How We Purchase Our Gear

Doing our homework when purchasing products should indeed involve a responsible and ethical formula. The question thus becomes, what is a good formula for making purchases?

When it comes to hiking and backpacking gear there is no shortage of choices. Clothing, backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, quilts, pads, stoves, headlamps, trekking poles, gadgets and an endless list of “luxury” items that we are willing to carry into the backcountry. We have always advocated to try and support small cottage companies and buy local when possible with an emphasis on quality over price. But that formula has been changing as we dig a little deeper into the origins of the products we buy and how they impact, not only the economy, but the lives of others, including ourselves. All this, while maintaining a desire to acquire quality merchandise designed for our needs that provide what they promise at a price we are willing to pay.

Making the choice of where to buy can be a daunting task in and of itself. Based on certain criteria such as, buy direct, Black Friday, through a brick and mortar store, used vs new, online, scratch-n-dent or store bargain bins, the choices are vast. If that were not enough, there is the breakdown of the product itself. There are the choices to buy, or not, based on weight, size, price, brand, reviews, fit, comfort, marketing, word of mouth and memes. All of which affect how we buy, though we would have to lean towards most people probably use some sort of price – quality blend as the most likely used formula for making a purchase.

But, there is more. How often do we consider where these products are made? How often do we consider the ethics of the company we are purchasing from? Is price, availability and the speed at which we can get the item our first priority? Are we willing to wait longer if the company and product are more in line with quality over price. Would we consider ethical shopping? Is this more politics than a mere shopping experience?

Labels, labels and more labels. Made in USA, Made in China, Made in _____ is only the beginning. Other factors can easily come into play here. Assembled in_____, manufactured in_____, assembled with imported parts and materials from _____ and the list goes on and on. It can be quite overwhelming to to make a purchase if you are concerned with more than just a price, reviews and product specs.

Speaking of reviews, if those reviews are even legitimate, which is another story altogether. There are five star, four star, three star and, well, who goes below that anyway unless your looking at how bad a product is, and you should. Hopefully making a purchase is more than just “I want it now and I want it cheap”. Granted there is nothing wrong with spending your hard earned dollars responsibly, an honorable trait, there is much, much more to consider.

The politics of buying. Is the company ethical? Are the products you are purchasing ethical? Are they built to last? Are they manufactured in a manner that would reduce the carbon footprint? Is there a warranty, a good warranty? Does the company stand behind its products? Does any of this even matter? It should.

There is no denying that we live in a much smaller world now. Supporting local is good practice on so many levels. But there are times when that is just not possible or desirable. Doing our homework when purchasing products should indeed involve a responsible and ethical formula. The question thus becomes, what is a good formula for making purchases?  Good question!

Our formula, going forward, will not just be quality over price. This is more of a “when the stars align” approach. We intend to look local when possible, branching out from there. Finding the right company as close to home that will meet certain criteria. Made with products that support our local economy and are responsibly sourced, not only for the environment, but our physical well being as much. We have found  that companies who meet such criteria are not only environmentally friendly, but ethically run in all departments as well. The price tends to be a little higher, but we feel good about supporting such foundations. That, and, the products are of higher quality, made to last and are backed.

Keeping in mind, not all hiking and backpacking outings are the same. There are just so many different factors that can play a part in what you need. Trail length, weather, climate and geographical location alone will drive these decisions. From there the shopping begins. The choices mount. The questions begin. Everyone is different, their needs are different and the amount of money they will spend is different. How that money is spent will be a unique formula to say the least.

The gear we choose to take with us is our lifeline. From keeping us safe and comfortable to getting us in and out of the backcountry. We count on our gear, relying on it to perform as described and last a good amount of time. Paying for this and what is behind the product is well worth the effort that goes into purchasing them. A sound formula not only for us, but the company, its employees, the local economy and so forth. Is it perfect, no. We are just trying to do our part with what we have. Something, we’d say, should be everyone’s formula, that is, to do the best they can with what they have, in doing so, we can all make a difference.

Though not perfect, our gear to date has been a slow learning experience and continues to evolve as do we.

Debbie’s gear list from the Colorado Trail in 2019

Miller’s gear list from the Colorado Trail in 2019

Peace,

MAD

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The Complete Colorado Trail Guide – What Worked and What Didn’t

Any hike, be it a thru hike, day hike or multi-day backpacking trip requires specific gear designed for the conditions the adventurer will encounter. From the weather to the trail itself, hiking in the great outdoors tests the capabilities of the explorer mentally and physically. Choosing proper gear for the journey is paramount. Just like not all hikers and trails are the same, so too, not all gear is created equal and therefore what works for one hiker might not work for another. Not to mention, what works on one trail, might not work on another. Gear choices can be just as long a process as planning out a long hike. It is highly recommended that you do your homework before heading out on trail and know the conditions you might be exposed to and if the gear you are considering is even right for you. We would also encourage you to use the gear on a few test runs before the real adventure begins. From the pack you use to each piece of gear you’ll carry on the inside and outside of it, they are all vital components to a successful hike.

The gear we chose, for the Colorado Trail, was based, not only on our own personal research and experience, but the reviews and experience of other hikers. There is a vast community of hikers out there, as well, a vast amount of gear choices and just as many opinions. Ultimately what we chose boiled down to our own experiences with each piece of gear. Some, of which, we had already been using, tried and tested on trail. Some gear was new to us, pre-tested beforehand and some was trial and error on trail. Luckily we reside in Colorado and are used to hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Much of our gear was already in place for our hike. Some we needed, some we wanted and some we just wanted to upgrade.

If you know someone with a specific piece of gear you are interested in, speak with them, ask to see or use it. Stores like REI will also set gear up in the store, let you try on clothing and help fit you with a pack. But don’t just hand them you wallet either. There are also plenty of cottage companies out there that have cutting edge gear, generally considered ultralight and better suited for long distance thru hikes. These can be expensive, though, are very lightweight and use quality materials. Used, and or, last years models can also be a great way to save on costs, look for discount stores such as Sierra Trading Post. We have used all of the above methods. Just like the gear itself, research each company, their return and warranty policies.

Take into account the actual hike you are planning for. Is this a thru hike, multi-day backpacking trip or just an outing for the day? Our choices vary greatly depending on the type of hike we are going on. On a thru hike we prioritize weight, whereas a day hike we don’t necessarily even think about pack weight. A multi-day hike on the other hand will be a blend of the two, leaning more towards creature comfort than weight savings, all the while not overdoing it. It is a balancing act. Going ultralight or cutting way down on pack weight doesn’t mean being uncomfortable, it just means making wise choices and, yes, opening up your wallet a bit more in some cases. But, very few people actually fit into the thru hiker category. We ourselves are not considered thru hikers, even though we did thru hike the Colorado Trail. Again, it’s a balancing act of making gear choices that are right for the individual based on the trail being planned for and the amount of money you are willing to invest.

Hike your own hike, plan your own schedule and choose your own gear! Only you can make these decisions based on your own needs. Don’t get carried away by what’s popular or what the influencers are saying. There is a lot of great gear and gear companies out there. Talk to them and make sure they are listening to you and your needs. Not only is it a balancing act, it’s a process, a process, that if done correctly, will result in a comfortable, memorable and successful hike, regardless of length and duration.

