The Colorado Trail (CT) is often described as America’s most scenic long trail. I haven’t been on very many of the great hikes across the USA but so far I must agree.
Holli and I set out on this adventure a year ago and we were turned back by a series of fierce thunderstorms. The summer monsoon winds bring moist air across Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence in July and August. The intensity was a little more than we expected and caused us to rethink our hike.
The monsoon is active again this year but so far we have found a rhythm that was lacking a year ago. We worked on lightening our gear and I have finally made Holli a believer in getting an early start each day (before 8 am).
August 7, 2015
We set out from Waterton Canyon on the west side of Denver on Friday. The CT is divided into 28 segments and we began segment 1 as a day hike carrying our packs and enough food for the day. I dropped Holli at the trail head and then drove to the end of segment 1 at the South Platte River trailhead. I hiked backwards and gave the car keys to Holli when we met in the middle. She would then pick me up at Waterton Canyon.
I thought it would be good for her to hike alone, we could both acclimate to the elevation with a light load, get our feet conditioned for the upcoming miles, and spend the night in Englewood with Holli’s brother Bradd and sister-in-law Susan. The plan worked well except for Holli hiking alone. I caught her at a creek crossing about eight miles into the hike. She had already made friends with two young hikers named Sam and Lauren. I had also crossed paths with hikers Ryan and Julie. They are from Breckenridge and are attempting to hike to Durango as well.
We returned to the trail on Saturday accompanied by Bradd and Susan. They are attempting to complete the Colorado Trail by doing a few segments each year.
Segment two was impacted by a large forest fire a decade or more in the past. The fire devastated the standing timber but left a beautiful carpet of wildflowers and stunning views of the foothills and mountains.
Bradd and I dropped the ladies at the South Platte while we drove to the end of the segment and hiked backwards. Lucky the dog was our trusty companion. He kept us safe from chipmunks and shady characters.
August 9, 2015
After another night in civilization, segment 3 marked the beginning of our self supported hike. Bradd, Susan, Holli, and I walked together on our final day. Segment 3 is popular with mountain bikers as are segments 1&2. We spent the first few miles stepping aside for the many bikes but otherwise enjoyed a scenic hike.
Holli and I gathered our food bags from the car parked at the end of segment 3. We watched as Bradd and Susan pulled away on the rugged mountain road. I felt excited and anxious as we were now on an unfamiliar part of the trail.
We hiked into segment 4 and camped in the first available clearing. The night was warm and the afternoon thundershowers did not materialize. The first three days actually were dry as clouds threatened but nothing more than sprinkles fell.
Segment 4 marked the beginning of the first wilderness area for southbound hikers. The Lost Creek Wilderness contains much of the trail in this segment. Bicycles are not allowed in wilderness areas and must follow a detour on forest roads. The absence of bikes made for a very quiet and peaceful day.
The CT carried us above 10,000 feet in elevation for the first time and did it in grand style. The trail left the forest and entered a six mile long meadow that steadily carried us higher and higher. Mountains on either side of the meadow kept us sheltered somewhat from the developing storm clouds.
Wildflowers covered the meadow in a thick carpet of red, yellow, blue, and purple. The types were unfamiliar to me and completely different species than the Great Plains types growing in segments 1-3.
The trail topped out at the end of the meadow and dropped back into the spruce forest. We had leap frogged with Ryan and Julie most of the afternoon and found them at a scenic overlook. The vast grassland of South Park lay below with the mountains along the Continental Divide looming beyond. Just when the scenery couldn’t be any better along the meadow the Colorado Trail impressed us with one more stunning landscape.
The trail left segment 4 and we pushed on into 5 to find a home for the night. My Achilles’ tendons were smarting so I eagerly set up camp in the first level clearing. Light rain pushed us into the tent before dark.
Like most mornings, we awoke to a blue sky to begin our trek through segment 5. We packed up camp and were on the trail by 7:30 am.
We passed through a series of high meadows that seemed to be in a rain shadow as the sun beat down on us while the surrounding peaks where shrouded in dark clouds and showers of rain hanging below them.
We arrived at Kenosha Pass and Highway 285 by early afternoon. We could see a continuous line of cars and trucks ascending and descending the mountain road from several miles away so it was a relief to finally reach the trailhead.
We met fellow hiker Chuck at the parking area. After visiting with Chuck for awhile we learned that he is on his way back from Durango and nearing the completion of a yo-yo of the Colorado Trail. A yo-yo is defined as walking a trail and turning around at the end and walking back. He has also done the Appalachian Trail (the same year I finished) and the Pacific Crest Trail twice. He offered us a lot of encouragement and good advice.
The rain began to fall as we left Chuck and it continued for the next four miles. South Park expanded to the horizon on our left and mountains rose from the trail on our right.
It was cold and damp as we set up camp near Deadman Creek 4.5 miles into segment 6 so we were under our quilts before dark. The altitude has been causing some insomnia but the 10 or 12 hours off my feet every night has allowed me to feel refreshed every morning.
Segment 6 is the longest segment on the Colorado Trail at 32.7 miles. We left camp early because Georgia Pass was the major landmark we needed to cross before storms formed along the divide.
We topped Georgia Pass well before noon. The sky was blue and a stiff cold wind blew across the treeless tundra. 11,874 feet was the top of the pass and marked our crossing of the Continental Divide. The Colorado Trail joined Continental Divide Trail (CDT) about a 1/4 mile passed the divide. We will hike on the CDT for the next 314 miles as the two trails parallel the spine of the continent.
We descended from the pass and soon entered the spruce forest flanking the mountain sides. The day ended by arriving at the North Fork of the Swan River.
We set up camp in sunshine and scraped together some odds and ends from the food bag for supper. Chicken soup, salmon, and Parmesan cheese was on the menu. I had a throbbing headache so laid in the tent after supper, read a chapter from my book, and fell asleep before 7 pm.
Today is town day! Thirteen miles of walking and we would soon be on the Summit Stage bus to Breckenridge. The bus makes regular stops along Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco. One of the stops is where the CT crosses the highway.
We made good time as we hiked our way past Keystone Ski Area and down toward the highway. Soon we could hear the hum of highway noise. Buildings were sprawled out across the valley and Breckenridge Ski area towered over the valley to the south.
So far we have completed 104.4 miles and the first six segments of the Colorado Trail.
We met with Ryan and Julie for supper that night and met a lot of adventurous people from all over the country at the hostel. We are staying here for three nights while we hike segment 7 to Copper Mountain Resort on Friday and take a day off on Saturday.