Colorado Trail Segment 27 of 28

We crossed through treeline and across the open tundra where we were greeted by a spectacular array of mountain peaks and ridgelines. Back in the alpine we were.

Colorado Trail Segment 27 of 28

Start: Hotel Draw Road

End: Kennebec TH

Distance: 20.6 miles

It is not the last segment, but 27 felt as if it was the last hoorah on the Colorado Trail. Whereas 28 is the last segment, it is not necessarily a “big finish” so to speak in terms of big and bold views. Segment 27 on the other hand is full of dramatic mountain views, ridge walks, climbs, descents and a great finish at an alpine lake. Segment 28, well, a canyon walk and a return to lower terrain. The big attraction there is, well, the finish! We are not being completely fair, it is just that we love the higher terrain. The canyon walk to the finish is quite beautiful with plenty of water, vegetation and easy travel. It is not the wide open expanse we love to hike in, but it is a place to explore, relax in and enjoy. Much larger in scale than the northern terminus in Denver where you hike through Waterton Canyon or from the Indian Creek alternate, the canyon here is very large and expansive towering a good 1,000 plus feet. Trust us on that, we climbed it the day before we would get to the finish.

It was late in the day when we began segment 27, walking in a mixed wooded area. We had been pushing the miles all day to try and put ourselves in a good logistical place for the next few days. Indian Trail Ridge was coming up and we did not want to cross it in the afternoon hours as it is a storm magnet. We would go as far as we could for the day and find a place to camp when possible. Certainly not a great spot, but it would do for the night. We found an open area along a forest service road with big views for the next morning sunrise. Unfortunately, we must have taken residence up in a favorite spot for weekend campers / hunters, as a few 4X4s and OHVs pulled into our camp overnight. It was very dark, so each time we would turn on our headlamps and illuminate the tent to let them know we were there, each time they would leave. Granted that was not our intention, we just didn’t want to have someone drive over us in the middle of the night! We had another visitor as well. We heard sticks breaking and thought, “that sounds big” to which we grabbed the headlamps, pointed the light outside the tent and saw two large eyes glowing 20 feet away. Bear? Cow? What the…it’s a deer. Apparently we had quite the campsite that night, everyone wanted to pay us a visit.

The next morning, groggy from lack of sleep, we packed up, began climbing, waiting for the sun to make a grand entrance to warm us and had our normal Snickers and cold coffee breakfast. We would be walking the edge of a ridge for a while and enjoyed beautiful views of the valley on our left all morning. The flowers themselves were anxiously awaiting the sun, as they were leaning left in anticipation of the warmth coming. It would not be shocking if we, too, were leaning to the left as well. It was a cloudless blue sky day in the making, the darkness of night was exiting and being replaced by reds, oranges and yellows that lit up the sky like a martian landscape. We walked, enjoyed the changing colors in the sky and enjoyed our coffee, well, we drank it anyway. Cold coffee is merely caffeine intake, nothing more, though tolerable. The Snickers, wonderful. A treat we would never allow ourselves off trail. We found a a great log to rest on that had phone service. We caught up on messages, told everyone we were alive and using sticks left a “hiker text” on the ground for one of our tramily members letting them know this was a great spot to relax.

The afternoon would prove to be quite warm as we hiked through a small open area that resembled an old burn scar. Now well into the regrowth stage, but lacking tall trees for shade. The next shady spot we would come to would be for lunch and a nice break. Still in a dry stretch we conserved water but not so much to remain thirsty. We had heard of a spring ahead that was still flowing and allowed ourselves a few extra sips. If our shoes were not proof of the hot and dry then nothing could be. After our break, we put our shoes back on only to see dust plumes come off of them! We pushed on and finally made it it to the seasonal spring, flowing away, we filtered water and did not have any more plans to conserve again. The sky had clouded up and was now rumbling in the direction of Indian Trail Ridge. We would not be traversing it today. This did not come as a shock. We hiked on a little more, gaining altitude to a trail junction for a scenic overlook where camping was good and another seasonal spring was flowing. Our water issues had gone away, the heat of the day replaced by cool winds and a rumbling sky. We made camp, allowed ourselves to relax and decided to stay the night. After exploring the overlook, talking with other hikers in the same boat as we were, we called it a night and had a great night sleep.

We woke to darkness the next morning, quietly packed up and were off in the dark, headlamps illuminating the way. We were leaning left again, awaiting the morning sun and warmth. Again, the sky put on a spectacular show of alien world like colors. No clouds, just solid reds, yellows and oranges burning the sky from top to bottom. Soon enough it would be a pure Colorado blue sky. It would be a spectacular morning on trail. We were excited to be climbing to the Indian Trail Ridge, especially in the early hours with no threat of storms. We had been wanting to see this portion of trail from the beginning of our Colorado Trail journey. Today was the day. We crossed through treeline and across the open tundra where we were greeted by a spectacular array of mountain peaks and ridgelines. Back in the alpine we were. We came upon the ridge walk we had been so eagerly awaiting and were just blown away. What a spectacular site. It had danger and beauty written all over it. We slowly made our way across the loose rock and scree. Carefully choosing each step and trying not to lose our balance as we were mesmerized by the surrounding landscape. This would not be a place you would want to be in a storm, there is no escape, no place to run or hide, nowhere to go, period.

We could now see the upcoming ridgeline that houses the Taylor Lake basin. Another climb and we would be dropping in. Just like Indian Trail Ridge, Taylor lake was also a big landmark that we had so eagerly anticipated from the onset of our hike. We came over the ridge and began our descent, it was perfect. An alpine lake bordered by ridgelines and fed by snow. We had made plans to camp here if we would have gone northbound from Durango to Denver. A big wide open expanse of an alpine bowl, lush and green all around the surrounding area. If there were a negative, there was nearly no place to sit and relax as it was thick in vegetation. Where there was flat ground, it was bare of shade trees. Alas, it was the alpine. We filtered water at an outlet stream and talked with other hikers who were getting water as well. Water sources tend to be social spots on trail where hikers trade trail conditions and stories. We soon got back on trail and were heading off to the end of the segment. Upon arrival at the Kennebec Trailhead, we couldn’t help but read the sign, Durango 26 miles (to town). It was coming, the finish would be the next day. We would be crossing the finish line and embrace an emotional exit to a dream that had been in the works for years. A deep breath, a grin that wouldn’t go away and we would step forth off of segment 27 and onto 28.

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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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

MAD Hippies Life is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram