A 2020 Epic Adventure…Hiking the Colorado Trail PART I

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Part I

The year 2020 has been an odd one. When the pandemic hit we were in Mesa Arizona trying to decide what to do. We had a spring, summer and fall worth of plans all lined out to keep us moving from Baja to Banff.

But in March, everything changed!

Once we heard that campgrounds, National Forests and RV parks were shutting down we made the decision to high tail it back to our cabin in Arkansas to wait out the pandemic.

Nice to be home

After 5 years on the road our life of travel was now on hold and we became home dwellers once again.

In reality I welcomed being home.

Traveling in an RV has many, many positive aspects. Any negatives are quickly forgotten as soon as you peer over the rim of the Grand Canyon or summit the highest peak in Colorado.

However, living in an RV is an everyday mental game.

Is there enough power to run the microwave? How long can I stand the noise of the AC before I want to pull my hair out? Is there enough water to take a shower today? How will I get out of the gas station parking lot? Is some idiot on the freeway going to cut me off?

Living in a house is sooooo mindlessly easy.

Life is easy at the cabin

 With all that mental free space created, we started to think about our next adventure. With most races cancelled or converted to “virtual”, we decided to look for a challenge to get our butts motivated to stay in shape.

We needed something epic. We needed something in a cooler climate for July-September. We needed something RV friendly.

And that’s how we decided we would take on the Colorado Trail.

485 Miles

90,000’ of Elevation

Most of the trail is above 10,000’

The Colorado Trail (CT) was constructed by volunteers between 1973 and 1987.

The trail is broken into 28 segments stretching from Denver to Durango. Most people backpack the trail by either “through hiking” or “segment hiking”. While through hikers take 30-45 days in one shot averaging 13 miles a day, segment hikers cover a segment or two over a long weekend, go home, then plan another weekend to knock out another section.  

Since we were not backpacking we had to figure out the logistics based on where we could park the RV, then drive to start and finish trailheads for the day.

Segments were anywhere from 9 miles to 32 miles with lots of 20 milers in between.

We decided the best approach for the two of us would be to leapfrog the trail. Jeff would do a segment, and then I would do a segment. That way I could drop Jeff off at the start of Segment 1, then drive around and park at the start of Segment 2. I would then hike Segment 2. Jeff would then pick up the truck at his finish (my start), then drive around and pick me up at the finish of #2. Easy peasy!

July 25, 2020 CT Segment 1 & 2

We base camped at Kenosha Pass East campground and commuted back to Denver to start the CT. It was an hour and forty-minute drive to the Waterton Canyon Trailhead to drop Jeff to begin his 16.8-mile trek. I then drove another hour to reach the South Platte River TH, the start of Segment 2 for a distance of 11.5 miles.

Base Camp I: Kenosha Pass East

It was really exciting to get started and the trails did not disappoint! Within the first couple miles of S1, Jeff noticed another hiker looking up into the hillside. He pointed out bighorn sheep clinging to the rugged rock formations.

The sun was coming up over the mountains casting a warm glow on the trail, which were forestry roads for the first 5 or so miles until it jumped onto single track.

S2 started with low hanging clouds. The trail was cool and damp from the afternoon showers from the day before.

Taking that first step on the trail can be a bit overwhelming, especially since we had been at sea level since October 2019. Last summer we were in Colorado for 3 months and never really felt like we caught our breath at that elevation. Now here we were starting at around 6,000’ and expected to top out at 13,259’ within a month.

But to both of our surprise we handled the elevation with no issues whatsoever. It was as if we had never left! I guess all that humidity training in Arkansas for 4 months somehow helped us acclimate! 

It was good to be on the tail!

By the time Jeff was done with Segment 1 and drove the truck around to the finish of Segment 2, I was walking off the trail for a perfectly timed pick up.

July 26, 2020 CT Segments 3 & 4

The next day we thought we would rest up from our long hikes. But as the morning pushed on we both felt really good and decided to bust out Segments 3 & 4.

Racing the storms

S3 left from the Little Scraggy TH for 12.2 miles while S4 was from Wellington Lake Road TH for 16.6 miles.

