Posts tagged ‘Colorado Trail’

October 10, 2016

The Colorado Trail pt2 – Kenosha Pass to Gold Hill Trailhead

by backpackingbongos

Zero day one – Fairplay

The fact that the hotel reception sells oxygen canisters suggests that the small town of FairPlay is located at a high altitude (9,953 feet to be precise). Janet and Janet dropped me off right outside and I hurried in, excited at the prospect of a hot bath and clean clothes. However it was far too early to check in so I was forced to make a beeline for the Asian Fusion restaurant next door to fill my belly.

I had decided before setting off that the Colorado Trail was not going to be some form of macho ordeal. I had come to Colorado to enjoy myself and make the most of an extended time away from work. I’ll leave the whole fastest, longest, biggest, lightest to the more heroic backpackers out there. Therefore my plan was to stop off at as many towns as possible along the way, spending two nights at each. That would give me a full day of rest and time to resupply at a leisurely pace. Although as a person I’m at my happiest when in the mountains, I have to admit that I really enjoyed the small mountain towns of Colorado.

US Highway 285 thunders through the outskirts of FairPlay. However if you make a detour into the old part of town a very pleasant surprise awaits. It’s like stumbling into a movie set and I spent a very pleasant couple of hours walking around. The town sits in a grassland basin known as South Park and is supposedly the inspiration for the cartoon of the same name. Before we begin hiking again here are a handful of photos of the town.

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Days 7 to 9

Colorado Trail segment 6

Lowest altitude – 9,197 feet    Highest altitude – 11,874 feet

Section distance – 32.7 miles    Cumulative distance – 104.4 miles

Section ascent – 5,196 feet    Cumulative ascent – 17,612 feet

A good way to get to know a stretch of tarmac intimately is to stand on it and attempt to hitch hike. That’s what I did just after dawn for half an hour in an attempt to get back on the trail. Half an hour does not sound very long but it’s an eternity when you are standing with your thumb out whilst practicing your best smile. In the end I was picked up by a big Texan in a big pickup pulling a big trailer. He was on his way to a motor cycle rally and the big trailer contained a big Harley Davidson. Everything in the States is big.

It was good to be on the trail again and I was soon moving after signing the trail register. I was struck by the grassy plains that lay at my feet, stretching endlessly to the horizon. For someone from the UK it is hard to get your head around such large and empty spaces. It’s also at nearly 10,000ft!

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Some of the creeks crossed by the trail are named on wooden posts. Deadman Creek sounds like it should exist in an old western. I thought that it would be a good place to sit and enjoy a snack. However I only managed to filter a litre of water before being chased away by the mosquitos.

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One of the reasons that I had left FairPlay so early was because I was keen to cross the 11,874 ft Georgia Pass before the afternoon storms rolled in. It is the first properly high section above tree line and I was nervous about being up there with any risk of thunder and lightning. In the end I only got about nine miles that day before the first rumble of thunder sent me scurrying into the woods. No sooner had I pitched than hail started to batter my tent, I was quickly inside and glad of my decision to stop at around 2.00pm.

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At one point during the afternoon I could hear three storms banging away in different directions. They soon disappeared and the sky cleared but I could not be bothered to pack up again and continue.

I slept that night at 10,879 ft and was glad to get through the night with no real side effects from the altitude. All I found when sleeping high was that I would feel a bit restless in my tent and that my sleep would not be as deep as usual. I would frequently wake up hungry but then realise that my food was tied to a tree a hundred metres away!

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An early camp deserves an early start, so I mustered up some enthusiasm to rise at 5.30am whilst the sky was still full of stars. After repeatedly banging my head on the same branch in the dark I managed to pack everything away and be on the trail for 6.30am. Now that’s got to be some record for me!

As the trees began to thin I had my first glimpse of the impressive mountains that surround Georgia Pass.

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When you have spent a lot of time walking through trees there is something rather special about being able to see the path you’re walking on snake off into the distance. Above the tree line and approaching Georgia Pass there was a feeling of freedom and space. That’s what I had come to Colorado for.