All that said, we get a lot of questions about our gear, especially since we have returned from our thru hike of the Colorado Trail. Below we have created a list of essential gear we chose for the CT in 2019 and have attempted to answer “what worked and what didn’t?” This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but does cover a majority of our gear. If it seemingly sounds as if we had no complaints, keep in mind, we took a very long time researching these choices before heading out on our hike. Some items were trial and error on trail, admittedly not the best time to experiment with new gear. Below we list our gear, a quick review accompanied by a video.

Watch every segment of the Colorado Trail

A simple view of our gear, weights, who carried what and where you can purchase the items can be seen here: Miller’s Gear / Debbie’s Gear

  • Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System
  • Part 2: Cook System, Food and Storage, Water and Filtration
  • Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene
  • Part 4: Electronics and Safety
  • Part 5: Q & A

Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System

Backpack

  • Gossamer Gear Mariposa. A new product for us, that was a 60 liter workhorse on trail that had just the right amount of internal space and external pockets for our gear. The empty weight of the pack averages 2 lbs, depending on hip belt size and accessories. We both recommend this pack for thru hiking and multi-day adventures. Complaints were few. The top “lid” outer pocket is a bit awkward to access when it is strapped down. The removable frame can get in the way when stuffing large items down inside the inner compartment. The load lifters on Miller’s pack both failed on trail, a week apart. By all appearances the stitching was to blame. This did not render the pack unusable, just lessened the comfort level. We contacted Gossamer Gear and a new pack was sent immediately.

Shelter

  • Zpacks Duplex (2 person tent). At 1.5 lbs (including 6 stakes) this is considered an ultralight tent. Zpacks is a small cottage company using Dyneema (Cuban Fiber) composite materials that are extremely lightweight, waterproof and highly tear resistant. This was a new product for us and is the first two person tent we have ever used that was truly made for two people. We used it in all types of weather, prior to and during our Colorado Trail thru hike. We definitely recommend this tent for any outing, be it one night or thru hiking. The price is a bit high, but after using this product we would definitely buy it again in the future.

Sleep System

  • Sleeping Pad: Exped Synmat Duo (winter version). Another new product for us to pair with our double sleeping quilt, see below. It replaced both of our Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pads, which are better suited for mummy style sleeping bags. We went with the winter version for increased R-value (R-5) in the higher elevations along the Colorado Trail. We could have chosen the lighter, summer version and stayed comfortable, so this was a personal choice and added weight. At 2.5 lbs (including pump sack) we considered this a luxury item, though only .5 lbs heavier than the regular version (R value 3.3) we accepted the extra weight for our own comfort level. With two separate air chambers, a great option for those who like different hardness levels to their mattresses, this has become a favorite for us. We did get a small hole later in our hike, easily patched and continues to work well. No complaints.
  • Sleeping Quilt: We used an Enlightened Equipment Accomplice (10° down) weighing 2.5 lbs. We had never used a quilt before. This replaced our two mummy style 21° sleeping bags. Bottom line, we will never go back to a traditional sleeping bag again. The comfort level of having a quilt over a bag is night and day. Movement is not restricted, shared body heat with your partner is a big plus, lightweight materials keep overall weight down without having to take away from the comfort level. Complaints, none. Would we chose a single quilt over a sleeping bag, yes. Enlightened Equipment is a cottage company.
  • Pillow: Exped Air Pillow (Large). Weighing in at 3 oz it is a middle ground “blow up style” pillow. Basic in nature, it did the job. Nothing special here, other than being lightweight. We chose to inflate them half to three quarters full for our comfort level. Complaints? Slippery material caused it to move easily on the sleeping pad. We wrapped them in a shirt and that help to stop movement and give it a softer feel.

Part 2: Cook System, Food and Storage, Water and Filtration

Cook System

  • Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket. We still use the original version of this great lightweight canister stove. Weighing in at just over 2.5 oz, it might be small, but it is highly effective at heating and boiling water quickly. Paired with the right cook pot (see below) we can boil water in about one minute. Keep in mind, we heat or boil our water to clean our utensils, re-hydrate our meals or make coffee and tea. We are not doing any other style cooking with this stove. We prefer to use MSR canister fuels over other brands, a result of high altitude use. The stove cools down quickly after use.
  • Cook Pot: Snowpeak 1400 Titanium Cook Pot. Solid, lightweight (4.4 oz) and holds a medium sized fuel canister and stove when packed away. Though larger than what we necessarily need, the weight difference is minimal. On the plus side, because of its size, the water level in the pot is low causing the water to heat and boil faster, saving on fuel consumption. Being able to store everything together saves on space in our packs. Complaints? Can be hot to touch immediately after a boil, though it does cool down rapidly. More expensive than aluminum.
  • Utensils: Sea to Summit “long handle” sporks. Spoon and fork design in a single item. Long handle is great for eating from meals that are packaged in deep bags. Lightweight and easy to clean. No complaints.

Water and Filtration

  • Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze. Lightweight (3 oz), non-mechanical, easy to use, easy to clean and rated to 0.1 micron. The filter easily screws on to a Smartwater bottle and our water filter (see below ). We replaced a heavier pump style filter several years ago and have been using this filter ever since.
  • Water Bags: CNOC Outdoors 2 Liter Vecto. This amazing and very versatile bag is the perfect compliment to the Sawyer Squeeze for an all around thru hiker water system. The Vecto can be filled on either end, one end having a threaded water bottle style opening ,the other a full bag opening for fast fill in streams, creeks and lakes. The Sawyer Squeeze filter screws right on to the Vecto. We filled these bags and pushed water through our filter and also hung the bag for a gravity fed system through our filter. Other uses include, pillow, cold compress, shower (with attached valve) just to name a few. Complaints? None.
  • Water bottles: Smart Water. Easily attached to our water system components, fit great in side pockets of our backpacks and easily found in just about any store that sells bottled water.

Food and Storage

  • Storage: Ursack Major bear bag and Loksak Opsak liner. This is a personal preference in Colorado. Most areas of Colorado do do not require a bear vault, however, keeping food and other items with odors sealed and off the ground is always recommended. That said, the trees in the higher elevations are not suited for hanging bear bags. That is where the Ursack comes in as it can be tied to the trunk of a tree. Complaints? Heavier than other standard bags, though lighter than a vault. Expensive. The Opsak liner “zip-lock” feature can fail after long term use.
  • Backpackers Pantry. Plenty of flavors to choose from while keeping your palate entertained. Just pour hot water in the bag, let re-hydrate and eat. Simple trail food with a not so simple taste. We chose vegetarian and gluten free meals.
  • Mary Jane’s Farm. Several organic options and flavors to choose from while keeping your palate entertained. Just pour hot water in the bag, let re-hydrate and eat. Simple trail food with a not so simple taste. We chose vegetarian and gluten free meals.
  • DIY Meals. We put together our own meals using bulk products from Harmony House and dry foods for an organic grocery store, ie instant potatoes, rice etc.
  • Bobo Bars. Basic, hardy and filling. Make sure you choose as many different flavors as you can find otherwise you’ll be carrying them around instead of eating them. Miller liked to spread peanut butter on them for an extra protein blast.
  • Snickers. The ultimate thru hiker food! This became our breakfast about halfway through the trail. It just works.
  • Stinger. Various bars and snacks that we enjoyed the entire hike. The waffles and chews were the best.
  • NuGo. Various bars with added protein. Hardy and filling. Don’t overdo it, you get tired of the same flavor over and over.
  • Justin’s. Peanut butter and almond butter packets. These are great, add them to just about anything, including meals, or just eat from the pack.
  • Starbucks and Mount Hagen instant coffee singles. We wound up drinking our coffee cold to save on fuel consumption and no prep time in the mornings. Just dropped two of them in a water bottle and started hiking.
  • Emergen-C. Added to our water to balance electrolytes and help hydrate.
  • Louisville Jerky. One of our favorites! Vegan, huge on flavor and perfect for hiking.
  • Resupply Points. Frisco, Twin Lakes, Mt Princeton Hot Springs, Salida, Gunnison, Lake City and Silverton.

Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene

Clothing (Debbie)

  • Shirt: ExOfficio Lightscape Digi-Stripe Shirt: Great comfortable, lightweight shirt with sun protection, which has side and back vents to help in staying cool. I only felt a bit too warm in some of the lower elevations and hotter days.
  • Pants: Baleaf Women’s Yoga Pants: The entire Baleaf yoga pant line are super comfortable that allow for ease of movement.
  • Skirt: Mountain Hardwear Dynama Skirt: This skirt has been a favorite of mine on all of our hikes. Comfortable fit with large pockets for keeping items close at hand. I used this skirt without the yoga pants on warmer sections and days.
  • Panties: ExOfficio Women’s Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief: Lightweight and comfortable
  • Sports Bra: Champion: Simply put, an inexpensive, comfortable sports bra.
  • Socks: Injinji and Darn Tough: Perfect combination that were comfortable and lasted the entire hike, and then some.
  • Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 14 Trail Runners: I started out with Altra Lone Peaks, which wreaked havoc on my Achilles tendon. I wished I had understood more about the zero drop before I purchased Altra shoes. I switched out to a pair of Brooks which have become my favorite trail runners.
  • Gaiters: Dirty Girl: I wore my gaiters at all times which were great at keeping dirt and rocks out of my socks and shoes.
  • Jacket (Puffy): Arc’teryx Cerium LT – Hooded Lightweight and very warm, especially when temp rises above low 30s.
  • Rain Gear: Frogg Toggs and Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella: I used the umbrella primarily for keeping the sun, which it did well. Frogg Toggs is great lightweight inexpensive rain gear but tends to tear somewhat easily, but the price makes it worth using.
  • Gloves (Dry/Wet): Outdoor Research VersaLiner Gloves: They served the purpose for this hike, but not the warmest gloves I have used. The outer removable shell, used to keep gloves and hands dry, was the primary reason for taking these gloves on the hike.
  • Base Layer: Smartwool Merino Wool 150 Base Layer top and bottoms: Great base layer that can be used for sleeping or for layering.

Clothing (Miller)

  • Shirt and Pant/Short: Columbia. PFG long sleeve shirt. Long pants with zip off legs. Great outdoor clothing that uses moisture wicking technology. Trail tested for years. No complaints.
  • Briefs: 2 pairs of Exofficio Give-n-Go Briefs. Like Columbia, Exofficio uses lightweight technology in their fabrics to create great clothing options for outdoor adventures. No complaints.
  • Socks: 2 pair of Smartwool ankle socks. Comfortable, took a pounding for 500 miles and are still in great shape. No complaints.
  • Shoes: Trail Runners. Hiked first 75 miles in Altra Lone Peaks 3.5 and switched to the Hoka Stinson ATR 5. Altra has a great foot box and worked great for needing extra room, but the shoe lacks impact comfort with its “zero drop” design. The Hoka was great for impact and held up well for the remainder of the trail. Comfortable and lightweight. No complaints.
  • Gaiters: Dirty Girl. Their gaiters are fun, choose a pattern that suits you! Definitely worth having these on to help keep dirt and debris out of your shoes. No complaints.
  • Jacket (Puffy): Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. Super lightweight and warm down puffy, despite first out of the box impressions, once I wore it on trail I was sold. Packs down small. No complaints.
  • Rain Gear: Frogg Toggs and Six Moons Design Umbrella. The rain gear is cheap, basic and does the job. Would not recommend for daily use in wet environments as the quality of the materials is not great. For drier climates like Colorado they were great. Complaints: none for the price. The umbrella was better at keeping the warm sun off than a driving rain, though when the wind was not a factor it worked great. Very lightweight. Complaints? Tends to fly away in wind.
  • Gloves (Dry/Wet): Outdoor Research VersaLiner Gloves . Not the warmest gloves in the world, but did okay just below dry freezing temps. The outer liner works well with light moisture. Decent for occasional use. In long term cold and wet conditions would recommend something heavier.
  • Base Layer: Smartwool Merino Wool 150 Base Layer top and bottoms. Primarily used for sleeping in. Great lightweight product used in layering. Very comfortable. No complaints.

Hygiene

  • Taking a birdbath with Wet Wipes in the tent
  • Dr Broners Soap for our gear, clothing and selves
  • Filtered Water
  • Hotel bathtub and laundry rooms to clean our clothes

Part 4: Electronics and Safety

  • Trekking Poles: Miller used the CNOC Outdoors Vertex Z-style Carbon poles with the straps removed. When not in use they fold up nice and compact. Debbie tried them but found the length to be to tall, after adjusting below recommended height lines, they kept collapsing on trail. Miller did not have the same issue, but was also using recommended height. Debbie switched to the Cascade Mountain Teck poles sold at Costco and had no issues afterwards. Great price on a pole very similar to the Black Diamond carbon poles. The CNOC and Cascade poles were lightweight, 16 oz or less, and held up great on trail. We also used the CNOC poles to set up our Zpacks Duplex each night.
  • SOS / GPS / 2-Way Satellite: Garmin inReach Explorer Plus. Nice to have on trail when there is no phone service. Built for the outdoors and has several great safety features no thru hiker should be without. Thankfully we have never had to use the SOS feature, but it is nice to know help will come if we ever needed it. We paired it with our phone (see below), using its larger screen to view the topo maps and send / receive messages while keeping the Garmin packed away in our pack. No complaints. Battery life is good, but can run low if you use the messaging feature a lot.
  • Phone: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. It’s a phone, what can we say. We used the cameras, typical phone functions and coupled them with our Garmin inReach. Instead of carrying the Colorado Trail Guide Book, we took pictures of every page and accessed the info in our phone.
  • Video Camera: To save weight we reluctantly left our full size DSLR cameras at home for this hike. We took a Go Pro Hero 7 Black with us and have mixed reviews. All of our videos were shot using this small and very lightweight action camera. The in camera stabilization is pretty good, though suffers in low light. The higher the resolution setting you use, the faster the battery will drain. We shot in 1080p and usually got up to two days use on a single battery. During normal light thge footage is quite good for what you might expect from this type of camera. Chief complaints, we found that the camera could easily be turned on if bumped, needless to say, we found the battery dead on more than one occasion. There are also several built in microphones that are quite sensitive and pick up on handheld noises.
  • Power: Anker PowerCore Plus 26800 PD. This “brick” kept all of our electronics charged up easily for 4 – 6 days at a time. Well worth the extra pound of weight. It fast charges as well, keeping recharging times to a minimum. Great product. Complaints? It’s heavy!
  • Bear Spray: UDAP 7.9 oz canister. Like the SOS feature on our Garmin inReach, we have not had to use the bear spray. It’s nice to have, but thankfully it is unused. On a side note, we have never felt threatened by an wildlife on trail or in camp in Colorado.
  • Lighting: We use Black Diamond headlamps. Lightweight and have a great luminosity when on trail or at camp. Red light feature is good when you want to be a little more stealthy. Great battery life. No complaints.
  • Umbrellas: Debbie used the Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella and Miller used the Six Moons Design Silver Shadow Mini. Both about the same in weight, Debbie’s an ounce heavier at 8oz vs Miller’s at 6.53oz. The biggest difference, the Six Moons Design is much more compact. They both work well to keep rain, small hail and sun off you, though, like any umbrella, tend to want to take flight in high winds. A lightweight umbrella is definitely worth having on trail.

