Colorado Trail #1

“Trail life is full of oohs and awes, but they are also filled with sighs, four letter words and pain”

January 2019, 6 months till the Colorado Trail

Many adventures begin with vision, albeit a personal challenge, a quest for spiritual awakening, a test of physical endurance or just a plain desire to explore uncharted territories never seen before. Adventures allow us to embark on journeys that impact us on so many levels. For us, our desire to hike the Colorado Trail in its entirety is probably more of a mix, encompassing aspects of all of the above. Though desire and vision can have skewed lines, reality usually swoops in and serves up a surprise, delivering, if you will, what you need instead. That said, our first installment of “The Colorado Trail” should be compared to the last. We will see you on the backside!

As we move through the planning and preparation stages of hiking the Colorado Trail, the vision still remains the same, granted how it will unfold seems to be changing the more in tune we become with the details. We know it will be tough, no backpacking trip we have ever taken was easy. Trail life is full of oohs and awes, but they are also filled with sighs, four letter words and pain. To see the remote wilderness firsthand is no easy endeavor, hence the remote part. One would be a fool not to expect challenging conditions full of hardships that must be overcome in order to embrace the reward. Long days on trail, encountering rough terrain, ever-changing weather, endless pounding of your feet, tired legs and the mind games we tend to grapple with as each false summit is reached are all part of backpacking. To glorify such extensive treks without talking about the difficulties would be irresponsible on our part, only setting others less traveled up for failure.

These constant reminders beg the question we have all no doubt asked ourselves at one time or another, “why am I doing this?” The answer comes just as the question itself is asked, “the silence of remote beauty, the stillness of the mind when the modern world is left behind and the imaginative ponderings of what lies beyond the next mountain peak draw us in.” Many will indeed walk to the edge of the world, few will take the leap into the unknown. Fear has a long history of keeping us locked into the comfort of our own personal domains, where curiosity opens the door. Stepping forward through that door is a decision that must be made with a combination of a sound mind and a form of lunacy. Who in their right mind would walk 500 miles, or more, exposed to the elements and trekking across difficult mountainous terrain? Someone crazy enough to do it, yet sane enough to understand the dangers.

Currently, on our kitchen table, across the living room, into the bedroom and basically on any unoccupied flat space available, we have accumulated information, gear and necessary items for our CT adventure. Each has purpose, even multipurpose if we are doing it right. Our gear is as light as we can get it while still remaining comfortable on trail. Our necessities for safety easily fall into the must go category, and go whether we like it or not. Then there is the plethora of information strewn about that we read through that fits perfectly in the backs of our minds filed away as mental notes. If such items were to be physically carried we would need a team of pack mules along for the ride. Food and water are paramount. The science behind how much to take, what we should take and when to eat can be as daunting as the first big climb. Alas, these things are all part of a successful outing into the unknown and untamed Colorado Rocky Mountain wilderness.

Route planning seems pretty straightforward, glancing at the map(s). But, and that is a rather big pause for consideration, just because we can draw a line from here to there doesn’t answer the many questions of how far we will, or need, to travel on any given day. It won’t necessarily tell you which water sources will be available at any given time. And, by and far, no map in the world will tell you the weather! Many of these question can be preplanned, but certainty won’t necessarily come until that moment arrives. Flexibility on trail is another key to a successful outing. The following statement addresses this, spelling out variables that will be addressed on trail. Knowing the situation will arise is planning enough sometimes, being open to various contingencies is a must.

“Day 3, feeling strong, twenty mile water carry, three days worth of food, mostly downhill with one major climb, sixteen miles(?), water and camping through miles 11-16, let’s hope for good weather.”

This is where we really dig in and begin to eat and breath the CT and its many attributes that bind together our desire and vision. Drawing from varied sources such as past hikers, trusted meteorologists, gear manufacturers, printed and digital materials, we prepare both physically and mentally. We prepare for the known and unknown. We wait patiently for our first steps that will thrust us into an adventure of a lifetime.

Peace,

MAD

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Lightweight Shelter and Sleep System

Our sleep system and shelter has evolved over the years as our experience has grown and our needs have changed. Now in our 50s, we want lighter packs and warmer nights on trail.

