The trail


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The Continental Divide Trail (also known as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail) is an American hiking, riding and mountain-bike trail that follows the mountainous crests of the Continental Divide, along the Rocky Mountains, which connects the Mexican and Canadian borders. Covering 2,500 to 3,000 miles (depending on the route) it crosses five US states: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.  The highest point, Grays Peak in Colorado, is at 14,270 feet. The lowest point is at Columbus, New Mexico, at 3,900 feet. The CDT is one of the eight National Scenic Trails in the National Trails System, which includes all of the major US hiking trails.  

The Continental Divide is a drainage divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, along the backbone of the Rockies. On one side of the divide, all of the water generated from snowfall joins rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while on the other side they flow into the Pacific Ocean. Geographically, this line goes north as far as Alaska, and Mexico to the south. The Andes continue the dividing line right down through South America.

Each year, about two dozen trekkers attempt to cover the entire CDT trail, setting out from north or south; they are called “thru-hikers”. The entire hike takes an average 6 months, covering around 20 miles each day for 6 days out of 7. I intended to cover as much ground as I could, depending on the circumstances, the opportunities, and the state of my mule and myself… The trekkers and volunteers who maintain the long trails form a real community with their own codes, trail names (nicknames), routines and a great deal of support and sympathy from the public. My trail name turned out to be “French Smile”.




I started walking in the south of the desert state of New Mexico, on a northern course towards the Canadian border. The trail goes through all kinds of different landscapes, ranging from the New Mexican Desert to the great plains of Wyoming, and including mountains, lakes, valleys and gorges. The one thing they all have in common is that they are immense (and beautiful).

To find my way, I used a set of annotated hiking maps by Jonathan Ley, plus maps published by the Adventure Cycling Association. A Garmin GPS (Oregon 450) was often useful for working out my position in wide open spaces, where other walkers are rare and paths are not always well maintained. I loaded it with the maps available for the five states I was crossing, and the CDT and Great Divide waypoints.