Colorado Trail Segment 15 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 15 of 28

Start: Monarch Pass TH (CW)

End: Marshall Pass TH

Distance: 10.7 Miles

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 14 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 14 of 28

Start: Chalk Creek TH

End: US Hwy 50

Distance: 20.4 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

Start: Clear Creek Rd

End: Silver Creek TH

Distance: 18.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

Start: Mount Massive TH

End: Clear Creek Rd

Distance: 21.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 10 of 28

Start: Timberline Lake TH

End: Mount Massive TH

Distance: 13.1 Miles

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 9 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 9 of 28

Start: Tennessee Pass TH

End: Timberline Lake TH

Distance: 13.6 Miles

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 7 of 28

What an incredible place it was. Surrounded on three sides with jagged peaks and steep scree fields, the alpine bowl opened up down the valley to an expansive view of the Dillon Reservoir.

Colorado Trail Segment 7 of 28

Start: Copper Mountain

End: Gold Hill TH

Distance: 13.2 Miles

Hello,McFly, McFly, anybody home? Yep, we’re slackers, slack-packers that is. The Breckenridge / Frisco area has a unique situation that allowed for us to hike segment 7 at a more leisurely pace, if that were possible. For starters, the free bus system is amazing, which is how we got to our hotel after coming off of segment 6. If that weren’t a stroke of logistical luck, the bus stop was right in front of our hotel! That said, we kept our hotel for a second night, left all of our heavier gear in the room that we would not be needing, got on the bus, headed to Copper Mountain and hiked segment 7 in reverse. Once we were back at HWY 9 in Breckenridge, we picked up the bus again and wound up back at our hotel like the day before. We were becoming pros at the great bus system they have, seriously, it made it too easy. Being quite the modernized area, we did have access to all of our creature comforts, mostly being a hot shower and a Whole Foods Market.

It quite well could have been the easiest hard hike we’d ever done. Well, there was the 2,700 foot climb to 12,500′ without switchbacks, but who is counting. This hike was fantastic, and getting around was a piece of cake. The climb was a nonstop straight approach; good thing our packs were lighter. Climbing through treeline, we were getting excited as the views were amazing. We could see for miles in all directions, naming off the surrounding peaks that included many great 13ers and 14ers. Once we made the ridge, we walked along the high tundra with Copper Mountain down to our left and the Breckenridge / Frisco corridor down to our right. Miles upon miles of uninterrupted views. We could see everything. We even met up with other thru-hikers we would meet several times more as we progressed through the segments of the Colorado Trail, one of which we actually finished in Durango with on our last day.

On the decent, we were not expecting the route to surprise us with a trek through an amazing alpine bowl. What an incredible place it was. Surrounded on three sides with jagged peaks and steep scree fields, the alpine bowl opened up down the valley to an expansive view of the Dillon Reservoir. If we wouldn’t have left our overnight gear back at the hotel we might have just stayed there that night and explored a little more. It is the kind of setting that you could easily burn through a memory card in your camera. We did. Marmots and Picas chirping all about, warm afternoon sun held to the the perfect temperature due to altitude and a calm breeze and a creek running through to give life to all the wildflowers that seem to go on and on; we had found a diamond in the rough. We have put this portion of the Colorado Trail on the map of our highly recommended places to explore.

Once back in town, we took a trip back to Whole Foods Market and their open buffet. We sat outside the store eating and drinking water and tea as if we hadn’t eaten in months. Funny, we didn’t eat much on trail, but when we would go into town, well, let’s just say they would have to restock. Even now, after we have completed the CT and been home, we are finding our appetite to be quite aggressive. Not really sure why, but it has been nonstop. We want to eat everything! A short walk back to our hotel and we collapsed on the bed exhausted but energized at the same time. What a wonderful day on trail followed up with another night in a comfortable bed and hot shower. Every once in a while on a long hike such as the CT, you need to stop and relax. Our plan to slack pack segment 7 was just that, relaxing. A trip back to the area for a long weekend hike would be so easy to do, too. Just follow the above route and you won’t be sorry.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 5 of 28

Sure, we weren’t in the high alpine yet, but we were getting there, and after our low point with the early heat, this was an unexpected gem at lower elevation.

Colorado Trail Segment 5 of 28

Start: Kenosha Pass

End: Long Gulch

Distance: 14.6 Miles

We hiked segment five in reverse, we are a little backwards, but it does keep things interesting! One fact is true about this segment, Kenosha Pass is blanketed in aspen trees. It is definitely a favorite among “leaf peepers” in the fall when the aspens all turn gold, something we are guilty of, just about anyone is guilty of. Cool temperatures, cloudless deep blue skies and shimmering gold aspen leaves just seem to get people’s attention in the fall. Did we mention we love to hike in the fall? We do! After hiking segment five, we just might be returning this winter to snowshoe that segment. The terrain is rolling with no major climbs, aspens are abundant, and then there are the open meadows that just seem to come and go, rotating in and out of pine forests, aspens groves and back again. A recipe for a successful overnight snowshoeing adventure if you ask us.

