CDT Thru Hike: Great Divide Basin

“The basin,” the CDT section through Southern Wyoming dreaded by many hikers. Some of the most exposed miles and longest water carries on trail. Personally, I was kind of looking forward to going through it. The trail had felt a little softer than we expected and we were both feeling ready for a fresh set of challenges.

Heading south, the basin miles are an almost unreal contrast to the previous section through the Wind River Range. There’s very little transition between the two landscapes, too. Within a day you can go from towering peaks to barren desert. This is also a section that’s almost entirely road walking.

In all honesty, there’s not a whole lot to show about our days trekking through here. These were miles that offered little variety and blended together. There were a few highlights though, like crossing the Oregon and California trails. We hadn’t realized that we’d be crossing those two trails until we came across the markers. The primary hiking app we use for navigation allows user comments on the waypoints. Many of us out here are in the generation that grew up playing the Oregon Trail computer game, and it showed in the comments on the waypoint for these markers. Hikers were leaving comments making up ailments, decisions, etc in the style of the game, and reading through those as we walked provided a much needed laugh to break up the day.

Two of the biggest challenges through the basin are the exposure and the long water carries. I don’t have pictures of the water sources we had to rely on (some were pretty gross), but the exposure is pretty obvious in every picture. One of the most mentally challenging days was a day we woke up to a nearly 30 mile straight shot down yet another dirt road. This was a day the road felt never-ending, it seemed no matter how long we walked we didn’t make any progress. The most excitement we had all morning was following free range cattle along the road.

Our view for close to 30 miles

Partway through the basin the trail brings hikers right through the town of Rawlins, WY. We hadn’t planned on spending a night in town, but by the time we got there we were so exhausted and dehydrated we welcomed the opportunity to sleep in an air conditioned room with unlimited access to fresh, clean water. This was also where I finally swapped out a pair of shoes I probably should have replaced a few hundred miles sooner.

Leaving Rawlins, we continued along more dirt roads for a few more days. One of these days we were hit with heavy rain, which turned the road into what you might hear hikers refer to as “peanut butter mud.” This mud is incredibly difficult to walk through, as it creates a slick coating to the hardened dirt underneath. It’s so thick it nearly pulled our shoes off with each step, and it stuck to our shoes so badly it easily added several pounds to each foot. After slogging through this mud for the better part of our 30 mile day, we finally reached the point where all we could do was laugh at how ridiculous it was to be out in this.

Almost just as abruptly as we’d entered the basin, we were out of it. Our last day in the desert was as hot and exposed and seemingly never ending as all the others, until all of a sudden we found ourselves approaching a wall of trees, and just like that we were back in a forest. Having gone through this section now, I understand why people don’t like it. For us, it wasn’t the most interesting section, for sure, but it was incredible to walk through such contrasting landscapes in such a short amount of time. We were thankful for the new challenges and the renewed appreciation for the high peaks and green forests we’d begun taking for granted.

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