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 21 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28

Start: San Luis Pass

End: Spring Creek Pass TH

Distance: 14.8 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

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

Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28

Start: Eddiesville TH

End: San Luis Pass

Distance: 12.7 Miles

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail Segment 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 #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

MAD Hippies Life is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube

Abyss Lake Trail

There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice.

Our latest outing was in the Mt Evan’s Wilderness, a wilderness area that encompasses over 74,000 acres, has two mountains at over 14,000′ and an abundance of wildlife and trail options. We chose the Abyss Lake Trail for several reasons, a couple being water and wildlife, but mostly because it is a trail we have never been on. With our continued conditioning for the Colorado Trail, we have been backpacking routes that will challenge us and, like the CT, are unfamiliar, a factor that keeps our mental and physical faculties alert for constant change.

This outing was to be no different. We put all of our gear, food and supplies in our packs for an overnight hike. Our goal was a sub-alpine bowl centered amongst several prominent mountain peaks, two of which towered above 14,000′ in elevation. With the snow melt in full swing we knew water sources would be plentiful and the trail conditions mixed. Spring hiking in Colorado can be challenging with snow, ice, mud and water in constant battle for the trail’s surface. In most cases, one usually encounters all of these on any given path above 10,000′ as you climb higher, sometimes losing the trail or finding it somewhat obscured.

Though wanting to experience a new trail, and wanting that trail to be unfamiliar, we prepared for any and all conditions. Snowshoes and microspikes strapped to the backs of our packs, we made our way from the trailhead up the trail not knowing what we would find. Granted we were aware of what the weather forecast was calling for, we also know it can deviate and bring surprises in mountain terrain. Possible thunderstorms, overnight temperatures in the high twenties to low thirties and daytime temperatures in the sixties, we found the environment to be likely what we will be experiencing on the Colorado Trail this summer.

This outing, and the ones we have been going out on of late, are geared just to this point, preparing for a thru-hike in changing conditions and at altitude. We only have a visual overview and a rather active imagination when it comes to the Colorado Trail. Sure, we know the technicalities, but until one walks the just under five hundred mile trail, there really is no way to know what it truly is like. One could even state, each person’s journey will be completely unique , and rightly so. Alas, the trail is in constant change and provides a different story for each individual every new season.

Our hike on the Abyss Lake Trail, no different. What we planned for is exactly what we got, the unknown and ever changing conditions of a wilderness experience. Perfect training scenario in preparation for the CT. Our hike up was mostly uneventful, and finding our destination came rather easy. Once there we began our tasks of making camp. Tent in place, water filtered and lunch made, we settled in and enjoyed our new alpine surroundings. Evening came and with it a few passing thunderstorms that had us shelter in our tent until they passed. Afterwards a little exploration and back to camp for the night.

It wasn’t until the next morning that our uneventful expedition would change and the wilderness would have a few lessons in store for us. We gathered our belongings, packed our gear and headed out on our trek back to civilization. We thought, well, at the very least we got a decent workout and some more experience with our gear. Simple enough, or so we thought. The first four letters of wilderness are anyone’s clue to their surroundings when in the high country. Expect the unexpected.

There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice. With no way around we contemplated waiting on the heat of the sun, several hours away. We looked up and down stream, no go. The decision was made, we would cross on our hands and knees. Our hands and knees were freezing and slipping on the ice, the spray from the water raging beneath was frigid, and the roar was deafening. The log bridge seemed to grow in length as we inched our way across the ice with full packs on our backs and Mia secure in her front pouch.

One down, two more to go. We can do this, we thought to ourselves. Our new found confidence was quickly put on hold as we came near a bull moose staring at us just off trail. Slowly and gently we moved on as not to startle him any more than we already may have. Sigh of relief followed by another heart pounding moose encounter. This time a female on trail coming straight for us. We all met with our eyes long enough to say “shit” or however a moose might say it! She must have thought, these two and their little chihuahua must be crazy because she no sooner turned and went the other way disappearing into a thick aspen grove as we began breathing again.

With bridge number two now in sight we saw another hiker sitting on the bank waiting for the sun and watched curiously as we did our eloquent ice crawl to the other side. He reluctantly followed in like fashion. Perhaps it was the first bridge or maybe the two moose, but now we were on a mission. After we crossed the last ice laden bridge we were home free, settled in and began a more leisurely hike to the parking lot. Enjoying the last views of swollen white-water creeks, lazy morning meadows, dense mixed forests of pine and aspen, all backdropped by snowcapped peaks, we hated to leave. The Colorado Trail will have so much more!

