Saturday 11 January 2020

35 years ago I was planning my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike

Thirety-five years ago I was preparing for the longest walk I've ever undertaken, the 3,100 mile (5,000km) Continental Divide Trail that runs from Canada to Mexico down the Rocky Mountains. In 1985 this trail was in its infancy. There was no official route, virtually no waymarking, in many places no actual trail. Although there were guidebooks to a suggested route for the first 2,000 miles (3,200km) USGS topo maps were essential for navigation and I amassed dozens of these. Of course there were no GPS units, no mapping apps, no websites, no smartphones. No digital anything.

The Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Northern Montana

At the time I was writing regularly for a long-gone outdoor magazine called Footloose and I arranged to send reports, hand-written of course, during my walk, along with rolls of  transparency films, whenever I reached a town. As the publishing schedule of the monthly magazine meant contents were decided well in advance it took a while for anything to appear. I began the walk in June, the first report appeared in the September issue. I finished in November, the final report was in the February 1986 issue. A long way from updating online blogs and social media as you go along!


I can't imagine now setting out on such a walk with so little information. Or on one where I was completely out of touch for weeks at a time. The world has changed. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do walks like this before electronic digital technology came along. Of course you can still choose to do walks in this way but it's different when you don't have to. In 1985 there was no choice.

Desert camp in New Mexico

One aspect of backpacking and long-distance walking that hasn't changed is an interest in gear. I'd forgotten I also sent back reports on how my gear was performing until I looked through old copies of Footloose for this piece. From the piece to the left I see that my Rohan clothing, Svea 123 stove, Field & Trek sleeping bag, Therm-A-Rest mat, huge 125-litre Karrimor pack and New Balance shoes were all doing well. Not so my Wintergear tent whose poles were breaking - perhaps after the 70mph winds I mention! - or my Meindl boots, whose soles were coming off. I see too that I was very impressed with a Rock & Run Hipsac. Using a front pack like this has only recently come back into favour. Maybe I was ahead of my time!

Later in the year I'll be posting more photos from the trip. I just have to get round to scanning them. Until then here's one from the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana, one of the toughest sections.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see the old gear and photos. I still have and use a sky blue color down sleeping bag that I bought at some small outdoor store in Boulder Colorado about 1973. Works great, warm and just 1 or 2 small patches. I used it everywhere.....camping,backpacking,sleepovers,concerts and in the back of my truck. Can't remember the company, the tag is long worn off, but the company is out of business. Too bad it could have been a good advertisement for their products.