Steamboat ski instructor finds company during treacherous summer on the Continental Divide Trail
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — This year’s snowfall only attracts the most stubborn to the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail.
Katie Mooradian, a Steamboat Resort ski instructor, figured it was convenient since she was living in the area to hike the CDT.
“I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017,” Mooradian said. “And once you hike one of the long trails in America some people start working on the Triple Crown: Pacific Crest (Trail), CDT and AT.”
She’s one of the few who dare take on the challenge this year, alongside her hiking buddy, Caroline Himbert, a German Ph.D. student in population health sciences at the University of Utah.
Both carry over their trail names from their previous trips. Mooradian “Grouch” got caught in a rainstorm in North Carolina, wrapping herself in a garbage bag and emergency blanket. She likened the scenario to Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. Himbert “Earth Cake” simply struggled with her English on the PCT, calling earthquakes “earth cakes” before people cared to correct her.
The two found each other on Day 3 of the CDT when Himbert somehow convinced Mooradian to unplug the headphones from her podcast to socialize.
“She did not want to talk to me at all,” Himbert said. “I thought I was rather a burden. I was hanging with a guy for a day because we camped at the same spot and then she stayed with us. We all shared a hotel room in, then we hiked out together. We just both get along real well, like, how can we still have topics to talk about?”
The two complement each other nicely. Himbert spends most of her time in the desert of Utah, has hiked the PCT and considers herself a morning person. Mooradian, a snow-seeking, backcountry skier, prefers the evenings and has a more reserved personality.
It was almost fate: Mooradian helps Himbert navigate the snowy obstacles, while Himbert prepares for the upcoming desert double marathon in Wyoming. Mooradian also studied psychology and German studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, so she can speak to Himbert in two languages.
Unlike the PCT or AT, it’s harder to find people to hike with on the CDT, especially during a season where increased avalanche danger forced other hikers to detour or “flip” their journey other directions before completing the trail. They’ll go days seeing nobody at all.
“The complete isolation can be a little bit hard,” Mooradian said. “The first time we went four days before we saw people, right as we got closer to town, we saw two bikers, and we yelled, ‘Human beings!'”
But as Mooradian or Himbert look to earn their Triple Crown titles, they hope to do it right.
Mooradian and Himbert arrived in Grand Lake last weekend after hiking through a rainstorm at Rocky Mountain National Park. They hiked into Granby to take refuge at a stranger’s home before hiking to Mooradian’s stomping ground of Steamboat to wait for the weather to pass.
They’re at the halfway point of the trail, about 50 days in, and anticipate at least 150 miles more of snowy tundra before reaching the Wyoming desert.
“We haven’t seen any tracks at all,” Mooradian said. “Instead of following the trail, because there are no trail markers anywhere, we are looking at where the pass is and what we need to cross over and trying to find the safest way there.”
Every town they stop in, Mooradian looks at conditions on the internet, but the resources are thin since backcountry ski season is technically over and the extended mud season has hindered hiking. Both considered starting their journey on May 3, a little late for most seasons, but even this year, people could start now and run into snow in 50 days.
“There is not a lot of information to be gathered outside of Rocky Mountain National Park,” Mooradian said. “We can call people and talk to them about the conditions.”
Mooradian feels blessed to be so comfortable in the snow from her four years at Steamboat Resort as a ski instructor. Himbert doesn’t think she would’ve made it through Colorado without her.
The challenge is finding snow that has melted and frozen over to walk on, and ideally, it should be like that in the early mornings, but the nighttime temperatures haven’t been cold enough to freeze the surface, so the two posthole through waist-deep conditions or climb up snow hurdles in the forested areas at lower elevation.
“I am not a big fan of wet socks, and I think this trail has been mentally much harder than the PCT for sure,” Himbert said. “One snow patch starts, and I start to get super anxious, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by it. Then you start postholing. Everybody tells us over and over again how much snow is coming north of us, and I want them to listen to what I’ve been through and not tell me how much I have to do still.”
Their next challenge will be the double marathon in Wyoming, a 52-mile stretch where there is no water supply. Getting out of the snow will have its perks, though.
“The road crossing where you start it, you can order a bunch of Dominoes Pizza,” Mooradian said. “So we’re going to order a bunch of pizza and Mountain Dew. We learned this from one of our friends who flipped up and did this section last week.”
In addition, they’ll drop off their snow gear in exchange for more water bottles. Each of them carry two liters of water with them daily, along with some bleach and empty water bottles to clean the water from the snow. They’ll need much more water for the journey ahead.
As the snow dissipates, new challenges and fears arise. Himbert is scared of being stalked by a mountain lion. Mooradian fears being trampled by moose while sleeping at night.
But they’ll press on, hoping to get one step closer to their Triple Crowns, only to split up for their next journeys on the AT and the PCT.
“I feel more comfortable being outdoors,” Mooradian said. “I like having very linear goals I put out for myself to get from one location and just walk to the next. The simplicity of that lifestyle is comforting to me.”
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