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Colour was beginning to seep into the world as I arrived at the highest point. With barely a breeze it was deathly quiet and with no one around it felt that the trail belonged to me. It was a great feeling to be so high.

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Sadly this high point in the trail was a bit of an introductory tease, a flirt with the Alpine meadows. Before I knew it I was heading back into the trees again.

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The Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail run together for a significant distance. Sometimes there would be a CT blaze showing the way, sometimes a CDT one. Occasionally both would be located together.

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I turned into a fully fledged hiking machine that day, covering nearly twenty miles. I watched a storm build above some distant mountains and then slowly move towards me. I found myself running between open sections of trail, relaxing when I got back in the shelter of the trees. When the storm finally hit it was all mouth and no trousers. Lots of thunder and lightning but the rain and hail was short-lived.

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I made it as far as Horseshoe Gulch that night, my fingers crossed that the stream would be flowing. Thankfully it was and I found a nice grassy pitch as far away as possible from the less than scenic power lines that run down this valley. The tranquility was shattered for about an hour that evening when 150 mountain bikers came whizzing down the trail on a race. I’m glad that I was safely tucked into my tent at that point and not on the trail!

Do you remember David who I introduced in part one? He was the chap who took me to the trail head, invited me into his home for dinner and took me sightseeing for the day. Well the next morning David turned up at my camp at 7.30am with a bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies. If that’s not trail magic I don’t know that is. Thanks David.

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I think that a good proportion of those cookies did not make it the four miles to the Gold Hill Trailhead. In fact I may have had a cookie related breakfast. I was in no real hurry as all I had to do that day was walk those four miles and then get the free bus into Frisco where I had booked a motel for another zero. I therefore made the most of the sunny morning and sat down plenty of times along the way.

I wonder what happens to hikers who walk the Blair Witch Trail at night?

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One of the signs that I began to enjoy seeing were those indicating the National Forest land boundary. As far as I am aware this indicates freedom of access and to be able to camp. The other side would usually indicate private property and request that you do not leave the path.

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Reaching CO Highway 9 was a bit of a shock to the senses, a cacophony of noise as vehicles rushed by. I took shelter from the heat in a bus shelter, waiting for the free half hourly bus that would whisk me to my motel in Frisco.

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September 30, 2016

The Colorado Trail pt1 – Waterton Canyon to Kenosha Pass

by backpackingbongos

Days 1 to 6

Colorado Trail segments 1 to 5

Lowest altitude – 5,522 feet    Highest altitude – 10,929 feet

Section distance – 71.7 miles    Cumulative distance – 71.7 miles

Section ascent – 12,416 feet    Cumulative ascent – 12,416 feet

It was well before dawn when I left the micro basement apartment that I had rented via Airbnb for three nights in RiNo, Denver. The streets usually filled with hipster beards and tattoos were deserted. The area is still a bit rough around the edges so I hurried the few blocks to the Light Rail station. The ticket machine spat out a handful of change in coins which was annoying, extra ballast for my rucksack until I hit the first town.

The first train whisked me to Union Station, where I changed to one that would take me to Federal Station. There in the still pre-dawn light I met with David, my own personal Trail Angel. David had answered a Facebook post that I had placed a few weeks before, asking for a lift to the trailhead at Waterton Canyon. He offered his services and once I arrived in Denver he invited me into his home for dinner and took me sightseeing around the local area. This included an acclimatisation (acclimation in the US) drive to the summit of Mount Evans.

David dropped me at the trailhead just as the sun was rising, bathing the large sign in a warm glow. He soon left and I found myself alone with nearly 500 miles of trail stretching before me. I have to admit that I found it a bit daunting!

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The first step on a long solo walk is always the hardest. The fact that I had spent close to a year planning and sorting out all the practicalities meant that the easiest part was now in front of me. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and enjoy a few weeks of glorious scenery. I just had to make that first solo step.

Waterton Canyon is probably the least exciting part of the whole Colorado Trail. It’s where Denver meets the mountains and a popular recreation area. I wanted to be there at dawn to beat both the crowds and the heat. The temperature in town the previous couple of days had exceeded 35C. Not very pleasant for a heavily laden Englishman.