With the heat of segments one through three behind us, a distant memory now, we enjoyed almost fall like weather. Warm days, not hot, and cool nights. OK, it was a cold night, but comparatively speaking, much better that broiling in the burn scar area of segment two. Granted, the day before we were to hike through this segment, there was a strong storm that moved through catching several hikers off guard. We spoke with a few people who were section hiking and thru-hiking the CT and they just shook their heads, “it was a tough night,” they said. Wind, hail, driving rains and a lot of dangerous lighting. We were eating our lunch as they were laying their gear all about in the sun to dry it off. Everyone generally goes through at least one tough event on trail when thru-hiking. We were hopeful that ours was behind us.

The rolling terrain, mixed forests of pine and aspen and the meadows were expected. But, what we didn’t expect were the expansive views we enjoyed. It really was one of those surprise segments that we didn’t expect much out of. Add in the surplus of water flowing in all the creeks, we’d have to say that this was a great segment. Sure, we weren’t in the high alpine yet, but we were getting there, and after our low point with the early heat, this was an unexpected gem at lower elevation. Did we mention the fall like conditions and that we love to hike in fall? Aspens, running creeks, cool breezes and great views, yep, that was a good segment to hike.

If there were a gripe, and who can’t find something negative to complain about, we’d say there needs to be benches or picnic tables at trailheads. So, we’re being a bit spoiled here, but really, why not. When you’re traveling (on foot) for miles and days on end, having a comfortable place to sit, lean and relax is huge. It goes a long way to keeping oneself relaxed on trail. We could carry ultralight backpacking chairs with us, but we were counting ounces as it was with our gear. Luxury items on a thru-hike are generally kept to a single item, ours were an Anker Power Core and camp shoes, both hugely loved and used on trail the entire hike from Denver to Durango. Our gear was all carefully chosen; weights, usefulness and all. We will certainly be coming out with information on our gear, what worked and what didn’t. Suffice it to say, we chose very carefully before carrying everything almost 500 miles across Colorado.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 1 of 28

We were tired, it was steamy hot after the storms and the thought of continuing on felt daunting. Camp was set up and we called it a day.

Colorado Trail Segment 1 of 28

Start: Indian Creek TH (alternate)

End: South Platte River TH

Distance: 13.3 Miles

We did it! We completed our journey across Colorado along the Colorado Trail. Spanning nearly 500 miles from Denver to Durango, we anticipated 30 plus days hiking on trail with six stops to resupply and get cleaned up. We finished, surprisingly, a few days earlier than planned. This was due to our unknown ability to make bigger miles than we originally thought. Go figure. Now in our 50s, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, and no doubt, it wasn’t. This is by far the hardest thing we have ever chosen to do, both physically and mentally, emphasis on the later. There were days we didn’t want to hike. There were days, it seemed, that hiking is all we did. There were days that were filled will awe-inspiring views. There were days that were very uninspiring. There were days that we climbed. There were days we just walked effortlessly. There were days that were cold. There were days that were hot. Each day on the Colorado trail was a new chapter in a month long hike. The most surprising aspect of the CT? The people we met and became friends with, our Colorado Trail “tramily” that we became accustomed to seeing in towns, in camp and on trail. A source of strength, support and laughter as we vented, shared stories, food and experiences. There is more than just a trail out there, there are people, good people, all moving at different speeds with a common goal.

Segment 1 of the CT was hot. We generally never hike at lower elevations during the summer months in Colorado just for this reason. Needless to say, it is a part of the trail, the beginning. We quickly lost our enthusiasm as the miles went on. Heat is no friend to a thru-hiker who is carrying their very life on their backs. But, like hiking up a mountain, there were rewards to come, and it would just take a week to get to the high country and cooler weather. We pushed on. Rolling hills, dry creeks and relentless sun were a test, no less, of our endurance. We quickly learned that this trail was going to be more of a mental challenge even if it was physically demanding. Did we mention the heat? It was overbearing. We just kept looking to the west and the distant snow-capped peaks. We don’t want to overdramatize our hike, nor do we want to romanticize something that is truly a difficult undertaking. This trail, as we are sure all thru-hikes are, is demanding and will test you to the core. All this and it is only day one. We have a month of hiking ahead of us!

Starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead, an alternate to Waterton Canyon for those traveling with animals, we quickly found ourselves on a single track trail hiking in the woods of the Denver Front Range. The evening before must have been rainy as all the foliage was wet. We dubbed it the “car wash” trail as all that moisture moved from the plants to our clothing! Once we gained our first climb and ridgeline, we dried out and began to have views of the surrounding hills. It was starting to sink in that we are out here for the duration, for a month, with nothing but the packs on our backs. Are we crazy? We can just go home if we want. Or, as we did, we swept those thoughts to the backs of our minds where they stayed close at hand to remind us at any given moment that we could recall them and entertain getting off trail. We hiked on. Upon reaching the high point of segment one we could see segment two, that and, storms heading our way. Thunder echoed overhead as we quickened our decent down off the ridge and towards the end of the segment. Once at the end, down at the Platte River, we through off our packs and sat under a lonely tree affording us just enough shade. We were tired, it was steamy hot after the storms and the thought of continuing on felt daunting. Camp was set up and we called it a day. We drank water till dark and watched a deer stroll up on our camp. Mia, sound asleep and snoring, startled the deer and it ran off. A little laugh and we, too, were heading towards sleep. The next morning we would get up and begin segment two and the dreaded “burn area” with no water for ten miles.

