Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey.

Colorado Trail Segment 28 of 28

Start: Kennebec TH

End: Junction Creek TH

Distance: 21.5 miles

We did it! We completed the Colorado Trail, hiking 486 miles from Denver to Durango and some 90,000 feet of vertical elevation gain over the entirety of the trail. It has been several weeks now since we returned home and are still in awe of our month long adventure. The CT is an absolutely amazing trail to hike. It is the epitome of all that Colorado is, from the plains to the high peaks and everything in between. From flat open travel to craggy heart pounding ridgelines high above the world, the Colorado Trail will engage the traveler both physically and mentally. It will challenge and reward you at the same time. The landscape, the wildlife and the weather all play a part in this journey of a lifetime. Indeed, an achievement to be proud of. The Colorado Trail is not all about hiking though, the towns you visit and the people you meet along the way are as much the trail. We were so happy to have met, hiked with and exchanged many great stories with our “tramily” (trail family) on trail. Such wonderful people with so many different backgrounds and one common goal, all hiking the Colorado Trail. We will always cherish our new found friends, their support and encouragement. Congratulations David F, Lucky, Sleep Walker, Oofta, Daddy Long Legs, Scout, Hodgepodge, Dude, Turquoise, Puppy Love and the many other great people we met and hiked with, you guys are all amazing. Thank you to all the trail angels we came across, who gave us rides, fed us and sent us off regenerated. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped, supported and kept us in their daily thoughts. There wasn’t a time on trail we didn’t feel as if someone wasn’t watching over us. Call it luck, call it what you will, every need we encountered was met and fulfilled. The trail definitely provided in its own way and in its own timing.

Segment 28 began after a dramatic end to segment 27. Traversing the Indian Trail Ridge, crossing through the surrounding alpine region and the drop into Taylor Lake were absolutely incredible. As we arrived at the Kennebec Trailhead to begin the last 21 miles of the trail, we paused, looked back to the north, bid farewell to all that we had experienced and stepped over into the final miles of our epic adventure. This was it, the final miles. We had actually walked from Denver to Durango traveling through, up, over and down some of the most beautiful wilderness areas we have ever seen. We had been hiking exposed for a while and really wanted to find some shade. We needed a break. After a rant and some venting about having hiked nearly 500 miles and not finding sufficient ground to relax on, we finally found a few lone trees where we stopped for lunch. We sat, took in a deep breath, updated everyone about our whereabouts and readied ourselves for the final push. We could see Indian Trail Ridge and watched in the early afternoon sun as a small single cloud quickly erupted into a threatening thunderstorm. It only took a few minutes. We recounted the dangers of hiking on exposed ridges and felt good about our decision to wait as we did until the following morning to go over the ridge. 21 miles, that’s it, from here it is nothing more than a quick overnight hike.

We gathered our gear, threw on our packs and were off down the trail. Our next goal, Slide Rock, a very steep, narrow section of trail that crosses a long and nerve-racking scree field. Nothing compares to a real time experience. We had seen pictures of this area, but those do nothing to prepare you for actually walking across it. The earth moved under our feet as the fear of slipping and falling was a constant reminder to take careful and precise steps. Having hiking poles, shoes with good traction and uninterrupted concentration are the key here. Though, our “trail runners” now had hundreds of miles on the tread, our hiking poles were getting caught in the rocks and our concentration was constantly being interrupted by the incredible scenery and the drop off. Slow and steady. The continued decent down into the canyon was a return back to dense foliage, creeks and softer ground underfoot. We hiked at a steady pace heading for the bottom only to rise back up later that evening on our last climb of the CT, a 1,000 foot incline back towards the rim of the canyon to a camping area that would put us only ten miles from the finish the next morning. It had been a very long day of hiking and we were whooped. Where our energy came from to complete this one last climb is a mystery to us, but we did it, we were positioned well for a quick and easy finish.