The trail follows a gravel road alongside the South Platte River for the first seven miles. It’s the home of Bighorn Sheep which sadly I did not spot. In fact the whole valley was devoid of any nature during the three hours it took me to walk it. Early in the morning it’s the natural habitat of lycra clad cyclists and runners.

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For me it felt like the trail started properly once it left the gravel road and became single track as it entered the forest. I started the first of what would be many long and tiring climbs up multiple switchbacks to gain and crest a ridge.

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I knew that the first three sections of the trail are popular with mountain bikers, therefore I started on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The trail was still busy with cyclists, although it has to be said that every one of them was polite and courteous.

My campsite for the night was dictated by water, or rather the lack of it. Apart from the South Platte River at the start there was water only at miles 8.7 and 16.8. It was midday when I reached the first creek, far too early to camp, therefore I decided to push on and do nearly seventeen miles on the first day. Normally I would ease myself in a bit more slowly, but as I found out water and weather was to dominate most of my schedule over the following six weeks.

Segment one ends at the South Platte River Trailhead where camping is not allowed.  Thankfully a few hundred metres before the river there is a large sloping meadow and several camping spots. It was wickedly hot as I pitched the Hilleberg Enan and I spent a while wedged under a bush trying to seek shade. Later I walked down to the South Platte River to collect water. It felt weird taking water from such a large river in less than wild surroundings. I however just had to trust my water filter, plus I would soon be filling my water bottles from much worse sources!

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When flying west and wanting to get up early, jetlag works in your favour. After a very hot and stuffy night in the tent I was up and packed before the sun managed to peek over the steep valley walls. It’s rare that my mind and body is so wide awake at such an early hour, but my body clock was seven hours ahead. I managed to work this to my advantage for most of the trip, getting into a routine of up at dawn and bed when the sun went down.

However on that second day I had a big incentive to be up early. I had an area which was the site of a huge forest fire to cross. This meant that there would be no shade available for one of the hottest sections of the whole trail.

Getting to the burn area involved a long climb through the silent forest, the switchbacks making easy work of the very steep slopes. They take the longest possible route to ascend and do so at a reasonably gentle gradient, at least doubling the distance. However it is an efficient way to climb when carrying a heavy pack.

It turned out that there were two burn areas separated by a cool shady forest that remained untouched. Thankfully it was still morning and cool when I passed through the first, although the devastation was evident.

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It was good however to return to the trees for the middle part of the day.

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I then crossed into the second burn area during the hottest part of the day, the two photos below show the same hill from different angles.

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It was not only the heat (in the mid thirties Celsius) that hikers on this section have to contend with, it’s the lack of water. It is ten miles between water sources meaning that my pack was heavy with three litres when I left the South Platte River. I was down to my last drops during the hottest part of the day.

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Thankfully the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department comes to the rescue after those ten miles. A short distance from where the trail hits a road is a firehouse building and a very welcome tap. If it wasn’t for that tap it would be at least another three to five miles to a reliable creek.

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I spent at least two hours in the shade of the building with another CT hiker. It was great to sit and chat whilst hydrating and cooking a late lunch. I have to admit that I am rubbish at names and didn’t take any photos of hikers that I met along the way. It was always good to have the company of like-minded individuals though, however briefly our paths crossed.

I had decided to only walk a mile or two past the Firehouse before finding a dry camp (a camp without access to water). I therefore filled up with six litres and set back off into the heat and strong sun.

Once a comfortable distance from the road a clearing was found and the Enan pitched. It was yet another uncomfortably warm night.

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One of the main things that I was worried about was food and bears. There would often be signs at trailheads providing information on how you should be storing your food.

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My chosen method was to place everything smelly inside odour proof bags from REI and then put inside an Ursack. The Ursack would then be securely tied to the trunk of a tree.

The first few days of the trek have merged into one in my mind. Landscape wise they were very similar. A series of thickly forested ridges were climbed with the odd grassy clearing appearing. Every day the hills would get slightly bigger and I would sleep at a higher elevation. It was a great way to get my body acclimatised to the altitude, slowly and steadily.

