Posts tagged ‘Wild camping’

November 14, 2016

Beauty and brutalism in the Brecon Beacons

by backpackingbongos

Backpacking in mid November is a lottery where the odds are stacked against you. The forecast for last weekend was not very promising to say the least. The weather map had a big blob of blue over the country with fat wind arrows arriving from the South West. Despite this I just HAD to get out and HAD to wild camp. Sometimes I get an itch that must be scratched. A small patch of Wales sorted the itch out nicely and I came back a happier person with peat stains on my trousers.

This is a land of contrasts, high distinctive moorland, the fringes scarred by industry. It’s best to take the landscape as it comes, warts and all. The brutal decay was just as fascinating as the beauty.

I have lost my writing jazz at the moment so this trip report will take the form of a few snaps taken on my phone. Reuben proved himself to be a good model in this instance, as well as excellent company.

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November 2, 2016

The Colorado Trail pt4 – Tennessee Pass Trailhead to Avalanche Trailhead

by backpackingbongos

Zero day three – Leadville

I really enjoyed my stay in Leadville. Although obviously touristy it does have a certain old world charm. Its claim to fame is being the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet, that is certainly high! I managed to pick an excellent Airbnb which had the luxury of a comfy private room but the vibe of a laid back hostel. It was full of an interesting mix of thru-hikers, including a couple doing the CDT, alongside mountain bikers and runners. The owner allowed the use of his bike to get to the supermarket, which as usual is out of town. Although acclimatised to hiking my lungs were not quite equipped to deal with the exertion of peddling. I overdid it and arrived at the store with my head and lungs feeling like they were going to explode.

During a long backpacking trip I dream of pizza when eating ramen and couscous day after day. It’s something that I rarely eat at home, perhaps my body needs all that fat from the cheese when on the trail. High Mountain Pies satisfied that particular craving whilst in Leadville. Highly recommended if you are ever up that way.

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Days 13 to 17

Colorado Trail segments 9 to 13

Lowest altitude – 8,916 feet    Highest altitude – 11,889 feet

Section distance – 73.3 miles    Cumulative distance – 215.9 miles

Section ascent – 15,552 feet    Cumulative ascent – 41,255 feet

It was suggested that I set off out of town early to try to thumb a lift back up Tennessee Pass. That way I would be able to get a ride with locals commuting to work. The suggestion appeared to pay off as one of the first vehicles stopped. They were from a nearby town and were heading to pick their daughter up from Denver airport. As the scenery passed and we chatted away I had a feeling that all was not right. The scenery appeared to be slightly different from when I travelled into town. I was horrified to learn that we were heading up another pass in the wrong direction. It turned out that they did not know the road that Tennessee pass was on whilst I assumed that they did! Thankfully they turned round back towards town and and took me up the correct pass, adding a chunk to their journey. It was with some relief that I put on my pack and continued along the trail.

The first part of the day was spent passing through Idyllic meadows en-route to the Porcupine Lakes. The trail gained height slowly and easily. As this section of trail passes through both the Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness areas there is no worry about being mown down by a speeding mountain biker.

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Close to the lakes the trees began to thin out giving great views of the surrounding rocky peaks.

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It was magnificent being so high above the valley, a thick blanket of trees below filling the horizon. The trail itself was pure magic as it traversed the hillside. However, this section above tree line had me nervous as clouds had been building all morning.

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In life fears are usually unfounded, however in Colorado my fear of storms was usually grounded in reality. The one that afternoon came in quickly and left a legacy of rain that lasted for hours. It arrived just as I reached the shelter of the trees, rumbles of thunder filling the air. As I descended I would pass large open areas which I would quickly scurry across like a mouse. The storm was slow-moving and I stood and watched for a while whilst white curtains of cloud tracked down a nearby valley. The white was hail and I could see it settling on the ground on the opposite hillside. It was soon battering me.

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The booms of thunder only lasted an hour or so but the rain continued, cold and soaking. That evening it was a case of pitching my tent, collecting water and then diving for cover and not going outside again until the following morning. When morning did come I made a futile effort of drying out my wet gear, something that does not happen quickly in a damp forest.

