|From August 12 to September 5, I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail.
The hike was split into five distinct phases, so I'll break this triplog into those sections then make additional comments afterwards
Waterton Canyon to Breckenridge
5 days, 104.1 miles, 17,612' AEG
(20.5 miles) I met a lot of people starting their thru-hike the first day. It was exciting to be starting my journey. The first six miles are along a service road and there were a lot of runners, cyclists, etc. on the trail. I saw and walked through a herd of bighorn sheep. I had dinner at the S. Platte river after a thunderstorm, then hiked a few more miles to camp. A couple I met earlier camped there too.
(22.4 miles) The second day started out finishing a section through a large burn area. Then I hiked a section of trail popular with the mountain bikers. It was a great section of trail but mostly in the forest.
(21.6 miles) The third day I ended up hiking with a couple people. First Larry from Texas, then Berno from Germany. Berno quit his job and has been hiking since February. He did Hayduke, Denali, GDT, etc. A big storm rolled in so we stopped a bit early to set up our shelters for the night.
(26.8 miles) Fourth day we hiked together until Jefferson Creek where the trail starts to climb to close to 12K' Berno is much stronger climbing than I. This climb was the first time the trail gets above tree line and the views were great!
(12.8 miles) Fifth day I had a short day into Breckenridge. First an uphill, then mostly down the rest of the way.
Breckenridge to Twin Lakes
4 days, 72.6 miles, ~15,000' AEG
(15.9 miles) Resupplied in the morning and was on trail 10. Very tough climb up and over the Ten Mile Range. That was the first time the trail exceeds 12K'. About 1/2 mile of trail was scorched from the Type 2 fire earlier this year. Breck Epic Mt. Bike race was on and I was following the cyclists and missed a turn. Went about a mile down the wrong trail before I figured that out.
(25.2 miles) Went over Searle Pass, then dropped down to Kokomo Pass, then a long descent to Camp Hale. There was a large herd of sheep past Searle Pass. Met David Fanning at camp. Last year he wrote, "Voices of the Colorado Trail." It's stories of CT hikers he interviewed on trail. It's a good read, check it out.
(22.5 miles) I felt tired today. Leapfrogged with David throughout the day. There was some tough climbs and part of the trail was flagged for the Leadville 100 race. At the top of one climb, people were setting up an aid station for the race. I passed by the trail up Mt. Massive. I was hoping to set myself up to climb Elbert tomorrow but didn't make it as far as I wanted.
(9.0 miles) I decided I was too tired to climb Elbert today so I just went into Twin Lakes. There was a trail crew working on the trail in one point. There was some nice views of Elbert and of Twin Lakes. I made it to Twin Lakes before noon, then hung out all day.
Twin Lakes to Monarch Pass (Salida)
4 days + zero day in Salida, 84.6 miles, ~20,000 AEG
(23.3 miles) First I walked around Twin Lakes. People suggested skipping that, that it would be hot and boring. I really liked that stretch of trail though. I got in the lake two different times. It was refreshing. The eclipse was today. I didn't have glasses to watch it with. I don't even know when it occurred; I couldn't tell. Everything was quiet for a bit, perhaps it was then. I took the Collegiate West alternate. The climb up Hope Pass was steep and hard. The Leadville 100 contestants raced up it yesterday. I can't imagine. It was nice to get beyond hope.
(16.0 miles) The day started out climbing Lake Ann Pass. It's another tough climb. I saw two people I met at Twin Lakes. They skipped going around the lake. I was tired today and never really got going. I took a 40 minute nap this afternoon. I had an early dinner, and then I called it a day early too. It actually was a good place to stop as there probably isn't a good place to camp for another 7 miles or so. I camped by a pond a couple miles below Cottonwood Pass.
(26.1 miles) Today was the best yet. It followed the divide for miles, most of it above tree line. The views were great. The trail is amazing. Miles of it through talus but the tread is made of crushed rock so it isn't too bad to walk on. I can't imagine the labor that went into creating this trail. I would have liked to stop earlier, but there was no place to camp and I finished in the dark. It sets me up for tomorrow though.
