Colorado Trail – 2018

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Years ago, I hiked 5 days on the Colorado Trail. The plan was to hike the whole trail, but we screwed up, and carried packs way to heavy, and I ended up with bloody messed up feet that took weeks to heal up. Ugh.

But, as I was getting ready to go to New Zealand, I decided I needed to go somewhere and get in a training hike. Every other hike/walk I completed started as I walked out my front door, and turned left to head into Rock Creek Park so I could get off the city streets. Since I have family in CO, and I have previously hiked a section of the Colorado Trail, I thought that starting where my last trip ended and hiking ~100 miles over 5 days would be a good training hike. This covers from Kenosha Pass to the Mt. Massive trailhead. Lots of elevation change, all above 10,000 feet.

I initially planned on hiking this section in July or early August, but stupid me sprained my ankle, not hiking of course, but working in my garden. This put a bit of a dent in my training. I sprained my ankle on July 3, and delayed my travel for about a month, but I think I recovered pretty quickly. I don’t remember much from that ankle sprain beyond the 10-15 minutes spent on the ground in agony before I crawled back inside. That ankle sprain when it happened was excruciatingly painful. I was really concerned I had totally screwed up my trip and completely hosed my ankle. I had sprained my other ankle years before, and it was not nearly as painful, but it took me a long time to recover from that one. I think the only worse pain I have experienced was a few years previous when my back spasmed and I ended up in hospital at 2am getting a big needle stuck in my back. This might just mean that I haven’t experienced much serious pain in my life. I dunno, I did have my vision go tv static and fuzzy and dark enough to collapse from gut cramps once (joy of gluten). That was super painful, but kind of different. I ramble though, back to trip summary.

I flew to Colorado, and I think I had one day to visit and get a few items, as I don’t remember, but I most definitely forgot a few things. But then off to the trailhead the next morning. I got on the trail about 10:30am. The hike the first day went thru some varied terrain, forested areas, dry open areas. I don’t remember a lot of details, but it was a good day of about 19 miles. I camped in this really nice little spot among some pine trees. The only problem with this was in the morning I woke to some strange noises, which is never ideal in the wilderness. But it was just a squirrel, high up in the pine tree, knocking all the pine cones down to the ground for later gathering, I assume. Maybe he was just trying to mess with me a bit, if so, he was successful.

Day 2, I remember this day a bit better. It started out in the forest and the trail climbed consistently and eventually came out in more open terrain with some expansive views. But by late morning, I was starting to have a slow struggling day. I think my body was adjusting to the altitude, and it was also a really hot day where I was out in the open for most of it. I really dragged my way thru most of this day. The trail did go into Breckenridge, just on the edge, where I lost the trail following the road for a bit before I crossed main highway. I think I added about 2 miles. I also saw a marten later in day, which I think of as a rare animal, but I think that might be wrong. I only got a short look as it dashed across trail, but pretty cool to see.

After I finally stopped for evening, in a fine camping spot, I ate, and it was the worst meal I have ever had on the trail. Normally, by dinner, I am ready to eat and whatever I have tastes fantastic. I have been making my own dehydrated meals for years, but kept adding more dehydrated veggies, and they don’t rehydrate enough at elevation. I had mashed potatoes, meat, and mostly dehydrated veggies. I knew that I would be passing by the Copper Mountain ski area and thought maybe I could get some different food the next day. I was not looking forward to more of my crap dinners.

Day 3 was much better, maybe my body was adjusting to elevation, but it was also a much cooler day. Started out early and walked thru a small burned out area, and then some pretty good uphill slopes. Late morning I got to the top of the mountain pass I was crossing and got onto the high lonesome. From there I could see Breckenridge behind me and Copper Mountain ski slopes in front. From the high lonesome I lost all and more of the elevation I had gained in morning. As I was descending, I kept passing markers on the trail. I saw a guy placing a marker and asked what they were for. He was the organizer for a trail run happening the next day. I forget how far the race is, but it was pretty long with lots of elevation gain and loss.

