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 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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Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

We paused, looking forward into segment 21 and were in awe of the trail as it climbed straight up the other side of the valley as if a stairway to heaven. We had arrived, we were in the San Juan Mountains. We pushed on in silence.

Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

Start: Eddiesville TH

End: San Luis Pass

Distance: 12.7 Miles

Segment 20 was a long awaited destination for us, from here the Colorado Trail begins a steady climb into the alpine region where it stays for some time. In and out of treeline for a majority of the trail from this point onward. The beginning of this segment is the lowest altitude we would be at until late in segment 24, but only briefly, and then again at the end, when we would make our final descent into Durango to finish our hike. Often staying between 11,000′ – 12,000′ and touching as high as 13,271′ at the highest point of the Colorado Trail. Apart from our desire to complete the trail as a thru-hike end to end, this is what we came for, the high alpine regions of the San Juan Mountains. Our climb to the saddle of San Luis Peak was one of excitement, a gateway to the high frontier and the coming days of walking across the top of the world. This is a magical place, a place where the stars disappear below you at night and the sun’s rays begin before the valley below is awake. The alpine world is unique, challenging, but oh so rewarding to the traveler who is stubborn enough to venture here. Walk lightly and leave no trace in the alpine, we are merely visitors.

We camped early that evening beside a creek with other hikers we had met on the trail several segments before. We traded stories of our adventures and expressed excitement for the days ahead. The night would be calm deep in the valley, a frost would settle in and welcome us all in the morning as we emerged from our tents. A reminder of the region we were entering and the many cold nights and mornings to come as we traveled into the high country. There is no better reminder of the gain in altitude like the drop in temperatures. We would again see frost many more times for the remainder of our hike. It was getting real, we knew it, our bodies knew it. The energy of the trail had changed, an energy to respect and acknowledge. The weather in these parts is 50 – 50 on any given day. The mountains create their own reality and we would have to stay on alert for storms that could form in minutes above our heads. Wind is a constant. Cold mornings are a fact. The sun is intense. The blue sky is mesmerizing. The stars innumerable. The clouds seem to hug the earth here.

We slowly made our way up to the saddle below San Luis Peak among the fading alpenglow. We arrived early, adorned our down jackets and embraced the views all around. We imagined the climb from our vantage point of 12,612′ up to the summit of San Luis Peak some 1,400 feet above standing tall over us at 14,014′ and thought, about a summit attempt, for a mere second. We had many miles to go, and several big climbs coming, perhaps another day. We moved on, turning away as we were heading off towards our next pass and climb. There are so many inviting side trips along the Colorado Trail, it would take a long time to explore them all. We had a determined plan to hike the CT through, end to end, the extra side trips would be for another time. If the 500 miles of the CT and all of its climbs were not enough for us, well, we would need to examine ourselves further, the CT is full of incredible adventure in and of itself. We crossed up and over another small saddle at 12,366′ and crossed an alpine bench as the end of the segment came into view. We paused, looking forward into segment 21 and were in awe of the trail as it climbed straight up the other side of the valley as if a stairway to heaven. We had arrived, we were in the San Juan Mountains. We pushed on in silence.

Peace,

MAD

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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 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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