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The Lost Creek Wilderness was the first of six wilderness areas that I would pass through. During the early stages these were the parts that I enjoyed the most. Firstly cyclists are prohibited from these areas and secondly the trail would have a more primitive feel to it. Most of the time cyclists were polite but you still had to keep your wits about you, otherwise you would get the fright of your life when one came hurtling round the corner. In the wilderness areas you could properly relax and let your mind drift.

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With good mobile coverage I was using social media as a bit of a crutch to stop feeling lonely during the first few days on the trail. Unless you have done it, most people probably don’t understand the mental impact of heading into unfamiliar territory on your own for weeks at a time. My lowest point on the trail came when it seemed just about everyone back at home decided to tease me about bears. Nearly every message that pinged through had an image of a bear, stats about bears or news stories about bears. I got close to quitting and going home, that was the level of impact it had on me at the time.

My message now to folks is simply this. Try and live your life without being an idiot!

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At mile 49 the trail enters and follows an unusually straight six-mile meadow, an opportunity to escape the trees and enjoy a large open section. After feeling hemmed in by pine and aspen it was good to see the sky and horizon, even though the sky was dark and threatening rain.

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At one point I had to shoo several cows off of the trail, thankfully they were more docile than the stampeding beasts back in the UK. They had decided to occupy an open area where I had planned to camp. With that and the sky looking like it would storm I bashed my way back into the forest, finding a sheltered pitch on a bed of pine needles.

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The next day as I followed the trail up the meadow the sun broke through the swirling mists revealing some of the mountains that rise above the treeline. I was now above 10,000ft for the first time so thankfully the heat was not as intense as it had been. It was cool in the shadows and dew had moistened the grass.

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My aim on day five was to find an attractive camp spot about five miles from Kenosha pass. That would then give me a short walk to the trailhead the following morning before attempting my first hitch hike in the US. Johnson Gulch fitted the bill perfectly and was my favourite pitch in this first section of the Colorado Trail.

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I found a flat area with nice soft grass (pitching on good quality grass is a rarity on the CT!) with a stand of young aspen trees to provide shade. It really was an idyllic spot and after pitching early I spent a very lazy afternoon simply lounging about and drying damp kit from the night before. I think that it was the first time that I felt truly relaxed since the start.

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A few times during the late evening and into the night it looked like a big storm was developing. The clouds were towering above me and I could actually see them grow by the minute. However they moved away leaving clear skies and cool temperatures. Once it was dark my tent would occasionally be lit up by distant flashes of lightning, although I did not hear any thunder.

The six miles from camp to Kenosha pass took me much longer than anticipated. Not because the trail was tough but because I kept being distracted by the views. Every few hundred metres I would take off my pack and sit in the sun and just stare. I was now properly in the Colorado High country and from that point on much of the trail would be above 10,000ft. The crystal clear skies and lack of humidity meant that I could see for miles, including the mountains I would be crossing in the next section. However before I could do that I needed to do a few more miles of trail and journey into town to resupply.

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US Highway 285 came as a rude shock after a few days in the woods and mountains. It was busy with fast traffic, from which I was reliant on a lift into FairPlay twenty miles away. I crossed the road and stuck out my thumb. To my surprise within five minutes a car had pulled over and I found myself heading into town with Janet and Janet, two Colorado Trail veterans.

**I did this trek to support the work of the John Muir Trust, and in particular the John Muir Award. Details of the fundraising page can be found here.**

September 25, 2016

Boulter, Colorado

by backpackingbongos

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486 miles.

89,354 feet of ascent.

37 days on the trail.

7 zero days*.

29 nights wild camping.

15 times stood at the side of the road hitch hiking into town.

1 day of snow.

3 blisters.

2 pairs of shoes.

Possible alien activity.

Plenty of thunderstorms.

No bears.

*A zero day is a day when you are not hiking on the trail. It’s usually spent in town resupplying, so you often end up walking large distances anyway!