(19.2 miles) I had a sucky camp and my shelter was soaking wet this morning. It was damp for the first few miles. I had a few up and downs in the morning, then a good climb up onto the divide. It started hailing on my way up, and really started coming down hard once I was on the divide. The umbrella worked perfectly. It blocked the hail/ran and the wind. Once the sweat from the climb dried, I was comfortable. The trail was a bit confusing once I reached the ski area but I made it through without any wrong turns. I got ice cream at the Monarch Pass store and found a ride into Salida.
Monarch Pass to Spring Creek Pass (Lake City)
5 days, 101.2 miles, ~16,000 AEG
(23.4 miles) I found a ride to Monarch Pass in the motel parking lot and made it on trail by nine. I was worried I wouldn't get on trail until much later. There were a lot of Mt. bikers and some dirt bikers on the trail today as it was Saturday and is a favorite trail to ride. The terrain was fairly easy and I made good time.
(25.6 miles) Lots of forest and meadows today, cows too. Also had longer water carries but all under ten miles. I met three CT hikers at one water source and we hiked to the next source together, nine miles. I stopped and had dinner there, then hiked several more miles before stopping. Light rain setting up camp then for the next few hours.
(26.5 miles) If I wanted a 30 mile day, today would have been the day to do it. There was a lot of roads today and the walking was easy. There was more water than yesterday, so my pack was lighter. The day ended with several miles along the Cochetopa Creek. I had dinner near a stream but cows were slowly nearing me so I yelled at them. I found a collapsible lantern on the trail and was able to return it to the owners when I reached them later. they were happy to get the lantern back.
(20.2 miles) I saw a moose early on. It was in a pond just off the trail. I saw Heather "Anish" Anderson on her CT FKT attempt. We said our good mornings when we passed each other. I wish I got my picture with her. There were some hard climbs today. If I was going to do a 14er, today would have been the day as San Luis Peak is very accessible from the trail. One climb was really steep and I was short on water. It was nice not carrying the weight, but I really could have used it. I finished the day camping on Snow Mesa near a pond. This was my first night camping above 12K'.
(5.5 miles) I got a late start since I didn't have far to hike today. It got cold last night and my tarp was covered with frost. I enjoyed the walk across Snow Mesa.
Spring Creek Pass to Durango
6 days, 127.2 miles, 22,528' AEG
(18.5 miles) I hiked with Eric today. He stayed at the hostel and we both got a ride to the trailhead together. We made it much farther than I had hoped too. There was lots of spectacular views today and we passed the CT high point, 13,271'.
(21.8 miles) I went to put a shoe on to go pee last night and my foot wouldn't go in the shoe. I thought the sock was bunched so I straightened it and tried again. That didn't work so I figured the insole was out of whack. I stuck my hand in the shoe and felt something furry. I pulled my hand out and dropped the shoe. I think it was a pika. It rained last night and my tarp was all wet this morning. Today there was a lot of up and down, all of it above 12K', so it was a tough one. It was worth it though, so much eye candy today, the views were amazing! A big hailstorm blew in near the end of the day and the temperatures dropped a lot. I put my fleece hoody on so I could put my hands in the pocket to keep them warm.
(21.0 miles) The day started with a big descent to the Animas River. Eric took the train to Silverton for resupply. I waited for the train at the tracks but got impatient and continued. there was a climb up to Molas Pass but it wasn't too bad. I'm not sure if it was because the altitude was low enough I could breath instead of gasp or it wasn't so steep. I stopped at the Molas Lake campground to get some more food and ice cream. Yum. There was some more rain this afternoon but not too bad. It was raining when I set up camp and then it stormed for awhile.
