought.
The last flowing water was a tiny trickle aptly named Mud Spring and I still had 122 miles to walk before I reached the border.
With nothing but windmills and cattle tanks from here south, my standards for what was “potable” were dropping with every dusty mile.
Water is a good thing. But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Last September Boulder, Colo., received a year’s worth of rainfall in just two days, causing a 500-year flood. I was hiking on the High Divide only 40 miles from Boulder during that big flood. My trail was a river; my sodden feet and hands were blocks of ice. Our nation is a land of great contrast!
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) is by many measures the toughest of our country’s long-distance trails. Traveling a span of more than 3,000 miles, the CDT winds its way high along America’s backbone. It starts at the Mexican border in the “boot heel” of southern New Mexico. It travels north through the Land of Enchantment, strides along the highest ridge lines and alpine meadows of the Colorado Rockies and wanders among the deserts and mountains of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
The trail comes to an end along the scenic shoreline of Waterton Lake, Alberta, just north of Glacier National Park.
Much of the CDT is not complete. At times the so-called “trail” is nothing more than a dotted line on a map. I found myself weaving between cactus and sagebrush, walking along rocky ridge lines marked only with an occasional stone cairn and following obscure jeep roads and four-wheeler tracks.
Losing the trail was a near daily experience. In a typical year only a few dozen hardy souls complete the whole journey from Canada to Mexico.
During my first eight weeks of hiking the CDT I encountered exactly two other people who were doing the same thing. If the Pacific Crest Trail is the crown jewel of long distance trails, the CDT is a diamond in the rough!
Perhaps you’re curious about the gear involved with lightweight backpacking and the logistics of long distance hiking. Perhaps you’d enjoy spending an hour experiencing the spectacular natural beauty and diversity of the high Rocky Mountains.
Please join me as I share the joys and tribulations of my 1,600-mile journey along the Continental Divide.
About the presenter:
Dick Pattee is an avid cyclist, backpacker, mountain climber and occasional backcountry skier. He has climbed Mount Olympus, most of the Cascade volcanoes, and all 54 of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. He hiked the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico in 2010. Dick and his wife, Heidi, have toured extensively by bicycle throughout the U.S. and Canada. They are trail adopters on the Olympic Discovery Trail, help build and maintain the ODT Adventure Route west of Port Angeles, and are puppy sitters for the local chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind. They have enjoyed living in Sequim since 2001.
About the presentations:
Traveler’s Journal is a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition. All of the money raised is used to buy project supplies and food for volunteers working on Olympic Discovery Trail projects.
Shows are each Thursday in February and March and start at 7 P.M. in the Sequim High School cafeteria at 601 N. Sequim Ave. The cafeteria benches are hard and people should bring their own cushions.
Suggested donation is $5 for adults. Students 18 and under are welcome for free.
One selected photo enlargement will be given away each week as a door prize. Creative Framing is donating the matting and shrink-wrapping of the door prize.
Call Dave Shreffler at 683-1734 for more information.