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Colorado Trail: Denver to Salida, CO
mini location map2016-07-01
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Colorado Trail: Denver to Salida, CO 
Colorado Trail: Denver to Salida, CO
Backpack avatar Jul 01 2016
Backpack254.29 Miles 52,295 AEG
Backpack254.29 Miles18 Days         
52,295 ft AEG
1st trip
I spent from July 1st to July 18 thru-hiking the Colorado Trail. I backpacked approximately half of the trail (254 miles) and completed an additional 57 miles in side trips to summit seven fourteeners along the way. I resupplied in Breckenridge after five days and then again in Buena Vista (where I also took a zero day) after seven more days. After leaving Buena Vista, I completed two more 14ers and backpacked an additional three more days to where I was picked up at the end of segment 14.


I flew into Denver on June 30, which by coincidence was the same day that @DallinW flew in for his thru-hike of the CT. Flying to a different state and making it to a trailhead over an hour from the airport without having your own transportation really throws some variables into starting a thru-hike. However, being able to link up with Dallin and his cousin Bradley greatly mitigated some of these logistical nightmares. Having done this before, Dallin had a great deal of knowledge about the process and an established plan in place. Not only did he provide me with a tremendous amount of information about the trail itself, but he also let me get in on his hotel room and ride from the airport and to the TH. I can't thank him enough for this! It made my life so much easier and cheaper and I could not be more grateful. He was really the driving force behind my thru-hike starting off smoothly and ending successfully. He even let me tag along for the first 100 miles to Breckenridge.

I will basically just break down each day of my modest little trek by highlights, low-lights, miles and AEG. There are two tracks posted for this thru-hike a 181 mile track and a 72 mile track. The reason for this is because I committed a thru hiker sin and accepted a four mile ride. I will own it 100% and gladly do my time in thru-hiker hell for it. It was after spending an afternoon charging electronics at a general store in Twin Lakes that was only a mile off the trail. It was a little warm that day and I was honestly running on fumes after backpacking in that afternoon from an early morning summit of Elbert that was preceded by Massive the day before. After giving me some valuable information on the Collegiate Peaks, I was offered a ride back to the CT by a pretty cool local. He then explained to me that he could save me what he promised would be the most boring four miles of the CT and drop me off where the CT picked back up at the Twin Lakes Dam, rather than where I left the trail to detour into the general store. I glanced in my guidebook and realized that some of the highlights of that four mile section included the power plant, a series of unlocked gates around its perimeter and crossing six access roads. It was already five at this time, still hot out and I was hungry and ready to make camp, so I took the offer with no regrets! I excluded all side trip mileage and did separate triplogs for those. The total miles along with the daily totals were synchronized and put through route manager with some minor editing for connecting purposes. I will chop them up and get some official routes up on HAZ as well in the near future, as currently the official route on HAZ is that of the bike route, not the foot travel route. Needless to say, it did not take very long to learn this on the trail.

Day 1: (17.4 miles, 3,644 AEG)

This was the latest start time of the trip, but only because we had to be picked up from hotel and shuttled to the TH. No worries though, this was only a "get the feet wet" day and get our feet wet we did. We finished to a modest thunder shower and slept through some pretty heavy rain that night. Initial impressions of the trail were good, it was a little crowded and the scenery did not offer much more than AZ, but there were some teaser views to keep the motivation high and our campsite was superb.

Day 2: (23.67, 4,689 AEG)

When Dallin suggested I join the to Breckenridge, he said, "we are going to start in the teens and slowly work our way up to the 20 mile days," which sounded perfect to me. Apparently, one day equates to slowly working one's way up, as we topped the 20 mile mark on day two. However, I should note that it really was not that bad of a day and we were done by early afternoon. Bradley and Dallin were running on all cylinders due to some quality hikes before hand, but I was dragging a little with the heavier pack and slightly lower level of backpacking fitness/prowess, but no major issues. Early starts would become the key for this thru-hike. Dallin introduced the concept of ten before ten to me, meaning 10 miles before 10 a.m. and that was the general rule of thumb I followed for the rest of my thru-hike. If you can knock out ten miles before ten in the morning, a 20 mile day becomes gravy and one can really take their time in the early afternoon and late morning hours. More rain on day two, but most of it after we set up camp, nothing overly exciting in the day two views or hiking in general, but Lost Creek Wilderness was pretty nice.