(25.8 miles) A doe hung out at camp all last night. Wherever I'd pee, it would lick it up. I peed farther from my tarp than I normally would. Unlucky for me, but lucky for it, I had to get up and pee a lot. The storm stopped early enough during the night that everything was dry this morning. There were some good views on trail today along with a lot of forest. The forest seems to be much healthier since Molas Pass. I thought I was going slow this morning but I made really good time this afternoon. There was a hailstorm along the way. The hail stones were marble sized and made a lot of noise on my umbrella. I was able to stay dry, even with all the water on the trail. I'm really liking this umbrella. Supposedly there's a 22 mile dry section so I drank as much as I could at the last water source and filled up 3 liters (the most I can carry).
(26.6 miles) I slept good last night. It wasn't cold so that probably helped. Archery elk is in season and I saw several hunters out. The trail passed near a road and there was two trucks parked and two bucks by the trucks. One had a really nice rack. I laughed because the hunters probably have a deer tag too. I stopped to take a picture and just up the trail, I heard a crack, smash, and a snag fell right on the trail. I'm glad I stopped. The trail passed over the last ridges above 12K' today then dropped thousands of feet into a lush and deep canyon. I caught a hiker I met yesterday and we finished the day together about a mile up from the bottom of the canyon. There were two people finishing their hike camped at the bottom and then there are five of us finishing our hike camping together. It's funny how suddenly we all converge together.
(13.5 miles) I finished the trail today! There was a short climb, maybe 600', then the rest of the day was pretty much descending. The trail went by a creek so I stopped and rinsed my shirt and wiped my face and body off. I don't want to be too stinky at the end. There was a part where the trail started looking a lot like Arizona with Ponderosa Pine and scrub Oak. I was a bit nostalgic finishing the hike. I was excited to be finishing but was a bit sad knowing that I'll be off trail too. I met a couple that used to live in Arizona. The man had a Show Low t-shirt on. After I reached the trailhead and had my mini celebration, I started walking/hitching to Durango. A few cars had passed me by but then a truck stopped for me and it was that couple. I'm glad I talked to them while on trail. They dropped me off right in front of Carvers Brewing Co. Carvers gives a pint of their Colorado Nut Brown Trail Ale to all CT finishers. Yum!
Going into this hike, I had two big personal questions: Would I be able to handle the altitude and hike the miles day to day and recover or would I become exhausted? Would I enjoy being on the trail for an extended period of time or would I get tired of it all and want to get off trail? Well, I didn't become exhausted and felt I was getting stronger the longer I was on trail and I never wanted to get off trail. Yes, I would be anxious to have a town day, but I was always happy to get back to the trail. On my one zero day, it seemed wrong that I wasn't hiking. I did need the break, but it just seemed wrong.
The people you meet on trail are the best! I met a fair number of other CT thru-hikers. Maybe more than most since I was covering more miles than most of the others. Whatever, the case, it was always a pleasure to talk to the other hikers and maybe walk a few miles together. The day hikers and cyclists seemed to especially want to see how I was doing and hear about my hike. It was fun to meet up with the other thrus at the town stops too. Dinners with groups of hikers was a lot of fun.
The forests are decimated. It's really sad to see. Large swaths of trees were dead from the beetle kill. This was especially prominent from Breckenridge to Molas Pass. There are a lot of young healthy trees growing amongst the dead trees so hopefully in time the forests will recover. In the meantime, all the dead trees are sure to be a tinder box and I worry that there will be some devastating fires.
For planning, I first used both DallinW's trip log and friendofThundergod's trip log from 2016.
I also used the Colorado Trail Foundation's website, along with PMags' Colorado Trail End to End Guide, of which I saved as a PDF on my phone so I would have access to it during the hike.
I bought both The Colorado Trail Guidebook, 9th ed. and, The Colorado Trail Databook, 6th ed. The databook is compact and is for on trail reference, so I took it with me for navigation/reference and my wife followed me using the guidebook.
Also, for navigation, I bought and installed the Atlas Guides (Guthook) CT App on my phone. This is the official CT App promoted by the Colorado Trail Foundation and distances, etc., match what's in the databook.
