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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch every segment of the Colorado Trail

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

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

Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System

Backpack

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

Shelter

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

Sleep System

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

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

Cook System

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

Water and Filtration

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

Food and Storage

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

Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene

Clothing (Debbie)

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

Clothing (Miller)

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

Hygiene

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

Part 4: Electronics and Safety

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

Part 5: Q & A

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

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

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

See you out there!

Peace,

MAD

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

Colorado Trail Segment 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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Colorado Trail Segment 22 of 28

We found an inviting saddle to camp in that would offer, not only a great sunset in the coming minutes, an incredible sunrise the next morning, but also a starlit sky that night like nothing we had ever seen before.

Colorado Trail Segment 22 of 28

Start: Spring Creek Pass TH

End: Carson Saddle

Distance: 17.2 miles

After completing segment 21, we took a zero, a full 24 hour break in the historic town of Lake City. We had never been there before and really didn’t know what to expect, other than we knew our resupply box would be there and waiting for us at the Sportsman Outdoors and Fly Shop. Lake city is very easy to navigate as it is quite small. It was a nice step back in time, complete with beautiful architecture. The town folk were very pleasant and hiker friendly.

A nice, lazy and relaxing retreat for two weary Colorado Trail hikers. We rented a small, quirky cabin from the Town Square Cabins and Mini Mart, yep, and mini mart. Such wonderful people, very accommodating and, again, hiker friendly. Besides our resupply, we needed to eat, wanted to eat! We found a small grocery store across the street from our cabin, called “Get Some Groceries” that was the perfect find for two vegetarians on trail and in a small town. They had everything we wanted, and more! Great customer service, accommodating and, again, hiker friendly. We walked around a bit, exploring the town and found a great throwback malt shop that made us the best strawberry shake we had had in forever. The San Juan Soda Company was a great distraction, we sat and enjoyed the shake and the wonderful atmosphere. Did we forget to mention, hiker friendly?

After some hot showers, doing laundry, catching up on our calorie intake, and cleaning up our gear, we did some good ole fashioned relaxing in the small mountain town atmosphere. We met with some of our tramily, had some good conversation and readied ourselves for our return to the trail. Segment 22 would prove to be one of the most dramatic segments thus far. We were about to head above treeline and stay there. We were excited to get back to the trailhead and continue on.

Refreshed from our wonderful stay in Lake City, we began on a mild uphill grade. We would soon find ourselves climbing to 12,000′ and beyond. We passed by the Colorado Trail Friends Yurt and through the valley it sits in, complete with camping and decent water source and continued to climb. We decided that while we had light we would just keep moving. We weren’t sure if it was from being rejuvenated in town or just excited from being in the San Juans, but our energy level and legs felt strong and ready for high terrain travel. A few false summits later and we left treeline behind finding ourselves alone on the tundra.

Our packs were full, but the weight didn’t bother us. We walked and absorbed the expansive views of endless peaks in all directions. We walked across ridgelines, up rocky scree fields and near big drop offs that disappeared deep in the valley below. A few snow fields, a couple of climbs and plenty of exposure to the elements, we were reminded of how vulnerable we really were up there, especially being all alone with nothing but the packs on our backs. Our Garmin inReach was a nice reassuring piece of gear if we needed it, but it is only used “after the fact” in case of emergency.

That night we stopped just before sunset. We could feel the temperature dropping as the sun was heading down quickly taking its warmth along with it. We found an inviting saddle to camp in that would offer, not only a great sunset in the coming minutes, an incredible sunrise the next morning, but also a starlit sky that night like nothing we had ever seen before. We felt as if our tent had been lifted into the heavens as we were blanketed with the Milky Way. Millions of twinkling lights all about and disappearing beneath us along with the horizon as we were at 13,000′ above it all. A truly spectacular celestial event from dusk till dawn.

The following morning we were just speechless. After packing up our gear, we headed down, more like up, the trail. We were headed for the highest point along the 486 mile Colorado Trail. At 13,271′ we were feeling amazed, amazed at how far we had come, amazed at all that we had seen and amazed that we were actually doing it. We had talked about and planned this trip for a few years, now it was a reality, we were here and doing it. The San Juan Mountains had a wonderful impact on us to say the least. Layers upon layers of rugged peaks, jagged ridgelines and endless deep valleys, we could have just kept on walking, and did, for a little while anyway. Approaching the end of the segment at the Carson Saddle we hoped segment 23 would be more of the same.

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 11 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 11 of 28

Start: Mount Massive TH

End: Clear Creek Rd

Distance: 21.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #2

“A roll of toilet paper seems to go for a while until it gets near the end and then it goes really fast.”

March 2019, 4 months till the Colorado Trail

Today was the first day, in what seems to have been a very long time, that we did not wake up to frost, ice or snow. It definitely felt warmer, not that that’s saying much, probably 34° or so, but definitely above freezing. That said, bring on spring and warmer temperatures!

With four months to go, we have all but completed our gear list. Our sleep system, shelter, packs, cook system, water system and electronics are all dialed in and ready. We now move on to finalizing our menu, resupply towns, personal items and clothing. Physically we also continue to log miles whenever and wherever possible.

Winter in Colorado has been, well, winter. After several dry years that resulted in a drought, the snow machine has once again been let loose. At this time the Colorado snowpack is well above average with more time for continued accumulation. That said, we have stopped worrying about water sources on trail and have begun considering that many of the high passes will hold their snow well beyond summer.

It has been somewhat challenging to try and mimic trail conditions on any given outing as we continue to log miles with our packs full. The snow just keeps coming leaving many places we might normally use as a “full pack workout” covered in snow and ice. We have been getting creative nonetheless, wearing ice spikes or hiking as early as possible before packed snow begins to get soft with added sunlight. Other days are spent on level surfaces with increased miles, while other, more inclement days, are just spent inside using our own exercise equipment. Spring and early summer will bring better hiking conditions and increased accessibility to trails with more demanding gains and higher altitude.

We are so ready for long, warm days on trail! Watching the calendar certainly isn’t helping matters, though it is somewhat like a silly quote we recently heard, “A roll of toilet paper seems to go for a while until it gets near the end and then it goes really fast.” This will more than likely be the case for us, for now it is a slow wait, but soon time will accelerate and before you know it we will be on the Colorado Trail.

We have gone over the route and have written it out at least a half dozen times, looking at the details of each day, each segment and each resupply point. We have carefully chosen our gear, food and electronics. Sometimes we ask ourselves if we are crazy for doing this, some days we just feel like we are going crazy waiting. We have watched videos, viewed pictures and talked with others who have already made the trek. We have already experienced many of the early segments in previous years and look forward to points beyond. Waiting is hard, but we welcome the time we have left to continue with our planning and dream of the trail before us.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #1

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

January 2019, 6 months till the Colorado Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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