Aspen man, 78, finally completes the Continental Divide Trail after 35 years |

Aspen man, 78, finally completes the Continental Divide Trail after 35 years

Aspen's Jim Harrison, 78, recently completed the final portion of the Continental Divide Trail, which he concluded earlier this summer in Montana.
Courtesy photo

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail was never the end goal for Jim Harrison. But, little by little, that’s exactly what happened.

And it only took him 35 years to complete.

“That’s how little goals add up to big goals,” Harrison said earlier this week from his Aspen home. “I never had any thought that I was doing this.”

The CDT stretches 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the United States, with the highest section running through Colorado. Harrison was 43 years old in 1983 when he took his first step, hiking the roughly 76.8 miles from Wolf Creek Pass to Silverton in southern Colorado, mostly to fish.

More than three decades later, Harrison, now 78, took his final steps on his CDT journey July 29 when he completed the trek with the final section in Montana’s Glacier National Park. With him were about a dozen of his friends and family.

“That’s a story of an old guy finishing the Continental Divide,” Harrison joked. “My friend and I locked arms and finished the last 20 yards together. There was a lot of hooting and hollering. There was some people in the parking lot who came to see what the hooting and hollering was about, and when they realized that, they went off and got us two beers to celebrate.”

After Harrison unknowingly finished the first section of the CDT in 1983, he didn’t step foot on another portion until 1998 when, over about a six-year span, he completed the Colorado Trail. Beginning in 2004, he hiked the 800 miles of the Arizona Trail, which isn’t officially part of the CDT, but was important for Harrison as he is from the state and still has a home in Phoenix.

The final 1,000 miles all took place in Idaho and Montana, with the last section going through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana.

A former triathlete and distance runner who managed large construction sites for a firm back in Arizona, hiking sections of the CDT has been a large part of Harrison’s life each summer since 1998. Now that he’s completed his journey, he doesn’t plan to slow down. He and a friend are preparing to re-explore the Colorado Trail beginning next summer.

“For 20 years it’s been the summer goal and part of the reason to stay in shape was for this trip. I worked out hard. We were back here in May and June and I would climb Smuggler or Buttermilk in the evenings to try and get in shape for it,” Harrison said. “It was all good. It’s all beautiful country.”