With the quietest time of the year upon us, many capital H hikers are contemplating their 2014 plans, and rightfully so. If recent trends are any indication, a record number of such people will attempt to hike the CDT next year. If that is you, allow me to share some intemperate thoughts.
Regardless of which direction you go, you’ll spend some time in Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall. There’s a big scenic and administrative contrast between the two, which for a variety of reasons can reduce hiker enjoyment. In the Bob, the official route was patched together for convenience, and in several places is less than ideal. There are a number of places south of Benchmark where the route can be straightened out and kept high up on or near ridgetops. You’re not going to be bummed if you skip the upper Dearborn or South Fork of the Sun. Further north its easy to go XC after Spotted Bear pass, go over the Three Sisters, and drop down to catch the trail again below Sock Lake. Also, avoid Open Creek and go over Switchback Pass and down Clark Creek to catch the official trail at Strawberry Creek. In Glacier itself the route is pretty good, though the possibility of straightening the route via goat trails in a few places would make for a much better hike. These options better suit a NOBO than a SOBO, due to lingering snow.
Speaking of snow, if you’re SOBO you need to be prepared for Glacier. Every year it seems like a smaller percentage of the Thrus are, leading to the rerouted, teeth-gnashing, whinging, road walking, hiker trash shit show we saw this year. It’s embarrassing, and amusing to exactly no one. You’ll need an axe, likely crampons, and definitely substantial snow nav and climbing chops to get over Redgap, Piegan, and Triple Divide Passes. Bring these, along with confidence, or go NOBO. You’ll also want good rain gear, mug bogging skills, and plenty of bug netting for SOBO in Montana as well, all of which highlights the fact that June is on average the second worst hiking month here (only November is worse). SOBO on the CDT is at best a questionable decision, and more likely just stupid, especially in light of the fact that September is the best hiking month in Montana. And yes, the proper Waterton route is way better than the Belly alternate.
In either case, please remember that as a Thru Hiker you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. Not even close. Permits in Glacier will be a hassle either way; in September because the park is full because everyone figured out it’s the best backpacking month, and in June because all of you will want to be in the same spot at the same time. The rules are an inconvenience, but they exist for a good reason. Unlike the little bit of Yellowstone you flitted or will flit through, Glacier gets a ton of backpacking traffic. Anarchy here would be a very ugly thing, so get your permit, stick to it, camp in the actual campsites, hang your food, and so on. The rangers bend over backwards for Thru Hikers, actually putting extra spaces at your disposal during peak periods. If they and the locals serving you coffee don’t seem amused, it’s because of the bad behavior of your confreres in years past.
That is all. Good luck.