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The CDT vs. PCT: Comparing Thru-Hikes

The CDT vs. PCT: Comparing Thru-Hikes

We asked Scribe how the CDT compares to her previous thru-hike of the PCT: What was the hardest part of your last hike and was it as hard this time around? How does the terrain compare? Are there things you felt more prepared for with this hike?


My first thought upon reading this month's prompt: Bones! There are SO MANY bones! But I don't think that is what you're going for so I will leave that for a blog entry of its own!! Honestly though, this hike has been worlds apart from my thru hike of the PCT.  The trail itself has a very different feel, the people are different, and I am a different hiker than I was on my last journey. This hike has been such a unique experience from any of my other hikes and I am so grateful for it. 

Notably, the PCT is graded for horses, although there are definitely places where it doesn't quite feel that way. The CDT however, doesn't care how many legs you might have and often sends you straight up (or straight down) some very steep, very sketchy routes. There are much farther stretches between towns, the hitches are often longer, and the water carries in New Mexico are definitely more challenging than those in SoCal. While the PCT is incredibly well marked, the CDT often disappears, fading to nothing, getting lost in unmaintained blowdowns or burns, or getting indistinguishably tangled in dirt roads and cow paths. Alternates and optional routes can be fantastic or lackluster, and the variability and decision making is definitely unique to the CDT. Lastly, while the Sierras are high in elevation, exposed, and often full of snow, they only make up a couple hundred miles on the PCT. On the CDT, nearly the entire state of Colorado is above 10,000' elevation, with multiple exposed ranges and potential for snow and storms every step of the way.

The hikers here on the CDT are definitely a bit different than those I met on the PCT, mainly because most of them are highly experienced hikers. On the PCT, most people were attempting their first thru-hike (sometimes their first backpacking trip!) and many people were quite young, treating the trail as a grand vacation and months-long party. Out here, the average hiker is a little older, a bit more mature and almost everyone is going for their triple crown. They don't draw together out of "need" for trail family out here the way they do on the PCT, and with so many route options, everyone gets shuffled regularly, putting you with different people almost every week. "Hike your own hike" is less of a mantra than on the PCT and more just a way of life. 

Lastly, I feel like a totally different hiker on this trip. I feel physically more capable, but also significantly more confident in my skills and abilities in the backcountry. This trail has taught me about rationing, decision making and navigation in a way that the PCT could never dream of, and I am so grateful for it. I have learned new tricks from more experienced hikers and integrated new gear into my kit. 

Overall, this is such a wildly different experience than my last hike. This trail is both brutal and exhilarating, with endless options and challenges, but it is always teaching and constantly bringing new people into my experience. I am so grateful to be out here living the CDT, meeting these wonderful humans and honing my skills in the process. Also, in all seriousness, there really are a LOT of bones!!

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