Day 3: (20.98 miles, 4,403 AEG)

We had our first big climb on day three, some more teaser views of the Rockies and a great hike through Long Gulch that was culminated by a long pit stop to dry gear and eat lunch. We arrived to camp and it literally started raining within seconds. By now already used to the routine, nobody said a word, we all set up our tents, retreated to them, made our dinners in them and did not see each other until morning.

Day 4: (22.79 miles, 4,485 AEG)

Our first three days of rain stopped on day four and I was blessed with some uncharacteristically perfect conditions almost devoid of rain for the rest of my thru-hike. We hit our first real pass on day four (11,800 feet) and enjoyed a picture perfect campsite with some views of what lie ahead after cresting Georgia Pass. A lot of leap frogging of other thru-hikers still going on by day four, but we were generally pulling away from the crowded group of July 1 starters and catching the late June starters.

Day 5: (19.93 miles, 2,544 AEG) (Breckenridge)

The hike into Breck got a little monotonous, perhaps because of the anticipation, but I generally blame it on the fact that all of a sudden the CT opens one up to these amazing above the treeline views and then it drops you back down into the drab lodge pole forests surrounding the mountain town. The only relief comes in the final few miles where the views of the surrounding ranges opens up, as one makes the descent into Breckenridge. In an appropriate manner it did pour for a few minutes just as we ended, but nothing could dampen our spirits. We shared a room in the very hiker friendly and generally awesome Bivvi Hostel and spent the next day and a half resupplying and getting ready for the next push.

Day 6: (Quandary Peak with @MtnBart01)

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Day 7: (18.51 miles, 5,227 AEG)

Dallin and I went our separate ways after Breckenridge. I had a few side-trips I wanted to make and our paths were going to be going separate directions soon enough anyways, so it seemed like a good time to start going solo. I purchased perhaps the most valuable piece of hiking gear I now own while in Breckenridge. I finally bought some hiking poles. I went all out too and went with the Black Diamond light-weight collapsible type. From my experiences last year on the John Muir Trail and my first 100 miles of the CT, I noticed that literally 8 out of 10 thru-hikers use hiking poles. I also noticed that my knees seemed to be getting a little more sore than usual, so at the suggestion of many, I finally broke down and bought a set and boy do they make a difference! From the very start, I could tell that hiking poles provide a tremendous aid and advantage when doing these high mileage/AEG days with a heavy pack. I would put those poles to use on this day too, as the leisure life of Breckenridge was quickly replaced by a opening climb from 9,200 feet to a 12,500 pass with my nice and light seven day pack. That climb took a lot out of me, but the reward was some of the most awe inspiring views I have seen since the J.M.T. The Rockies really open up after you clear that pass and one spends several miles above the treeline taking in the almost overwhelmingly breathtaking 360 degree views. After that slice of heaven, it is back to reality though and the next segment is very underwhelming as one traverses the edge of a ski resort and golf course on a trail chalk full of mountain bikers. Even my perfect campsite became underwhelming, as apparently having a fire and staking out a good spot along a creek is an open invite for other thru-hikers to set up shop mere feet away.

Day 8: (21.57 miles, 4,077 AEG)

Day 8 was dominated by the climb to Kokomo Pass and the tremendous views it offered upon reaching the high point. The final few miles to Kokomo and the subsequent views from there, were really some of my favorite of the thru-hike. After Kokomo, it was a relentless downhill, some solid, but not spectacular views and a quaint little trailside waterfall. I started to realize about half way through day 8, that if I pushed hard enough, I could reach the base of Mt. Massive the next day and add it to my list of fourteeners to do. A great trail and some road walking made this possible and I was able to finish just clear of Tennessee Pass.

Day 9: (22.66 miles, 5,588 AEG)

Holy Cross wilderness was the highlight of this day and then it was a bit of a push to make it to the nearest campsite within striking range of Massive. I learned from some other thru-hikers that Dallin and Brad were only about an hour ahead of me earlier in the day, so I pushed up to where they were camped and we all enjoyed a nice little reunion at the base of Massive. We all planned to summit the next morning, but they planned to do it with a CT connection that would be later giving them a ride into Leadville to take a zero day and I had my hear set on a sunrise summit.

