Colorado Trail Segment 18 of 28

It was just a quiet stroll through a place lost in time. Nothing out here spoke of modern man. It was just earth, sky and far off mountains as far as the eye could see.

Colorado Trail Segment 18 of 28

Start: CO Hwy 114

End: Saguache Park Rd

Distance: 13.8 Miles

What a difference a day, err, warm bed and hot shower can make. After we got into town and checked into our hotel, another stroke of good luck, we learned one of our tramily members was also in town and staying at the same hotel no less. We enjoyed a nice visit and were offered a ride back to the trailhead the following morning. Such good news. Our gear still untouched where we dropped it after getting to the room, we went out in search of a good pizza to fill the void. Well, if the weather didn’t care when we were on trail, it certainly wouldn’t care now that we were in town. It was a good old-fashioned driving hard rain now. We attempted using our umbrellas but the wind decided otherwise. We ran and embraced the cold and wet. Food was more important. We ate our fill, did some shopping and got back to the hotel where we utterly deflated. Hot showers and clean clothes were next on the docket. With our gear strewn about the room and resupply spread out on the bed, we began the tedious task of putting it all back in our backpacks. The night had moved on and it was late, but we needed to just break it all down, clean up ourselves, clothes and gear and just do a good once over of everything to restore order after segment 17. Gear, food and all tucked away in our packs, we did the same with ourselves, a good nights sleep would do us good. No coyotes this time.

The following morning we felt refreshed, as good as we could be anyway. Gunnison is a great town to resupply in, if you are lucky enough to get a ride. The Wanderlust Hostel and Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods can take care of all your needs, that and the many other great shops, hotels  and restaurants in the area. We went for a stroll through town for a few last minute items and then back to the hotel to rendezvous with Puppy Love for our ride back to the trail. Did we mention she had two wonderful dogs, we love dogs?! We all jumped in, puppies on laps with lots of tail wagging, licks and love and headed off to the trailhead to begin segment 18 of the CT. The weather would hold this time. A cool and overcast morning, we set off down the trail rejuvenated and restored from our experience of segment 17. A good resupply and quick visit in town did us good. The trail had, once again, provided and our spirits were lifted.

We enjoyed easy travel, flat, level and void of rocks and roots, not to mention slippery slopes! We were on the hiker highway now, making good time and enjoying a relaxed pace. We found ourselves having a good time on trail and felt the negativity of our previous sleep deprived and frustrated selves slip away. It was a good day. We walked and had fun doing so. The trail would meander through a valley until it came to a small saddle where we anxiously awaited what we would see on the other side of the horizon line. Amazed once we made the top of the small climb, we were staring out into a vast expanse of land, reaching as far as the eye could see. We were about to enter the old wild west! You would have thought a stampede of horses might appear at any moment. Thankfully they didn’t. It was just a quiet stroll through a place lost in time. Nothing out here spoke of modern man. It was just earth, sky and far off mountains as far as the eye could see. At one point we began walking along an old barbwire fence where bluebirds would allow us to get so close before they moved down the way and waited for us again and then start the process all over. We found a few cows, go figure, they stared at us like we had just landed here from a distant planet. But, out here, who know, they might have seen such a thing at one time or another!

We walked and walked and walked. The midday sun had arrived and the exposure was becoming intense. It was a hot and dry place. We recalled the dusty scenes of a few western movies where the lone traveler would lick his dry and cracked lips hoping for that watering hole to show up soon. We quickly grabbed our water bottles and thankfully enjoyed a nice drink, but with a hurried pace to reach our own watering hole. We definitely felt vulnerable and exposed, we couldn’t imagine what a thunderstorm would be like out here, but then again we could and made sure to move along. Trees began to come back into the picture and soon we found ourselves back among friends, and not only the leaf-bearing type, there were cows too, a lot of them. We had become outnumbered as we came to the end of the segment and had to watch where we stepped. They greeted us and gave us a warm welcome, so goes our interpretation of “mooooo” anyway. Finding a place to camp would to be another story, we were in the thick of cattle country, better put, cow territory, now. The CT doesn’t always stand for Colorado Trail. We were enjoying ourselves, the easy travel, wide open spaces and, yes, even the cows.

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 17 of 28

The thunder cracked, the rain began to increase and we found ourselves pitching our tent on an awkward hillside trying to take shelter.

