Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 12 of 28

Start: Clear Creek Rd

End: Silver Creek TH

Distance: 18.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #4 – The Journey Begins

The weather will be perfect, it will be raging…there will be times we will see all four seasons in one day. It will be as predictable as any one raindrop finding its way to earth

July 2019, 24 Hours till the Colorado Trail

And so it begins, a journey of some five hundred miles across the top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. A journey of, not just putting one foot in front of the other, of not just sweat and certainly a journey of not just pristine mountain views. This journey is a journey of two souls, two high school sweethearts, of two kids who became best friends, parents and grandparents. We are not setting out to conquer any feat of strength or endurance, though we will certainly give it our all. No, we are setting out to embrace the beauty, solitude and grandeur of life in a most raw and wild way. We are putting ourselves out there to walk the walk of meditation. The simplicity of being alone and on our own in the wilderness with nothing more than what is on our backs, in our hearts and envisioned in our minds. We will be alone again, relying on one another and nothing more.

There will challenges, there will be amazing moments, there will be times that just stand still as we travel through many differing and diverse areas. The weather will be perfect, it will be raging…there will be times we will see all four seasons in one day. It will be as predictable as any one raindrop finding its way to earth. We will wake each day to the same trail with new experiences. Each morning, afternoon and night will hold its own memories and events like no other. The lay of the land will rise and fall just as the sun itself rises and sets. The skies will be filled with wonder, clouds will form patterns that invite creative imagination, the celestial lights will shine in wondrous ways, the storms will be dramatic and the mornings will begin anew with a clean artist’s canvas. The sun will be bold while the early fog will isolate us in a melodramatic embrace. The winds will challenge our steps and the calm will grant us a well deserved break. The rains will wash the dirt from our faces only to return again as the miles progress. The blue skies will be infinite. The mountain tops will stand guard over the land, inviting us ever higher as we take passage high atop and across their massive shoulders to new and unseen valleys below.

Our walk will be one of incredible beauty. Our movement will be slow and sure as we absorb each moment. Our pace will be quick as we race the next storm. Safety will be paramount, where experience will win the day. We will walk hand in hand as one and unite our excitement as we travel the long and seemingly endless trail. Who would have thought 37 years would pass by and two love struck teenagers would find themselves making passage through such an amazingly rugged and enduring wilderness. Our promise to each other to keep moving carries forward in a new chapter of our lives as we thru hike the captivating Colorado Trail. We look forward to our new memories and the stories will will undoubtedly share. The photos and videos we take will capture moments in time and yet we alone will hold the emotion of our adventure deep in our own hearts. It is, after all, our walk, our time, our trial, something we are excited and nervous to embark upon, together. Just as it was when we met many years ago, the future is now, once again, in front of us, unknown, calling us to another journey of a lifetime.

Live map feed of our progress: https://share.garmin.com/MADHippiesLife

See you on the backside.

Peace,

MAD

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Why Hike the Colorado Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Lightweight Shelter and Sleep System

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

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

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

Our plan of attack:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our choices for the 2019 backpacking season:

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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