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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch every segment of the Colorado Trail

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

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

Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System

Backpack

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

Shelter

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

Sleep System

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

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

Cook System

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

Water and Filtration

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

Food and Storage

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

Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene

Clothing (Debbie)

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

Clothing (Miller)

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

Hygiene

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

Part 4: Electronics and Safety

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

Part 5: Q & A

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

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

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

See you out there!

Peace,

MAD

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

Colorado Trail Segment 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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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 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 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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