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 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 25 of 28

There was a sense of harmony in this place. We needed to pass through it, but didn’t want to disturb the energy. Peacefully we made our way across, absorbing it’s beauty and leaving no trace of ourselves.

Colorado Trail Segment 25 of 28

Start: Molas Pass

End: Bolam Pass Road

Distance: 20.9 miles

After a quick overnight stop in Silverton for our resupply, we were back on trail early the next morning. The Molas Pass area, as much segment 25 itself, was a real surprise. We flirted with treeline and had commanding views in every direction. The picturesque landscape was simply spectacular! Looking out in any direction it was just eye catching scenery, back-dropped with a half dozen or so 13ers and near 13ers, Twin Sisters (13,432′ & 13,374′), Rolling Mountain (13,693′), Grizzly Peak (13,738′), Jura Knob (12,614′) and  the prominently placed Engineer Mountain, (12,968′) that begged to be seen. The forest were lush, green and healthy, the creeks and waterfalls clear and cold, whereas the wildflowers seemed to be in their prime, full of vibrant colors blanketing the hillsides and lining the trail. The mountain valleys were deep, rocky and mystical as each corner of the trail welcomed us to further and unexpected views. There were a couple mountain passes that we would have to climb up and over that would leave us speechless at the top. We were completely caught off guard by these surroundings and shocked by the beauty of this segment. It seemed to us to be a culmination of every segment we had hiked to this point.

We were climbing again leaving treeline behind and into unknown territory. Perhaps it was the earlier segments, 21 through 23 that had ruined us, not fully knowing if there was much wow factor left on the CT. We were wrong. Honestly, it was not even comparable, this place held its own unique beauty. Wide open, massive valleys guarded by towering jagged mountains in varying color displays of rusty reds and shades of emerald green. We had not seen anything like this on the trail yet. The climb up had us pass through fields of wildflowers, fields of snow and fields of rock. The welcome mat to the high pass was laid out and we humbly accepted the invitation. The decent into the adjacent valley, utterly jaw-dropping. We were simply unprepared to witness such a beautiful place.

We were hiking at an excited pace, not only because it was to be our last few days on trail until Durango, but because the beauty just seemed to grow as we went on; we were eager to get to the next corner, the next crest, and down into the next valley. Our campsite that night would be surreal. We found a great spot near Cascade Creek and several waterfalls that would send us off to a quick sleep. We ate dinner, explored a bit and called it a day. The following morning we would be on trail early, chasing the sun, once again, to get warm. The nights were definitely getting colder, the morning as much. Getting out of a warm tent and sleeping quilt was no easy task, especially when you could see your breath. Suffice it to say, at some point we knew we would have to emerge. We continued in and out of treeline, eventually finding ourselves in an incredible meadow surrounded by peaks and ridges and full of wildlife. There was a sense of harmony in this place. We needed to pass through it, but didn’t want to disturb the energy. Peacefully, we made our way across, absorbing it’s beauty and leaving no trace of ourselves.

We emerged from the meadow, still in awe of everything we had seen in this gem of a segment, wondering how we were so surprised by what we had just experienced. The segment would come to an end at Celebration Lake, a name that has the hiker wondering how it came to be. Durango is still in front, three segments away, but what was just traversed and traveled, well that would certainly be cause for celebration. The Colorado Trail was not done with us yet, apparent from this section and the ones to come. Time was speeding up as we neared Durango, and yet we were at ease, enjoying these last few days content, not only in our accomplishments, but also in the fact that the CT would continue to wow us some more. While the excitement of the finish was growing daily, we had to wonder, what comes next. What happens after the finish? Did we really want it to end? We had been on trail for a month, our minds and bodies had accepted the new reality. Sure, a break would be nice, but the lure of the Colorado Rocky Mountains does not fade, it just seems to intensify with each step forward and each new horizon crossed where new ridges and peaks are laid out in front calling the traveler to come explore.

Peace,

MAD

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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 18 of 28

It was just a quiet stroll through a place lost in time. Nothing out here spoke of modern man. It was just earth, sky and far off mountains as far as the eye could see.

Colorado Trail Segment 18 of 28

Start: CO Hwy 114

End: Saguache Park Rd

Distance: 13.8 Miles

What a difference a day, err, warm bed and hot shower can make. After we got into town and checked into our hotel, another stroke of good luck, we learned one of our tramily members was also in town and staying at the same hotel no less. We enjoyed a nice visit and were offered a ride back to the trailhead the following morning. Such good news. Our gear still untouched where we dropped it after getting to the room, we went out in search of a good pizza to fill the void. Well, if the weather didn’t care when we were on trail, it certainly wouldn’t care now that we were in town. It was a good old-fashioned driving hard rain now. We attempted using our umbrellas but the wind decided otherwise. We ran and embraced the cold and wet. Food was more important. We ate our fill, did some shopping and got back to the hotel where we utterly deflated. Hot showers and clean clothes were next on the docket. With our gear strewn about the room and resupply spread out on the bed, we began the tedious task of putting it all back in our backpacks. The night had moved on and it was late, but we needed to just break it all down, clean up ourselves, clothes and gear and just do a good once over of everything to restore order after segment 17. Gear, food and all tucked away in our packs, we did the same with ourselves, a good nights sleep would do us good. No coyotes this time.