Since S4 was a longer hike (taking more time) we did these two segments in reverse. I dropped Jeff off at the end of S4 to start hiking while I drove around to the finish of S3 and hiked to where I finished the day before at the end of S2.

Pretty Creek Crossings

By the time I started on the trail it was already late morning and I could already hear thunder off in the distance. So instead of hiking I picked up the pace for some trail running. I could see the line of clouds moving closer, but it appeared I was hovering on the edge of the front with minimal sprinkles of rain.

I have to say this trail was one of my favorite sections. The elevation was mostly a descent from west to east with minimal rollers. It made for an easy and exhilarating run! There were stream crossings and pine needle covered trails. It was well traveled and at times a bit crowded with it being so close to Denver on a weekend.

Jeff hikes to the truck

By the time I finished my segment it was misting and breezy. I was getting text updates from Jeff about terrible Sunday traffic heading back towards Denver. His ETA to pick me up kept getting pushed back further and further. After being sweaty and damp the cool breeze was downright cold and I had to resort to pulling out my emergency blanket to stay warm. An hour after I finished Jeff finally pulled in with the heater blowing.

We drove home in the rain stopping at a restaurant to pick up lunch/dinner. It was a great day!

July 28-29, 2020 CT Segments 5 & 6

Hiking the CT has been easy so far. The trail is marked extremely well. But two tools we used were the Guthook and Gaia Apps for mapping. Also, we signed up on the Colorado Trail Through Hikers and Colorado Segment Hikers Facebook pages.

We were able to get the latest conditions, bear sightings, and water stops for every segment on the CT. And of course, you run into through and segment hikers and bikers every day on the trail.

With all these resources we had to learn a whole new dialogue to understand some of the communication within posts.

NoBo=Northbound

SoBo=Southbound

Zero=A no hiking day

We took a Zero on our third day. While we planned our next segments.

Taking a Zero

S6 was going to be a long 32.9 segment from Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge. Jeff, being the Ultra runner in the group, decided to cover this segment in one day. This put me covering S5 for 14.6 miles from Long Gulch to Kenosha Pass.

Logistically we could not pull off these two segments of hiking on the same day. So on day four Jeff dropped me off at the S5 TH not too far from our campground. Segment 5 finished right at our campground making for an easy logistics day.

Kenosha Pass was a beautiful trail with only 1,858’ of elevation. It took me through Aspen groves and pretty meadows. I even ran into a few herds of cows. It was nice to see Jeff and Sam at the end of the trail waiting for me.

Segment 5 finish at Kenosha Pass

This put Jeff with two zero days in a row in order to rest up for his 33 miler. Since his pickup location would be Breckenridge and take him about 10 hours, I planned to relocate the RV to our new base camp in Leadville.

Base Camp II: Leadville

Day 5, Jeff headed out at 5am from S6 TH right from our campsite while I prepared the RV to move. All went smoothly on my trip to Leadville with a quick stop to dump our tanks and refill our water on the RV. I pulled into a favorite boondocking site from last year on the south side of Turquoise Lake.

An early morning start to Segment 6: Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge

I had enough time to set up the RV before leaving for Breckenridge to do some grocery shopping at Walmart, grab a burger for Jeff and then pick him up at the finish. The timing was once again perfect for the pick up, but the forecast for 100% sunshine was a bit off. I picked up Jeff in a torrential downpour. Cold and hungry, the triple cheeseburgers, fries and frosty hit the spot!

Jeff was beat after 32.9 miles and 5,200’ of elevation.

Once back at our Leadville base camp we hung out for a couple of days waiting for our friends Marge and Michael to arrive from Arizona. Marge would be joining the hiking fun for the rest of the CT while Michael would be helping with some pretty complicated Logistics to come.

Stay tuned for Part II

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  1. #1 by DonnaSmallinKuper on September 30, 2020 - 6:46 pm

    Just thinking about the logistics wears me out! But I do envy you those beautiful hikes. About acclimatizing to the elevation, I agree that all the trail running you did over the summer got you primed. Looking forward to part 2!

    Like

    • #2 by Deb on October 1, 2020 - 12:04 am

      Thanks Donna. There is something to humidity training!

      Like

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