We reached the top of the climb and were greeted to a warm welcome from some of our tramily that we had caught up to. Seems we were all on the same page as far as mileage, campsites and the plan for a short 10 mile hike to the finish the next morning. We were all camped in a densely wooded and tight ravine with little to no flat places to properly set up our tents. After the climb we were so tired, so we just didn’t care. Everyone had their spot, shrugged their shoulders and thought, “it’ll do.” We made camp, enjoyed stories and were soon all off to our tents for the night. We spent the evening on a slope, constantly having to reposition in our tent, only to slide back down. This comedy act would last all night. If that were not enough, we began hearing heavy steps, snapping and breaking outside the tent all around our camp. Someone asked, “what is that?” A pause followed by an explanation, “we’ve got cows!” Everyone emerged from their tents, headlights shining in all directions as several cows and their calves were making their way uphill through our campsite. The cows seemed to look at us with a blank stare that said, “humans, you goofballs, what are you doing here?” They slowly made passage and went on about their business. Everyone got back in their tents as the last comment was made, “what if they come back, they are not the most graceful of creatures!?” We all laughed. The next morning we awoke to a passing rain shower and thought, if the terrible camping area and cows were not enough, now this. It was such a pathetic situation you couldn’t help but laugh about it. Soon enough we would all be finishing and getting clean, sleeping in soft beds and eating like kings and queens. Our last night on trail with our tramily was truly memorable, hilarious and pathetic, but memorable. We had survived Cowgate 2019!

Only ten miles to go, we walked with purpose, recounting the trail and the incredible trek we had been on. We wanted clean clothes, a hot shower and a good meal. That last ten miles seemed to stretch on and increase! We began seeing day hikers and hearing the Durango-Silverton Train’s whistle echo throughout the trees. We were getting close and very excited. We got to Gudy’s Rest, the last big landmark on the trail and great spot to reflect on the past month, where we met up with another tramily member. The excitement was obvious on all of our faces. We sat, relaxed and took our last break on the Colorado Trail before heading back out for the final four miles. We pointed out the “lasts” on trail, our last creek crossing, our last bridge, our last hill, our last aspen, our last footsteps. We could see the parking lot now, we were almost laughing and giggling with excitement as we took our last steps and arrived at the southern terminus. We took off our packs and just deflated, as if on cue, in an emotional end to an incredible journey. One of our tramily members, David F, was there waiting with celebratory cold drinks and a big congratulations. We all took pictures and awaited other tramily members to make their grand exit. After a small celebration, sharing of stories and after everyone had left, we stood there, as we had started over a month ago in Denver, just the two of us and allowed it to sink in. We had successfully hiked the Colorado Trail. A dream now become reality, a lifetime achievement, complete. We now add another wonderful chapter in our lives together, the Colorado Trail, and how we hiked it, together.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 26 of 28

Our pace was quick, our focus acute, we were only 53 miles away from the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail.

Colorado Trail Segment 26 of 28

Start: Bolam Pass Road

End: Hotel Draw Road

Distance: 10.9 miles

Where segment 26 might be short on mileage, it makes up with big views. Perhaps better put, segment 26 is a where all the unique features of the Colorado Trail come together in one segment. If you only had time for a short hike and wanted to experience everything the CT has to offer, this would be a great choice. Full of twists and turns, there is a surprise view around every corner. At this stage of writing all the blog posts and putting together all the videos for each segment, we almost feel as if we are just repeating ourselves, and perhaps we are, but the fact remains, there are amazing larger than life views along this nearly 500 mile long trail from Denver to Durango! From deep down in the fertile valleys, through dense enchanted forests, across high exposed ridgelines and over majestic mountain peaks, there is good reason why the CT exists. Beyond the hard work and planning that went into the creation of it or the continued yearly maintenance from amazing volunteers, the trail exists because there is no denying the beauty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. There is an adventure here and it was captured for all to enjoy. But not every thru-hike on the CT will be the same, each one is unique and new.

Our favorite portion of this segment was hiking up and over Blackhawk Pass (11,985′). We enjoyed commanding views in all directions and then descended on a twisting trail complete with switchbacks (yay!) down into a lush forested valley. We were heading for Straight Creek to camel up on water and begin a 22 mile stretch to Taylor Lake at the end of segment 27, the next “reliable” water source. Water is two pounds a liter, something we were not fond of carrying a lot of. Part of our logistics for food and water was to plan knowing when we would have plenty and when we would not. Because of the potential lack of water on this portion of trail, food choices changed dramatically as most of our typical meals need to be re-hydrated. Good thing our breakfasts had become simple, snickers and cold coffee. Lunch, on this stretch, about the same! We kept it easy for the next 24 hours until we got to Taylor Lake. Luckily, in between, we would find a few seasonal water sources that would ease having to carry a lot of water for long periods. Thru-hiking success has many factors, one of the most important, pack weight. We counted ounces and did what we could to find a happy balance between gear choices for creature comfort, and weight of gear, food and water for overall comfort to make the miles necessary to stay on track and meet our daily goals.