Once I reached the ski area, I detoured into the village, found a small grocery store, bought some deli meat, some deli cheese, and some more Kind bars, and threw out some of my dehydrated meals. It bothers me to throw out food, but I was so angry trying to eat it the night before that I made me happy to dump it.

After leaving village, back to trail and up and across the ski slopes, I took a nice afternoon break and ate some of my deli meat and cheese. Feeling much refreshed, I kept on, and the trail eventually lead up a valley. The trail was not steep, but continually uphill, and in the trees mostly, but the open valley floor was just a few yards away, I went into valley to get water where convenient. I kept getting higher, and it was getting later, but there were no reasonable places to camp, so I kept going. It was getting on in the evening when I got above the trees and found a decent camping spot in the middle of a small copse of trees. Maybe not ideal. I could see that dark clouds were coming over the ridge and I could see lightning. I made sure to gather together vital stuff so that if the storm came over my location, I could grab a few things and run downhill to a safer location.

Well, I was lucky as the storm passed by, (north west of me?) but it was one hell of a storm. Lots of lightning. It would have been terrifying to be in it at that elevation (11,500?). I got lucky on that one. It was a beautiful open area to camp though.

Day 4 was beautiful and pretty chilly to start. The air after the storm was much clearer, making for a beautiful morning. As I left my camping spot, I found a Colorado Hut, closed except in winter, but if I had known it was there, I would have felt much safer about the storm, as I could have gone down to the hut and hung out on the porch.

I went over a small saddle and entered an open treeless area. It was beautiful, and because it was early, the light was really nice, and I think I took a couple of decent pics. This was pretty flat walking, and the trail entered a big area of willows. I had to stop when a dog started barking at me from the side of trail. There was a hiker with her dog in a terrible camping spot a couple of feet off trail amongst the willows. She got caught out worried about the storm and just set up as best she could.

After the willows, more open area and up to Kokomo pass. From the pass the trail went downhill into a valley. The trees higher up were conifers, but a lot of willow as I got further down valley. The trail eventually led out into flat valley that was home to an army alpine training base in WWII. I hiked along edge of valley and then cut across. It was brutally hot in that valley, at least after the chilly morning. I did stop for a nice break at a waterfall, and was able to dunk my hat and face into the water and cool off, I was getting really hot and was definitely starting to feel tired.

The trail once I left valley was up for a bit. I ended up taking another needed break not too far along. The trail from became fairly flat and went thru some open fields for a while. It then started to rain and I spent maybe an hour in the walking up a quite wide and straight section of trail. At one point after rain stopped, I could look down a hill on side of trail and the ground had some snow cover. I kept pushing and reached a nice camping area, there were a couple of others camped not too far away. Was a nice spot.

Day 5. Passed into the Holy Cross wilderness early. The trail did seem a bit more out there, nothing to significant, but it seemed more remote. A nice day of hiking, I don’t remember a lot of details. There was one short section of steep trail that went straight up the hill, a feature I was soon to discover common in New Zealand.

There was a good bit of elevation gain and loss on this day. Around late morning I think, I was passed by a hiker. His hiking partner passed me a while later, but we would end up going back and forth a couple of times. I ended up chatting with one of them, and they were thru hikers. We stopped at the same spot for the evening at the trail head to climb Mt Massive. I intended on going up the next day before a final 3 mile hike out to trail head where Walter was going to pick me up. The weather in the morning was not looking good. I wasn’t too keen on going up to 14k in the rain, so I skipped the peak and headed to trailhead first thing. While it was the right choice, I think the weather would have been fine. It seemed to clear up. But, I was also tired. I did not look forward to dragging my pack up approximately 3000 feet and back.

In the end, I made it thru this ~100 miles really well. No feet issues, I was tired, but realized quickly that I could have easily just restocked my food and headed back out. I was not beat up. So, my longest distance hiking trip ended up with me feeling better at end than just about any other hiking trip I have taken. Good stuff, and feeling good for New Zealand.

Last couple of pics