The following morning we felt refreshed, as good as we could be anyway. Gunnison is a great town to resupply in, if you are lucky enough to get a ride. The Wanderlust Hostel and Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods can take care of all your needs, that and the many other great shops, hotels  and restaurants in the area. We went for a stroll through town for a few last minute items and then back to the hotel to rendezvous with Puppy Love for our ride back to the trail. Did we mention she had two wonderful dogs, we love dogs?! We all jumped in, puppies on laps with lots of tail wagging, licks and love and headed off to the trailhead to begin segment 18 of the CT. The weather would hold this time. A cool and overcast morning, we set off down the trail rejuvenated and restored from our experience of segment 17. A good resupply and quick visit in town did us good. The trail had, once again, provided and our spirits were lifted.

We enjoyed easy travel, flat, level and void of rocks and roots, not to mention slippery slopes! We were on the hiker highway now, making good time and enjoying a relaxed pace. We found ourselves having a good time on trail and felt the negativity of our previous sleep deprived and frustrated selves slip away. It was a good day. We walked and had fun doing so. The trail would meander through a valley until it came to a small saddle where we anxiously awaited what we would see on the other side of the horizon line. Amazed once we made the top of the small climb, we were staring out into a vast expanse of land, reaching as far as the eye could see. We were about to enter the old wild west! You would have thought a stampede of horses might appear at any moment. Thankfully they didn’t. It was just a quiet stroll through a place lost in time. Nothing out here spoke of modern man. It was just earth, sky and far off mountains as far as the eye could see. At one point we began walking along an old barbwire fence where bluebirds would allow us to get so close before they moved down the way and waited for us again and then start the process all over. We found a few cows, go figure, they stared at us like we had just landed here from a distant planet. But, out here, who know, they might have seen such a thing at one time or another!

We walked and walked and walked. The midday sun had arrived and the exposure was becoming intense. It was a hot and dry place. We recalled the dusty scenes of a few western movies where the lone traveler would lick his dry and cracked lips hoping for that watering hole to show up soon. We quickly grabbed our water bottles and thankfully enjoyed a nice drink, but with a hurried pace to reach our own watering hole. We definitely felt vulnerable and exposed, we couldn’t imagine what a thunderstorm would be like out here, but then again we could and made sure to move along. Trees began to come back into the picture and soon we found ourselves back among friends, and not only the leaf-bearing type, there were cows too, a lot of them. We had become outnumbered as we came to the end of the segment and had to watch where we stepped. They greeted us and gave us a warm welcome, so goes our interpretation of “mooooo” anyway. Finding a place to camp would to be another story, we were in the thick of cattle country, better put, cow territory, now. The CT doesn’t always stand for Colorado Trail. We were enjoying ourselves, the easy travel, wide open spaces and, yes, even the cows.

MAD

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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 15 of 28

We were in a happy place. Good vibes just seemed to wrap around us. We hiked, we talked and we shared our stories. It was a day of recognizing all the good that exists.

Colorado Trail Segment 15 of 28

Start: Monarch Pass TH (CW)

End: Marshall Pass TH

Distance: 10.7 Miles

Our segment 15 experience starts well before one foot hit the trail. If you have read the posts from the previous segments, you are already aware that there is more going on here than just a simple thru-hike. It would be a rather lengthy explanation if we were to write it all down, suffice it to say, as we stated in the segment 13 blog post, “We were nearly at the halfway point of the Colorado Trail and were beginning to realize that someone was watching over us.” There were just too many instances going on proving that. The precise timing of every event on trail always seemed to lead to another. We have talked about it since we’ve been back home and are amazed at how everything worked itself out. The outcome of any of our chance meetings would have been changed dramatically if our timeline would have wavered in any direction. Consider all the anomalies of any given day and the mathematics of the odds are astronomical. We are so thankful and encouraged that we found ourselves in such a place. Our hats are off to all those who crossed our path on the Colorado Trail, from the amazing individuals we met, the businesses that we used to the random trail angels that surprised us many times, you were instrumental in us having a successful thru-hike. But, we can’t stop there as we know friends and family off trail were also keeping us in their daily thoughts, the friendship and support you give to us will always be remembered.

We started segment 15 via an alternate, using Monarch Pass, part of the Collegiate West CT/CDT portion, as our access point. Beginning from this point one is quickly thrust into an amazing alpine environment, our favorite place to hike. We began our day hiking with some of our tramily (trail family) as we all enjoyed a pleasant trek across the high country at an average of 11,500′ with big views in all directions. Hiking here is a testament to what our vision of the CT/CDT is. Granted there are many facets to the 500 miles of trail, this is our place, our love. As seen in the video, at some point we all just seemed to fit into a groove and walk in a mesmerized state of hiker bliss across the high ridges. Such a beautiful and captivating portion of the CT.

We were in a happy place. Good vibes just seemed to wrap around us. We hiked, we talked and we shared our stories. It was a day of recognizing all the good that exists. Add to that, the incredible terrain we were crossing through and it just made for a great memory to hold on to and cherish. On this seemingly short segment, we wanted the day to just continue, where the miles were lacking, the expansive views made up for it. A great experience in the town of Salida followed up by a great experience on trail with good people, there was just no denying what a wonderful trail we were blessed to be on. In the aftermath of being home, catching up on all of our responsibilities and after all the aches and pains had finally subsided from hiking nearly 500 miles and climbing nearly 90,000′ vertical feet, we are ready to return, ready to get back in the Colorado high country, ready to get back to the Colorado Trail and experience more of this truly amazing wilderness and some of the most breathtaking views we have ever seen. Living in Colorado just seems to make it all the more inviting, we are so privileged to be here and have the access we do.

Peace,

MAD

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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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