CDT: NOBO vs. SOBO

Winter 2020. I was preparing to hike the Continental Divide Trail. I had all my gear from my 2019 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, and I had replaced a few items to get my pack weight a little lower while still having everything I’d need to stay warm on those high elevation nights. I went to the American Long Distance Hiking Association ruck in Golden, Colorado, and attended the break out session on the CDT. I was positive I was going to hike that trail, that year, Northbound, or Nobo, and I was going to start my hike sometime in late April. 

Then Covid happened. It happened to me at the beginning of March. I caught it early–sore throat, coughing so hard I thought my head would explode, trouble breathing. I was out of commission for almost three weeks. As I slowly started to feel healthy again, the world got crazier, and lockdown began. I wasn’t hiking the CDT this year. I was a Nogo. 

One year later I’m planning a CDT hike again. I still have all that gear from last year, and I’ve been running a lot to ensure I’m in great shape to cruise those long New Mexico desert sections.

But of course, I’ve been running too much. Or really, I think I ran on a bad ankle too soon after spraining it during a snow storm run. And, after not rehabbing my ankle properly, I was running all kinds of wonky! Well now I’ve strained or torn at least one of my hip flexor muscles, possibly more than one, and I haven’t been able to run without pain going on two months now. 

A bit of good news, though. I was worried I had given myself a Labral tear, which requires surgery, but have since mostly ruled that out after seeing a physical therapist. My PT says I should start to see improvements in a couple weeks, so I could eke out a Nobo hike still, maybe? Maybe not.

I was feeling pretty down about the prospects of my CDT plans last night, so I did what all dirtbags do and went to youtube to watch hiking videos. I ended up watching this video from Dan Stenziano, who hiked the CDT in 2019, the year I hiked the PCT. Dan hiked through Colorado in June, I believe he was in Pagosa Springs right around the beginning of June. This is almost certainly when I would be getting to Colorado if I were to hike Nobo. Granted, 2019 was a very high snow year, but he looked miserable backpacking across Colorado that early in the summer. Even though this year is shaping up to be an average year for snowpack, I don’t think I would be getting to Colorado any later than Mid-June, which would mean the high elevation stuff would definitely still look like this.

This photo was taken just east of the CDT, in Indian Peaks Wilderness, on June 12th, 2020. We started seeing a lot of snow at 9,000 feet that day and it continued until we turned around at the 12000 foot summit. Last year was an average to slightly below average snow year, too. It had been close to 100 degrees every day on the front range so I figured the snow would be more melted out than it was. Every June I think the snow will be more melted out than it is here in Colorado, only to be reminded of how different it is at higher elevation…

So I can’t run, I can’t even walk more than a few miles without hip pain, I don’t really like postholing for miles (who does though, really?), and oh yeah, the pandemic is still happening. Maybe Southbound is the better way this year. 

One thing I’ve learned from thru-hiking is that you have to be flexible. On the PCT, when I got to the south Sierras in early June there was so much snow starting at (you guessed it) 9,000 feet, that I decided to flip up to the Canadian border and hike the rest of the trail as a Sobo. Again, that was a high snow year, and in another year I likely would have hiked the whole trail northbound with only a couple weeks of cold, wet feet. But, I still think hiking through big mountains when they aren’t covered in snow and ice is more fun! 

And who can argue with this view? 

My PCT Sierras experience wouldn’t have looked like this had I hiked it Nobo. 

Thru-hiking taught me to remain flexible, and in the year that we’ve all had that is a valuable lesson. Even before you start your next adventure life might throw a wrench into your plans. It did for me, and I’m ready to shift gears if I have to, or just decide to. 

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