485 Miles and …… DONE!

After 34 days of hiking, 5 rest days (zeroes) I reached the Durango Colorado Trail terminus on noon on Monday, September 17 to be met by my lovely wife. I left the northern trailhead on August 10. It feels a bit strange not to be planning for another week of hiking.

Done!

Life on the Trail

The day started around 4:30 when I woke up and left my cozy warm tent to search for the cat hole I had dug the afternoon before to relieve myself. Then back to my tent to brew some coffee, eat some breakfast and do a little reading. Over the next hour or so I would work on my feet (put on band-aids/mole skin where required), put on my hiking clothes and began packing everything up. By 6:00 AM I was out of my sleeping bag and deflating my pad and stuffing my pack. Then out of the tent and taking it down (usually still with my headlamp on as it was still dark). The tent fly was usually wet – either from condensation or from rain so I kept the packed tent on the outside of my pack.

A quick check around then hiking by 6:30 or so. The mornings were usually cold – in the 30s most of the time depending on how high I was, so I usually started with my gloves and wool hat. By 9:00 it had usually warmed up enough to take those off and put on my sun hat. By 9:30 I had usually done 6 miles and stopped for a quick snack and rest. By 11:30 I usually had 10-12 miles in and stopped for 30 minutes or so for lunch. If the sun was out I would lay my tent/fly out to dry.

Hanging the tent out to dry at lunch

If I was doing my usual 16 miles or so I would hike straight to my planned camp site and have my afternoon snack there while putting up my tent. I usually tried to camp near a water source where I would scoop 4L of water into my dirty water bag, hang it on a tree and begin filtering water.

My last camp site near Junction Creek. And a bench!!! Luxury!

After my tent was up and water filtering started, I would do a sponge bath using a bandana and put on my camp clothes (running shorts/t-shirt). If I was not near a water source (dry camp) I would have carried water (not fun!) from the last good water source, and no sponge bath. Sometimes, if there was a good source of water, I would wash some of my hiking clothes and hang them out to dry.

All this usually took an hour or so, then I would rest/read till 5:00 and start cooking dinner. After dinner, I would read till about 7:30 or it started to get dark, then go to sleep.

And with one exception, I camped by myself every night.

Food on the Trail

This was a typical day’s food. Breakfast: big cup of coffee with two sugars, two pop-tarts. Snack: Kinde bar or two handfuls of salted almonds. Lunch: Tortilla with salmon foil and cheese wedge accompanied by 1/4 box of Cheez-It crackers. Snack: more nuts. Dinner: Ramen Noodle with a salmon foil and a tortilla.

Breakfast!

People on the Trail

I met lots of other thru-hikers, Mary Poppins, Jabba (the Hutt), Whispering Weasel, Boston, Smiles, and many more. Most were south bound (like me) but I did meet some north bounders. And lots of segment hikers.

Jabba, headed north after completing the CT, attempting to set the unassisted record (9-1/2 days!).

Unlike other trails I have done, the CT allows bikes and I saw probably 30 bikes and bike-packers. They were universally polite, stopping and allowing me to pass. And (the ones going north) they were a good source of current information about the trail ahead.

Statistics

I climbed more than 90,000 feet. The equivalent of climbing from sea level to the top of Everest, three times. I averaged about 3,000 ft/day and my biggest climb day was about 5,000 feet. I was over 10,000′ elevation 80-90% of the time and was over 11,000 feet for days at a time. I climbed one 14er as a side trip, Mt Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

Above 12,000 feet again!

I walked 485 miles in 34 days. Not counting partial days (going to town days) I averaged just over 16 miles/day. My longest day was 18.5 miles and my shortest was 12.5 miles (on a big climb day).

I almost always started hiking at sunrise, usually around 6:30, when there was enough light to see the trail and was usually done by 3:00. On a good day my pace was 2.5 mph, but on big climb days, this could drop to 2 mph.

I met probably 20-25 other thru-hikers and about the same number of section hikers over the 5-1/2 weeks I was on the trail. I also saw several people on horses and lots of bike-packers.

I re-supplied six times and took 5 rest days. My longest section between resupply was 104 miles (6.5 days) and the average was about 70 miles. The six trail towns I stopped in (Frisco, Twin Lakes, Mt Princeton Hot Springs, Gunnison, Lake City, Silverton) were all very nice but my favorite was Silverton.

I only had to hitchhike four times, the rest of the time I either arranged with a shuttle service (Lake City) or took local transit (Frisco) to get to town. My favorite hitch was from Molas Pass to Silverton with an Italian couple on vacation.

I weighed about 174 lbs when I started and weighed 158 lbs at the finish. I calculate I was burning about 4,000 calories/day when I was hiking and eating about 2,500 or so. Even eating like crazy on town days I still was negative about 10,000 calories/week.

Heading up another ridge.

400 Miles, High Point and Goodby CDT!

Some big milestones in this last section. I passed the 400 miles mark (currently at CT 411), the high point of the trail (13,271 feet) and, after 300 odd miles of being concurrent with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the two parted ways.

The high point of the CT. Yes!
400 Miles! Starting to feel like I might finish this thing.
The CT and CDT part ways.

And I know I keep saying this…but… the views in this section were unbelievable. Most of this section was over 12,000 with some seriously tough climbs (I know, I also say that every post).

Just a sampling of the stunning views.

And did not meet any thru-hikers in this section but did meet several nice segment hikers. And a very nice couple that picked me up when I was hitching into Silverton. They were on vacation from Italy.

Pretty place to hitchhike. Molas Pass.
Floral and Fabio from Italy. My ride to Silverton.
Couple of segment hikers I met at the top of a climb.

And I saw my first Elk, more Moose and a lots of Marmots (though no pictures of those fat little guys – move too fast!). Though not as many animals because I was above treeline most of this section.

Moose #1
Moose #2
Elk!
Wild sheep! Okay, maybe not wild. This was over 12,000 feet.
And someone ate through my pack one night.

Currently in Silverton resting and getting ready to start my last section (about 74 miles) to Durango.

Silverton, Co.
They put a blackberry in my beer. Hmmm, good.

The Cow-lorado Trail, Snow and More Great Views!

Stunning views….

This last section was relatively short – only 55 miles or so but lots of big climbs. I got a ride back to the trail from a retired postal worker named Tom and started hiking in a light drizzle, which pretty much set the tone for this section – lots of rain/hail and snow. And cows. This was definitely the cow-iest section…

Yeah…. I’m watching you…
Just Impy and the cows…. and the trail heading off into the distance.
Hmmmm…. I’m guessing cow. And why exactly to I have to bury MY poop?

With 128 miles to go, I have climbed 66,500 feet of Colorado Rockies. I have completed 21 of 28 segments (segments are how the Colorado Trail is organised). My shortest (not a town) day was in this section, 12.5 miles but over 4,000′ of climbing which completely wiped me out. Turns out stopping early (2:00 PM) was smart because the rain/hail started about 30 minutes after I got my tent up.

This was also the most scenic section so far, when the sun was out!

And my first brush (literally) with snow (thank God my wool socks still insulate when soaking wet!).

A cold, wet Impy going over San Luis Pass.
San Luis Pass (Mt San Luis behind). Not a good day for Impy to summit San Luis!
Snow on the trail. Cold, wet snow.

But I am currently cozy in Lake City planning the next section, to Silverton, another relatively short section (~ 55 miles).

Hiker hotel room…. everything out for cleaning/drying. Hotels LOVE hikers!

And the biggest cairn I’ve ever seen!

Not sure what the point of a 7’ cairn is but….impressive!

300 Miles and Great Views

The hitch into Gunnison (where I am now, CT 302) was tough. After about an hour I got picked up by Dave, 68, from Wisconsin. He was headed to Gunnison for a blind date and spent the entire trip (38 miles) talking about his passion, pack burro racing. The official summer sport of Colorado. Seriously. YouTube has some videos – it’s a real sport.

Dave’s dashboard…. Pack Burro Racing!!
Impy trying to hitch to Gunnison…. tough!

This was my second hitch (I got a short hitch out of Mount Princeton Hot Springs on a road with NO shoulder) and both guys were from Wisconsin. Weird.

This section was tough, steep climbs and outstanding views. And, after 300 miles, some of my equipment is starting to show some wear. I’ve lost one hiking pole tip, have one broken tent pole and my Crocs have almost no tread anymore.

Stunning views…

And saw the usual wildlife. Still no bears…

Probably the most common animal on the trail…. cows.

And here’s a window into a typical morning…. breakfast in bed (well, sleeping bag), coffee and ding dongs!

And I met more hikers, Garrett, a northbound CT hiker, Blue Suit, my first CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker and Siesta, another southbound CT hiker.

Impy and Garrett at the pass where the Collegiate East and West trails rejoin.

My next trail town is Lake City after a relatively short section (~60 miles) which is also supposed to be a tough hitch. Of course.

