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.