Colorado Trail Segment 17 of 28

Start: Sargents Mesa

End: CO Hwy 114

Distance: 20.4 Miles

Sleep deprivation is not a good thing when you are hiking 15 – 20 miles a day. You feel, well, tired. We were going on our second or third night with little sleep, being woken up in the early morning hours, 2am early, by coyotes that sounded more like hyenas that yodeled. Go ahead, take some time and imagine that sound echoing all around at zero dark thirty. We were in need of a good break at this point, running on fumes and really, really wanting a good night sleep. It wasn’t long before our nerves began to fray a bit and the best we could do was push for big miles to get to our next resupply in Gunnison. It seemed like everything was turning on us, camera battery died, camping selections were bad, water sources were, well, there weren’t any. When we finally did get to Baldy Lake, what we had built up in our minds, imagining an incredible sub-alpine lake surrounded by great camping and having plenty of water, well, it was a bust. The few camping spots available were taken, the rest surrounded by beetle kill trees that didn’t look safe. The water, acceptable, though algae was getting the best of the lake. Yeah, we needed a break from all this. In the interim, we dealt with what we were given and made the best of it.

We were not going to give up, or in, to the chaos. We allowed for ourselves to vent through a couple of tantrums when no one was looking of course, and pushed on. After spending a long night above Baldy Lake on semi-level rocky ground, we woke early determined to get to Hwy 114 and get a ride to Gunnison. A quick, early climb soon had us walking on level ground through wide open meadows. It was nice to be out of the dead trees that were quite depressing to look at. Soon enough they would return, fade away and back again as we rotated in and out of open spaces. Eventually we would have to climb again, nothing major, just repeated climbs that began to chip away at our energy level. Eventually we would end the cycle and the trail would go in our favor, down hill, with switchbacks.

The last few miles would be easy on the feet. Approaching our “drop in” point off a ridge, we began to hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. We had escaped several storms in the last few days and wondered if our luck would hold out one more time before we made it to town. The storms grew louder and soon we found ourselves walking in the rain. On the plus side, we had reached the 300 mile mark on trail, only 186 miles to go! The thunder cracked, the rain began to increase and we found ourselves pitching our tent on an awkward hillside trying to take shelter. We ate a quick lunch, played backgammon on our phone and listened to the rain fall and the thunder rumble for a good hour. Eventually it passed and we continued on towards the highway. A few miles later and we emerged out of the forest to a two lane blacktop highway offering only an occasional car or semi truck here and there. Gunnison was 39 miles away, we wondered if we would be able to get to town or would we have to continue on and make our food last until Lake City, another 55 miles away.

We had heard nightmares about getting a ride from this location into Gunnison, but we gave it a try. We walked to the next trailhead and waited. Storms in the distance heading our way were not helping either. Tired, dirty and worn down, we were hoping. We waited a very long 10 or 15 minutes. A car was coming from the Gunnison direction, they won’t be going back we thought. Just then it pulled over at the trailhead next to another parked car that was already there. A couple got out and began transferring gear between two cars and then looked over at us. We were thinking they were saying to each other, I’d hate to be them, storms coming and they are just waiting next to the road on this quiet highway. But that wasn’t their conversation at all. They were wondering if we needed a ride into town. They were heading back there with both vehicles as they had been section hiking. They offered, we obviously accepted. There might have been a gloomy sky overhead, but we felt as if the clouds had parted and blue skies had opened up shining light down on us with birds singing and all. Again, timing was everything. The events of the day could have unfolded differently and we might not be sitting in this wonderful person’s car heading into town. The trail provides.

Peace

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 16 of 28

In the middle of the night we heard what sounded like a pack of wild hyenas coming up from the valley below in search of a late night snack. Coyotes.

Colorado Trail Segment 16 of 28

Start: Marshall Pass TH

End: Sargents Mesa

Distance: 15.2 Miles

Segment 16 begins a long remote stretch away from easy access on and off trail. This is where you really begin to feel like you are on your own. The close up views of segment 15 slowly fade away as the trail begins a transition from the alpine to forests, meadows and mesas. Besides Tank 7 Creek there is not much water to be had in this segment, though travel is not overwhelming, so carrying extra water is not so bad. If there is one negative, the trees have been impacted greatly here with beetle kill. It is depressing to see the forests in such condition, especially from high above as you look out at endless miles of grey, dead and lifeless trees. That said, because of the beetle kill, camping in this segment can be tough. Logistically speaking, if you are planning on camping in a spot that is known to be good in years past, it might not be so now with all the dead trees around. Check the Guthook app if you have it for comments on campsites. It would not take much for the wind to blow one over, something we “heard” on several occasions at night in areas affected by beetle kill! Choose your site wisely.

We found great camping just after mile 5.2 where you cross a small ridge / saddle. Commanding views, no trees to worry about and relatively level ground made this a good spot to call home for the night. However, you might not be alone! After we set up camp the welcoming committee came along to check us out. Cows. In the middle of the night we heard what sounded like a pack of wild hyenas coming up from the valley below in search of a late night snack. Coyotes. This would go on for some time, making for a sleepless night, and if we did get any sleep, we had strange dreams. The next morning we were groggy and just needed to get moving if we were to make any miles. Snickers and cold coffee can only do so much. We contemplated a nap at some point in the day. The next few nights we would again encounter coyotes in the middle of the night. We were becoming sleep deprived and would not truly catch up on our sleep until our resupply in Gunnison at the end of segment 17, some thirty miles away at this point. Suffice it to say, we are not big fans of coyotes! The cows, on the other had, despite their, ahem, patties, are quite adorable and entertaining.

