Colorado Trail Segment 17 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 17 of 28

Start: Sargents Mesa

End: CO Hwy 114

Distance: 20.4 Miles

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

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

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

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

Peace

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 13 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 13 of 28

Start: Silver Creek TH

End: Chalk Creek TH

Distance: 22.8 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 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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Why Hike the Colorado Trail

The Colorado Trail is the perfect culmination of all we have been doing to keep ourselves active and will certainly challenge us across the board, a challenge we gladly accept and look forward to completing.

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People are taken back when we tell them we are backpacking the Colorado Trail as a thru-hike. Once we describe the terrain, altitude, distance and time involved, then the confused facial expressions coupled with the concurrent question of “why?” soon follow. Although, in their defense, the question does beg to be asked, “just why are we doing this?” It is an honest question and certainly deserves and honest answer. While we cannot answer for everyone, we can at the very least attempt to explain ourselves.

The Colorado Trail is nearly 500 miles of rugged terrain. To say the month long trek is enjoyable after considering what is involved might have some questioning our sanity. Big temperature swings and exposure to the elements are a constant battle. Having to carry not only gear and clothing, but food and water, can be quite the burden. The day in, day out, getting up and out of a warm sleeping bag to walk an average of 15 to 20 miles can be a mental fight. Lions, tigers and bears are certainly the least of our worries. So, just what is the draw and why would we put ourselves through such a test of mental and physical endurance?

Years ago we decided to challenge ourselves to hike every week throughout the entire year, regardless of the weather. We encountered rain, snow, mud, extreme winds, hail, lightning, intense sun and temperature swings that would have a thermometer throwing in the towel. However, for every inclement or sweltering weather day we encountered, there were times that would stop us dead in our tracks leaving us speechless at the immense and pristine landscape before us. The Colorado Rocky Mountains have a way of captivating those who explore its vast wilderness areas. But that is only part of our reasoning. Even the worst weather days we found absolute beauty in our surroundings.

The calming effect the Colorado wilderness has on us is indisputable. One can’t help but stare into the face of the age old craggy peaks that have witnessed countless explorers over time and wonder what stories they left behind. Walking through endless fields of wildflowers atop open benches high above treeline is akin to a 4th of July grand finale fireworks display. At the end of each day, finding ourselves camping near a babbling brook deep in the forest of an elongated valley while listening to the sounds of nature serenade us to sleep is music to our ears. All of these things are nothing short of a symphony for our senses, an invitation, if you will, for body, mind and soul to experience tranquility.

Personal endurance challenge? Perhaps. We do like to push ourselves physically as well as mentally. Again, going back to our goal of hiking every week, we want to keep moving and keep ourselves vibrant, healthy and strong to the best of our abilities. Hiking and backpacking is a great avenue to do just that. Complete with good and balanced eating habits we are able to nourish ourselves in all aspects, physically, mentally and spiritually. The Colorado Trail is the perfect culmination of all we have been doing to keep ourselves active and will certainly challenge us across the board, a challenge we gladly accept and look forward to completing.

Are our expectations to have a seamless blue sky day surrounded by Bambi and all his friends of the forest? No. We expect nothing short of all Colorado mountain weather has to offer. We do anticipate clear blue skies, wind, thunderstorms, frost and even snow. We also anticipate that any or all will happen on the same day. Bambi and his friends will be there, along with Bullwinkle and a few others. Mosquitoes and other biting nuisances will be plentiful as will trail challenges like downed trees, snowfields and mud. All of which are just part of what keeps the wilderness wild and untamed. For every difficulty there is also a silver lining, a moment of awe, that negates the hardships of being in a natural environment with nothing but the clothes, err, backpacks on our backs.

Just like the Colorado Trail itself travels up and down, climbing high atop the Continental Divide and down low into fertile valleys, so too will our thru-hike be. Full of highs and lows, physically and emotionally. It is, after all, life, our life, on the Colorado Trail. Experiences and memories, full of grand stories, perhaps embellished at times, to be to shared with generations to come of how two high school sweethearts walked side by side through life and one day set out on the adventure of a lifetime.

Peace,

MAD

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Lightweight Shelter and Sleep System

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

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

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

Our plan of attack:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our choices for the 2019 backpacking season:

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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