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July 23, 2016

Colorado Trail gear list

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that selecting gear for the Colorado Trail (CT) has been a bit of a Challenge. I’m away from home for eight weeks so am packing not only for the trail, but the time that I’ll spend either end and in towns along the way. The weather in the Colorado Rockies is notoriously unpredictable, a different proposition from say the High Sierra. In the lower elevations at the start of the trail temperatures are currently in the low to mid thirties centigrade. As I climb higher they should be much more manageable and in the low twenties centigrade. I will be spending most of my time above 10,000ft which means that nights can be on the chilly side, perhaps as low as freezing in some areas. I’ll be finishing in mid September which is definitely Fall (the Aspens are meant to be spectacular) which means the possibility of the odd snow fall at elevation. The main weather pattern however will be almost daily thunderstorms as August is the Monsoon season. These can be potentially life threatening if in the wrong place at the wrong time due to frequent lightning strikes. Temperatures can also plummet very quickly with large volumes of rain or hail and strong winds.

Basically I need to be able to cope with pretty much any and every weather condition!

I don’t, never have, and never will consider myself a lightweight backpacker. This trip is as much about enjoying camp each night as well as the actual walking. If I can comfortably carry my pack I’m happy! I was reading a CT trail journal last night where a young lad with a tiny base weight said that he would not talk to three other hikers on the trail as they were ‘traditional’ backpackers………….

Anyway, this is what I will be taking:

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Packing:

Montane Grand Tour 55 – This is probably the most comfortable pack that I have ever owned. It fits my back well, is reasonably light and has enough capacity to hold a weeks worth of food on top of my kit.

I like to keep everything organised so I have a selection of waterproof stuff sacks, plus a pack cover to keep the rain off. I’m a new convert to pack covers as it stops my rucksack gradually getting heavier during prolonged rain. Possibly overkill but I’m happy to carry that extra 100 grammes.

It is important that all my food and toiletries are bear proof whilst I am sleeping, I plan to ensure that these are not kept inside my tent. I have purchased a bear proof bag (Ursack) that will be tied to a tree a short distance from camp. Inside everything will be in odour proof Opsaks which I will purchase from REI in Denver. I don’t want to be losing my food a few days walk from town!

Shelter:

Hilleberg Enan – This is my current favourite tent for use outside of the winter months. It’s light, can be pitched in a couple of minutes and has a small footprint. I much prefer a full tent with inner to a tarp or mid. I have made a footprint out of Tyvek as I suspect that many of my pitches will be on bare earth, especially at established camping spots.

Sleeping:

PHD Minx + MLD Spirit Quilt – The PHD Minix is a hybrid bag with a synthetic base and down upper, it has no zip. It’s very warm and comfortable for its weight. It won’t however be suitable for temps close to freezing as I tend to sleep cold. Therefore to boost it I will be taking along the lightest MLD Spirit Quilt. As I am only taking light insulated clothing this can also double as camp wear if worn cape style. It will also keep condensation off my down bag when camping in cold and damp forests.

Thermarest X-therm – Warm and very comfortable for the weight, as long as I don’t get a puncture!

Clothing packed and worn:

All the clothes that I am taking with me are designed so that they can all be worn together if the temperature really dips. I don’t have a main insulation piece as such, the quilt will serve that purpose in camp.

My sleep wear is head to toe Merino, both for its warmth and also for its anti-stink properties. There is nothing better than having a set of clean and dry clothes to change into for camp and sleeping.

During the day I will either wear a lightweight pair of shorts or the Montane Terra Pack Pants, which are the lightest in the range. The long-sleeved Rab Aeon t-shirt is very light and comfortable in the heat and dries quickly if I need to wash it between towns.

X-socks weigh next to nothing and I feel are the best things to wear in trail shoes. Their light weight means that I can wear one pair and carry two. They get a bit crunchy after a couple of days so will need a rinse between towns.

Those trail shoes are Salomon XA Pro’s, a good compromise between a flimsy trail runner and a stiff walking shoe. They are the beefiest shoes that I have worn for a while so I hope that they last the distance. I recently did a 50 mile backpack in them and remained blister free, I hope that remains the case! I am taking a couple of pairs of spare insoles to mix and match due to different thickness and cushioning. When its hot I have a thin 3mm pair to give extra room in the shoes.

