This summer, ITA crew leader and former employee Clay Jacobson will be hiking the Continental Divide Trail starting north and going south. The CDT spans over 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico and crosses through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. We’re happy to be following Clay along his journey and will be posting his updates from the trail! You can see all of Clay’s blog posts here.
Atlantic City, WY> Rawlins, WY> Steamboat Springs, CO (279 miles)
Total miles: 1539
After enjoying my 2nd family style breakfast at Wild Bill’s Hotel in Atlantic City, I met back up with Quality and we headed out into the Great Basin. The desert greeted us with high winds blowing in cold off the Great Northern Plains. We crossed vast open expanses of sage brush, crossing the Oregon Trail and the California cut-off… proving that alternates have been a thing long before the CDT.
At a bridge over the Sweetwater river, about 16 miles in, we decided that now that the terrain had leveled out, it was time to stress test the old legs with a 50 mile day. With the sun setting over the desert, we set off on an all nighter. Our headlamps were outshined by the abundance of stars overhead, twinkling in the complete blackness of the sky. Soon the full moon rose and filled the shallow desert valleys with light. We trudged on through the night, hiking from one cattle trough to the next, the only water sources along this stretch.
Climbing to some low ridges, the first light of dawn appeared on the horizon as we broke the 40 mile mark. Low, misty clouds started blowing in over the ridge. At this point, I realized that my warmest jacket had fallen off my pack during the night. Wearing only my rain jacket, the cold wind cut right through my layers. Hiking was my main source of warmth. At mile 47, I admitted defeat and crawled into my tent. Didn’t quite make 50 but it was a new PR for me. I slept the rest of the day and through the night, overall feeling pretty good. I woke the next morning and hiked another 31 in between scattered thunderstorms, again hiking late into the night.
One more 27 mile day put me within striking distance of Rawlins. On the way into town I walked right by a herd of about 25 elk with one of the biggest bulls I have seen guarding over them. They had congregated on the trail and moved only slightly up the hill to let me pass. The big bull even stood up on a ridge and posed for a few pictures as I went by. Eventually I reached pavement and hiked into town passed the historic Rawlins Frontier Prison.
In town I raced to the post office and picked up a box from home containing my down jacket and insulated pants. Heck yeah! (Thank you Danny!) I took a nice walk through downtown and checked into an Econolodge. Rawlins is an old railroad town that now has a bit of a boom and bust relationship with the drilling industry. There are lots of hotels and temporary housing for the influx of workers, but the town remains somewhat economically depressed. Next to my hotel there were another 4 hotels all abandoned and sitting vacant. Quality and I met up with a Backcountry Horseman named Judy who had contacted us along the way. We gave her a call and she joined us for a great Mexican lunch, and later she joined us down at the old Rifleman’s Bar, right down on the railyard, for a few more Coronas.
The next day we wandered back out into the desert to cross the last bit of the Great Basin. After 2 days of road walking, we started to climb back up into the mountains. The tops of the desert bluffs began to show signs of bright yellow aspens which soon gave way to pines and the Sierra Madre Mountains. We opted to skip the trail town of Encampment but I was able to get a weather report from the pass above town: 3-4 days of rain and freezing temperatures. The weather held out for two days as we made our way South, crossing the border into Colorado.
Getting to Colorado felt like a day that would never come! It took 3 months of hiking to get here, and it feels like we have covered so many miles. It is hard to believe I’m just a little more than half way through, still a lot of miles left to hike, with the first heavy snowfall looming closer and closer. Hiking into Colorado, the dry basin instantly transitioned into grand peaks with electric fall colors. The weather also quickly changed. Our first day in Colorado we woke to torrents of rain. After about 12 miles of hiking we were soaked. Arriving at the Seedhouse Campground, we sheltered up in a privy and had some lunch. The trail continued into the Mount Zirkel wilderness and climbed up to 12,000 feet. We figured this was not the place we wanted to go, since we were already pretty wet. Checking the maps, we headed down the Elk River instead, arriving about 630pm in Clark, CO.
Clark consists of the Clark Country Store and that’s about it. We tried and failed to find some kind of lodging nearby and set off in the rain down the highway as the sun was going down. A few miles outside of town we set up camp in a roadside stand of cottonwoods. Soggy and cold, we slept to the sound of traffic driving by in the rain.
In the morning, we set off down the highway, 19 miles to Steamboat. The rain kept up, and it wasn’t five minutes before somebody pulled over to offer us a ride to town. Quality jumped in the truck and I continued walking. Having maintained a continuous footpath from Canada, I wanted to keep it going despite the bad weather. After about 10 miles of speed hiking in the rain, I hear some shouting coming from a house across the street.
“Hey buddy, you want a burrito and a beer?!” Well, don’t mind if I do! I ran across the street and met Tim and Lisa. They were hosting an end of the season farm party for all their friends. They had a pig roasting over a fire, a goat in the smoker, and 3 kegs. This was the stuff hiker dreams are made of. I dried out by the fire, ate until I was about to pop, and met a lot of great people from the Steamboat area. A gal named Mona invited me to stay with her after the party and she sternly insisted I shower and do my laundry! I got to relax that morning, enjoying Mona’s beautiful horse ranch before hiking the final miles into town.
I’m now staying with a great trail angel in Steamboat Springs. It is an amazing town full of life and a major change from the Montana/Idaho/Wyoming rural towns we have grown used to. There is great food, fun shops, and happy people. Quality and I got to watch a Broncos game with some locals down at the Old Town Pub and everyone was so positive and kind, even though they lost to their rivals the Raiders. I replaced my shoes, shorts, jacket, and sleeping pad and am heading out geared up for the cold weather.
Next stops will be Grand Lake and then on to Denver. I will be hiking solo from here on out, as Quality is off to see one of his favorite bands at Red Rocks. I’ve got some exciting meet ups planned ahead though, so hopefully I can use those times to stay out of the weather. Wish me luck!
Also, I received some truly horrifying news from home so I am thinking about all my friends and loved ones back in Idaho a lot these days. Hope everyone stays safe and knows that you are loved.
Clay ‘Woodward’ Jacobson
Good luck with winter arriving. Stay safe.
That’s a great story by Clay. I did some backpacking myself but had to stop because of arthritis. Reading this brings back my own memories and how it felt to be out there in the middle of nowhere, trudging along. I loved it. I must say that Clay is a hiking machine. Wow! I know his parents, and I’m sure they’re quite proud of their son!