Part 5: Q & A

The last in the video series of What Worked – What Didn’t on the Colorado Trail where we answer the questions you sent in. In all, 19 questions that we found universal among most people with other tidbits thrown in here and there, the details are pretty much covered in the videos above. It is a bit long, almost three hours. There is a time stamp included if you would rather go right to the Q&A portion you are looking for.

  • Q1 What camera gear did you use? 2:00
  • Q2 Personal protection. Gun, bear spray or other? 4:11
  • Q3 What clothing did you take? Would you change anything? 6:31
  • Q4 How did you resupply? Hitches into town? 18:00
  • Q5 What was your food plan? 49:38
  • Q6 What was in your resupply box? 1:00:00
  • Q7 How did you stay clean on trail? Clean clothes and gear? 1:04:51
  • Q8 How did you deal with storms? 1:13:17
  • Q9 Did you like the Zpacks Duplex Tent? Would you change any gear? 1:24:25
  • Q10 How did you handle your water needs? Filter, chemicals, boil? 1:35:25
  • Q11 Was is cold at night? On trail? Coldest temperature? 1:51:48
  • Q12 How did you divide your gear weight? 1:58:11
  • Q13 Did you see any wildlife? 2:08:10
  • Q14 How much weight did you lose on the CT? 2:15:36
  • Q15 Would you hike the same time of year again? 2:19:58
  • Q16 What was your favorite part of the CT? 2:26:57
  • Q17 What was your most pleasant surprise on the CT? 2:30:11
  • Q18 What was your most unpleasant surprise? 2:37:00
  • Q19 Did you feel prepared after starting the trail, having trained for it prior? 2:43:55

We hope you enjoyed our Colorado Trail thru hike and the accompanying gear videos. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

See you out there!

Peace,

MAD

MAD Hippies Life can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey.

Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

Start: Kennebec TH

End: Junction Creek TH

Distance: 21.5 miles

We did it! We completed the Colorado Trail, hiking 486 miles from Denver to Durango and some 90,000 feet of vertical elevation gain over the entirety of the trail. It has been several weeks now since we returned home and are still in awe of our month long adventure. The CT is an absolutely amazing trail to hike. It is the epitome of all that Colorado is, from the plains to the high peaks and everything in between. From flat open travel to craggy heart pounding ridgelines high above the world, the Colorado Trail will engage the traveler both physically and mentally. It will challenge and reward you at the same time. The landscape, the wildlife and the weather all play a part in this journey of a lifetime. Indeed, an achievement to be proud of. The Colorado Trail is not all about hiking though, the towns you visit and the people you meet along the way are as much the trail. We were so happy to have met, hiked with and exchanged many great stories with our “tramily” (trail family) on trail. Such wonderful people with so many different backgrounds and one common goal, all hiking the Colorado Trail. We will always cherish our new found friends, their support and encouragement. Congratulations David F, Lucky, Sleep Walker, Oofta, Daddy Long Legs, Scout, Hodgepodge, Dude, Turquoise, Puppy Love and the many other great people we met and hiked with, you guys are all amazing. Thank you to all the trail angels we came across, who gave us rides, fed us and sent us off regenerated. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped, supported and kept us in their daily thoughts. There wasn’t a time on trail we didn’t feel as if someone wasn’t watching over us. Call it luck, call it what you will, every need we encountered was met and fulfilled. The trail definitely provided in its own way and in its own timing.

Segment 28 began after a dramatic end to segment 27. Traversing the Indian Trail Ridge, crossing through the surrounding alpine region and the drop into Taylor Lake were absolutely incredible. As we arrived at the Kennebec Trailhead to begin the last 21 miles of the trail, we paused, looked back to the north, bid farewell to all that we had experienced and stepped over into the final miles of our epic adventure. This was it, the final miles. We had actually walked from Denver to Durango traveling through, up, over and down some of the most beautiful wilderness areas we have ever seen. We had been hiking exposed for a while and really wanted to find some shade. We needed a break. After a rant and some venting about having hiked nearly 500 miles and not finding sufficient ground to relax on, we finally found a few lone trees where we stopped for lunch. We sat, took in a deep breath, updated everyone about our whereabouts and readied ourselves for the final push. We could see Indian Trail Ridge and watched in the early afternoon sun as a small single cloud quickly erupted into a threatening thunderstorm. It only took a few minutes. We recounted the dangers of hiking on exposed ridges and felt good about our decision to wait as we did until the following morning to go over the ridge. 21 miles, that’s it, from here it is nothing more than a quick overnight hike.

We gathered our gear, threw on our packs and were off down the trail. Our next goal, Slide Rock, a very steep, narrow section of trail that crosses a long and nerve-racking scree field. Nothing compares to a real time experience. We had seen pictures of this area, but those do nothing to prepare you for actually walking across it. The earth moved under our feet as the fear of slipping and falling was a constant reminder to take careful and precise steps. Having hiking poles, shoes with good traction and uninterrupted concentration are the key here. Though, our “trail runners” now had hundreds of miles on the tread, our hiking poles were getting caught in the rocks and our concentration was constantly being interrupted by the incredible scenery and the drop off. Slow and steady. The continued decent down into the canyon was a return back to dense foliage, creeks and softer ground underfoot. We hiked at a steady pace heading for the bottom only to rise back up later that evening on our last climb of the CT, a 1,000 foot incline back towards the rim of the canyon to a camping area that would put us only ten miles from the finish the next morning. It had been a very long day of hiking and we were whooped. Where our energy came from to complete this one last climb is a mystery to us, but we did it, we were positioned well for a quick and easy finish.

We reached the top of the climb and were greeted to a warm welcome from some of our tramily that we had caught up to. Seems we were all on the same page as far as mileage, campsites and the plan for a short 10 mile hike to the finish the next morning. We were all camped in a densely wooded and tight ravine with little to no flat places to properly set up our tents. After the climb we were so tired, so we just didn’t care. Everyone had their spot, shrugged their shoulders and thought, “it’ll do.” We made camp, enjoyed stories and were soon all off to our tents for the night. We spent the evening on a slope, constantly having to reposition in our tent, only to slide back down. This comedy act would last all night. If that were not enough, we began hearing heavy steps, snapping and breaking outside the tent all around our camp. Someone asked, “what is that?” A pause followed by an explanation, “we’ve got cows!” Everyone emerged from their tents, headlights shining in all directions as several cows and their calves were making their way uphill through our campsite. The cows seemed to look at us with a blank stare that said, “humans, you goofballs, what are you doing here?” They slowly made passage and went on about their business. Everyone got back in their tents as the last comment was made, “what if they come back, they are not the most graceful of creatures!?” We all laughed. The next morning we awoke to a passing rain shower and thought, if the terrible camping area and cows were not enough, now this. It was such a pathetic situation you couldn’t help but laugh about it. Soon enough we would all be finishing and getting clean, sleeping in soft beds and eating like kings and queens. Our last night on trail with our tramily was truly memorable, hilarious and pathetic, but memorable. We had survived Cowgate 2019!