Tilley Outback – I am a new convert to Tilley hats. It’s really comfy, keeps the sun off my head and neck and means I don’t need to put my hood up in light rain.

A bog standard 100 weight micro fleece is about as versatile as it gets, warm when wet and easy to wash. A very light down gillet pairs well with it.

When in Sarek I found that my Rab Cirrus windproof was a lifesaver to keep the mozzies off me. I’m not a fan of insect repellant and I found that it prevented my arms, neck and back being bitten, especially when sitting in camp. Apparently there are some big horseflies this year on some sections of the CT!

Underwear is always Merino for me, it keeps smelling fresher for longer than any other material!

Cooking and drinking:

I had been intending to take the Flatcat Gear Bobcat alcohol stove which is very light and with fuel being readily available in the States. However there are lots of fire bans in place in Colorado which means that any stove without a shut off valve is illegal. These fire bans come and go and it can be difficult to know if you are about to head into an area with a ban. Therefore I am going to go with My Jetboil Minimo. This is much heavier but is a joy to use with water brought to a boil in a couple of minutes. It will roughly be a week between resupply points which means that it will use less fuel than the Bobcat over that time. Therefore weight wise they pretty much cancel each other out. It just means that I will have to be on the ball with regards to purchasing fuel.

For water I will have a couple of fizzy pop bottles for water attached to the shoulder straps of my pack. The rest will be carried in 2x 2lt Platypus’ in my pack. I think the longest stretch without water is about twenty miles. During the day I will filter using the Sawyer Mini, whilst in the evening I will bulk purify using Aqua Mira. All water MUST be either filtered or chemically treated!

Survival:

It has taken a while to decide what to take in terms of guidebooks and maps for navigation on the trail. Some people say that the trail is easy to follow and you don’t really need to take anything. I do however like a good map and like to see where I am in relation to the landscape around me. Therefore I will be taking four paper maps that include all but the first three days of the trail. As a backup I have the Guthook iPhone app which has mapping and will show where I am on the trail via GPS. Most importantly I have the Colorado Trail Data book which tells me where water sources are located, resupply points etc. All this paper weighs nearly half a kilo but I feel that it will enhance my hike.

My first aid kit is pretty comprehensive and put together myself. It should be sufficient to deal with the usual cuts, burns and blisters.

I’m taking along a Spot2, both to let my wife know that I am OK each day but also incase I need to call for rescue. It will also be used to track my location on a map which I will set up through Social Hiking.

Hygiene:

When hiking for days in hot weather it is important to keep certain parts of your body as clean as possible, otherwise chaffing can really spoil your day. It can be much more painful than blisters. The plan is to have a wash each day so I am taking a cloth and a small travel towel. Dr Bonners liquid soap goes a long way so I will take a small bottle along. It’s also good for washing clothes. Lanacane anti-chaffing gel keeps everything gliding along smoothly!

Gadgets:

My iphone will be my lifeline for keeping in touch with home and the outside world, although a signal will be unlikely in the mountains. It’s unlocked so I will purchase a SIM card once I arrive in Denver. I can phone home through WhatsApp when I get Wifi in towns. It will also be my back up camera as it takes pretty decent photos.

Sony RX100 iii – This is a cracking little camera which takes good quality photos whilst remaining small and light enough to fit in a hip belt pocket in my pack. I’ll be shooting in RAW as this will give me more control over how to process the photos when I get home. I’m taking a spare battery which will hopefully mean that I’ll have enough juice between towns.

Kindle – The joy of backpacking is spending lazy afternoons and evenings reading!

Powergen 12000 – This small power pack will enable the iPhone 6s plus to be charged about three times. I can also use it to charge the kindle if needs be. When in towns I have a folding Mubi plug with both UK and US adaptors, plus cables to charge everything.

