Michelle Marincel and Brian Payne are helping to blaze a better trail along the Continental Divide. The two University of Missouri-Rolla students are participating in Backpacker Magazine’s effort to make a definitive map of the Continental Divide Trail, which runs 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada.
Currently, about 60 percent of the trail is mapped. Marincel and Payne recently carried a GPS device as they bushwacked and backtracked their way through the Medicine Bow National Forest near the Wyoming border with Colorado.
Back in Missouri, the UMR students are now in the process of finalizing a report for Backpacker, which plans to use information from 300 volunteers to create a comprehensive Continental Divide Trail website with an interactive map, notes, images, water locations, markers and GPS coordinates.
For Marincel and Payne, the adventure started when they read an advertisement in Backpacker for volunteers. They were among more than 3,000 applicants who responded. As part of their application, Marincel and Payne submitted a video showing how they could make a snow melting machine out of Power Bars.
“We started out at about 11,000 feet,” says Marincel, a graduate student in environmental engineering at UMR. “Then we ended up hiking through beautiful meadows and sagebrush.”
They hiked 15 miles the first day without water. Their total trip lasted five days and covered more than 50 miles.
“At one point we could see a storm on the horizon,” says Marincel, who is from St. Louis. “There was no shelter and we were on an old overgrown sheep trail. It was kind of exciting. We were really forging a new trail. There were no markers.”
The pair encountered antelope, deer, badgers, mosquitoes and a freak hailstone storm.
Payne, a senior in civil and environmental engineering from Berryton, Kan., says they also met a couple of through-hikers on the trail who were worried they wouldn’t make it to Montana before it starts to snow this September.
According to Payne, there are several guide books available that route backpackers on the Continental Divide Trail in various ways.
“We hope Backpacker’s project makes information on the CDT more accessible and encourages people to get out and hike it,” says Payne. “When the trail is finally complete, we look forward to being able to point to a 50 mile stretch in the Wyoming wilderness and say we mapped that.”