Only ten miles to go, we walked with purpose, recounting the trail and the incredible trek we had been on. We wanted clean clothes, a hot shower and a good meal. That last ten miles seemed to stretch on and increase! We began seeing day hikers and hearing the Durango-Silverton Train’s whistle echo throughout the trees. We were getting close and very excited. We got to Gudy’s Rest, the last big landmark on the trail and great spot to reflect on the past month, where we met up with another tramily member. The excitement was obvious on all of our faces. We sat, relaxed and took our last break on the Colorado Trail before heading back out for the final four miles. We pointed out the “lasts” on trail, our last creek crossing, our last bridge, our last hill, our last aspen, our last footsteps. We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing and giggling with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey. One of our tramily members, David F, was there waiting with celebratory cold drinks and a big congratulations. We all took pictures and awaited other tramily members to make their grand exit. After a small celebration, sharing of stories and after everyone had left, we stood there, as we had started over a month ago in Denver, just the two of us and allowed it to sink in. We had successfully hiked the Colorado Trail. A dream now become reality, a lifetime achievement, complete. We now add another wonderful chapter in our lives together, the Colorado Trail, and how we hiked it, together.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 27 of 28

We crossed through treeline and across the open tundra where we were greeted by a spectacular array of mountain peaks and ridgelines. Back in the alpine we were.

Colorado Trail Segment 27 of 28

Start: Hotel Draw Road

End: Kennebec TH

Distance: 20.6 miles

It is not the last segment, but 27 felt as if it was the last hoorah on the Colorado Trail. Whereas 28 is the last segment, it is not necessarily a “big finish” so to speak in terms of big and bold views. Segment 27 on the other hand is full of dramatic mountain views, ridge walks, climbs, descents and a great finish at an alpine lake. Segment 28, well, a canyon walk and a return to lower terrain. The big attraction there is, well, the finish! We are not being completely fair, it is just that we love the higher terrain. The canyon walk to the finish is quite beautiful with plenty of water, vegetation and easy travel. It is not the wide open expanse we love to hike in, but it is a place to explore, relax in and enjoy. Much larger in scale than the northern terminus in Denver where you hike through Waterton Canyon or from the Indian Creek alternate, the canyon here is very large and expansive towering a good 1,000 plus feet. Trust us on that, we climbed it the day before we would get to the finish.

It was late in the day when we began segment 27, walking in a mixed wooded area. We had been pushing the miles all day to try and put ourselves in a good logistical place for the next few days. Indian Trail Ridge was coming up and we did not want to cross it in the afternoon hours as it is a storm magnet. We would go as far as we could for the day and find a place to camp when possible. Certainly not a great spot, but it would do for the night. We found an open area along a forest service road with big views for the next morning sunrise. Unfortunately, we must have taken residence up in a favorite spot for weekend campers / hunters, as a few 4X4s and OHVs pulled into our camp overnight. It was very dark, so each time we would turn on our headlamps and illuminate the tent to let them know we were there, each time they would leave. Granted that was not our intention, we just didn’t want to have someone drive over us in the middle of the night! We had another visitor as well. We heard sticks breaking and thought, “that sounds big” to which we grabbed the headlamps, pointed the light outside the tent and saw two large eyes glowing 20 feet away. Bear? Cow? What the…it’s a deer. Apparently we had quite the campsite that night, everyone wanted to pay us a visit.

The next morning, groggy from lack of sleep, we packed up, began climbing, waiting for the sun to make a grand entrance to warm us and had our normal Snickers and cold coffee breakfast. We would be walking the edge of a ridge for a while and enjoyed beautiful views of the valley on our left all morning. The flowers themselves were anxiously awaiting the sun, as they were leaning left in anticipation of the warmth coming. It would not be shocking if we, too, were leaning to the left as well. It was a cloudless blue sky day in the making, the darkness of night was exiting and being replaced by reds, oranges and yellows that lit up the sky like a martian landscape. We walked, enjoyed the changing colors in the sky and enjoyed our coffee, well, we drank it anyway. Cold coffee is merely caffeine intake, nothing more, though tolerable. The Snickers, wonderful. A treat we would never allow ourselves off trail. We found a a great log to rest on that had phone service. We caught up on messages, told everyone we were alive and using sticks left a “hiker text” on the ground for one of our tramily members letting them know this was a great spot to relax.

The afternoon would prove to be quite warm as we hiked through a small open area that resembled an old burn scar. Now well into the regrowth stage, but lacking tall trees for shade. The next shady spot we would come to would be for lunch and a nice break. Still in a dry stretch we conserved water but not so much to remain thirsty. We had heard of a spring ahead that was still flowing and allowed ourselves a few extra sips. If our shoes were not proof of the hot and dry then nothing could be. After our break, we put our shoes back on only to see dust plumes come off of them! We pushed on and finally made it it to the seasonal spring, flowing away, we filtered water and did not have any more plans to conserve again. The sky had clouded up and was now rumbling in the direction of Indian Trail Ridge. We would not be traversing it today. This did not come as a shock. We hiked on a little more, gaining altitude to a trail junction for a scenic overlook where camping was good and another seasonal spring was flowing. Our water issues had gone away, the heat of the day replaced by cool winds and a rumbling sky. We made camp, allowed ourselves to relax and decided to stay the night. After exploring the overlook, talking with other hikers in the same boat as we were, we called it a night and had a great night sleep.

We woke to darkness the next morning, quietly packed up and were off in the dark, headlamps illuminating the way. We were leaning left again, awaiting the morning sun and warmth. Again, the sky put on a spectacular show of alien world like colors. No clouds, just solid reds, yellows and oranges burning the sky from top to bottom. Soon enough it would be a pure Colorado blue sky. It would be a spectacular morning on trail. We were excited to be climbing to the Indian Trail Ridge, especially in the early hours with no threat of storms. We had been wanting to see this portion of trail from the beginning of our Colorado Trail journey. Today was the day. We crossed through treeline and across the open tundra where we were greeted by a spectacular array of mountain peaks and ridgelines. Back in the alpine we were. We came upon the ridge walk we had been so eagerly awaiting and were just blown away. What a spectacular site. It had danger and beauty written all over it. We slowly made our way across the loose rock and scree. Carefully choosing each step and trying not to lose our balance as we were mesmerized by the surrounding landscape. This would not be a place you would want to be in a storm, there is no escape, no place to run or hide, nowhere to go, period.

We could now see the upcoming ridgeline that houses the Taylor Lake basin. Another climb and we would be dropping in. Just like Indian Trail Ridge, Taylor lake was also a big landmark that we had so eagerly anticipated from the onset of our hike. We came over the ridge and began our descent, it was perfect. An alpine lake bordered by ridgelines and fed by snow. We had made plans to camp here if we would have gone northbound from Durango to Denver. A big wide open expanse of an alpine bowl, lush and green all around the surrounding area. If there were a negative, there was nearly no place to sit and relax as it was thick in vegetation. Where there was flat ground, it was bare of shade trees. Alas, it was the alpine. We filtered water at an outlet stream and talked with other hikers who were getting water as well. Water sources tend to be social spots on trail where hikers trade trail conditions and stories. We soon got back on trail and were heading off to the end of the segment. Upon arrival at the Kennebec Trailhead, we couldn’t help but read the sign, Durango 26 miles (to town). It was coming, the finish would be the next day. We would be crossing the finish line and embrace an emotional exit to a dream that had been in the works for years. A deep breath, a grin that wouldn’t go away and we would step forth off of segment 27 and onto 28.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 26 of 28

Our pace was quick, our focus acute, we were only 53 miles away from the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail.