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Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado at 14,440 feet dominated the view for much of the following day. Once again the thunder clouds gathered in the afternoon, the summit being hidden from view by swirling mists. At times it reminded me of the Scottish Highlands on a wet summers day. The blue Colorado skies were beginning to feel a long way away.

After passing the Mount Massive Trailhead the Colorado Trail joined the Mount Elbert Trail for a while. Despite the weather there were still quite a few folks coming down from the summit. It was only an hour or so to sunset so they must have been up there during the thunder and lightning. One couple said they had heavy snow on the summit. It was a bit like watching people descend from Snowdon; jeans, street trainers, leather jackets etc. When folks asked me where I had walked from, they appeared very taken aback when I said Denver!

Another night was spent on a damp forest floor, flat and comfortable for sleeping but having an inner tent full of pine needles soon gets old.

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I was excited the following morning and up and packed early. The reason for the excitement was the prospect of a hiker friendly store very close to the trail. Four miles later I took a narrow and occasionally ill-defined side trail that led straight down to Twin Lakes, situated on CO Highway 82.

The store was a bit of an oasis and I did a mini re-supply to supplement the food that I had carried from Leadville. I then sat for an hour outside in the sun stuffing myself on fizzy drinks, coffee, ice cream and crisps. A few other thru-hikers were also hanging out. This included Brenden and Skylar who were also doing the Colorado Trail and had started around the same time as me. There was also a pair of older hikers who were completing the CDT after being snowed off the previous year. Sadly the restaurant was not due to open for a few hours so the meal I was looking forward to did not materialise.

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I left the others to enjoy beer in the sun whilst I set off down the highway alone. It was probably only a couple of miles to pick up the official trail again where it crosses the road. However it was very hot that afternoon and the straight as an arrow road seemed to go on for eternity.

There then followed one of my least favourite sections of trail as it wound its way along the north shore of the huge lake. I had stupidly forgotten to fill my water bottle at the store or purchase some Coke as planned. I was gasping as I plodded along the endless dusty trail through sagebrush with no shade.

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By the time I reached the dam I felt ready to collapse, the toilet blocks that I had passed did not have any taps or water. I decided that I would not be able to make it the five or so miles to the next water listed in the data book. In the end I took water straight from the large murky lake and hoped my water filter would do its job.

The south shore means decision time with regards to the trail. It’s where it splits and you have the choice of the Collegiate East or Collegiate West. The western route is the newest segment of the trail and takes a spectacular route mostly above tree line. I decided to take the Collegiate East route, which although has nearly the same amount of climbing is much more sheltered from the weather. The storms during the last couple of days had made me nervous about being high and exposed. My goal at that point was simply to go the distance.

I passed an enthusiastic young man who told me that none of the creeks until the next trailhead were flowing, and that I should fill up at the lake. This I duly did and staggered off up the switchbacks with six litres in my pack. My knees were buckling under all that weight.

Once again I camped on the dirt floor in the forest, this time on dry dust rather than pine needles. My tent was beginning to look rather shabby.

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The next morning I was quietly swearing at the enthusiastic young man I passed the previous evening. It turned out that a couple of the creaks still had trickles of water. The backbreaking walk to camp had been totally unnecessary. Another mile and I could have camped next to fresh running water.

I woke to a beautifully clear and sunny morning with not a cloud in the sky. That day the trail was to show just how cruel it could be. Under an increasingly hot sun I walked dusty tracks and trails with a carpet of crickets hopping in front on me whilst their larger brethren span in the air making loud clacking sounds.

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The trail descended and descended into a deep valley, dry and parched, the ground sparsely covered in vegetation, the odd cactus poking its head out of the dust. It was far too hot and bright.

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The trail dropped me all the way down to 8,916 feet which in itself was cruel due to the heat. The cruelest thing however was that I now had to climb back up to 11,845 feet to the spot where I wanted to camp.

After crossing Clear Creek it was up, up and up to gain a ridge from Waverley Mountain at 11,653. At the top I met up with Brenden and Skylar for a while before descending again. The sting in the tail involved a 1,200 foot descent to 10,430 feet before the final climb to 11,845 feet. The whole thing during a sixteen mile day was totally exhausting. I soon regretted not being on the higher Collegiate West route, which once high stays high.