The only thing to add to all this lot once in the US is up to a weeks food at a time, a canister of gas and a couple of litres of water…………

 

January 22, 2016

Planning my first US thru hike – The Colorado Trail

by backpackingbongos

 

Colorado trail map

(Click to enlarge)

I have wanted to do a through hike in the US for a long time, for years being obsessed with the Pacific Crest Trail. DVD’s were collected and time spent reading books and trip reports. However the dream has never been realised. Life gets in the way and a job, marriage and owning a dog make disappearing for six months a distant dream.

About a year ago I stumbled across a trip report about the Colorado Trail. This starts near Denver and makes its way south-west across the Colorado Rockies to Durango. At 486 miles long it is for me a realistic proposition time wise with most people completing it in four to six weeks. Last summer I spent some time negotiating with my wife Corrina about jetting off for a couple of months. It’s not a prospect that she is thrilled about, but being a star she agreed. The next step was to approach work. They have been great and now August and most of September have been booked as unpaid leave. I’m good to go!

The Colorado Trail is a high altitude route ranging between 5,520 feet just outside Denver to 13,271 feet below Coney Summit. The average elevation is above 10,300 feet. It passes through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests and six wilderness areas. Adding that to the 89,000 feet of ascent and descent during the entire trail and I think that I will be physically tested to my limit.

It’s the first time that I’ll trek in an area where bear sightings are a real possibility, so this is something that I need to do research on. Last summer the first segment through Waterton Canyon was closed due to bear activity (article here). Bear canisters are not a requirement for the trail so I will be storing my food in an Ursack.

I’ll be trekking through the Colorado ‘Monsoon’ season. This means that afternoon thunderstorms are a regular, often daily occurrence. The reading that I have done so far indicates that these can be very violent with frequent lightning strikes. I’m not ashamed in admitting that my greatest fear in the outdoors is lightening (after a near miss a few years ago). It terrifies me! They are meant to be fairly predictable though, building up from about 1pm and often clearing by evening. This will mean dawn starts to ensure that I am off exposed high ground by around midday. A new mindset will be needed for this late rising slackpacker!

There are opportunities for resupply, although they will involve a hitchhike, something I used to do regularly in my early twenties but have not done since. Towns like Leadville (the two-mile high city) and Silverton look very pleasant and somewhere I would be happy to rest up for a couple of nights. Resupply is going to be the major bit of planning, working out when to leave the trail, how to get into town and then get back on the trail. I’m not going to bother sending packages ahead, I’ll live with what I can find in the shops. This may mean travelling a bit further to somewhere with a proper supermarket. I have already purchased the most up to date data book but am waiting for the new guidebook to be published in the spring. I’ll start planning in earnest when that has been released.

Data book (1)

One of the best resources I have found online is by Paul Mags, link here. The blog that really sparked my imagination and gives a day by day account with loads of photos is here.

As someone who purposely seeks solitude and most of the time avoids established trails and busy areas, the Colorado Trail will probably be a bit of a shock to me. Although not many people through hike it, the 28 segments each with a trailhead mean that it is accessible for day hikers and weekend backpackers. Also apart from the wilderness areas it is a shared trail and popular with mountain bikers. Therefore I will have to change my mindset and look at it as a cultural experience as well as a backpacking one. When I receive the maps I will look for a few detours off the main trail and work out what 14,000 peaks I want to bag. One exciting thing is that I’ll be sharing about 300 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) if I take the Collegiate West option.

Kit wise I’m pretty much ready to go. I’m not going to be spending hundreds of pounds trying to knock a kilo off my base weight (although I do need to knock off a few kilos from my body weight!). One thing that I have just invested in though is a new meths stove, currently making its way across the Atlantic (Flat Cat Gear Bobcat Jr). I’m a big fan of my Jetboil but it looks like meths will be available in places that don’t have outdoor shops. I think it is yellow Heet that I need to look out for when resupplying. Another investment will be in trail shoes. In the wet and cold UK I am happy in leather boots most of the time as I am usually up to my knees in a bog somewhere. The Colorado Trail is meant to be pretty easy-going underfoot, well-drained and with a good surface. Along with generally warm temperatures during the day (can get cold at night), I don’t want to be clumping around in boots. The rest of my gear is what I usually use, nothing special is needed.

So, with flights now booked the trip has become a reality rather than just a dream!