Colorado Trail Segment 26 of 28

Start: Bolam Pass Road

End: Hotel Draw Road

Distance: 10.9 miles

Where segment 26 might be short on mileage, it makes up with big views. Perhaps better put, segment 26 is a where all the unique features of the Colorado Trail come together in one segment. If you only had time for a short hike and wanted to experience everything the CT has to offer, this would be a great choice. Full of twists and turns, there is a surprise view around every corner. At this stage of writing all the blog posts and putting together all the videos for each segment, we almost feel as if we are just repeating ourselves, and perhaps we are, but the fact remains, there are amazing larger than life views along this nearly 500 mile long trail from Denver to Durango! From deep down in the fertile valleys, through dense enchanted forests, across high exposed ridgelines and over majestic mountain peaks, there is good reason why the CT exists. Beyond the hard work and planning that went into the creation of it or the continued yearly maintenance from amazing volunteers, the trail exists because there is no denying the beauty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. There is an adventure here and it was captured for all to enjoy. But not every thru-hike on the CT will be the same, each one is unique and new.

Our favorite portion of this segment was hiking up and over Blackhawk Pass (11,985′). We enjoyed commanding views in all directions and then descended on a twisting trail complete with switchbacks (yay!) down into a lush forested valley. We were heading for Straight Creek to camel up on water and begin a 22 mile stretch to Taylor Lake at the end of segment 27, the next “reliable” water source. Water is two pounds a liter, something we were not fond of carrying a lot of. Part of our logistics for food and water was to plan knowing when we would have plenty and when we would not. Because of the potential lack of water on this portion of trail, food choices changed dramatically as most of our typical meals need to be re-hydrated. Good thing our breakfasts had become simple, snickers and cold coffee. Lunch, on this stretch, about the same! We kept it easy for the next 24 hours until we got to Taylor Lake. Luckily, in between, we would find a few seasonal water sources that would ease having to carry a lot of water for long periods. Thru-hiking success has many factors, one of the most important, pack weight. We counted ounces and did what we could to find a happy balance between gear choices for creature comfort, and weight of gear, food and water for overall comfort to make the miles necessary to stay on track and meet our daily goals.

At just under 11 miles, we were witness to amazing views all around. Waterfalls, lakes, creeks, wildflowers, wildlife, ridgelines, mountains, valleys and much much more. Take your camera, point and click and you will come away with a beautiful photo. Our pace was quick, our focus acute, we were only 53 miles away from the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail. We couldn’t help but smile and sense the end nearing as we hiked on into segment 26. It was happening, we were almost done, we would finish and embrace the reality of a grand lifetime achievement. We were beginning to see our tramily daily now, we all seemed to have the same silly grin on our faces, our conversations were energetic and our timeline was all merging on the finish. We would camp together, walk together and finish the same day, if not minutes apart, together. We were in a good place and enjoyed the minutes, hours and days as we made our way towards the nearing finish line.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 25 of 28

There was a sense of harmony in this place. We needed to pass through it, but didn’t want to disturb the energy. Peacefully we made our way across, absorbing it’s beauty and leaving no trace of ourselves.

Colorado Trail Segment 25 of 28

Start: Molas Pass

End: Bolam Pass Road

Distance: 20.9 miles

After a quick overnight stop in Silverton for our resupply, we were back on trail early the next morning. The Molas Pass area, as much segment 25 itself, was a real surprise. We flirted with treeline and had commanding views in every direction. The picturesque landscape was simply spectacular! Looking out in any direction it was just eye catching scenery, back-dropped with a half dozen or so 13ers and near 13ers, Twin Sisters (13,432′ & 13,374′), Rolling Mountain (13,693′), Grizzly Peak (13,738′), Jura Knob (12,614′) and  the prominently placed Engineer Mountain, (12,968′) that begged to be seen. The forest were lush, green and healthy, the creeks and waterfalls clear and cold, whereas the wildflowers seemed to be in their prime, full of vibrant colors blanketing the hillsides and lining the trail. The mountain valleys were deep, rocky and mystical as each corner of the trail welcomed us to further and unexpected views. There were a couple mountain passes that we would have to climb up and over that would leave us speechless at the top. We were completely caught off guard by these surroundings and shocked by the beauty of this segment. It seemed to us to be a culmination of every segment we had hiked to this point.

We were climbing again leaving treeline behind and into unknown territory. Perhaps it was the earlier segments, 21 through 23 that had ruined us, not fully knowing if there was much wow factor left on the CT. We were wrong. Honestly, it was not even comparable, this place held its own unique beauty. Wide open, massive valleys guarded by towering jagged mountains in varying color displays of rusty reds and shades of emerald green. We had not seen anything like this on the trail yet. The climb up had us pass through fields of wildflowers, fields of snow and fields of rock. The welcome mat to the high pass was laid out and we humbly accepted the invitation. The decent into the adjacent valley, utterly jaw-dropping. We were simply unprepared to witness such a beautiful place.

We were hiking at an excited pace, not only because it was to be our last few days on trail until Durango, but because the beauty just seemed to grow as we went on; we were eager to get to the next corner, the next crest, and down into the next valley. Our campsite that night would be surreal. We found a great spot near Cascade Creek and several waterfalls that would send us off to a quick sleep. We ate dinner, explored a bit and called it a day. The following morning we would be on trail early, chasing the sun, once again, to get warm. The nights were definitely getting colder, the morning as much. Getting out of a warm tent and sleeping quilt was no easy task, especially when you could see your breath. Suffice it to say, at some point we knew we would have to emerge. We continued in and out of treeline, eventually finding ourselves in an incredible meadow surrounded by peaks and ridges and full of wildlife. There was a sense of harmony in this place. We needed to pass through it, but didn’t want to disturb the energy. Peacefully, we made our way across, absorbing it’s beauty and leaving no trace of ourselves.

We emerged from the meadow, still in awe of everything we had seen in this gem of a segment, wondering how we were so surprised by what we had just experienced. The segment would come to an end at Celebration Lake, a name that has the hiker wondering how it came to be. Durango is still in front, three segments away, but what was just traversed and traveled, well that would certainly be cause for celebration. The Colorado Trail was not done with us yet, apparent from this section and the ones to come. Time was speeding up as we neared Durango, and yet we were at ease, enjoying these last few days content, not only in our accomplishments, but also in the fact that the CT would continue to wow us some more. While the excitement of the finish was growing daily, we had to wonder, what comes next. What happens after the finish? Did we really want it to end? We had been on trail for a month, our minds and bodies had accepted the new reality. Sure, a break would be nice, but the lure of the Colorado Rocky Mountains does not fade, it just seems to intensify with each step forward and each new horizon crossed where new ridges and peaks are laid out in front calling the traveler to come explore.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 24 of 28

If the avalanche debris we were finding off on the side of the road was any determination to what we were bypassing in Elk Creek, we were assured of our decision to take the detour.

Colorado Trail Segment 24 of 28

Start: Stony Pass TH

End: Silverton

Distance: 10.8 miles

Decisions. At the beginning of segment 24 we had to decide whether or not to take the traditional route down and through the Elk Creek drainage or the official detour that cyclists must take around the Weminuche Wilderness. It was a tough call, this is one of the highly anticipated beauties of the Colorado Trail, unfortunately it was also one of the red flags along the CT for the 2019 hiking season. The snowpack over winter was extreme in this area making for quite a few avalanches. The Elk Creek drainage was not exempt from these natural disasters and was on the receiving end of several damaging slides. The avalanches created mass debris fields of twisted, broken and impassable trees, mud, rock and snow in the bottom of the valley, atop the trail, not easily traversed to say the least. While some hikers were getting through, it was slow going and tedious travel. Watching each step carefully was pertinent to avoiding injury, but certainly not guaranteed.

