Colorado Trail Thoughts

Now that I have spent a bit of time off trail, I have had some time to think back on the Colorado Trail. I’ve been wanting to share some thoughts on both the trail itself as well as my own experience.

Being forced to stop last year bothered me a lot. I was very happy to get closure from finishing this year. After completing the PCT I thought the CT would be simple, but I didn’t count on my feet getting messed up from consistently wet conditions.

The CT was constructed by connecting several preexisting trails together, and it shows. There were a few sections on the Collegiate East route where we simply headed straight up a mountain to a ridge with little to no views, and immediately descend. These trails were meant to allow access to nearby peaks, but if you are backpacking on them you are left wondering what the point is.

The trail frequently follows dirt roads that see actual traffic. The most jarring example of this for me was at the high point. Immediately after beginning the descent, Pineapple and I saw a group of 3 4WD vehicles driving along a road that the trail soon joined. We were actually walking behind these vehicles and breathing in their dust for a bit. It was weird and unpleasant.

Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail, the CT allows bicycles on it except in National Forest territories, and sometimes dirt bikes and ATVs. Section of trail where these vehicles are allowed show it. They erode the trail significantly and make hiking slower. Combined with the monsoonal rains and sometimes the trail is just mud. A lot of these sections need more maintenance. I think if the CT is struggling to maintain these sections, cyclists may have to pay a fee in the future. That is just my opinion.

The Colorado Trail Foundation claims on the header of its website that it is “mile for mile the most beautiful trail in America.” Whoever claimed this seemingly has never hiked the John Muir Trail. I found the final 150 miles of the CT to be breathtakingly stunning, minus the weird motorized vehicle encounters. There were definitely other highlights, the section between hiighway 50 and Marshall Pass, and Vail Pass near Copper Mountain immediately come to mind, but a lot of the trail felt like what Andrew Skurka describes as “transition miles,”  which are found on most distance trails. On the PCT, a lot of Northern California and Southern Oregon felt that way, but on this trail, the majority of what I did in 2016 and most of Copper Mountain to Highway 50 felt that way.

Hiking in sandals was definitely the right call for me. After all of my foot issues, they seem to be the best solution, along with vigilant foot care. I am still looking for a sandal that I will be more satisfied with though. My Chacos gave me chronic blisters along the outer rim of the sides of my heels. They were manageable and luckily not painful. I only had to drain them once, but still they are something that could be improved upon. The grip from the sole was also terrible. I slipped a lot, and fell once due to poor traction. My Bedrock sandals I like much more overall, but only hiked in them for one day. This is for two reasons. One, they are not super comfortable when combined with a normal sock, and the only socks I like on a thru hike are Darn Toughs. The Injinji toe socks I have tried are nowhere near durable enough. Two, the thinner sole while more responsive increases strain on the foot. I have a rather high arch, so the Chacos helped with that, but I could put up with the no arch support in the Bedrocks if not for the foot fatigue I felt at the end of the day. The thinner sole combined with frequent rocky stretches of trail meant that by the end of the day I hiked in them, my feet were unpleasantly fatigued.

I don’t want to give the impression that I disliked doing this trail. However, I don’t think I liked the trail itself as much as I thought I would. I did love experiencing the trail culture again. I also enjoyed going into the hike knowing I’d be hiking with another person. Scout and I ended up hiking almost the entirety of the PCT together, but we both had an independent set of equipment so we could hike completely separately if necessary. Pineapple and I shared a shelter and stove, so neither of us could completely function effectively on trail alone. Overall Pineapple and I got along well and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the hike as much alone.

Hiking for a month allowed me to experience again what it is like to live on trail. It can be addicting for a lot of people, which is why thru hiking seems to get increasingly popular each year. I remember while on the PCT talking to section hikers who claimed a month on trail is the perfect amount of time. Anything less isn’t enough time to adapt to the lifestyle and enjoy having trail legs. Anything longer however becomes tedious, and adjusting back afterwards is difficult. I can definitely say I have not struggled nearly as much as I did after coming home from the PCT. I think I could do longer than a month if I loved the trail I was on more, as was the case with the PCT or the last 150 miles of the CT, but with the amount of mixed trail I encountered on the CT, I doubt I would have enjoyed it very much if it was longer and it took longer than a month.