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #3

We were thinking this is just going to be a unique season in the high country, but the more we thought about it, they are all unique. Every season offers up its own particular experience. Every day has its own personal gift for the adventurer.

June 2019, 2 months till the Colorado Trail

Time is speeding up. We now have two months until we begin our journey of hiking the Colorado Trail end to end from Durango back to Denver. It would be a lie to say we are not getting a little anxious. While our gear choices and route planning are all but done, we still continue to iron out the small details, all of which can quickly feel overwhelming if not kept in check. Final menu choices, how we will advance our supplies along the route and where exactly we will stay at those towns we have already chosen for our resupply points are still being thought out. But those are all normal issues that we have known will need to be addressed as we get closer to our departure.

A thru hike of any length will have logistical issues that will need to be considered at some point, and likely will change several times throughout the planning stages. Being fluid is key, while being dogmatic about everything can become exhausting. A happy balance is needed, especially in light of the fact that the traveler of the CT does not change the trail, on the contrary, the trail changes the traveler. Keeping in mind the trail itself is in constant change, the first four letters of WILDerness is a statement to that.

The 2019 hiking season is already abuzz with trail conditions and the impact winter has had. Amongst the most talked about for the Colorado and Continental Divide trails, along the high routes through Colorado, snow depths. If one were paying close attention over the winter and the now spring months, it will quickly become apparent that there are, and will be, a few route finding issues after an above average snowfall season. In the aftermath there have been severe avalanches, known and yet to be known. After the melt off there will likely be surprises on trail that will be uncovered, reroutes or difficult terrain crossings will certainly exist.

Living in Colorado, we have seen and heard about all these reports all too frequently in the last few months while continuing with our plans. We were thinking this is just going to be a unique season in the high country, but the more we thought about it, they are all unique. Every season offers up its own particular experience. Every day has its own personal gift for the adventurer. Accepting these constant changes is just something people have to do. No one sets off to explore and experience the great outdoors in a predictable manner. Predicting that it will be unpredictable is as good as it gets. Training, knowledge and preparation of long-term backpacking in an alpine environment, alongside having the proper gear and clothing is the best we can do.

Preparation has been our motto all along. It is who we are, how we operate. We don’t like surprises, granted we accept they do and will exist. The amount of snow Colorado received over winter was definitely a surprise, but one we calculated as a risk, a risk we built into our plan as we scheduled a late start for our thru-hike early on. What surprises we are unable to account for come in the form of our personal lives. We all have those on any given day, it is called life. We have had our share in that department and will continue to do so, responding to such and their impacts on our lives is the meat of our ability to move forward. As we get closer to our departure to begin our CT adventure, it becomes crucial that all of our ducks are in a row, both technically and personally.

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #2

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

March 2019, 4 months till the Colorado Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Colorado Trail #1

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

January 2019, 6 months till the Colorado Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

MAD

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Cascade Creek

That night, camped atop a waterfall, we couldn’t help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we had already had an adventure.”

Our latest outing took us to Cascade Creek, deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Along the Cascade Creek Trail there is an abundance of waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and wild views! The trail in its entirety has a beginning elevation of about 8,300′ (Monarch Lake) with a gradual climb to 10,300′ (Crater lake) or more if continuing on to higher destinations. We had several options to access the trial, either hike over Buchanan Pass or Pawnee Pass or drive over the Continental Divide via Berthoud Pass (Hwy 40) to the Monarch Lake Trailhead. All certainly appealing, time permitting, we chose the Monarch Lake Trailhead.

Day one was simple, straightforward and relaxing. We threw, more like hoisted, our backpacks on our backs and headed off along the Monarch Lake Trail for the first 1.5 miles. A beautiful path along the lake affording great views all around its banks. It was warm and dry to say the least. The rangers at the entrance shack said it had not rained and had been quite warm. Fortunately for them, we were bringing with us luck for a storm, and boy did it, more on that later. Once to the Buchanan / Cascade & Monarch Lake Loop Trail split, we continued on leaving Monarch Lake and the crowds behind. The trail quickly began to rise, though gently, into a lush forest. A few winding switchbacks later and we came to a roaring stop. The Buchanan Creek was just below us on the trail, a swift and clear running mountain stream. We took advantage of a great water source by taking time to filter some water and grab a snack before moving on. Water would certainly not be an issue on this trail.