I have hiked 302 miles, finished 17 of 26 segments, and climbed more than 56,000 feet. Hiking in Crocs has gotten me a lot of stares but has eliminated my blisters. And hiker hunger has kicked in. I finished off a large pizza last night. By myself.


Almost Halfway!

Got a ride from Connie (one of the California ladies I met in Twin Lakes) back to the trail (skipping a road walk). There followed two very tough (4,000′ ascent) days. The picture below shows a fairly typical climb on the CT.

Typical gift from the CT.

The second day out I ran into Bobby, another southbound thru-hiker. We camped together one night but Bobby is doing 19-20 miles a day and hikes just a bit faster than me so he is probably another 10 miles more up the trail now.

Impy and Bobby

I am typing this at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (CT 230), where I stopped for a night to pick up a few needed supplies at the little store and a hot shower and a warm bed. Most hikers bypass this place because they do not have laundry service and it is pricey. Speaking of laundry…

Doing laundry, thru-hiker style.

I attempted Mt Yale on day 3 of this section, another 14er you can reach from the CT but it did not work out. I camped at the saddle and started up in the morning but, while it was clear, the wind was blowing very hard and the trail was more of a climb than a hike so, after about 1/4 of the way up I turned back. This was also my first experience with a Class 2 14er (Mt Elbert was a Class 1) and it was noticeably harder.

The saddle where I camped the night before attempting Mt Yale (just behind).

And I passed the 200 mile mark!

Impy next to some hiker artwork!

Had some great views…

And saw a few more animals… (still no bears!)…

And one crocheted rock!

Probably the weirdest thing I have seen so far….

Emerson, Elbert, Mary Poppins and Impy

Big surprise on my second section (from CT 104 to CT 177). Emerson showed up! He drove up from Houston, climbed Mt Massive (a 14er) and met me (around CT 164) and we hiked for a day. It was a very nice surprise.

Emerson! At about mile CT 164. Just hanging out waiting for me.

Emerson and I hiked to where the North Mt Elbert trail intersects the CT and camped for the night. The next morning Emerson took his stuff and some of my heavy stuff and headed back to his car at the Mt Massive trailhead while I headed up Mt Elbert. Mt Elbert is the highest mountain in Colorado at 14,425′ (60′ lower than Mt Whitney). I went up the North Trail and down the South Trail and then into Twin Lakes for a much needed zero. Unfortunately the mountain was socked in so not much in the way of views.

The North and South Mt Elbert Trials (red) from the CT (blue).
Mt Elbert as seen from Leadville

This section was about 75 miles and took me 5 days. It started with a hike out of Frisco, up the Peaks Trail back to the CT. Just after joining the trail I ran into a solo hiker, Mary Poppins, who I saw several times during the morning as we both climbed up 10 Mile Ridge in driving rain. A big climb, over 3,000′. Mary is trying to do the CT in 16 days, with 30-35 miles per day. She made it from Denver to Breckenridge in 4 days. It took me 7. Crazy! Coming down from the ridge I bumped into Mary again just outside of Copper Mountain Resort and we both decided the climb merited a burger for a late lunch. And a beer.

Impy and Mary Poppins

And she gave me my new trial name, Impy. Which is short for impatient which, I guess, is sorta appropriate. I guess. Anyway I am now Impy.

And saw more animals on this section….but no bears!

And met more hikers – my first north bound thru-hiker, a couple of guys (both named John) in their 70’s doing the CT in 3-4 day segments, and a hiker that surprised me into falling and cutting my arm.

Blood! That officially makes this an adventure!

Twin Lakes is my second zero and it was nice having Emerson here (plus damn handy since he took me to Leadville and the Safeway!). Twin Lakes is protected by “Woody” who ensures that everyone obeys the 30 mph speed limit.

“Woody” protects Twin Lakes

And the icing on the cake? We arrived on Martini Night (i.e. Wednesday) and Twin Lakes has a real bar!

Martini Night in Twin Lakes

Denver to Breckenridge

The Colorado and Continental Divide Trails are coincident for 300 odd miles

104 miles and 7 days later I have arrived in Frisco/Breckenridge. This completes what the Colorado Trail Organization calls Segments 1-6 (out of 28).

The trail comes out onto the road between the two and there is a free shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes. I picked Frisco for my zero day because it is more compact and I have never been here before. It is a very nice little tourist town (with a great pizza place!).