Finally I want to thank my friends and family for their support. I especially want to thank Sam and his family. They provided a home base for us in Colorado, and made the logistics of our hike significantly easier. Sam got us to and from the airport, helped us run errands in Denver, got us to Copper Mountain, resupplied us in Salida, swapped out my broken hipbelt buckle with his own, picked us up back in Denver and took us back to the airport. His family welcomed us into their home, fed us, and made us feel incredibly welcome. Our hike would have been much harder without their kindness and hospitality. I am extremely lucky to have met Sam last year on trail.

Thanks to everyone who has followed me on this blog as well. I’ve enjoyed hearing feedback on it and seeing comments.

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Day 24: Durango

8/27

13.4 miles

We had another dry night, which was also warm, and as a result we were able to pack up and hit the trail by 8. Despite it being the morning, it began to feel very warm very quickly. We hiked quickly but after about a mile we paused at a stream to drink more water. We then began the only sustained climb of the day for a few miles. We were glad to be doing the climbing first, as we knew it would just get hotter.


We passed a few hikers heading our way, and proceeded quickly. The only steep parts were short and primarily at the beginning, and as a result we made great time. We began to descend, and I began to pull ahead of Pineapple due to my longer stride. I paused every mile or so and she’d catch up within a minute or two.


The trail was rather monotonous, with very few views. For the most part, it was well maintained too, which was conducive to a quick pace. We occasionally would hit badly eroded parts of trail showing obvious signs of wear from bicycles. It continued to grow warmer as well as drier. We paused at a junction for a snack and all of a sudden saw a bunch of bikers. We chatted with a few of them before continuing on.


It began to feel very warm as we entered a section that very much reminded me of the San Gabriels. We have been at high altitudes for a while which has helped keep the temperature down, so this weather felt quite unpleasant. The miles slowly ticked by. We crossed a bridge and saw several day hikers, and began to get some cloud cover. I was happy to get some relief from the heat, but couldn’t help but think rain would soon arrive.


Once we got to just under a mile remaining, Pineapple took the lead so we could finish the trail together. In the last half mile, it began to rain, then hail, and it grew in intensity. During the hailstorm, we reached the terminus. It may have taken me two summers to finish, but I completed the Colorado Trail, and this time with good company. It was fun to finish on my 2nd anniversary of completing the Pacific Crest Trail as well. We took a few photos, and the hail continued.


A few cyclists arrived, and we had one of them take a more ridiculous picture of us. Most terminus photos look pretty similar, so I like to do something a bit different. When I finished the PCT, Scout and I took a photo of us posing in the likeness of the Creation of Adam. Neither of us could come up with a good pose from a painting, so instead we took inspiration from the album cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. 


Some other hikers arrived, and we were able to get a ride into town from them. They were nice to talk to and gave us some good tips on where to get food. We got checked in to our motel, and picked up the pie my aunt had sent us. We got showered, and headed to a local brewery that gives Colorado Trail hikers a free beer. We walked around a bit and had some ice cream. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and trying to figure out how to get back to Denver. We also began to eat the delicious pie sent by my wonderful Aunt. Tomorrow we will begin making our way back to Denver.


I will probably post a bit more in depth after I have a bit of time to reflect on this trail. I’m relieved that I was able to complete it this year without any significant feet issues, and I was happy to be hiking as a team. The sections of trail I hiked this year were definitely better than what I did last year, and I’m glad I got to see the rest of what the trail had to offer.

Day 23: Anish!

8/26

16.3 miles

We had a mercifully dry night and the sun hit our surrounding area, which made it easy to get up. We checked out the scenic overlook nearby again, which we had also enjoyed last night. Since we knew we didn’t have as long of a day ahead of us, we didn’t get underway until about 8:20. We said hello to the duo camped nearby as we headed out.