All in all, segment 16 was uneventful. Though, we were hiking in our sleep, so who really knows what we missed. Trail conditions varied, some of which was loose, sandy gravel and rocks that were challenging, rolling under foot. With the ground moving under our feet, we had to secure each step before taking another. Thank goodness for our trekking poles. Trail conditions like these are especially difficult on downhill portions, and when you are half asleep. Thankfully we got through it without getting hurt. Perhaps this could be attributed to our sleepy condition, we were so relaxed we didn’t tense up and therefore did not fall prey to injury. Did we mention we were hiking in our sleep! Gunnison would be a welcome resupply and much needed rest. The sunsets and sunrises were spectacular, bright orange skies mixing with blues and yellows. The forests silhouetted against the morning and evening colors added to the drama playing out at the beginning and end of each day. The daytime skies would add their own images of cloudless blue skies giving way in the afternoons to distant storms and some not so distant. Just more channels to watch on hiker TV. We hiked on and gazed heavenward.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 15 of 28

We were in a happy place. Good vibes just seemed to wrap around us. We hiked, we talked and we shared our stories. It was a day of recognizing all the good that exists.

Colorado Trail Segment 15 of 28

Start: Monarch Pass TH (CW)

End: Marshall Pass TH

Distance: 10.7 Miles

Our segment 15 experience starts well before one foot hit the trail. If you have read the posts from the previous segments, you are already aware that there is more going on here than just a simple thru-hike. It would be a rather lengthy explanation if we were to write it all down, suffice it to say, as we stated in the segment 13 blog post, “We were nearly at the halfway point of the Colorado Trail and were beginning to realize that someone was watching over us.” There were just too many instances going on proving that. The precise timing of every event on trail always seemed to lead to another. We have talked about it since we’ve been back home and are amazed at how everything worked itself out. The outcome of any of our chance meetings would have been changed dramatically if our timeline would have wavered in any direction. Consider all the anomalies of any given day and the mathematics of the odds are astronomical. We are so thankful and encouraged that we found ourselves in such a place. Our hats are off to all those who crossed our path on the Colorado Trail, from the amazing individuals we met, the businesses that we used to the random trail angels that surprised us many times, you were instrumental in us having a successful thru-hike. But, we can’t stop there as we know friends and family off trail were also keeping us in their daily thoughts, the friendship and support you give to us will always be remembered.

We started segment 15 via an alternate, using Monarch Pass, part of the Collegiate West CT/CDT portion, as our access point. Beginning from this point one is quickly thrust into an amazing alpine environment, our favorite place to hike. We began our day hiking with some of our tramily (trail family) as we all enjoyed a pleasant trek across the high country at an average of 11,500′ with big views in all directions. Hiking here is a testament to what our vision of the CT/CDT is. Granted there are many facets to the 500 miles of trail, this is our place, our love. As seen in the video, at some point we all just seemed to fit into a groove and walk in a mesmerized state of hiker bliss across the high ridges. Such a beautiful and captivating portion of the CT.

We were in a happy place. Good vibes just seemed to wrap around us. We hiked, we talked and we shared our stories. It was a day of recognizing all the good that exists. Add to that, the incredible terrain we were crossing through and it just made for a great memory to hold on to and cherish. On this seemingly short segment, we wanted the day to just continue, where the miles were lacking, the expansive views made up for it. A great experience in the town of Salida followed up by a great experience on trail with good people, there was just no denying what a wonderful trail we were blessed to be on. In the aftermath of being home, catching up on all of our responsibilities and after all the aches and pains had finally subsided from hiking nearly 500 miles and climbing nearly 90,000′ vertical feet, we are ready to return, ready to get back in the Colorado high country, ready to get back to the Colorado Trail and experience more of this truly amazing wilderness and some of the most breathtaking views we have ever seen. Living in Colorado just seems to make it all the more inviting, we are so privileged to be here and have the access we do.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 14 of 28

The day had been great, travel had been great, breakfast had been great. We were hiking with a new and encouraged mindset, each day just seemed to bring new and wonderful surprises.