I hiked and camped solo all week. Met just a few hikers. One, Greg from Tulsa, was headed north when I ran into him. We stopped and talked. When I asked him about his hike he said he had started just a few miles back and was headed to Breckenridge. Silence. He looked around and said “I’m going the wrong way, aren’t I?” Yep. I turned him around and we had a nice visit for a mile or so.

Me and Steve!

But my favorite was Steve, from Albuquerque. Bumped into Steve about 3 miles from Frisco and we visited all the way in. Steve retired at 47 and he and his wife sailed around the world for seven years. He has done 29 14ers and is planning on doing several more. A real nice, interesting young (61!) guy.

Now for some statistics! I averaged just over 16 miles a day (not including the last half day). I climbed up around 18,000 feet (though it felt like a lot more). I started at 6,000 feet and topped out just under 12,000 feet. Most of the time was over 10,000 feet.

Bighorn Sheep inWaterton Canyon

I saw two moose, some Bighorn Sheep, a river otter, and about 1000 ground squirrels. No bears.

Bears!!!!

I camped by myself all six nights and only had one dry camp. Most of the time I was next to a pretty little mountain stream or creek.

Typical camp on the CT
Typical mountain stream and some random hiker.

And, of course, I have had my usual foot problems. I gave up on my trail runners on the second day and have been hiking in my Crocs. I tossed my trail runners at Kenosha Pass and am planning on doing the the rest of the trail in the Crocs. I get some funny looks but you have to do what works.

A gift from my trail runners.

I head out tomorrow (with a big climb of course!) after a rest day. Next stop is Twin Lakes in five days.

In Denver – 36 Hours to Go

Arrived in Denver this afternoon (Aug 8) after a two day drive from Houston. Went for a walk with Roberta and got a little short of breath which is NOT a good sign. Oh well. I have one more full day before I start on the trail.


Pack Weight

My final pack weight is 28.3 lbs for everything but water. I plan on starting with 2L (4.4 lbs), so 32.7 lb starting weight. About 2 lbs heavier than I wanted but 7 days of food makes it tough.


Food

Speaking of food – here is my first weeks budget:

Dinner:

  • 6 freeze dried meals
  • 6 tortillas

Breakfast

  • 12 Pop Tarts
  • Coffee

Lunch

  • 7 tortillas
  • 4 salmon foils
  • 3 Peanut butter cups
  • 6 Laughing Cows
  • 1 box Cheese nips

Snacks:

  • 14 Kind Bars

Which will give me about 2100 calories/day which is only 1000 calories or so less than I will be burning but…. food is HEAVY.


Cell Coverage

Did a little research on T-Mobile coverage on the trail and it looks pretty good for the first half but gets pretty sketchy after that.

Colorado Trail Overview

Getting read for my little jaunt in the Colorado mountains…..

The Colorado Trial is a ~485 mile long trail that starts just southwest of Denver and moves mostly along the continental divide to end north of Durango. Going southbound (the way I plan to attempt it) the trail starts at about 6,000 feet and climbs to 10,000 feet over the first few days (40-60 miles). After that it pretty much stays between 10,000 and 13,000 feet for the next 400 miles.

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I plan to do the trail in seven “legs”, the longest being the first, 104 miles from Denver to Breckenridge, taking a rest or zero day in all of my resupply towns (except Twin lakes).  I may opt to drop one of the zero days  since 5 for this distance is a lot.

This works out to 34 hiking days, averaging a little over 14 miles a day, but with a lot of 16-17 mile days. This is an easier schedule than I had on the PCT but it is a lot higher and there are lots of very steep days.  Total elevation gain is 89,000 feet which means my average daily climb will be just over 2,600 feet.  Okay, I’m starting to scare myself. It’s just walking after all.

Start

Miles

Start Day

# Days

Town

0.0

104.1

10-Aug

7

Frisco

104.1

71.6

18-Aug

5

Twin Lakes

175.7

40.7

24-Aug

3

Buena Vista

216.4

86.4

28-Aug

5

Gunnison

302.8

55.0

3-Sep

4

Lake City

357.8

53.3

8-Sep

4

Silverton

411.1

73.9

13-Sep

5

Durango

My base pack weight is about 16.5 lbs which is heavier than I would like but I am a little worried about the weather turning cold in September in the mountains so I have a little more warm stuff. My starting pack  weight will be 16.5 (base) + 10.0 (food) + 4.4 (2L water) + 0.5 (fuel) = 31.4 lbs.  The good news is after the first leg I will never need more than 5 days food so my weight leaving all the other resupply points should be under 30 lbs.

I plan to post from each of my resupply points (assuming I have cell coverage). Wish me luck!