We began to gently climb, and soon into it we ran into a solo European woman heading northbound. We talked to her briefly and exchanged some info about water sources, then continued on. We meandered alongside some ridges while gently climbing before getting to some steeper stuff. The beginning of our day was characterized by a series of short but steep climbs followed by equal descents.


We ran into another duo of older hikers who had a good sense of humor. Pineapple and I paused for a snack and watched the two slowly make their way up the climb. We soon set off after them. After reaching the top, we followed the ridge line for a bit, then began a descent on steep talus. As we approached the base of the descent, we began to see a bunch of cyclists. We began another climb, continuing to enjoy spectacular views, and noticed storm cloud ms forming over the nearby high peaks. It was still morning, but we were at 12000 feet and we were next to a ridge of mountains noticeably higher than us.


On the descent before the last climb, we began to feel a few raindrops. As we began the last climb, it intensified and turned to hail. We paused briefly to chat with a couple cyclists who turned around, and we quickly followed to finish up the climb. We began to steeply drop, and with the hail and rain, we were careful to try and avoid slipping. We passed a duo heading up, and continued on. We could see Taylor Lake below us, but the beauty was marred by the weather. As we dropped, the hail turned to rain, and it intensified further. We reached the lake, and saw a small outlet where there was some nice flow.


The rain began to calm down a bit, and we filtered some water before continuing on. While walking next to the lake, we saw a lot of people heading the opposite direction, including runners and several dogs. I was taken aback by a guy hiking with a pistol strapped to his leg. It struck me as odd that he’d felt he might need it. I’ve always felt much safer on trails.


We reached the trailhead, high marked the beginning of the last segment. We stopped getting rained on, and the sun came out full force which made it hot. In the distance we could hear substantial thunder, and we saw we were heading straight for the storm clouds. It was odd to receive so much precipitation and hear so much thunder in the morning and midday. It usually arrives in the afternoon. Then again we have had a lot of atypical weather.


We hiked on and completed another brief climb before pausing for a quick break. We had a substantial amount of descent ahead of us. All of a sudden a woman came practically charging up the hill. I noticed she was hiking in a dress, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I recognized her. It was Anish. I was quite excited to see her as she is a bit of a trail celebrity in the distance hiking world. She was extremely kind and took a picture with us, and asked us about the water at Taylor Lake. We said goodbye, and continued on our way.


Since it was midday and we were a little over 20 miles from Durango, we figured it is possible she is attempting to set a new record on the Colorado Trail which is currently a bit over 9 days. Either way, it was exciting to meet her. We began our descent, which began rather steep, and were thankful to see the storm clouds moving away from us. The sun came out full force again, and I had to remove my poncho due to the warmth.


We continued to descend, passed a solo northbound woman, and came to a dirt road. We crossed it and found another northbound hiker before stopping by some fallen trees for a break. We decided to have a shorter day due to water and campsite availability, which would also situate us under 14 miles from the end. With a plan set, we hiked on.

I began to enter a sort of zen state. I often would hike that way on the PCT but it was the first time on this trail. I get to a point where I do not think about anything, and let my body do the hiking while I kind of just absorb information from my surroundings. It helps the miles go by fairly quickly. Otherwise the trail was fairly boring, and we only got a few views. We did begin to find some wild raspberries on trail and sampled a few. They were a bit tart, but tasty. We followed a creek farther and farther down.


Eventually we crossed the creek on a bridge and began our final climb. It got quite steep, but since we were at lower elevation it was a lot easier. It did feel rather hot though as a result. At the top of the climb we found some great campsites. We chose one and got set up, boiled our remaining water to begin rehydrating our food, then went to get water. It rained a bit on us while we ate dinner, but not heavily. We made a small fire, and split a remaining meal that I had as extra.


Tomorrow we will reach the end of the Colorado Trail, which is also the anniversary of my completion of the Pacific Crest Trail. They have been very different hikes, but I am glad they will have their completion date in common.

Day 22: Segment 26

8/25

21.4 miles

We slept pretty well, and awoke to find very little condensation on the tent. It was pretty cold though, which slowed us down. I found frost down by the water source, so we were glad we slept with our water filters. We managed to set off around 8:20.