Peace,

MAD

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Abyss Lake Trail

There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice.

Our latest outing was in the Mt Evan’s Wilderness, a wilderness area that encompasses over 74,000 acres, has two mountains at over 14,000′ and an abundance of wildlife and trail options. We chose the Abyss Lake Trail for several reasons, a couple being water and wildlife, but mostly because it is a trail we have never been on. With our continued conditioning for the Colorado Trail, we have been backpacking routes that will challenge us and, like the CT, are unfamiliar, a factor that keeps our mental and physical faculties alert for constant change.

This outing was to be no different. We put all of our gear, food and supplies in our packs for an overnight hike. Our goal was a sub-alpine bowl centered amongst several prominent mountain peaks, two of which towered above 14,000′ in elevation. With the snow melt in full swing we knew water sources would be plentiful and the trail conditions mixed. Spring hiking in Colorado can be challenging with snow, ice, mud and water in constant battle for the trail’s surface. In most cases, one usually encounters all of these on any given path above 10,000′ as you climb higher, sometimes losing the trail or finding it somewhat obscured.

Though wanting to experience a new trail, and wanting that trail to be unfamiliar, we prepared for any and all conditions. Snowshoes and microspikes strapped to the backs of our packs, we made our way from the trailhead up the trail not knowing what we would find. Granted we were aware of what the weather forecast was calling for, we also know it can deviate and bring surprises in mountain terrain. Possible thunderstorms, overnight temperatures in the high twenties to low thirties and daytime temperatures in the sixties, we found the environment to be likely what we will be experiencing on the Colorado Trail this summer.

This outing, and the ones we have been going out on of late, are geared just to this point, preparing for a thru-hike in changing conditions and at altitude. We only have a visual overview and a rather active imagination when it comes to the Colorado Trail. Sure, we know the technicalities, but until one walks the just under five hundred mile trail, there really is no way to know what it truly is like. One could even state, each person’s journey will be completely unique , and rightly so. Alas, the trail is in constant change and provides a different story for each individual every new season.

Our hike on the Abyss Lake Trail, no different. What we planned for is exactly what we got, the unknown and ever changing conditions of a wilderness experience. Perfect training scenario in preparation for the CT. Our hike up was mostly uneventful, and finding our destination came rather easy. Once there we began our tasks of making camp. Tent in place, water filtered and lunch made, we settled in and enjoyed our new alpine surroundings. Evening came and with it a few passing thunderstorms that had us shelter in our tent until they passed. Afterwards a little exploration and back to camp for the night.

It wasn’t until the next morning that our uneventful expedition would change and the wilderness would have a few lessons in store for us. We gathered our belongings, packed our gear and headed out on our trek back to civilization. We thought, well, at the very least we got a decent workout and some more experience with our gear. Simple enough, or so we thought. The first four letters of wilderness are anyone’s clue to their surroundings when in the high country. Expect the unexpected.

There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice. With no way around we contemplated waiting on the heat of the sun, several hours away. We looked up and down stream, no go. The decision was made, we would cross on our hands and knees. Our hands and knees were freezing and slipping on the ice, the spray from the water raging beneath was frigid, and the roar was deafening. The log bridge seemed to grow in length as we inched our way across the ice with full packs on our backs and Mia secure in her front pouch.

One down, two more to go. We can do this, we thought to ourselves. Our new found confidence was quickly put on hold as we came near a bull moose staring at us just off trail. Slowly and gently we moved on as not to startle him any more than we already may have. Sigh of relief followed by another heart pounding moose encounter. This time a female on trail coming straight for us. We all met with our eyes long enough to say “shit” or however a moose might say it! She must have thought, these two and their little chihuahua must be crazy because she no sooner turned and went the other way disappearing into a thick aspen grove as we began breathing again.

With bridge number two now in sight we saw another hiker sitting on the bank waiting for the sun and watched curiously as we did our eloquent ice crawl to the other side. He reluctantly followed in like fashion. Perhaps it was the first bridge or maybe the two moose, but now we were on a mission. After we crossed the last ice laden bridge we were home free, settled in and began a more leisurely hike to the parking lot. Enjoying the last views of swollen white-water creeks, lazy morning meadows, dense mixed forests of pine and aspen, all backdropped by snowcapped peaks, we hated to leave. The Colorado Trail will have so much more!

Peace,

MAD

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