We were already dealing with some issues of our own and did not want to risk further damage and/or trail-ending injuries, especially so close to the end. Staring at our feet the entire time had very little appeal, we had seen them for several hundred miles as it was. Climbing over, through, around and under piles of mangled trees, snow, mud and rock might sound like fun to an extreme sport fanatic, but not us. We wanted to enjoy our hike, especially this part of the CT we had heard so much about. It was hard to make the decision to take the alternate, but it was also the right thing for us. We stayed on the road, crested the pass and were pleasantly surprised at our first view down the opposing valley as we began our long decent into Silverton. Surrounded by high rock walls on each side and larger than life views in front, we continued on enjoying the wild landscape that continued to wow us, even on a road walk.

We were dropping fast. Our toes were jammed in the front of our shoes and our hiking poles were jammed into the ground. It was a slippery slope descending out of 12,657′ to 9,304′, but safer than the war zone down in the drainage we were going around. If the avalanche debris we were finding off on the side of the road was any determination to what we were bypassing in Elk Creek, we were assured of our decision to take the detour. Now dropping into treeline we were enjoying the shade from the intense sun for the first time in quite a while. The only drawback was the now consistent parade of ATVs, OHVs, Jeeps and dirtbikes that were coming up from the valley below. At first only a few here and there, but as the day went on they just seemed to multiply.

Patience, we would be in Silverton later that afternoon enjoying our last resupply and town food before finishing in Durango. Granted we had anticipated the road down to be somewhat busy, it was a weekend and the weather was perfect. Adding to the amount of traffic was the fact that this was not just any weekend, it was Labor Day weekend, the last hoorah of the summer for many in Colorado. We began to wonder if we would find a room in town. We kept checking for a signal and fortunately found one. This time we were the ones who put the “No” on the vacancy sign. Silverton would be a quick stop. We did our laundry, enjoyed a hot shower, another great pizza, got our resupply box and readied ourselves for the final push. Durango was next and our excitement was growing.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 23 of 28

Traveling in the alpine region for this long was a special treat for us that we will cherish for a long time to come. Sunsets, sunrises, extreme views and starlit skies beyond imagination made for great moments and everlasting memories.

Colorado Trail Segment 23 of 28

Start: Carson Saddle

End: Stony Pass TH

Distance: 15.9 miles

With only a little over 100 miles to go, we were beginning to sense our journey was nearing its end. After segment 23 there were only five more segments to go. Excitement was building for the finish, though quietly, as we still had plenty more miles and challenges in front of us. Still, we were at the very least beginning to think about it, versus day one when we didn’t want to even consider how far away we were. Honestly, now that we are on the back side and all of our aches and pains have subsided, we are ready to get back out on trail. Planning for 2020 has already begun!

The Carson Saddle is a popular place for 4X4, dirt bike and ATV enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the trail shares the road at times in this area and can be quite slippery underfoot. We didn’t see anyone while we were there, but traveling the shared trail / road was tricky at times. It would be nice to see the trail detour away from these areas and on to its own singletrack. Though, even with this small distraction, the surrounding views were amazing.

Once the trail left the road and returned back to a normal hiking trail the views just kept getting better. We were heading up a valley walled in by rocky ridgelines, a creek running down the middle and patchy snowfields atop the head wall where we would climb to. Yes, another saddle. About halfway into the valley, we stopped to filter water and have a very flavorful lunch. We sat on a small outcrop looking back down through the valley and beneath Carson Peak (13,657′). Nothing like a table for two (unless you count the curious pikas) with a view. We enjoyed Spicy Thai Peanut Curry with Vegetables, hiker food has come a long way.

After lunch our climb would continue, and intensify. We were also watching the afternoon sky closely now as clouds were beginning to form ahead of us on the peaks. One thing we didn’t want was to be exposed during a storm. Our luck would hold, along with the weather, for now anyway. We continued on climbing to the saddle and down into the next valley. This form of travel would become the norm for the rest of the day. Up, over and down. Repeat. The views were commanding in all directions.

We were deep into the San Juans, feeling quite remote and isolated. We saw no one for a good portion of the day. In these parts you must rely on yourself. Good preparation, knowledge and planning go a long way to a successful and safe hike. It wouldn’t be until Cataract Lake that we would see other hikers, momentarily anyway, and then we would again be alone on the trail. Water sources just seem to be the social place on trail. After traversing Cuba Gulch, we did see a woman traveling the Continental Divide Trail on horseback!

The wide open spaces we continued to enjoy had one drawback, the trail was always visible in front of us. The miles go slowly when you see the path stretch on before you, as much, when it climbs straight up in a daunting fashion well before you get to the climb itself. These are the times on trail you either just stare at the ground, not looking up, or take a deep breath and continue on. Either way, the climb will come and you’ll “get over it!”

Our last climb of the day would have us expediting our decent as storm clouds were brewing overhead and thunder was beginning to rumble all around. We found a small saddle in between two climbs. At least we wouldn’t be the tallest objects around on trail. We set up the tent and remained there for the night, emerging to an incredible sunrise that had us wondering if we were on mars. We would only have a few climbs for the day, most of the day would be rolling and end with a huge drop into segment 24.

We had been traveling at high altitude for several days, we weren’t sure what a tree even looked like anymore, much less an entire forest! Our water came direct from melting snowfields and small creeks running with icy cold water. Traveling in the alpine region for this long was a special treat for us that we will cherish for a long time to come. Sunsets, sunrises, extreme views and starlit skies beyond imagination made for great moments and everlasting memories. While the remainder of the trail would certainly touch the alpine again, it would not be as long a duration as what we had just journeyed through. That said, there were still plenty of miles and magnificent views ahead.

On the last climb of the day, we were witness to sheep grazing high above us, their numbers had to have been in the hundreds if not more. The baaas echoed all around as the sheep dogs kept them in check. We sat and enjoyed the show before moving on. Though the landscape might not reflect it, we were traveling, more or less, in a downward direction now, losing altitude slowly. Approaching the end of the segment we had to make a decision on our direction of travel. The traditional route through the Elk Creek drainage in segment 24 was devastated by avalanches and was piled high with debris making for difficult travel. We had heard stories of hikers taking longer than they anticipated, or just having to concentrate more on footing than on enjoying the hike. Either way, we had our own aches and pains and were not sure if we were willing to risk ourselves to further injury so close to the end.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 22 of 28

We found an inviting saddle to camp in that would offer, not only a great sunset in the coming minutes, an incredible sunrise the next morning, but also a starlit sky that night like nothing we had ever seen before.

Colorado Trail Segment 22 of 28

Start: Spring Creek Pass TH

End: Carson Saddle

Distance: 17.2 miles

After completing segment 21, we took a zero, a full 24 hour break in the historic town of Lake City. We had never been there before and really didn’t know what to expect, other than we knew our resupply box would be there and waiting for us at the Sportsman Outdoors and Fly Shop. Lake city is very easy to navigate as it is quite small. It was a nice step back in time, complete with beautiful architecture. The town folk were very pleasant and hiker friendly.

