Rohan on the CDT


Rohan on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)

Chris Townsend

cdt_mappThree years after completing the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) I set out on a longer and more adventurous undertaking, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which runs for 3,100 miles down the Rocky Mountains from the Canadian border to Mexico. Back in 1985 there really wasn’t much of an actual trail and few people had hiked the route, making it a serious and exciting venture. The number of Continental Divide Trail signs I saw on the 51/2 month 3,100 mile walk could be counted on one hand. The route was a mix of trails, old dirt roads and long cross country sections. Sometimes I was route finding in dense forests on steep mountainsides, at others treading narrow rock ridges high above the forest. For the last 500 miles in New Mexico, where the Rocky Mountains dwindle away I was mostly in open desert country with little shelter and across which swept strong dusty winds. Overall the weather on the CDT is wetter, cooler and stormier than on the PCT. For several weeks in the Colorado Rockies and then again for the last week in the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico I had heavy snowfalls to contend with while throughout the walk thunderstorms were a hazard. I learnt how quickly I could run with a heavy pack when caught in the open with lightning flashing all around! Even more than on the PCT my clothing needed to be capable of dealing with a huge range of conditions including freezing cold, hot sun, high winds and heavy rain. Added to the weather was the fact that the first 1,000 miles or so was in grizzly bear country, which meant not cooking or storing food in my tent, regardless of the weather. I carried a small tarp to erect as a cooking shelter in rain but was dependant on my clothes to keep me warm. I couldn’t rely on my tent or sleeping bag for warmth. You really don’t want your sleeping bag to smell of food in grizzly country!

In the years between my PCT and CDT walks Rohan had developed new designs and introduced new materials, most noticeably a light, thin synthetic fill for insulated garments. Because Rohan didn’t make warm clothing in 1982 I’d carried a pile jacket and a down vest on the PCT. On the CDT I took Rohan’s new synthetic insulated Sohao Jacket and Wild Vest, a combination that was lighter and more compact than the PCT clothing and just as warm. As the garments were shelled with polycotton they were also windproof, unlike the pile jacket, and quick drying and reasonably warm when wet, unlike the down vest. These properties were important in the Rockies, especially when cooking and eating outside. Worn together the two synthetic tops kept me warm in below freezing weather whilst I was sitting outside waiting for the dinner to cook with no need to protect them from wind or rain.  Today similar garments are found in every outdoor shop. It’s only in the last decade they’ve become popular though, twenty years after Rohan first made them.

As on the PCT I wore a wicking Cool T throughout the walk but with a new wicking shirt called the Jekyll over it in cooler weather and the polycotton Moving On windshirt when it was breezy. Only in very cold weather did I walk in the Sohao. On my legs I wore Shorts or Bags, depending on the temperature and the mosquitoes, while in rain I wore a new Rohan Gore-Tex top called the Master Jacket. This set of clothing was light and compact and gave me a variety of combinations for different weather conditions. I was never too cold, too hot or wet so it all worked well. It all proved durable and lasted the whole rough and rugged walk.

The CDT was a wilderness adventure, a much wilder and more arduous walk than the CDT. But the reward was months spent in spectacular mountain country from the snowy peaks of Glacier National Park to the spouting geysers and bubbling mud pots of Yellowstone and the red desert cliffs of New Mexico. The walk was a magnificent time of my life and one I will never forget. I came back to magazine editing and writing and the direction of my life was set. Rohan was an essential part of that, both with the clothing and the encouragement and support of Paul and Sarah Howcroft. I will never forget them either.

Rohan clothing used on the CDT with weights in ounces.

Cool T 4oz
Jekyll Shirt 9oz
Shorts 7oz
Bags 12oz
Moving On II 10oz
Sohao Jacket 24oz
Wild Vest 14oz
Master Jacket (Gore-Tex) 21oz

Photos : Chris Townsend in early Rohan Clothing 1979 – 1985

Chris Townsend.

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