Colorado Trail Segment 14 of 28

Start: Chalk Creek TH

End: US Hwy 50

Distance: 20.4 Miles

After the events of segment 13, it is hard to find the words for segment 14. It was a nonevent walk to get to Salida. So, that’s it. OK, maybe not so blah, but it really was quite non eventful. It was quite warm and dry for the most part, though there were plenty of water sources to soak our feet in and keep us hydrated. With a big climb, another 1,000 feet, right after we began the segment, we were certainly grateful for a nice breeze, once atop the climb we had to hold onto our hats! The wind did subside and was much more gentle on the backside as we made our way down and into some very easy terrain where our travel was fast across a wide open area littered with trees here and there. It reminded us of a western movie and how travel had not changed much over the years, going from water source to water source and town to town. We almost felt like a rider on a horse would appear from off the horizon at any moment. It wouldn’t be long before the terrain changed once again and thrust us back into a climbing forest, the trail complete with rocks and roots to keep us alert and on our toes.

We had passed by the high school students again, several times actually, as we found a few groups in this segment. How could we feel any negativity towards them for being in our desired campsite in segment 13 when the end result was a stay at My Princeton Hot Springs. They were great kids, very polite and experiencing life from a far different perspective than kids back in the city. We thought it was great for them to be out there with their teachers seeing the world in a whole new way and learning skills that many never attain. We leapfrogged with them pretty much all day having small conversations here and there. This would not be the last time we would see them however.

We made camp in a wonderful bend of the trail with a great running creek nearby that almost convinced us to soak in a deep pool close to our campsite. There’s just something about the water in the mountains of Colorado that keeps us from doing such activities, cold snow melt. It makes for great drinking water, filtered of course. And it is certainly fine for a quick foot soak, but the whole body, no thanks, that would be an eye opening experience to say the least. We love camping near enough to a stream to be able to hear it at night, the sound of the water just seems to sing us to sleep. Plenty to drink, plenty to make music with and plenty to soak (our feet) in, water is such an important part of thru-hiking.

The next day we would get up early and make tracks, we were heading to Salida and only one thing stood in our way, another 1,000 foot climb. This one would be a much easier task though, we were not even at 10,000′ on this segment of the CT making for easier travel on inclines. We made our way to the Angel of Shavano Campground after a beautiful decent though a valley to a surprise greeting, the high school kids again. This time they all cheered as we came into view and invited us over for breakfast. Talking about trail magic! But it didn’t end there. Everything was made to order, all organic, fresh and delicious. Best breakfast burritos we have ever had. We sat, ate and listened to them tell us about their adventure.

The climb soon after felt like a nonevent as we soon found ourselves at the top of the ridge looking back at Mt Shavano. We bid the area farewell and made our way on towards Hwy 50. We popped out on a ridge complete with large power line towers and commanding views towards Monarch Pass, our next trailhead after a stop in Salida. The day had been great, travel had been great, breakfast had been great. We were hiking with a new and encouraged mindset, each day just seemed to bring new and wonderful surprises. Speaking of, when we arrived at Hwy 50 and the end of segment 14, a trail angel had just pulled up to drop off a couple hikers getting back on trail, we were offered a ride into town without having to wait even five minutes for a ride. Thank you Lunchbox, the ride was a huge surprise.

Once in Salida, we picked up our resupply box, made our way to Moonlight Pizza where we were greeted warmly, hiker stink and all. Salida would be one of our favorite towns along the entire CT. Great people, great hospitality, great pizza and salad, great place to stop and relax. After getting situated at our hotel, cleaned up, clothes and all, we went out for a walk and enjoyed the historic city center area of town. We met another hiker, David, we knew who was driving by, he pulled over and offered us a ride back to the trailhead the next day. We had no idea he was even in these parts, another moment of the trail giving back. Everything just seemed to fall into place. We spent the evening eating our fill, getting some good rest and felt refreshed the next morning as we headed back to the trail alongside some really good people (David and Turquoise) who would actually become part of our “tramily” on trail. Good times, good people.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 13 of 28

We were nearly at the halfway point of the Colorado Trail and were beginning to realize that someone was watching over us.

Colorado Trail Segment 13 of 28

Start: Silver Creek TH

End: Chalk Creek TH

Distance: 22.8 Miles

The memories and experiences of the Colorado Trail are almost impossible to convey in a few blog posts, much less one conversation. The events of segment 13 as they unfolded are no less difficult to explain. If the climbs in segment 12 were not enough for us, we made up for it with the incline early on in segment 13. The term, short and sweet is close to describing this portion, but would have to be revised just a little to short and steep. The math says it all, 2,459 feet gained in 3.4 miles. That is a mere 723 feet per mile! We felt like we were going up on our toes, pushing ourselves forward and upward with each breath and step. Simply put, it was a daunting and aggressive grade. When we first looked at the profile for this trail in our early planning, we knew it would be one of the toughest parts of the trail. It was. The cumulative hiking prior only  enhanced the level of exhaustion we felt afterwards. The Colorado Trail in and of itself is a worthy goal, one could say the same about Mt Yale.