When it comes to sleep systems and shelters in the backpacking world there are a vast array of materials, temperature ratings and sizes to choose from. As a couple, our needs are quite different than a single individual, like that’s some new advice you’ve never heard of! But, seriously, choosing gear that would fit our needs as a couple is still just as mind-blowing, there really are a wide variety of choices on the market today. Materials, temperature ratings, sizes, uses, tent vs hammock vs tarp vs OMG…which one are we going with! Our approach, at first, was quite simple. We need a shelter, pad(s) and sleeping bag(s). No problem, we will just go to our local outfitter, tell them we need stuff and let them drain our wallet.

Walking into a store uneducated is not the way to go. While you might think it would be OK to rely on the expert opinion of the salesperson, what you are probably getting is their own experiences, preferences and, or, what they’ve been told to say and sell. The best advice you can get from a company or representative is what the gear is designed to do, how it is made, what kind of warranty it has and what type of return policy there is. Outside of that box, it is up to you to know your own needs and begin the journey to find gear that will work best for your needs. Now comes the balancing act. What are you willing to spend? Quality gear isn’t cheap, nor do you have to break the bank to get it. Shop around, look for sales, wait for sales, be patient.

Our plan of attack:

First things first, how are we going to shelter ourselves and our gear out there in the middle of nowhere. On the trail, weather is a huge factor. In Colorado one can experience all four season in one day. Choosing a shelter to protect you and your gear from the elements is one of the most important choices you can make. When it comes to backpacking you are ultimately faced with two material choices for your shelter, Nylon and Dyneema. This will be your first hurdle. Nylon and Nylon blends are the most widely used materials for shelters, and most affordable at that. A few drawbacks are weight and water absorption that causes sagging. Dyneema on the other hand, originally designed for sails, is extremely lightweight, weather resistant and, unfortunately, expensive. Know your budget and stick to your guns when choosing material. There are many great choices on the market made with both materials.

Size matters! Most will say a two person tent will comfortably fit one person, while a three person tent will comfortably fit two. What does that say about a one person tent? Here the debate begins about the size and weight of your shelter. After all, you will be carrying it on your back, sleeping in it at night and using it periodically to get out of the rain. Find a store that carries different shelter sizes and designs. If they are not set up already, ask them to set them up, get inside, move around and see if it would work for you. Is there enough room for you and your gear? Shelter material is one thing. Shelter design is another. Are you a tent camper? Hammock? Tarp? Do you just want to skip the shelter altogether and sleep under the stars?

Once you have made a decision on a shelter, it is time to move on to your bedding. And you thought the shelter choices were many! Start with a pad, something to go between you and the ground for warmth and comfort from the cold and hard surfaces. Pads consist of closed cell foam like a yoga mat, inflatable pads like swimming floats to next to nothing sheets of thin plastic not unlike Saran and Cling Wrap! Are you a cold, warm or hot sleeper? What conditions will you be hiking in? What will the terrain be like? How much (more) weight are you willing to carry? Are you about to pull your hair out yet? The choices are daunting! Again, budget, design and comfort all come together to create a happy balance. Closed cell foam pads are not that comfortable, but that is our experience. Nor do we feel like sleeping on a thin sheet of plastic better purposed for keeping food fresh in the refrigerator. We prefer inflatable mats with nice padding and a decent r-value for insulation from the cold ground, but we do hike in the Colorado high country.

Moving on to your sleeping bag. Choose one that will be at least 10° colder than the anticipated low temperature. Easy enough, right? Here we go again. Materials on the outside are generally Nylon, though on the inside it gets tricky. Fill power! Do you want / need down, treated down or synthetic materials? We prefer down for is comfort, weight and warmth. That said, down must be taken care of not to get wet. Don’t forget, everyone has their own threshold of what cold is. Women generally sleep colder than men and Chihuahuas can add a few degrees to your sleeping bag! Moving on, a sleeping bag is not the only choice out there. Quilts are a great option for weight savings and can offer just as much comfort! Finally, yep, the bottom line, how much are you willing to spend and carry?

