Completing Thru-Hiking’s Triple Crown is a magnanimous feat, a rigorous achievement reserved only for the strongest, most determined long-distance hikers.
Those who set out to accomplish the trifecta — which includes traversing the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) — must withstand inhuman tests of endurance. They must hike almost 8,000 miles; conquer over one million feet in elevation gain; cross rivers, deserts, and countless mountains; and survive harsh weather conditions that bombard the trails with relentless rain, wind, and snow.
Fewer than 350 adventurers have triumphed over all three trails. One of them, Christian Thomas, logged his final step in September 2017.
He is nine years old.
Christian, who completed the hikes with his mother, Andrea Rego, and stepfather, Dion Pagonis, concluded the last 1,200-mile leg of his CDT section-hike at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. When he reached the famous geyser, he officially became the youngest person to finish the Triple Crown, having completed the AT in 2012 (at age five) and the PCT only two years after that.
He said that, while standing in front of Old Faithful, he felt not only “super happy,” but incredibly proud of himself.
Finishing the CDT concluded an adventure Christian has been on for almost half of his life. He originally got into backpacking as a way to fill his time during his hometown’s offseason. His family is from Crested Butte, a mountain town in the Rockies of Colorado that virtually shuts down during the frigid winters. They decided to search for something fun to do and heard about the Appalachian Trail, a little 2,200-mile path in the woods on the other side of the country. Thinking it sounded fun, Christian and his family began practicing backpacking in Colorado, preparing to set-off on the AT the following spring.
Though they only planned for a brief section hike starting in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, they decided to keep going.
“We went out to start it, and we just started doing it and doing it until we finished,” Christian said.
After logging their final mile on the AT, young Christian heard about the Triple Crown and decided to set his sights on the PCT next, a trail he would complete two years later at the age of seven.
Though long-distance hiking is often a solitary affair, those who call the trail home for months on end often form close relationships with their fellow hikers, brought together by their mutual suffering and shared love of nature. Christian met many friends along the way, including older hikers with eccentric trail names like Flip-Flopper and Old School. Whenever he stopped to talk with someone, they would always address him by saying, “Hey, Buddy!” inspiring a trail name of his own — Buddy Backpacker.
When talking with Buddy, it becomes apparent that he succeeded, in part, because of his young age, not in spite of it. Embodied with a youthful optimism and indomitable spirit, he simply did not see failure as an option. When asked how he managed to stay positive and energetic on the long and miserable days familiar to anyone who has embarked on a backpacking journey, Buddy made it clear that the only thing he had to do was continue putting one foot in front of the other.
“I just say, you know, ‘I have to do it,’” he said. “Just keep going.”
Buddy also turned to podcasts in order to pass his time on the trail, tuning in to radio serials such as “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian” and “The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd” to zone out as the miles went by. Andrea explained that Buddy has always loved stories, and he often listens to podcasts and audiobooks during long car rides. Backpacking has allowed him to continue listening while immersing himself in beautiful outdoor settings.
After completing the PCT, Buddy and his family spent the next couple of years section-hiking the Continental Divide Trail, which he said was both his favorite and the most difficult. Traversing the section through the deserts of New Mexico was especially challenging.
At nine years old, with one of the outdoor world’s most elusive achievements under his belt, Buddy isn’t exactly sure of what he wants to do in the coming years. But he is positive that he’s found his calling.
“We don’t really know [what’s next],” he said. “But we know that it’s going to involve hiking.”