I decided to buy my resupply as I went and not send any resupply packages. My plan was to resupply in Breckenridge, Twin Lakes, Salida, Lake City, and Silverton. During the hike, I was a bit worried about meeting my schedule, so I decided to resupply for six days in Lake City and skip the Silverton resupply.
Originally, I wanted to only use 3 weeks of vacation but decided it would be difficult to travel to/from the trail and be able to complete the whole hike, so I decided to bracket Labor Day and use 17 days of vacation. That gave me three more days to complete the trail. I knew it would be difficult but doable and I also knew if I was behind schedule I could bail out around Silverton if necessary.
I ended up booking a Friday evening flight to Denver on August 11, and an afternoon flight out of Durango back to Phoenix (via Denver) on September 6, the Wednesday after Labor Day. I booked my flights June 13, about two months before my departure and got what I think is a really good price of $180. I added the $20 flight insurance just in case something came up and I wouldn't be able to use them.
I got lucky when a friend of mine offered to be my, "Denver logistics support for Friday and Saturday." He picked me up at the airport Friday, let me stay at his place, picked up a canister of stove fuel for me, and took me to the trailhead Saturday morning. It worked out perfectly, I can't thank him enough!
TSA doesn't allow trekking poles as carry on and my plane ticket only allowed one "personal item," not a carry on (it's smaller dimensions) so I packed my poles, umbrella, shelter, knife, food, etc. in a box and checked the box as luggage. That made my pack small enough to carry on the plane. For my return, I stopped at a UPS store in Durango and just shipped that stuff back home.
My first town stop was in Breckenridge. It's really easy getting around Breckenridge as the bus system is free and convenient. I stayed at The Bivvy Hostel. It's a bit more than some other hostels, but it's nice, clean, serves breakfast, and there's a nearby bus stop. I resupplied at the City Market. It had a good selection of food and reasonable prices.
My second town stop was in Twin Lakes. I got into town around noon and hung out at the Pass Gas general store all afternoon with other hikers. The resupply was expensive. I dropped $70 for resupply, including $10 for a small canister of stove fuel. On the bright side, the beverages were reasonably priced. I got a a 20oz Gatorade and a 16oz IPA for $5. I had lunch at the Twin Lakes Lodge and then had dinner there with three other hikers. My plan was to stay at the hostel there, but it had "issues" and was shut down for the season. The lodge had no vacancies, so I just headed back to the trail for the night.
I stayed in Salida for my third town stop. I didn't feel like sharing a room at a hostel, so I stayed at the Super 8. I had a nice room and the motel was pretty nice for a Super 8. I took a zero (rest day) in Salida. Salida is sort of spread out, but the motel had bikes guests could use so it made it easy getting around town. I resupplied at a Walmart so the prices were good.
My last town stop was in Lake City. It took awhile to hitch from the trail into town; the road is lightly travelled. Lake City was providing a shuttle service from the trail into town and back which is really nice (leaves Lake City at noon, arrives at trail ~12:30), especially if you don't get a hitch. I stayed at the Raven's Rest hostel. It's run by a triple crown hiker (hiked AT, CDT, and PCT) that liked the town when he did the CDT and decided to move there. He was out of town so I never met him. It's a pretty laid back place. Only me and two others were staying there so I had a room to myself. It's a nice town. Resupply was pricey but not too bad. I had to resupply for six days so that might be why it seemed a bit pricey.
I decided I was a bit short on food on my last stretch, so I also walked to the Lake Molas Campground, where there is a small store. It's maybe a half mile off the trail. It actually had a nice choice of items and I could have easily resupplied for a few days. I got cookies and a bar each for the next three days and a Klondike Bar and Gatorade for there. I was also able to dump my trash. The store will accept resupply packages too, so it's a convenient place to resupply, more so than Silverton as you wouldn't need to hitch into town from Molas Pass.