We stopped a mile before the end of the climb that evening, granted we had enough light to continue on, we were just out of steam, that, and the valley we stopped in was very inviting. We had watched footage of the area we camped in before ever stepping foot on the CT, a mental note was made just in case we stopped here. Good thing, we knew exactly which spot we wanted to set up camp. There is a perfect level spot just large enough for a tent set in the middle of about a dozen healthy pine trees forming a natural barrier of sorts and making for quite the unique setting. With Silver Creek close by, a great mountainous backdrop and a valley teeming with life at hand, this made for an incredible stop for the night. Add in two very playful squirrels who were not the least bit interested in what we were doing, and entertainment was endless. They did make for a good distraction chasing each other round and round, up and down and all around the “tree fort” we had made camp in.

After an amazing sunset, we drifted off to the sound of the nearby creek. The next morning would be cold, but the continued mile climb to nearly 12,000′ would warm us quickly. Once we made the top of the climb, a celebratory Snickers was at hand! There’s just nothing like a Snickers and cold coffee in the morning on a thru-hike. We came to enjoy our silly morning ritual. Certainly not something we would normally do in everyday life, but something we found comfort in on the CT. A Snickers bar went a long way to giving us the energy we needed and putting that “hiker hunger” to rest. Of all the foods we had planned for and taken with us, nothing came close to the success of this simple candy bar. It has definitely become a trail favorite and will travel with us on future hikes. Word to the wise, when planning a long hike, make sure your food choices are varied and do not take a bunch of the same foods, those flavors and textures get old fast when you eat them day in and day out. When burning an average of 5,000 calories a day on a thru-hike, a Snickers bar here and there, or even for breakfast each day, is an affordable luxury, just saying.

After “breakfast” on the east ridge of Mt Yale, we found the downhill side to be as challenging as the uphill side. Still on our toes, we carefully made our way down the 2,500 foot drop on a rather slippery trail of sandy gravel and steep drop-offs. A reverse workout for our legs to say the least. Another climb in our future, small in comparison with only 1,000 feet and at a much more manageable grade, we looked at it as a hill and moved along with a more carefree attitude. Our nemesis was behind us. We would enjoy a much more relaxed day of gentle hiking and good weather as we moved on towards our next resupply at Mt Princeton Hot Springs. A shower, good meal and a clean bed would be nice.

It was a gamble, especially during the summer months in Colorado, but we never made any reservations at any of the places we stayed during our entire hike of the Colorado Trail. Small mountain towns are not like pulling into a large city with plenty of lodging options. We decided early on in our planning that being fluid with our plans would be the best course of action. That, and, it takes the pressure off of having to stick to a timeline. The gamble, there wasn’t always a room available, a realty we experienced several times. Would we plan this way if we were to do it again? Absolutely.

We found a great spot for lunch that afternoon and enjoyed one of our favorite meals, at the time anyway. If you offered it to us today we’d opt for a Snickers bar instead! We also had the rare treat of phone service, and being only a long day’s journey away from Mt Princeton Hot Springs we inquired about a room. Bad news, no vacancy. We sat and went over the miles, the logistics of resupply and what changes, if any, we needed to make. We really did need a shower! Outside of that, we could manage and keep moving. We planned a shorter day and decided to stop early later that day at a highly recommended camping spot near a wonderful cascading creek just before the road walk into Mt Princeton. The next morning we would get to Mt Princeton Hot Springs, pick up our resupply, get a few snacks at the country store, charge up our electronics and head on to the end of the segment. It would be a few more days before we would get to Salida and hopefully a hotel. A solid plan, or so we thought.

Anomalies exist in life, things you just cannot foresee and plan for. So goes life on the Colorado Trail. We arrived at the camping area only to find, like Mt Princeton, no availability. A large group of high school students had come to call this home for the night. It was the last camping before the road walk and we sure didn’t want to backtrack. Oh well, we’ll just keep moving forward and make it up as we go along. We needed our resupply, so passing up Mt Princeton was not an option. No sooner than we had started to leave the area, a fellow YouTube friend, J Hikesalot, showed up on trail and shocked us. OMG! What, how, where in the world did you come from? J just happened to be visiting Colorado and was exploring the area. We had shared info before heading out on the CT and he was following our progress through our Garmin InReach MapShare page. Well, after the shock began to subside, we all walked an talked. He was heading back home but made a quick stop to find us. We were out of luck and winging it. It made for a great distraction to say the least. We enjoyed the company and continued to walk. After a good meeting, we parted ways, not before he gave us a bag of potato chips, and we soon found ourselves more confused than when we first found the campsites full. It was one of those, “what just happened” moments. Appreciative of J’s hospitality and taking the time to find us, we were still left with a quandary, what to do. But our luck was about to change, more like, had changed already.