We hiked quickly to try to warm up. We had a few nice views and the trail gently undulated up and down. We saw a few of the same mountains that we had seen yesterday, and it was nice to see them in sunlight. In the direct sun, it was quite warm. We began a steeper climb up to Blackhawk Pass, and at the top enjoyed some more nice views, but were buffeted by strong winds. We began a descent, and paused for a brief break.


We continued on, and soon stopped again to stock up on water. We had about 14 miles to hike with no reliable water source, so we made sure to drink a lot and carry a lot. As we set off again, it began to grow warmer. Not too long after, we ran into a couple heading northbound. We stopped to ask them about our planned stopping point, and they told us the water was a small trickle, but was still excellent. Feeling confident in our decision, we pressed on.


The trail began to feel a bit repetitive, as most of it was forested and we kept coming to dirt roads that we would occasionally walk on. We ran into a man parked on one with a pitched camp that we talked to for a bit. We then began a sustained climb before hitting another dirt road with a truck parked. It was jarring to see several parked vehicles and ATVs driving around. After another climb, we stopped again for another snack break.

The miles began to crawl by with little to distinguish them. We were very surprised to see a keep essentially parked on the trail in a forested area until we saw the dirt road leading to it. We occasionally would have a nice view, but mostly of the same things. I began to grow bored of the monotony, and irritated by poor quality sections of trail. Pineapple was not too stoked on it either. Both of us were feeling some fatigue from yesterday’s push, and combined with some boring trail, both of us were not in the best hiking mood.


Some cloud cover did move in, which helped prevent it from getting too hot. It did however drop some light rain that did not last long luckily. We paused briefly before beginning our final push to camp which included a sustained climb. I began to hike in autopilot due to my disinterest in the trail. Upon making it to our destination, we saw a couple tents set up and talked briefly to the occupants inside who told us there was a nice campsite a bit down a side trail. We found a nice spot and set up.
We had to hike a bit out of the way to get water, but we finished early enough for it to not be a problem. We were pretty tired from two big days, and were also quite hungry. Both of us had an extra dinner, so after eating one dinner each, we split an extra one. We are now just under 30 miles from the terminus. Tomorrow will not be as hard, but we still aim to do higher mileage so our last day isn’t too long.

Day 21: Segment 25

8/24

22.7 miles

We got up early to get ready, and were able to get a ride from Jan, the hostel owner at around 7:30. Another older hiker came with us as well. It was very overcast, and we could not tell what direction they were moving in. We had checked the weather and apparently the evening was supposed to be clear, so we were ready to deal with bad weather. We got dropped off, and prepared to start hiking. We ran into a man looking for his friend he was supposed to resupply but we had not seen him. At last we began hiking around 7:50.


We began to gently climb, which characterized the first half of the day. We still had decent visibility despite the cloud cover, and we could admire our surroundings. It was a bit cold, which Pineapple struggles with more, so we tried to hike quickly. We were passed by a few cyclists, and saw a massive group of runners. The runners made the trail uncomfortably crowded, and we got sick of waiting for them to pass us because of how spread out they were.


We could see storm clouds surrounding the mountains in the direction we were heading, which did not bode well for us. Soon it began to rain, and we paused to put on rain gear. We hiked on upward, and began to see the runners returning, further irritating us. The rain luckily let up, and we were fortunate enough to see patches of blue sky off in the distance. We paused for a brief break and realized we were making excellent time due to the cool weather and well graded trail.


We continued climbing, and enjoyed some late season wildflowers. We entered an area with some spectacular mountains around us as we made our final approach to the pass. A northbound hiker came down past us as we neared the top. Soon we made it to the summit, and realized we had covered more than half of our intended goal by noon.


We began a long descent, which was also well graded and went pretty quickly. We saw a water source with milky water, which we have heard means they are contaminated from metals as a result of mining. We reached the base of the descent which happened to be a great water source and paused for more water and a snack. We began to see our first glimpses of sun. It is very atypical to have rain in the morning and then have the clouds disappear in the afternoon at this altitude.