Our sleep system and shelter has evolved over the years as our experience has grown and our needs have changed. Now in our 50s, we want lighter packs and warmer nights on trail. Backpacking the older you get can require gear to change a bit. Again, our experiences and changes in age dictated changes to our gear choices as yours will probably do over time. So goes the evolution of the hiker! As a couple, we love to sleep as we would at home. We love to spoon and cuddle, when our chihuahua isn’t getting in the way and hogging the blankets! A benefit and survival technique for sure, sharing body heat. We have moved on from sleeping bags to a double quilt, though a double sleeping bag could also work, quilts being lighter and helping to keep overall pack weight down. We also changed from two single pads to one double sized one. Another option would be to strap two single pads together, but there is the risk of the “cold spot” in the middle and pads can move around like shifting tectonic plates.

Our new shelter is a two person Dyneema tent with two doors and vestibules, we love the weight savings and roominess of its design. Keep in mind, we are 5’7 and 5’0 and do not need a ton of space. Speaking of space, how much room will your shelter take up when looking for a place to call home for the night? A shelter’s footprint can be another big factor in making the right choice for your needs. Try using a hammock above treeline or getting in and out of a tarp shelter with one door when your partner is sound asleep. Design plays a big role in usability.

Whatever you decide, we cannot encourage you enough to educate yourself not only to your own needs when it comes to comfort level, but the choices of sizes, materials, prices and policies of the brand you will ultimately go with. There is a lot to be said about comfort and experience on the trail, not to mention a brand that will back you up in case of failure and the need for replacement or repair.

Our choices for the 2019 backpacking season:

  • Tent – Zpacks Duplex. 2p shelter made of Dyneema with an abundance of space as 2p tents go. Coming in at 23.9 oz (including stuff sack and stakes) it will be light in our packs and waterproof on trail. A single wall tent, so condensation is a factor. The two vestibules are a little small, but we don’t keep our gear outside (food bags hung in a tree), plenty of room to make coffee in the morning though!
  • Pad – Exped SynMat HL Duo (Winter). A double size pad with an r-value of 5. A great option “for us” that balances weight and comfort. Separate air chambers allow us to choose our own firmness. Separate inflation and deflation valve system is also impressive. Ours came with the “Schnozzel” pump sack to aid in inflation and keep unwanted moisture from our own breath out of the inside of the pad.
  • Sleeping Quilt – Enlightened Equipment Accomplice (10°) Double quilt with the freedom to move around and cuddle while keeping us plenty warm on those cold mountain nights all the while being light in our pack. can also be used as a blanket around camp while warming up in the morning or before bed in the evening. Very lightweight and yet surprisingly warm!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us.

Peace,

MAD

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Giving Hope to the Hopeless

“We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one”

Not long ago we found ourselves looking through posts of animals who were in need of a home. It is really difficult and heartbreaking for us to see so many abused and helpless animals being mistreated and abandoned on a daily basis. We do what we can, but it continues and our resources are limited against the endless stream of animals in need.

One photo caught our eye, we reluctantly inquired, took a trip to our local county animal shelter and found ourselves falling in love with one of the most pitiful sights you could imagine. Scared, underweight and not daring to make eye contact with her empty, lifeless eyes, we picked her up and held her close, something she had never had before. Trembling nonstop and wondering what life had in store for her next, we spoke softly, gave her our body heat and tried desperately to instill in her that the life she had before was gone and one she had lost hope for would be her new reality.

Giving hope to the hopeless is no easy task, especially since the only life she has ever experienced and anticipated were days filled with pain – physically, mentally and spiritually. Sadly, she has known no other way of life. Rescue dogs can be quite challenging and emotionally difficult to deal with, forget the patience needed, there is a vacancy in their eyes that tells a story of the pain and fear they have embedded deep within them. But life for our little Mia would change, did change, is still changing. Each day is new and those negative experiences slip farther and farther in the past, being replaced with love, compassion and safety.

We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one. Months have gone by, it is so amazing to see the transition she has made, though still sad to see the damage that was done and continues to haunt her. We wait, show her wonders and make life as positive as possible for her daily. Amazingly, we are beginning to see that she is full of love, loyalty and affection, she just needed a family to share it with.