At just under 11 miles, we were witness to amazing views all around. Waterfalls, lakes, creeks, wildflowers, wildlife, ridgelines, mountains, valleys and much much more. Take your camera, point and click and you will come away with a beautiful photo. Our pace was quick, our focus acute, we were only 53 miles away from the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail. We couldn’t help but smile and sense the end nearing as we hiked on into segment 26. It was happening, we were almost done, we would finish and embrace the reality of a grand lifetime achievement. We were beginning to see our tramily daily now, we all seemed to have the same silly grin on our faces, our conversations were energetic and our timeline was all merging on the finish. We would camp together, walk together and finish the same day, if not minutes apart, together. We were in a good place and enjoyed the minutes, hours and days as we made our way towards the nearing finish line.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28

We neared a known avalanche debris field and began a tedious game of “where is the trail” in the dark. Our headlamps allowed us to see only so far.

Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28

Start: San Luis Pass

End: Spring Creek Pass TH

Distance: 14.8 miles

We were in the thick of the alpine now. The beauty and remoteness of the high country is exhilarating, granted it is highly exposed to the elements and difficult physically to travel through at times, it is what we had spent the first 350 miles working toward. This is not the first time we touched the higher terrain on the CT, it does travel this region several times prior, but not to this degree, not long duration. After the saddle at the base of San Luis Peak, the alpine becomes the new norm. We were in our happy place and excited for the rest of the trail and the endless views.

After coming off segment 20, down from a ridge along the Continental Divide to the end of the segment at San Luis Pass, we had dropped nearly 500 feet and were now staring up at our first climb of segment 21, almost 1,000 feet in 1.3 miles. Consider we had already had several gains and losses on trail that day. Our legs and lungs were feeling the burn. The mental challenge of willing ourselves up and over the next ridge was daunting. With San Luis Peak still in our rear view mirror, we began, yet, another climb. Our heads down, trekking poles digging in and pushing us forward with each step, we slowly made positive ground on the top of the ridge. As we crossed a snowfield near the top of the climb, the marmots and pikas seemed to cheer us on, chirping and whistling with each breath and step we took. We now had endless views all around.

After we caught our breath, it was straight back down on the other side. Just as the climb was short and steep, so too would be the decent, nearly 1000 feet in a little over a mile. A reverse workout for our tired legs. At least our hearts and lungs would get a break on the downhill. But, we weren’t complaining, breathing hard but not complaining. This was alpine hiking at its finest. Snowfields scattered just underneath the ridgelines, wildflowers chasing the sun and long mountain grasses flowing with the breeze. Each climb revealing new territory to be explored, we embraced the uphill challenges and accepted the reward for our labor, commanding views of the San Juan Mountains.

The only negative was having to stay on schedule. We needed to make a certain amount of miles to place ourselves logistically to the end of the segment the next day where a scheduled shuttle would be to take us into Lake City for our resupply. Knowing someone would be there was a great feeling, though hindsight would have been to plan a slower pace and more time on trail exploring the area more. We will be returning in the future, to this segment and others.

We had planned camping further along the trail than we did that night. As we walked we came upon some of our tramily members who waved us down and into what would be camp for the night. We thankfully accepted the invitation. After we had set up camp, we were blessed to be an audience to four moose grazing in and around a beaver pond. The beaver would also make an appearance, as we all enjoyed the wild kingdom before heading off to our tents. We did hear a very large splash later that night and wondered who fell in! The rushing waters of a nearby creek lulled us back to sleep soon enough. We would wake before the sunrise and be on trail, hiking in the dark, so as to keep us on track to get to our shuttle later that afternoon.

We put on our headlamps and began our day in the dark. Snickers, cold coffee and careful hiking. We neared a known avalanche debris field and began a tedious game of “where is the trail” in the dark. Our headlamps allowed us to see only so far. We guessed as best we could based on the terrain and soon found the trail again after having climbed up, over and around the mess of fallen trees and debris that covered the ground. We would begin climbing again, watching for the sun to come over the far ridge on the other side of the valley. An event horizon on trail followed by alpenglow on the surrounding peaks is something not to be missed. The warmth of the sun still escaped us as we climbed over our next saddle and into the cold morning shadows again. We navigated around a steep snowfield iced over from the cold overnight temperatures. Another ridge and our climbs for the day would be over.

