Couple rely on map and compass for thru-hike of Continental Divide Trail

From its southern terminus near the Mexican border, the Continental Divide Trail heads north across New Mexico toward Canada. In southern New Mexico, the route is almost entirely unmarked as it crosses semi-desert grasslands where much of the drinking water comes from watering troughs on cattle ranches, never mind the algae and scum.

For Iris Russell, the landscape could hardly have been more alien. Born and raised in Gatlinburg, TN the 30-year-old Russell had considered doing the Appalachian Trail as her first long-distance thru-hike. Instead, here she was on May 1 embarking on an epic thru-hike of 2,800 miles along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. With Russell on the Continental Divide Trail was Will Hammond, of Seymour, TN. A seasoned hiker, Hammond had already thru-hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail — two trails that combine with the Continental Divide Trail to create the “Triple Crown” of long-distance hiking in the U.S.

Russell and Hammond started out from Columbus, N.M., on May 1 and crossed into Canada on Sept. 22. Traveling north across New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, they hiked for almost four and a half months. The Continental Divide Trail is about 70 percent complete; the route consists of a combination of small roads and horse trails as well as dedicated footpaths. For much of the way, Russell and Hammond relied on map and compass to navigate their way across terrain that varied from arid ranch lands to snow-capped mountain passes.

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