Thursday, September 5, 2013

Navigating the CDT

Things are changing rapidly on the CDT, when it comes to navigation. But if I knew what I know now, I would have done things a bit different. But before I go into what I would have done, I will explain a bit of history on the CDT.

First there was Jim Wolf, who created, turn by turn guide books. These were basically what everyone used until recent times.

Then came Jonathen Ley, whom created a map set that he put on CD, that he took from US Topos. For 10 years or so, he has provided a caption on each map page that had important information regarding things such as water, alternate routes, resupply and much more. He drew in the trail, and its alternates, relatively accurate and it became the way of choice, by most everyone who hiked the CDT.

Then came Jerry Brown, who was hired by the Forest Service to map out the CDT with a GPS. The Forest Service dictated where the trail is, where it is planned, whether or not it is actually there. Jerry provided the Way Points, and created a map set, in book form that he sells for roughly $200 [for all four states]. Jerry also sells a Way Point card for $20, that has all the Way Points that match his maps.

Now if you wanted to hike the so called "official route" that the FS provided Jerry, you would really do fine with a GPS, his card, and his map books.
But, for me, and most everyone who has hiked the CDT, the so called "official route" is nothing more than the words that call it that. The spirit of the CDT, is the fact that you have a choice of routes, and the freedom to hike them.
This year there were a couple of hikers who thought they were being purist, by hiking this so called "official route". No offense to them, but really if they thought it was something more than their choice of route, more power to them, but they are in a world of their own. Every year the route will change, and until there is a actual trail, 100% of the way and a corridor is set aside and protected, there is no official route.

Now Jerry's Maps, and Way Points are very accurate, as far staying on this route. And this route is the preferred route for more than 80% of the trail. So for me, I would use his Maps again, as well as his mini SD card, for the Way Points.

Jonathen Ley maps are also very resourceful. I knew right off the bat that I was going to venture off the beaten path, and experience sites and such. JL maps provided the information I needed to do this. I also knew I would return some day, so I was keeping a mental log, where I would go next time.
In the beginning [New Mexico], the info that JL provided, was crucial. I left late, and a lot of water sources were dry. JL maps and captions provided that much needed info, while the JB maps would say "water" at a dry creek bed, not just a few times, but many times.

When it came to the first real big route choice, [Black Mountains, or Gila River], I needed the JL maps to take the Gila. This is where the FS directs the trail, onto the actual divide [Black Mountain Route], but with no consideration to the needs of hikers [water]. There are very long stretches [60+ miles] that have no water. I was not going to plan water caching like those who did it. The Gila was my choice, for more reasons than just water. So having the JL maps was and would still be a must for me.

Now, this is how the trail goes the entire way. JL maps provide info for a lot of excellent alternates, such as peak bagging, side trips, historic areas and much much more. JB maps provide Way Points for accurate pin pointing where you are, and where you want to be when you are on that particular route.

Now for the dirt... JL maps are not as accurate as JB maps [as far as where the trail is for most parts]. But JL will tell you where the most desirable route is, with his red route. JB will direct you into a bush whacking, swamp walking disaster, from time to time, because he does not show where the trail has not been built yet. That can be a real bummer, when your trying to make town before the PO closes for the weekend, or you are low on food and or water. So the best thing to do, is just compare the red route, to the JB maps, each morning so you do not find yourself in these situations.

As far as a GPS, I was really happy with the Garmin Etrex 20. It is light, small, and cheap. I also walked all of New Mexico, with one set of batteries. I would use a lanyard and put it in my shirt pocket. I loss mine this year, and was lucky to receive it, 300 miles later, by another hiker who found it. So the lanyard would have prevented this. I would put the Garmin 100k maps in the device. I would put all alternates and Red Routes on SD cards, as well as the JB mini SD.

I would also use the JB maps in entire for most of all my routes, as well as  carry the JL maps, printed double sided, on 11x17 size paper. I also would carry the Data Pages that Beacon made and put up on the internet [free]. Most of the time, I just used his pages and my GPS all day.

The one thing I would do different, is have all the JL maps put in my smart phone with all the info.
Besides all this, I would carry Yogi's Handbook, with pictures of important pages in my phone.
With all of this info, you can change your mind with routes, resupply and anything else that comes up [like wild fires].

 I had this happen twice. I began to fall behind schedule, and had to take the Anaconda Route. I also did not have a passport in my last box, so I had to take the Chief Mountain Route.

Because of all the info I carried, I did many side trips, and saw a lot of things that I would not have, if I just had JB maps. But, because I had the JB maps, and SD card, as well as the data pages Beacon made, I was able to have a relatively quick pace, with navigational ease. The week or so I had without my GPS was much slower and harder.

          Another related note:  I was in the PCT community, when the guide books were the only source of info. I watched it go from a relitively unmarked trail, with low quality maps, to the easy to follow, well mapped trail it is today. I saw several new map and data people come and go.

The CDT is on its way to becoming this kind of trail. I saw many, many miles of new trail and signage. Eventually it will be 100% done, and a lot of these alternates will be a thing of the past. With this thought in mind, the so called "official route" will be altered as well, to accommodate the needs of the Forest Service, private, and public lands.  It is inevitable, as we gain a set aside corridor.

Just like the PCT, the CDT will eventually have another form of Navigation, Such as Half Mile's for the PCT. As more and more people hike the trail, there will become more and more info, free, and or built on donations. Although I would not want to, because I like data, several people are hiking with nothing more than the JL maps and info on their smart phone.

Next year we will see a lot more people using the JL maps and data on smart phones. The phone of choice would be the Samson Galaxy due to being able to access the GPS while on airplane mode.