Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Long Hikes

I've long been fascinated by the concept of the "long hike."  The original such concept in the U.S. is, of course, the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine.  My interest has inevitably been drawn to the two western, and more recent, accomplices in this category: the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from the Mexican border near Campo, California, to the edge of Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia (technically, of course, the trail ends at the border) and the Continental Divide Trail, which runs from the Mexican border at one of three southern termini in the New Mexican bootheel, to a northern terminus on the border of Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park (in Canada.)  The lengths of these trails is tremendous: the Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles of walking (not counting diversions to resupply or see scenic highlights off-trail, etc.) while the PCT is about 500 miles longer than that, and the CTD is about 400-500 miles longer still. 

As much as I am fascinated by this concept, I'm not really likely to ever hike one of these trails in its entirety, especially not as a single-season "thru-hike."  However, the trails have inspired me to consider rather lengthier backpacking trips, with possible resupply points and up to a few weeks off, to see certain highlights.  I'd love to hike the John Muir Trail, for example (220 or so miles), and the entire Sierra Nevada portion of the PCT (even longer, although picking specific start and end-points might be a bit tricky.)  I'd love to do a White Mountains traverse of a portion of the northern AT, including Franconia Ridge and the Presidentials.  I wouldn't mind doing the 100 Mile Wilderness portion of the AT as well. 

I was a bit disappointed, however, to see that the CDT takes a big westward "bite" just south of Helena and Butte, Montana, to ramble along the Idaho/Montana border, before turning sharply eastward through Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Wilderness to then traverse the Wind River Range.  This is sensible, of course, since the goal of the trail is to march as near as possible to the actual continental divide, but it misses some of the most beautiful scenery in the northern US Rockies to do so.  I'd love to traverse the Wind Rivers, but I'd also love to link such a traverse with a traverse of the Beartooths and the Absarokas.  To traverse, north to south, the Beartooth range in the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness, starting near Livingstone, Montana.  Get a friendly resupply somehow (maybe my wife waiting in the car, I suppose) on the Beartooth Highway, before plunging south to traverse north to south the North Absaroka Wilderness with another friendly resupply nearly a week later on the Greybull Highway, before plunging southward again to travese the Washakie and Teton wilderness boundary.

One more friendly resupply, and I do a Wind Rivers traverse, ending this epic, month-long (at least!) hike at the Bed & Breakfast in Atlantic City, Wyoming (an ambitious name, given that the latest census has the population of the place at 37.)  The southern portion of this hike; mostly the entire Wind Rivers traverse, would be the CDT (plus a few side-trips to see Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers.  It'd be ridiculous to go there and miss those spots.)  The traverse of the Beartooth is on existing trails, with a route that's already mapped out (again with a few scenic side-trips, no doubt.)  I'm not aware of any traverse of the Absaroka range that are done routinely enough to be named, labeled and widely available to the knowledge of hikers; I'd probably have to stitch such a traverse together myself from existing trails, and if necessary, do some cross-country bridging sections.

I'd also love to hike much of the area north of here; a traverse of Glacier and the Bob.  But I'm a bit ambivalent about the connection between the Bob and the Beartooths, and I don't want to create a route that takes me more than about a month or so to complete, so a Glacier/Bob Marshall traverse will have to remain a separate trip.  I'm also quite anxious to hike much of the Colorado Rockies, but the Great Divide Basin in southern Wyoming that separates the scenic Wind Rivers from equally scenic northern Colorado is a wasteland in terms of anything I'm curious to hike.


  1. I'd also love to hike a eastern "front range" of the Absaroka range traverse, though, hitting Francs Peak on the way. And that, I'm sure, I can stitch together from existing trails.

  2. Then again, on the concept of long hikes and traverses, I'm reminded of John Muir's sentiment, to which I'm sympathetic, that hiking is vastly inferior to "sauntering" through the wilderness. Leisurely do so, to enjoy the experience. He likened it to a pilgrimage, and made the unlikely etymological supposition that the origin of the word saunter came from the expression that pilgrims made when asked where they were going "a la sainte terre"--to the Holy Land.

    I don't see wilderness experiences as spiritual, because only the godless and the secular mistake emotion for spiritualism, due to their inexperience with the latter. But I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea of sauntering through the mountains. Doing the whole thing leisurely, and wringing the most enjoyment possible from the experience, rather than pushing oneself to meet arbitrary goals about how far to go or whatever.

    To me, there certainly is an element of defeating the purpose of hiking in the way that hiking, especially of long trails, is presented.

  3. John Muir, no doubt, got the idea of the etymology of saunter from Henry David Thoreau, who used the same notion in his book Walking. It's still dismissed as fanciful and far-fetched by any linguist, however, despite its literary appeal.

  4. Sorry, Walking isn't a book; I mis-typed that and can't edit it. It was an essay that he gave, with frequent revision, many times throughout the 1850s, and it was published posthumously in print for the first time in 1862.