Mia, the name she came with, given to her by the animal shelter, has indeed turned a corner. Though she still cowers when she hears loud noises, runs under the bed during storms and is basically attached to us every breathing moment, we see life in her eyes, joy in her little puppy heart and excitement for each new day. She loves hiking with us and runs to the door dancing when we grab our gear. The people we come across on the trail are always taken aback by a little Chihuahua backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She is a serious bed hog, though an incredible cuddler. When you meet her for the first time, don’t worry about her being a little “ruff” around the edges, before long you’ll have a new friend and possibly a wet nose.

Peace,

MAD

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To Hell and Back – Hell’s Hole Mt Evans Wilderness

For us, Hell’s Hole was far from anything evil. If there is a negative, it is found in the first two miles of the trail and the constant climb. But don’t let that stop you, the aspen groves and dense forest will work wonders on your psyche, whereas the uphill battle will reward you with grand views the higher you climb.

Fall hiking in Colorado is by far one of the best times to explore the high alpine. Cool temperatures, calm weather and thinning summer crowds leave one generally alone on their adventure. The transition of the seasons brings with it much colder mornings and nights, though a bulk of the day will be spent enjoying pleasant sunshine that allows for maximum output on the trail without overheating. This is a great time to take notice of the circle of life. Decaying leaves, branches and downed trees all fading away prepare the soil for fertile conditions and future growth. After the snow begins to melt in the spring the ground will bring forth a new generation.

On our latest adventure we explored the adjacent valley to the Chicago Lakes trail in the Mt Evans Wilderness. Often wondering what the landscape behind Gray Wolf Mountain would be like, we put our imaginations to rest and headed up to Hell’s Hole. The name is intriguing enough to get the mind wandering about with visions of ghouls and goblins so close to Halloween. Needless to say, the only demons we encountered were our own!

Hell’s Hole is certainly not a destination you’d find in any horror movie. Though the deep spruce forests on the way up to timberline might keep one’s peripheral vision on alert, not to mention the Bristlecone Pines and their somewhat ghostly appearance. Once the trail breaks open on the high tundra all fears are left behind at the immensity of your new surroundings. An awe inspiring environment to say the least.

Bring along a lunch, kick back and experience views seldom had. If your are lucky enough, elk and big horn sheep can be seen grazing about. Stay the night and witness a sunset and sunrise from your tent that would leave anyone speechless with utter amazement. There’s just something intriguing about the energy of fall and its impact on the environment, wildlife and humanity… granted we allow ourselves the opportunity to embrace it… where nature and wildlife know it as a constant. Unfortunately, many of us have all but removed ourselves from the wild and untamed wilderness and its impact on us, seen and unseen.

For us, Hell’s Hole was far from anything evil. If there is a negative, it is found in the first two miles of the trail and the constant climb. But don’t let that stop you, the aspen groves and dense forest will work wonders on your psyche, whereas the uphill battle will reward you with grand views the higher you climb. This hike certainly worked its magic on us. If for anything, it worked any negativity out of us, absorbing it, if you will, just like the leaves, branches and downed trees of the forest. For that, we are truly grateful for nature’s affects. Another reason we do what we do.

It is hard to imagine this trail as “less traveled” when read about on hiking reviews. But, as was our experience, we only encountered one individual on the trail apart from a few leaf peepers near the trailhead, plenty of aspen groves! Perhaps the name scares people away. Perhaps the initial ascent. Perhaps because this trail sits in the shadows of several popular peaks, Mt Evans, Mt Bierstadt, Gray Wolf Mountain and even that of Mt Spalding. Perhaps Hell’s Hole is just a semi-well kept secret for those in need of an escape. Suffice it to say, this trail well give you just that, and more, as it works its magic on you too.

Peace,

MAD

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Lake Isabelle, A Visit With an Old Friend

Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

We have hiked many trails in Colorado of which there have been a wide variety of differing landscapes, all unique to their own region. Each presenting us with beautiful and amazing opportunities for exploration and discovery that fill the imagination. The affects on us have been awe-inspiring, physically and spirituality, prompting us to continue on, seeking out new destinations deeper and deeper into the unknown.