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The sun was getting low in the sky as I crested the Mount Harvard ridge and came to a home-made sign on the trail. I have to say that it made me smile and feel rather pleased with myself.

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With the sun setting I started to feel a bit nervous being out on my own, I began to imagine Mountain Lions shadowing me, ready to take me down when I least expected it.

A small trickle amongst dwarf willow saw to my water needs and I found a sheltered pitch on the tree line. I fell asleep happy with the knowledge that two hundred miles were now behind me.

I woke and got up at dawn after a rather disturbed night. Something had been shuffling round my tent during the early hours, occasionally pinging the tent guys. I kept poking my head out, shining my torch and wildly shouting into the dark night. There in the cold of light of day as I unzipped the tent was a rabbit. The wild beast of the night being smaller than expected.

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It was great to start the day so high with weather so good. Hills rolled off into the distance, their wooded slopes hazy in the early morning air.

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One of the highlights that day were the Harvard Lakes. It was still and quiet and I had my fingers crossed that I would spot a moose standing at the shallow waters edge. Alas it was not to be.

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Once again I was crossing the grain of the land, the trail either going up or down hill, never flat for long enough to get into a good stride. The trail dropped down to the North Cottonwood Creek Road and another hot section.

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From the County Road it is less than seven miles to the Avalanche Trailhead where I would be able to head into town to resupply. Unfortunately a ridge on Mount Yale stood in the way and it was a tough 2,400 foot climb followed by a similar descent. The scenery helped with the pain though.

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The final descent to the trailhead is steep, culminating in a series of zig zags. I spotted a couple and their dog below and decided to put into action my getting a lift plan. This involved walking as fast as I could to catch them up, spending a few minutes chatting with them, befriending their dog, and then setting off at top speed down the trail. By the time they had got to their car and driven onto the road I was already standing there with my thumb out and a smile on my face. The plan worked and I was quickly on my way to Buena Vista. The reason they picked me up was because their dog liked me, which apparently means I am a good person.

October 16, 2016

The Colorado Trail pt3 – Gold Hill Trailhead to Tennessee Pass Trailhead

by backpackingbongos

Zero day two – Frisco

Walking through the streets of Frisco I was struck by just how strong the sun was. The sky was the deepest blue that I have ever seen, the lack of humidity plus the altitude gave it an unreal quality. Although the air temperature was only around 21C I could almost feel my skin sizzle and it was impossible to see without sunglasses. A far cry from the grey and damp UK.

Frisco itself also has an unreal quality to it. It felt like the set of the Stepford wives had been transported into the Rocky Mountains, everything seemed a little too perfect. It was squeaky clean and its inhabitants / visitors were slim and tanned with dazzling white teeth. A far cry from the loud, brash and overweight image of Americans that I had in my head. There was a good pick of bland and overpriced restaurants to choose from, so I spent a good proportion of my time in town filling my face. Despite my negativity in this post I still enjoyed the place in a Disneyesque sort of way.

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The main reason for a Zero day on top of food and rest is to resupply. One thing that I have noticed in small American towns is that there are usually no grocery stores in the centre. They also lack corner shops so you can’t even pop out for a packet of crisps and a mars bar on a whim. Resupply in Frisco involved a long hot walk to the out-of-town Safeway. I did however come back with a reasonable haul for the three days it would take me to get to Leadville.

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Days 10 to 12

Colorado Trail segments 7 & 8

Lowest altitude – 9,197 feet    Highest altitude – 12,495 feet

Section distance – 38.2 miles    Cumulative distance – 142.6 miles

Section ascent – 8,091 feet    Cumulative ascent – 25,703 feet

Getting out of Frisco is a dream. You simply hop on a bus and remember to get off at the right stop. I was back on the trail not long after dawn, the shaded areas of grass covered in frost. The first section of trail that day was a bit of a chore, a series of switchbacks through an area of dead forest with the roar of traffic from the highway below. However after cresting and descending a minor ridge I was back in the wilds again, the mountains ahead piercing a deep blue sky.

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I had a realisation early that day that I was suddenly feeling fit. My pack was around 16kg and I was climbing hills above 10,000ft. Yet the hiking was beginning to feel more and more effortless. With over a hundred miles behind me a more positive mindset was creeping in, I might just get to Durango!