Only one thing stood in our way now, Snow Mesa. Some 3.3 miles across a flat, expansive and rather unique landscape at just over 12,000 feet. Endless views, and a seemingly endless trail that went before us and disappeared on the horizon, just below the distant peaks that were calling to us to come explore. We walked and imagined what this place might be like in the dead of winter. Soon we would come to the end of the mesa and would “drop in” to lower terrain on a trail that resembled more of what a rocky ravine might be like on the moon. Everything moved underfoot and we would both enjoy a stumble followed by a graceful fall before finding ourselves back on mild ground heading through the forest and to the end of the segment and our ride into Lake City for our resupply and much needed rest.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

Start: Eddiesville TH

End: San Luis Pass

Distance: 12.7 Miles

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 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 16 of 28

In the middle of the night we heard what sounded like a pack of wild hyenas coming up from the valley below in search of a late night snack. Coyotes.

Colorado Trail Segment 16 of 28

Start: Marshall Pass TH

End: Sargents Mesa

Distance: 15.2 Miles

Segment 16 begins a long remote stretch away from easy access on and off trail. This is where you really begin to feel like you are on your own. The close up views of segment 15 slowly fade away as the trail begins a transition from the alpine to forests, meadows and mesas. Besides Tank 7 Creek there is not much water to be had in this segment, though travel is not overwhelming, so carrying extra water is not so bad. If there is one negative, the trees have been impacted greatly here with beetle kill. It is depressing to see the forests in such condition, especially from high above as you look out at endless miles of grey, dead and lifeless trees. That said, because of the beetle kill, camping in this segment can be tough. Logistically speaking, if you are planning on camping in a spot that is known to be good in years past, it might not be so now with all the dead trees around. Check the Guthook app if you have it for comments on campsites. It would not take much for the wind to blow one over, something we “heard” on several occasions at night in areas affected by beetle kill! Choose your site wisely.

We found great camping just after mile 5.2 where you cross a small ridge / saddle. Commanding views, no trees to worry about and relatively level ground made this a good spot to call home for the night. However, you might not be alone! After we set up camp the welcoming committee came along to check us out. Cows. In the middle of the night we heard what sounded like a pack of wild hyenas coming up from the valley below in search of a late night snack. Coyotes. This would go on for some time, making for a sleepless night, and if we did get any sleep, we had strange dreams. The next morning we were groggy and just needed to get moving if we were to make any miles. Snickers and cold coffee can only do so much. We contemplated a nap at some point in the day. The next few nights we would again encounter coyotes in the middle of the night. We were becoming sleep deprived and would not truly catch up on our sleep until our resupply in Gunnison at the end of segment 17, some thirty miles away at this point. Suffice it to say, we are not big fans of coyotes! The cows, on the other had, despite their, ahem, patties, are quite adorable and entertaining.

All in all, segment 16 was uneventful. Though, we were hiking in our sleep, so who really knows what we missed. Trail conditions varied, some of which was loose, sandy gravel and rocks that were challenging, rolling under foot. With the ground moving under our feet, we had to secure each step before taking another. Thank goodness for our trekking poles. Trail conditions like these are especially difficult on downhill portions, and when you are half asleep. Thankfully we got through it without getting hurt. Perhaps this could be attributed to our sleepy condition, we were so relaxed we didn’t tense up and therefore did not fall prey to injury. Did we mention we were hiking in our sleep! Gunnison would be a welcome resupply and much needed rest. The sunsets and sunrises were spectacular, bright orange skies mixing with blues and yellows. The forests silhouetted against the morning and evening colors added to the drama playing out at the beginning and end of each day. The daytime skies would add their own images of cloudless blue skies giving way in the afternoons to distant storms and some not so distant. Just more channels to watch on hiker TV. We hiked on and gazed heavenward.

Peace,

MAD

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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 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 12 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

Start: Clear Creek Rd

End: Silver Creek TH

Distance: 18.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

Start: Mount Massive TH

End: Clear Creek Rd

Distance: 21.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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