Of the many places we have been so blessed to encounter, one of the most special to us is the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Our draw is no doubt evident for the exceptional beauty of a land filled with clear running streams, towering snow covered peaks, abundant wildlife and lush vegetation. But there’s more here, more than meets the eye, an energy that finds its way deep inside your soul as if it’s a very dear friend welcoming you back to the warmth and security of home.

This is a place we continue to return to throughout the years. A place we feel akin to and protective of. A place of balance and harmony where nature is not just something to see, but something to feel and embrace with your complete being.

Within this fascinating wilderness, not terribly far for even the novice hiker, a high alpine lake awaits, Lake Isabelle. The lake is third in a string of lakes as you follow the trail next to the glacial fed stream that fills them throughout the year.

Standing next to Lake Isabelle’s outlet, one can see a majority of this expansive alpine ecosystem and how it is vital to the circle of life. From the Isabelle Glacier high above, thru the Lake Isabelle basin and down into the valley below, the outlet stream cascades downward on its journey to Long Lake, Brainard Lake and beyond where it finds its way onto the lowlands miles away.

In between each lake, lush forests and meadows are alive and teaming with vegetation and wildlife. A delicate landscape that evolves with the turning of time as each season passes. Winter, spring, summer and fall each have a natural cause and effect. Not surprisingly so, and not in a natural way, so does the presence of humans. Tread carefully, stay the trail and leave no trace so that this mountain environment remains healthy and generations to come will enjoy its unique beauty.

For the more adventurous, Lake Isabelle is not a final destination, but merely a stopping point to an incredible backcountry experience. Continue beyond the lake and explore the Isabelle Glacier and several peaks. There is also a notable, and obvious trail junction heading higher to Pawnee Peak and Pass where you find yourself gazing downward into yet another expanse leading to distant lakes, waterfalls and peaks of the Cascade Creek Trail system. Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

Choose your favorite season, fill your backpack accordingly and step into the alpine world of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A day hike to Lake Isabelle or beyond will certainly not disappoint the explorer of nature.

Peace,

MAD

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Frogg Toggs Rain Gear

That’s seemingly the market for Frogg Toggs, $20 ultralight rain gear.

In our hunt for lightweight rain gear that doesn’t break the bank and keeps you dry, we ran across Frogg Toggs. Made from a breathable polypropylene material that comes in at a whopping 10.5 oz for the jacket and pant, compresses down into a pocket size ball, it’s is easy to see why this would make a great choice for backpacking. In this review we tested the Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite 2 Rain Suit.

Question is, do they keep you dry on the trail?

We set out on a cold, rainy and snowy day to hike a portion of the Colorado Trail (Seg 4) to give them a try.

After eight miles of hiking in drizzle, fog, rain and snow, the Frogg Toggs held up to their end of the bargain, all dry underneath. But, not every rain suit is perfect, these have their flaws too.

The Good:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Packable
  • Keeps you dry
  • Breathable

The Bad:

  • Run large, order size down, no XS
  • No pockets
  • No pit vents
  • Waist is elastic, no other means of tightening.

The bottom line? Would we recommend Frogg Toggs? That all depends. If you want very basic, lightweight, inexpensive and very packable, yes, we would recommend them.

However, if you need a size XS or pockets are a necessity, keep shopping. If you will be in rugged terrain where the material could get snagged it probably would tear easily.

Doubtful they’d be great for winter use, unless your layering system does the job and you just want to keep the moisture off. Perfect for summer hiking, breathable.

On the plus side, if you’re hiking a typical trail, say, no bouldering or bushwhacking, then you’d probably be just fine with Frogg Toggs. They’re great for the occasional shower and they stuff down small in your pack. At $20 you really can’t go wrong, especially when most rain suits run upwards of $100.

That’s seemingly the market for Frogg Toggs, $20 ultralight rain gear. You get what you pay for, and in this case, stay dry. And, yes, they do have color options beyond the scrubs look above!

Peace,

MAD

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*We are not affiliated with, nor were we paid or supplied rain gear from Frogg Toggs or any other supplier. We purchased our own.

Colorado Trail

Turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

In 2017 we wanted to hike the Colorado Trail. But, as it were, life has a way of dictating what we do and what we do not do. There are times when we wonder if we are really in control, or if we are merely allowed to make decisions based on current events. The later seems more likely.