Camp alongside the road? No thank you, that would just feel weird. We kept walking, our minds racing with thoughts of what to do now. Strangely enough, after seeing J on the trail, we felt more at ease, as if the “now what” impact had been lifted. The energy had changed for the better. A small break along the road, we made a “what the heck” phone call to Mt Princeton to see if they might have had a last minute cancellation. It certainly couldn’t hurt, right? We inquired. They paused, giggled and said, “well…as a matter of fact, we just did have a cancellation.” We’ll take it, see you in an hour! With renewed energy, we almost sprinted the next few miles. What an amazing stroke of luck. We were nearly at the halfway point of the Colorado Trail and were beginning to realize that someone was watching over us. We recounted our “luck” thus far and would also experience it many more times on our journey. Being fluid and allowing events to unfold in their own way seemed to be working in mysterious ways for us.

We absolutely enjoyed our stay at Mt Princeton Hot Springs, though short, we stayed as long as possible, checkout was 11 am the next day. From the hospitality and professionalism the staff provided, the incredible hot showers we took, the amazing king-sized bed and comfortable sheets we slept in to the fresh made breakfast at the restaurant, we were definitely feeling a bit spoiled now. The country store only made it better by having exactly what we wanted in the comfort food department, needless to say, we relaxed in bed, ate our fill of calories, posted a few pictures of our latest CT adventure, made some phone calls back home and drifted off to a blissful nights sleep. There would be no alarm in the morning, no gear to put away or tent to climb out of. After checkout we made our way back to the trail, a road walk for a few miles, and to the end of segment 13. What an amazing and ever-changing string of events it was. We had built this section of the CT up in our minds as being the hardest, and it was that, but it was also one of the most blessed and eye-opening moments we had had thus far. Afterwards, it just seemed the Colorado Trail would provide and we would be the recipients of its generous offerings. We knew we were being watched over and were grateful.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

We had found ourselves in a valley surrounded by mountains, lush with pines and aspens, cool running streams and a beaver pond the size of Texas. It was obvious that here, in this place, man was just a visitor.

Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

Start: Clear Creek Rd

End: Silver Creek TH

Distance: 18.5 Miles

Segment 12 of the Colorado Trail quite possibly might go down as the toughest hiking we have ever done to date. Call it cumulative, blame it on our age or even the fact that we were carrying backpacks full of gear, food and water, the fact remains, it was an uphill challenge like we’ve never had before. Sure, we have done some strenuous climbs here and there, the climbing in this segment, though, just seem to take the wind out of our sails. Bottom line, it was slow going on what seemed like a never-ending incline. No surprise though, this is the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, it comes with the territory. This segment is home to plenty of 14ers and 13ers, Waverly (13,292′), Missouri (14,067′), Columbia (14,078′), Oxford (14,153′), Belford (14,197′) and Harvard (14,420′) to name a few.

The beginning of segment 12 begins at just under 9,000′ in a beautiful valley and rises to 11,653′ in just over 4.5 miles to a ridge of Waverly Mountain. After a short 1.5 mile decent, the trail rises again to 11,845′ to a ridge off Mt Harvard. Quick math, that’s over 4,600 feet of elevation gain in nine miles, averaging 500 feet a mile. Can’t imagine why we felt so tired! That being said, we chose to take a nice break for brunch before beginning the climb. But heck, this was just a warm up for segment 13 and the Mt Yale climb, 2,500 feet in 3.4 miles. The math, 735 feet per mile! The next few days would prove to be very demanding on us in more ways than one. We thought of this segment as we finished in Durango weeks later, and our accomplishment, it just seemed to make the end feel all the more sweeter.

Stopping at Clear Creek, we pulled our packs off and enjoyed a rather “crisp” foot soak before having a pasta brunch. Sitting next to the creek, warm sun overhead and full bellies, we went over the plan for the coming days and the inclines we were facing. Slow and steady was our plan. Taking care to allow yourself to relax on trail is paramount to any successful hike, especially a thru-hike where big miles and climbs are common factors. There’s just so much to consider when planning a hike of this magnitude, mental and physical health are a must.

We broke up both the climbs in segment 12 by camping down in the valley in between Waverly Mountain and Mount Harvard. We didn’t know until the next morning when we went to get up and continue on that we chose quite the popular spot to camp. There were at least another six tents set up in the immediate area, perhaps all with the same plan of breaking up the climbs. Well, that, and it really was a beautiful area, quintessential Rocky Mountains. We found ourselves in a valley surrounded by mountains, lush with pines and aspens, cool running streams and a beaver pond the size of Texas. It was obvious that here, in this place, man was just a visitor.

We slept well and woke up to a cold and beautiful morning. Hiking early and moving forward to get the next climb out of the way, we made the top of the climb and began a well deserved 9.5 mile downhill hike. We would be lying if we said we weren’t thinking about segment 13 the whole time and the next climb up Mt Yale. We were still tired but knew it would be this way. It is just one of those situations where you put one foot in front of the other and overcome. We pushed on to the end of the segment where we would face yet another challenging uphill battle. We were learning just how deep we could dig to find out what we had.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

We were a sight. With our backpacks leaned up against a tree, we began going through our resupply box, inhaling our fries and chasing them down with cold blueberry iced tea.

Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

Start: Mount Massive TH

End: Clear Creek Rd

Distance: 21.5 Miles

Segment 11 was an interesting one for us. We cannot deny the fact that we were looking forward to our resupply in Twin Lakes, though it would not be your standard resupply either. For one, it would be a quick stop, no overnight accommodations available at the time, nor in the nearest alternate town, Leadville. There was a large bike race going on and all options were unavailable. That said, our stop in Twin Lakes was short, a few hours at most.

Segment 11 starts off nice and easy, a mild trail by Colorado standards, gently rolling and never wavering much beyond 10,500′ and 10,100′ until the decent into Twin Lakes where it drops down to nearly 9,200′, until the far side of the lake is reached and the climbing begins again. At that point we had to choose either the Collegiate Peaks East or West route. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

After the portion of the Mt Massive Wilderness we hiked through in segment 10, it was nice to finally get in some good views and pass through lush aspen groves that felt more like enchanted forests in some medieval movie. The drop in to Twin Lakes is beautiful, offering great mountain and lake scenery that seems to grow with each step forward. Perhaps it was the fact that we were losing altitude, it just seemed that the nearby peaks kept rising in front of us as we got closer into town. Though Twin Lakes is not really a town, more of a village, there are enough services to aid travelers through the area.

We had heard of a food truck that frequented here, complete with vegetarian and gluten free options. Perfect, we thought. Upon arrival we found the truck, as well as the general store, quickly. Did we mention the term village? Just about the whole place can be seen at once. Resupply box in hand, we made our way to Punky’s Food Truck. We kept it simple, ordered the “Ribbon Fries” and found a nice place to sit in the shade. We were a sight. With our backpacks leaned up against a tree, we began going through our resupply box inhaling our fries and chasing them down with cold blueberry iced tea.

After lunch, back on trail and back in the heat. We now had the grueling task of walking around the lakes, about six miles. And yes, there really are “twin lakes” though not identical. There are two sides to them as well, one side exposed and hot in the midday sun, the other, cool and protected by dense forest opening up only to expose the immediate shoreline. We enjoyed the forested side as it was a very warm day and there was a cool breeze blowing across the lake cooling us off after having walked in the sun for a few hours.

We bid farewell to Twin Lakes as we came to the trail junction where CT hikers must choose to follow either the Collegiate East or Collegiate West route. We chose to follow the original and more traditional east route. The west was adopted in 2012, coinciding with the Continental Divide Trail, a more dramatic and exposed alpine option. Either way, it begins a climb up and out of the Twin Lakes area. Soon after, we began looking for a campsite for the night, after which we enjoyed a nice cool evening adorned by a full moon.

That night we read, played cards and discussed the plans for the following day, which would be the beginning of segment 12 and a lot of up hill climbing being at the forefront of the discussion. In the morning we ate snickers for breakfast, drank cold coffee and enjoyed expansive views looking down into an amazing valley. The valley was beautiful, and the climb appeared to be brutal. One thing at a time. We descended and focused on the beauty of a deep glacier cut and lush valley. The climb would come in its own time.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

We listened to audio books and enjoyed some of our favorite music. Straight forward hiking with seemingly one goal in mind, reach the end of the segment.

Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

Start: Timberline Lake TH

End: Mount Massive TH

Distance: 13.1 Miles

What can we say, segment 10 was perhaps the biggest let down on the CT. But, in its defense, we did not choose to summit Mt Massive (14,421′) or Mt Elbert (14,439′) which are two highlighted side trip summits that are easily hiked from the Colorado Trail. That said, segment 10 was a walk in the woods with plenty of ups, downs and water features. Why was it such a let down? Other than milking a few aches and pains, it seemed that we were constantly on the edge of reaching treeline and having those big views. Apart from that, we really have no complaints. Why didn’t we attempt to climb one of the 14ers in the area? Time was of the essence for us, that, and cloudy mornings that would have hampered a summit. Are we bummed we missed climbing? No. We live in Colorado and can return anytime. Perhaps if we would have traveled from out of state, we would have put more of a priority on climbing at least one of them. We were on the fast track on this segment. Good trail conditions and a tight schedule were at the forefront of our minds. We just seem to push through with intent, get through the segment and closer to our resupply in Twin Lakes.

It was quiet on trail with plenty of water. The creeks were running swift and cold, our wet feet will attest to that! After the first few times of slipping off a rock or just plowing through the water, you give up and accept it. We had great places to choose from to take breaks, camp and filter water. The occasional views were amazing, though few in number. Perhaps the best was our campsite that allowed for a good panorama of the area in all directions. Because it is a wilderness area, we enjoyed less traffic on trails as bicycles must detour around the area on an alternate trail. This is a great time to enjoy listening to a book or music while hiking without the fear of a mountain bike coming up from behind you.