We began our next climb, and soon the sun was lost to us again. We could hear distant claps of thunder far away, but since we were heading towards better looking skies, we didn’t worry. We headed over another pass, and enjoyed more great views. It grew darker, and we felt a few more small raindrops.


We realized we should probably push a little farther than initially planned, partially due to the early hour, and also because tomorrow has some long dry stretches and we need to make more miles. We reached our initial planned stop, then pressed on. It began to rain lightly again, and the first source we wanted to check out did not have good camping, so we continued.


Not long after we found a nice campsite with nearby water. No sooner than we finished making camp, it began to rain again, so we retreated. About an hour later we could see very clear conditions. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be better.

Day 20: 3rd Zero in Silverton

8/23

0 miles

Like all other zero days, we doesn’t this one eating and relaxing. We had an odd breakfast burrito that was heated in a panini press for breakfast, and walked around Silverton a bit. The town is dependent on tourism and as a result is a bit quirky. It feels as if it can’t figure out what century it belongs in.


Both of us were able to talk to our parents and I updated my blog. My wonderful Aunt had a pie sent to us, but unfortunately it was mailed via UPS to a post office. I was able to get in contact with the pie company though and instead it will be waiting for us in Durango.


We aim to finish Sunday, which is fortuitous for me as it will be my 2 year anniversary of completing the Pacific Crest Trail. This final section has a few dry sections, but the terrain looks to be a little less intense than the prior one. It’s odd to think I’ll be finished with this trail soon.

Day 19: Nero into Silverton

8/22

5 miles

We had a rather wet night but luckily it was not raining in the morning. We packed up as best as we could, and we’re ready to leave just after 8. I checked in with Swamp Fox and Mary Poppins who decided to sleep in a bit, but we agreed to meet in town later.


We began to hike, and immediately began to climb. It was well graded, and we primarily followed switchbacks, which is not as common on the Colorado Trail. We passed a hiker we had briefly seen the day before and continued our ascent.


We had a brief break from the climb as we passed into a valley, then resumed our climb. We continued to enjoy more nice scenery, and saw a lot of ravens and a few deer. We began to hear cars and saw the highway. We managed to reach the road by 10:25, and began to try to hitch. Many cars zipped by but no one stopped. After about half an hour, a truck with some hikers came up, and the driver told us he’d take us to Silverton after dropping a hiker back on trail.


I rode in the bed with two other hikers, and Pineapple rode in the cabin. The other hikers have about 900 miles left of the PCT before they complete the triple crown. They have also done Te Araroa, which I was interested to talk to them about. Once in Silverton, we thanked the man for the ride and checked into the hostel. It is a very rule heavy hostel, but we are happy to have a brief respite from the rain before our last section. We got our resupply packages, showered, and went to get food.


At the restaurant we got a text from Swamp Fox saying they had made it to town, and they’d come meet us. We enjoyed burgers and ice cream and had fun hanging out with Mary Poppins and Swamp Fox while it began to pour rain. After eating, we went back to the hostel so Pineapple and I could give them some of our extra food. They were planning on heading out later, and as a result had an awkward encounter with the hostel owner who didn’t like them sitting in the lobby. We opted to head to a coffee shop instead.

It began to pour rain again, and we enjoyed hot chocolate inside. Pineapple and I were glad we were not going to head out into the rain, and that we had another day off. We enjoyed hanging out in downtown Silverton which feels a bit like a Wild West movie set.


We then headed to the grocery store. Pineapple and I wanted a few small things while Swamp Fox and Mary Poppins got more food for the last section. After they got everything packed, we said goodbye and headed back to the hostel. We dropped our stuff off and went to grab dinner.

At a brewery and pizzeria, we ran into Dreefee and joined her for dinner. We soon got another message from Swamp Fox saying they had failed to get a ride and were going to spend the night in town. They came to join us as well, and we had a great evening eating and talking. 

We said our final goodbyes to Swamp Fox and Mary Poppins, as they aim to finish a day before us. We then went back to the hostel with Dreefee. We will take a Zero tomorrow before making our final push to Durango.