Day 10: Mt. Massive

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After Mt. Massive I moved camp 5.93 miles (877 AEG) to a campsite one mile past the turnoff for Mt. Elbert's main trail up the northeast ridge. Dallin and Brad took a zero day in Leadville and I may have scored a subway dinner out of the whole situation.

Day 11: Mt Ebert & Twin Lakes

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After Mt. Elbert it was a pretty standard hike down to Twin Lakes. Although, I must admit, even going downhill, I was feeling the effects of Elbert that morning and Massive the day before. The hiking was not the best Colorado has to offer, but the views as you neared Twin Lakes were excellent. I have to be honest, I was more focused on getting to the general store in town, binge eating some snacks and charging my electronics anyways and it was going to be hard to beat my morning on Elbert. I think I may have semi-illegally camped along the far shore of Twin Lakes, but it was amazing and I plead ignorance. (8.55 miles 800 AEG)

Day 12: (9.77 miles, 1,777 AEG)

I backpacked just under ten miles to where the CT crosses FR390 and then made a six mile road walk to the Missouri Gulch TH and entered the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness for a day and a half detour to bag some more 14ers. In particular, Oxford and Belford.

[ photoset ]

Day 13: (6.36 miles, 2,859 AEG)

After Oxford and Belford I continued on the Colorado Trail that day. However, all I had in my was about six miles and 2800 feet in AEG. No worries though, I knew I was in good shape to still reach Buena Vista the next day. I shared my camp fire that night with a couple of interesting thru-hikers and that proved to be the highlight of the second half of the day.

Day 14: (18.62 miles, 5,186 AEG)

Maybe it was the 5,100 plus feet of gain, or the miles already on me, but man was this 18 miles a slog for me! The segment is pure diabolical as within about seven miles of its end it drops you down to 9,300 feet only to shoot you back up to 11,200 to clear Mt. Harvard's massive ridgeline. Nevertheless, I made it through the slog, as I had a warm bed and good food on my mind. For lodging, I was able to secure the last over-priced room in the Best Western from a ridgeline telephone call on the way in. The hotel may have been pricey, but the shower was great, the bed was comfy, there was a pool and hot tub and a waffle maker. A day of resupplying, doing laundry and eating followed.

Day 15: (Zero Day)

Day 16: Mt. Yale

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After Mt. Yale I pushed into segment 13 another nine miles in an attempt to set up a day three summit of Mt. Shavano and Tabegauache Peak.

(8.93 miles, 1,858 AEG)

Day 17: 20.18 miles, 4,142 AEG)

This day started off with kind of an annoying road walk, but did get a little better in terms of hiking. It seemed to get a little warm in the lower elevations and there was a stretch where I mistimed my water a little, but I generally made good time throughout the somewhat strenuous day. I did make the decision to make this the first stop of my car camping trip with Jackie after the completion of my thru-hike,as I had heard from several day hikers in the area that Brown Creek Falls was worth the detour. On this day, nothing was worth the detour, so I passed, but it sounded promising for the GF and the dogs. I made it to the main trail up Shavano, set up camp, ate a quick dinner and retreated from the flies for the night.

Day 18: Mt. Shavano

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After Shavano it was a pretty unspectacular finish to my thru-hike. The hiking down to U.S. 50 was not very spectacular and the views were limited. I had also just had an amazing experience on Shavano and was looking forward to seeing the GF and the pups, so that stretch of hike would have really had to have been stunning to grab my attention. Jackie met me just under a mile inside the trail with the dogs and we all finished together to a steady rain, a somewhat unceremonious end, but I found the rain fitting considering the way my thru-hike began.

(8.04 miles, 1,142 AEG)

An amazing 18 days of backpacking, hiking and seeing the great state of Colorado. I loved the encounters on the trail, had a great time, could not get enough of the scenery and views, enjoyed most of the people I met, loved the culture of the trail and state and really had one of my most memorable hiking/life experiences in a long time. Similar to my mixed sentiments after the J.M.T. some small let down, as I ponder another adventure and accept that this one is over. Likewise, similar to last year, I know my first few hikes in AZ will be a slight disappointment and I will certainly have some Colorado envy for a few weeks, but I will get over it and persevere until next summer. I am already thinking about the other half of the CT, or a run at a long stretch of the Continental Divide...Thanks again Dallin for all of your help and helping to make this come together for me.
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Extreme
Extreme and everywhere once you reach the treeline :)
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