Why the Colorado trail? Why not! We live in Denver and love exploring the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Day hikes and backpacking are a big part of our lives. Being in nature is a great way to unwind, relax and clear our heads of the junk we’d rather not think about.

But, really, 486 miles, Denver to Durango? Seems a bit lofty to some. There are definitely longer thru hikes we could take, not to mention shorter ones. The Colorado Trail just happens to be in our backyard and has a draw to it that is somewhat unexplainable. It just feels right. The current plan, the CT in 2018. Is that etched in stone, is anything? Just like Colorado weather, no one really knows what tomorrow will bring until they actually experience it. We can plan, prepare and hope that everything falls into place all we want, but the future remains a mystery until it happens.

Hiking in your fifties is certainly not like hiking in your twenties. It would be nice to complete the Colorado Trail sooner than later. One can only imagine how hard it must get as we age. Though, speaking of goals, we plan to hike until our legs are taken away from us, and then we’ll just look for some mobility device, buy an RV, crawl or move to some distant mountain hideaway.

Alas, here we sit on the back half of life, if you will, looking forwards and backwards. There’s been so much, there will be so much more. Amazing how we find ourselves at this odd crossroads, not necessarily on the map, and yet here it is. We’re fiftyish now and wondering what’s next. Funny, it was never a real worry before, but for some strange reason we find ourselves contemplating something we never thought would be a notion to consider. It’s quite silly really, why is this time the midlife meme? Who or what gave it power? Of all the things we could be thinking about, our minds, like our bodies, fell prey to this phenomenon of turning fifty. It’s like a built in mechanism that is time released.

Most days are like, yeah, we’re in the fifty crowd, we got our AARP cards in the mail, we grunt a little more now, things are starting to go. Other days are like, big deal, we’re still here, still together and still moving forward, like we have a choice. We count our blessings, we think back on all the memories and look forward to even more. We still have plenty of wants. Our bucket list, if we actually made one, seems to becoming more of a priority list vs the perpetual “one day” list.

Not putting too much emphasis on numbers, fifty never was much of a date on the horizon, though now, perhaps, that understanding might have changed. It was just a number, just another day, and just another year. Yet, somehow, someway, turning fifty, physically, was like a light-switch was flipped and stuck in the on (or off, depending on how you look at it) position. The mental fight began soon after. Hiking the Colorado Trail just seemed like the right thing to do.

To that, we are motivated more than ever to keep ourselves moving, maintaining a healthy (healthier) diet and exercising regularly (more regularly). Adjustments to our hiking gear, trail food and trail duration are modifications we are looking at closely. Let’s face it, thru hiking is not easy, doing it at fiftyish isn’t helping matters, but we can and will complete the trail with the proper gear and mindset. For now, plan the hike and keep ourselves fit and healthy.

We’ll either hike it thru or in segments. Capturing, embracing and absorbing every moment as they come. The plan is to document our adventure by taking innumerable amounts of photos, endless videos, and stitching them together by segment, 28 of them to be exact.

There’s a lot of hype in the thru hiking world about pack weight. Quality hiking gear isn’t cheap. Replacing it with ultra-light gear isn’t that easy, if even needed. Most emphasize base weight, that is, everything but food and water, consumables in a nut shell. We’re guessing people want to take less and be lighter on their feet, ultimately less time on the trail. While less might be more comfortable while in motion, there is a level of comfort each of us has to consider, otherwise we become miserable and want off the trail. For us a balance must be found. Let’s face it, if you love the outdoors, you most likely want to spend more time there, not less. A quick hike doesn’t necessarily make for an opportunity to embrace all the trail has to offer. We’d rather slow down, smell the wildflowers and take it all in. If that means a little extra weight on our backs, so be it.

We are still planning on hiking the CT, follow along with us on one of our social media outlets and see what we are up on any given day and future plans!

Peace,

MAD

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High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving Denver, we made our way to Berthoud Pass, a good early morning stop to shake out the predawn cobwebs and give our bladders a much needed break from the coffee sludge we had ingested a few hours before.