Continuing on, the trail gently climbed, a mix of rocky rooted and packed dirt beneath our feet, while the canopy overhead was dense with pine. We were grateful for the shade on such a warm afternoon. Walking through the woods in the Indian Peaks Wilderness often reminds us of trails in Washington State, lush and green with ample water. We even came upon an area where the trail was lined on both sides with fern, something you might see in a Hobbit movie, though we expected to have a chance meeting of a black bear over Gandalf.

Eventually we came upon the Buchanan Pass and Cascade Creek Trail split. We opted for another break here. We moved off the trail to a fallen tree, took our packs off and immediately noticed we were not alone. We were in the company of one friendly deer who apparently thought humans were not to be feared. Suffice it to say, we came in peace. Additionally this great spot presented excellent camping off trail (shhh, we don’t want that to get out). The decision was made, friendly neighbors, great water source, level camping spots, privacy off trail, we were done hiking for the day!

Remember our luck in bringing rain…yep, it came, and quickly. Tent and tarp pitched, we hunkered down under our makeshift shelter next to the creek and made dinner. Sitting on the pine needle covered ground leaning against a log, Mia cuddled up in our laps, Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna rehydrating and a good thunderstorm over head, we might have appeared a bit tired, but far from miserable, this was about as perfect a campsite as we have ever found. After the rains we filtered water in the stream, hung our bear bags and dove into our tent as, yet again, another round of storms rumbled overhead. Between the stream nearby, the rain hitting the tent and echoing thunder, we were swiftly taken off into a backpacker’s slumber.

Day two we found ourselves somewhat overwhelmed with so many distractions on the trail, there was much to take in. Cascading waterfalls one after the other and big open meadows with million dollar views!!! It was apparent we were not prepared to spend enough time to absorb all that was before us. Here one finds a good lesson in life as the question arises, are we here for the experience or the destination? The destination surely rewards you with the all encompassing excitement of “getting there and seeing it” while the experience allows for a more relaxing approach and sense of embracing all that is encountered despite the distance traveled. That said, we slowed down our pace and made plans to return again. Waterfalls today, we will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

We beheld huge wide open spaces revealing the jagged Indian Peaks. We had been showered by the mist of incredible waterfalls. We had passed through forest on a lush aspen and fern-lined path. We had crossed over clear running mountain streams. We had been serenaded to sleep by echoing thunder. That night, camped atop a waterfall, we could not help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we have already had an adventure.” Those clouds would bring a quick storm and leave the air chilled till the early morning sun would return and slowly bring warmth back.

Day three had new surprises in store. After coffee and a little breakfast, we hit the trail once again. We were tired, covered in the stench only a backpacker could accept and began a slow decent. The sound of waterfalls filled the air. Slowly but surely we broke free of the forest, into an open meadow full of morning sun, wildflowers and songbirds. It was serene. Without realizing it, we were walking at a snail’s pace. Warmth on our shoulders, peaks all around, we walked on speechless and silent while absorbing the views and sounds of nature. At the next bend of the trail, we slammed on the brakes. A moose and her calf stood on the trail feasting on the reeds that grew throughout the meadow. We knew better than to mess with a mamma moose and her calf. Terrified and excited we backed a little and waited. Perhaps knowing our quandary they gave way and moved off the trail as to open the way before us. Gingerly we walked by, Mamma watching our every step, keeping herself between us and her calf. Her eyes said it all, “I will tolerate you if you keep moving.” So we did, slowly as to not alarm or be a threat. She was a young female, majestic as are all moose. Her calf young and immature, but beautiful nonetheless. We walked for several miles in awe of our encounter.

Our adventure would soon come to an end, but we were reeling with amazement at all we had seen. With an abundance of cascading waterfalls and swift moving streams roaring out of the upper valley, there is no mistaking why this trail is aptly named, Cascade Creek. But don’t stop there. The wildflowers in summer seem to inherit the same energy of the water as they themselves cascade down through the valley in bursts of brilliant colors. Add in moose, deer, black bear, a multitude of other critters and wildlife viewing will also excite the enthusiasts of nature. The backdrop only seems to enhance it all with open meadows and dense forests climbing steadily upwards to craggy mountain peaks and alpine lakes all beckoning to the traveler to come explore further into the high country.

If you are all about the experience, and not solely focused on the destination, this trail will take your imagination far and wide as each bend in the trail seems to have its own unique setting. Anyone seeking a memorable outing in the wilderness of Colorado would do themselves a favor by exploring the Cascade Creek Trail deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

 

Read the General Overview on My Mountain Town

Peace,

MAD

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