If we had to describe our experience in a few words, we hiked in a meditative state. The trail was very easy, rolling and gentle. Need a big complaint, mosquitoes. Other than that, there really isn’t much to tell, we just hiked. The big event here would have been to summit one of the 14ers in the area, but alas, it was just a quiet walk in the woods for us. We listened to audio books and enjoyed some of our favorite music. Straight forward hiking with seemingly one goal in mind, reach the end of the segment. No wildlife, other than the unseen but heard critters of the forest. It really was a non-event, but we like quiet, uneventful outings, so it was rather enjoyable to just walk in a relaxed state. If we wanted excitement we’d just walk through the next creek and get our stimulation from the cold water! It would certainly make for a great trail to camp near one of the access trails to the summits instead of parking at the trailhead and going from there. The trailhead was very crowded and zoo like! If you come the day before and camp further in you will enjoy quiet and easy access without the crowds the following morning. Mt Massive and Mt Elbert are the stars of the show for this segment, so if you are coming from out of state, we would recommend climbing at the very least one of them.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 9 of 28

The following morning was quite cold as we quickly moved down the trail and dove into what we called, ” the Valley of the Sun.” It was as it sounds, a beautiful valley full of morning sunlight and much needed warmth.

Colorado Trail Segment 9 of 28

Start: Tennessee Pass TH

End: Timberline Lake TH

Distance: 13.6 Miles

Tired? Want a comfortable place to sit and relax? You’re deep in the woods, good luck with that! Unless, of course, you just happen to be .5 miles in on segment 9 of the Colorado Trail and come upon an amazing porch swing just waiting for someone who is tired and needs a comfortable place to sit and relax. What a find. What a surprise. What a wonderful place to sit down and relax. After some long miles on the trail we couldn’t believe our eyes, a swing made for two. We sat, rocked and relaxed. We’ve been talking about it ever since we returned home, matter of fact we talked about it on the trail, giving back to a trail that gave so much to us. It really is amazing the things you come upon, the people you meet and the way things just seem to work out on the Colorado Trail. Something as simple as a porch swing placed along the trail can bring relief to a weary traveler. Trail angels and trail magic come in many forms, and we thank you all for all you do. It is so appreciated.

Segment 9 begins as a leisurely walk in the woods, a good thing for those who are tired and looking for easy terrain. Rest now and enjoy the swing, the Holy Cross Wilderness will sneak up on you and the climbing will begin. All the amazing views come at a price, you will climb to see them, but it’s worth it. But you might want to save some of that energy if you are traveling during mosquito season. Those ravenous blood sucking miniature vampires will stop at nothing to get a sample of your blood. We must have hit it just right because they were out in full force. We ate all meals in our tent, took breaks in our tent, hell, we would have hiked in our tent if it were possible. That said, the Holy Cross Wilderness is absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the CT only touches it for a short time. We want to get back in that area and do some exploring in the future.

After entering into the Holy Cross Wilderness, we had been hiking all day, which was a good twenty miles or better if memory serves us. We were actually looking for a good camping spot when we came up on the wilderness boundary and decided to keep going to find a pair of small lakes we had read about, Porcupine Lakes, located near a saddle at about 11,500′ after a healthy 600 foot climb in about a mile. That would just about drain our tank for the day. The setting was amazing though, set just at treeline the lakes appeared as glass reflecting the surrounding peaks. The sunset, as well the sunrise, was magical. The following morning was quite cold as we quickly moved down the trail and dove into what we called, ” the Valley of the Sun.” It was as it sounds, a beautiful valley full of morning sunlight and much needed warmth. Amazing what a little sun can do once it hits you in the early morning. A little sunlight can go a long way to warming you up, even if it is just psychological.

With the warmth on our face, we journeyed on. A new day full of new surprises, new mountain peaks, new valleys, new ridges and new memories. Not one day on the Colorado Trail is the same as the one before. Each day is unique unto itself. There are good days, bad days, blah days and days you don’t even store. The miles go on and on, the days all seem to blend, time stands still, but one thing is for certain, each moment, each turn of the trail, every mountain top and every forest is a new and welcoming experience. We joked before heading out on the Colorado Trail that it would be just thirty plus day hikes back to back. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is nearly 500 miles of differing and constantly changing terrain out there. Add in an ever-changing cycle of weather, an ever-changing mental and physical challenge and you come away with a truly unique experience. Doubtful that one could hike the Colorado Trial and have the same experience more than once. Thru-hiking is an entirely different animal than its counter parts of day hiking and multi-day backpacking trips.

Peace,

MAD

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