A nice, lazy and relaxing retreat for two weary Colorado Trail hikers. We rented a small, quirky cabin from the Town Square Cabins and Mini Mart, yep, and mini mart. Such wonderful people, very accommodating and, again, hiker friendly. Besides our resupply, we needed to eat, wanted to eat! We found a small grocery store across the street from our cabin, called “Get Some Groceries” that was the perfect find for two vegetarians on trail and in a small town. They had everything we wanted, and more! Great customer service, accommodating and, again, hiker friendly. We walked around a bit, exploring the town and found a great throwback malt shop that made us the best strawberry shake we had had in forever. The San Juan Soda Company was a great distraction, we sat and enjoyed the shake and the wonderful atmosphere. Did we forget to mention, hiker friendly?

After some hot showers, doing laundry, catching up on our calorie intake, and cleaning up our gear, we did some good ole fashioned relaxing in the small mountain town atmosphere. We met with some of our tramily, had some good conversation and readied ourselves for our return to the trail. Segment 22 would prove to be one of the most dramatic segments thus far. We were about to head above treeline and stay there. We were excited to get back to the trailhead and continue on.

Refreshed from our wonderful stay in Lake City, we began on a mild uphill grade. We would soon find ourselves climbing to 12,000′ and beyond. We passed by the Colorado Trail Friends Yurt and through the valley it sits in, complete with camping and decent water source and continued to climb. We decided that while we had light we would just keep moving. We weren’t sure if it was from being rejuvenated in town or just excited from being in the San Juans, but our energy level and legs felt strong and ready for high terrain travel. A few false summits later and we left treeline behind finding ourselves alone on the tundra.

Our packs were full, but the weight didn’t bother us. We walked and absorbed the expansive views of endless peaks in all directions. We walked across ridgelines, up rocky scree fields and near big drop offs that disappeared deep in the valley below. A few snow fields, a couple of climbs and plenty of exposure to the elements, we were reminded of how vulnerable we really were up there, especially being all alone with nothing but the packs on our backs. Our Garmin inReach was a nice reassuring piece of gear if we needed it, but it is only used “after the fact” in case of emergency.

That night we stopped just before sunset. We could feel the temperature dropping as the sun was heading down quickly taking its warmth along with it. We found an inviting saddle to camp in that would offer, not only a great sunset in the coming minutes, an incredible sunrise the next morning, but also a starlit sky that night like nothing we had ever seen before. We felt as if our tent had been lifted into the heavens as we were blanketed with the Milky Way. Millions of twinkling lights all about and disappearing beneath us along with the horizon as we were at 13,000′ above it all. A truly spectacular celestial event from dusk till dawn.

The following morning we were just speechless. After packing up our gear, we headed down, more like up, the trail. We were headed for the highest point along the 486 mile Colorado Trail. At 13,271′ we were feeling amazed, amazed at how far we had come, amazed at all that we had seen and amazed that we were actually doing it. We had talked about and planned this trip for a few years, now it was a reality, we were here and doing it. The San Juan Mountains had a wonderful impact on us to say the least. Layers upon layers of rugged peaks, jagged ridgelines and endless deep valleys, we could have just kept on walking, and did, for a little while anyway. Approaching the end of the segment at the Carson Saddle we hoped segment 23 would be more of the same.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28

We neared a known avalanche debris field and began a tedious game of “where is the trail” in the dark. Our headlamps allowed us to see only so far.

Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28

Start: San Luis Pass

End: Spring Creek Pass TH

Distance: 14.8 miles

We were in the thick of the alpine now. The beauty and remoteness of the high country is exhilarating, granted it is highly exposed to the elements and difficult physically to travel through at times, it is what we had spent the first 350 miles working toward. This is not the first time we touched the higher terrain on the CT, it does travel this region several times prior, but not to this degree, not long duration. After the saddle at the base of San Luis Peak, the alpine becomes the new norm. We were in our happy place and excited for the rest of the trail and the endless views.

After coming off segment 20, down from a ridge along the Continental Divide to the end of the segment at San Luis Pass, we had dropped nearly 500 feet and were now staring up at our first climb of segment 21, almost 1,000 feet in 1.3 miles. Consider we had already had several gains and losses on trail that day. Our legs and lungs were feeling the burn. The mental challenge of willing ourselves up and over the next ridge was daunting. With San Luis Peak still in our rear view mirror, we began, yet, another climb. Our heads down, trekking poles digging in and pushing us forward with each step, we slowly made positive ground on the top of the ridge. As we crossed a snowfield near the top of the climb, the marmots and pikas seemed to cheer us on, chirping and whistling with each breath and step we took. We now had endless views all around.

After we caught our breath, it was straight back down on the other side. Just as the climb was short and steep, so too would be the decent, nearly 1000 feet in a little over a mile. A reverse workout for our tired legs. At least our hearts and lungs would get a break on the downhill. But, we weren’t complaining, breathing hard but not complaining. This was alpine hiking at its finest. Snowfields scattered just underneath the ridgelines, wildflowers chasing the sun and long mountain grasses flowing with the breeze. Each climb revealing new territory to be explored, we embraced the uphill challenges and accepted the reward for our labor, commanding views of the San Juan Mountains.

The only negative was having to stay on schedule. We needed to make a certain amount of miles to place ourselves logistically to the end of the segment the next day where a scheduled shuttle would be to take us into Lake City for our resupply. Knowing someone would be there was a great feeling, though hindsight would have been to plan a slower pace and more time on trail exploring the area more. We will be returning in the future, to this segment and others.

We had planned camping further along the trail than we did that night. As we walked we came upon some of our tramily members who waved us down and into what would be camp for the night. We thankfully accepted the invitation. After we had set up camp, we were blessed to be an audience to four moose grazing in and around a beaver pond. The beaver would also make an appearance, as we all enjoyed the wild kingdom before heading off to our tents. We did hear a very large splash later that night and wondered who fell in! The rushing waters of a nearby creek lulled us back to sleep soon enough. We would wake before the sunrise and be on trail, hiking in the dark, so as to keep us on track to get to our shuttle later that afternoon.

We put on our headlamps and began our day in the dark. Snickers, cold coffee and careful hiking. We neared a known avalanche debris field and began a tedious game of “where is the trail” in the dark. Our headlamps allowed us to see only so far. We guessed as best we could based on the terrain and soon found the trail again after having climbed up, over and around the mess of fallen trees and debris that covered the ground. We would begin climbing again, watching for the sun to come over the far ridge on the other side of the valley. An event horizon on trail followed by alpenglow on the surrounding peaks is something not to be missed. The warmth of the sun still escaped us as we climbed over our next saddle and into the cold morning shadows again. We navigated around a steep snowfield iced over from the cold overnight temperatures. Another ridge and our climbs for the day would be over.

Only one thing stood in our way now, Snow Mesa. Some 3.3 miles across a flat, expansive and rather unique landscape at just over 12,000 feet. Endless views, and a seemingly endless trail that went before us and disappeared on the horizon, just below the distant peaks that were calling to us to come explore. We walked and imagined what this place might be like in the dead of winter. Soon we would come to the end of the mesa and would “drop in” to lower terrain on a trail that resembled more of what a rocky ravine might be like on the moon. Everything moved underfoot and we would both enjoy a stumble followed by a graceful fall before finding ourselves back on mild ground heading through the forest and to the end of the segment and our ride into Lake City for our resupply and much needed rest.

Peace,

MAD

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