On the climb towards the Ten Mile Range the trail passes through some beautiful grassy meadows. The short-cropped grass was almost calling me to pitch my tent. I somehow managed to resist.

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The Colorado Trail climbs and climbs and climbs during this section en route to crest the Ten Mile Range between Peaks 5 and 6, at an altitude of 12,495 feet.

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Once on the ridge I was struck with how similar the mountains looked to some of the Scottish Munro’s. However the big difference here is that the mountains are at least 10,000ft higher.

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I found a sheltered spot in which to eat lunch and was kept entertained by a nearby yellow-bellied marmot that was whistling and keeping an eye on me. A Colorado Chipmunk was seeing how close it could get to me in the hope that I might drop a crumb. I think if I had turned my back it would have been straight in my pack looking for food.

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The trail follows the ridge for a while and I came across the following sign that made me chuckle a bit.

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Ten minutes later I was no longer chuckling when I stumbled and fell, my knee taking the brunt. I dusted myself off and gingerly hobbled to a nearby stream to clean off the blood and grit. A squirt of alcohol hand gel stung a bit but I was satisfied that the wound was clean.

Amongst the beauty of this part of Colorado are patches of ugliness. Directly below me lay the Copper Mountain ski resort and a very busy highway. The large rectangle area of land in the photo below is a car park that would take thousands of cars. I would be passing through Copper Mountain the following day.

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Until then I still had the beauty of the mountains to enjoy and a long 2,500 foot descent.

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I hadn’t really decided where I would spend that night. As I hit Colorado Highway 91 the databook said that camping was prohibited for the next four miles. I decided to carry on and see what the options were. In the end I found a nice flat spot in the forest close to a creek, just after a sign stating that I was on National Forest land. I took that to mean that camping should be ok. Although close to the resort and the busy highway the night was reasonably quiet, a small ridge in front of me blocking out the noise.

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The following morning the trail led me right across the edge of the resort. I had thought about stopping for a second breakfast but was keen to get back into the mountains again. Within a few miles I was back in paradise.

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It was a long and hot climb to Searle Pass at 12,043 feet. The trail was busy with Mountain bikers but they were all really friendly and chatty. I kept leapfrogging one group, showing that foot travel in these mountains can sometimes be just as quick as on two wheels. That’s on the uphill though, I was pretty envious to see them whizz back down the single track.

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Once over Searle Pass there is a long section all above 12,000 feet that would be very exposed if any storms rolled in. I was lucky to cross it in perfect conditions and it was a section that I enjoyed immensely. In parts it reminded me of the Moine Mhor, a high Arctic plateau in the Cairngorms.

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Kokomo was the last of the three 12,000ft passes before the trail descended into the headwaters of Cataract Creek. I was very tempted to camp at the tree line but something in my head told me to descend lower. In the end I found a great grassy clearing in the forest at 11,078 feet. I arrived feeling really hot and bothered and I found myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I forced down my evening meal but was immediately sick. I spent an hour or so laying in the shade, willing the sun to go down so I could get in my tent and go to sleep. A combination of altitude, sun and dehydration had caught me out for the first time.

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Later that evening I was joined by a father and his young son who were walking as far as the Princeton Hot Springs. They were good company, until the chill of dusk sent me into my tent and sleeping bag.

There was another frost the following morning and I managed to be up and packed before the sun had risen above the surrounding steep mountains. It was a long descent through the forest until I found myself walking through sagebrush in a low and hot valley at just 9,300 feet. It’s amazing how in Colorado you can be in high Alpine meadows and then a few hours later in near desert conditions.

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The final six miles to Tennessee Pass on US Highway 24 were long and hot. For some reason I had expected to arrive at the road, stick out my thumb and immediately be whisked into Leadville. In reality it did not work that way. I arrived at the road thirsty after running out of water and stood at the side of the road for an eternity whilst vehicles whizzed on by. The main problem is the geography of Tennessee Pass. It’s at the crest of a steep hill, right after a bend. By the time drivers have spotted you they don’t have time to make a decision whether to pick you up, they have passed and gone around another bend.

In the end salvation came in the form of a local man driving down from the nearby ski resort. He was kind enough to drop me right at the door of my Airbnb in Leadville.

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.

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.**