Over the pass and into the  sleepy ski town of Winter Park, we found our turnoff on to the less traveled Corona Pass Rd, a road full of Colorado railroad history! It was a good thing we had stopped at Berthoud Pass, the dips, bumps, holes and rocks had us bobbing up and down, side to side and all around the cab of the truck like a bad carnival ride. Something our bladders probably would not have tolerated! Several hours of road torture gave way to views of the alpine as we finally pulled up to the trailhead.

On the border of two wilderness areas, James Peak and Indian Peaks, we couldn’t help but admire the incredible beauty of this place. Adventure options abound here. While a wildflower lined trail lead down to King Lake, Lake Shira and Bob and Betty Lakes was inviting in and of itself, today our adventure would take us up the high road, the High Lonsome to Devil’s Thumb.

Late summer snow, wildflowers, low clouds and a wind that brought a sense of an early fall soon to arrive met us as we began our ascent. Our path today, a section of the Continental Divide Trail that averages 12,000′ and very exposed to the elements. Full of big views in each direction, we kept a close eye, and ear, on the weather churning above us.

Making our way across the high open tundra, we felt as if we could touch the sky. The High Lonesome to Devil’s Thumb is just that, a high altitude trail to be alone with your thoughts in an ever expanding environment. The trail always aiming for a horizon that blurs, where earth and sky are one and the imagination is left with thoughts of danger, beauty and intrigue.

Leaving the High Lonsome for Devil’s Thumb was an exciting event. A year ago we had planned to be here on a multi-day hike only to cut this portion of the adventure out due to lack of water in one of the lower lakes, a planned overnight stop. This time water was aplenty, we were charged with the anticipation of seeing down in the valley where Devil’s Thumb, Devil’s Thumb Lake and Jasper Lake reside. Serenaded by Marmot and Pika, we stared ahead in awe of the alpine landscape we had come to visit. Plush, teaming with life and unexplored, the valley below calls to the weary high alpine traveler, “come down and rest.”

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Saint Vrain

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Anyone who has a love for the outdoors in Colorado will tell you, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park are two of the most iconic places to set out on an adventure in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. But, can you be in two places at the same time?

Both sharing a border, much less the jaw-dropping landscape they have each come to be known by, it is no wonder that at one time Enos Mills proposed both wilderness areas were on the table to be known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Suffice it to say, local mining interests put a hold on those plans and eventually the Indian Peaks, thankfully, were protected under their own wilderness boundaries.

Call them what you will, Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Roosevelt, Arapaho or Routt National Forests. The fact remains for anyone who has ever explored within their boundaries, this is a land of immense imagination filled with wildlife, clear running streams, dense forests and high alpine peaks where snow can linger all year long.

The question begs to be asked, can you be in two places at the same time and still benefit from both? Absolutely! However, you need to know where such a place exists and then be able to get there.

Nestled in a high meadow, perhaps overlooked for the popularity of Estes Park and neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, sits the little known mountain “village” of Allenspark in the shadow of a well kept secret.

While many will make the trek to RMNP and the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, few will find their way to the small trailhead for Mount Saint Vrain nestled deep in the woods behind the small town of Allenspark, Colorado. There you will find a small parking area with no real distinguishing attributes for the dense forests. One must begin a rather unforgiving and relentless climb from here, climbing up and above the timberline on a quiet, though demanding, hike.

Once above it all, the answer to the question, can you be in two places at one time, becomes quite obvious. Absolutely. But, be prepared to pick your jaw up from off the ground. While one can see amazing beauty in both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the old saying, “can you see the forest for the trees” applies. It’s one thing to be among these iconic wilderness areas, while it is a whole different experience to see them both in their grand expanse, first hand and at the same time.

The trail to Mount Saint Vrain might be strenuous, but the reward far outweighs the effort as you climb above the dense forests and find yourself standing in an alpine saddle surrounded by, perhaps, one of the most incredible views one could dream of. But don’t stop there, exploring further in this area will only spark the imagination further, deepening one’s appreciation for the great outdoors, the Colorado Rocky Mountains and an alpine environment seldom experienced.

Being in two places at the same time is not always something we want to do, but in cases such as this, you will not want to leave.

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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