Tag Archives: Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail
As of June 19th 2013 I officially finished the Colorado Trail. I finished the last stretch from Molas Pass to Durango in three and a half days starting out around 1pm on Sunday June 16th.
I just read over my previous posts and it amazes me that no matter how many hours I put into researching what I needed for the trail, it always takes getting out there and hiking to learn the things that work best for you.
Lessons From The Trail:
1. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that wool socks are great in winter but awful in summer. My feet were way too hot and the hotter your feet are the more likely you will sweat and get blisters. My biggest life savers ended up being a pair of Darn Tough socks. They were made of wool too but have much tighter stitching, are thinner, and more durable. They fit more like a tight glove on your foot then any other sock and that is exactly what you need on the trail.
2. I didn’t necessarily follow my original food recommendations. I ended up eating granola for breakfast as I was hiking (although I still enjoyed pop tarts). I switched to my special trail mix that had peanut M&M’s mixed with the Archer Farms Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix you can buy from target. I’m still pretty fond of that trail mix. A Clif Bar and some type of fruit bar while hiking depending on my appetite. And Ramen noodles with Sun Dried Tomatoes and olive oil that I would carry in those little applesauce pouches you can buy for kids. I still followed my plan on eating dinner around 5pm or so then hiking a few more miles before camp. I usually finished by having some dark chocolate just before bed to help give me some energy in the morning (and as a treat for a good day of hiking) Be sure to take dark chocolate because milk chocolate melts too easily in your pack. Lastly, I may try to go without a stove on a few upcoming trips to see how it works for me.
3. I also learned a very important rule about water. For me, I could go about five miles on just one liter of water. If my next water source was 10 miles away I had to have two liters with me to start. I did two separate sections where the water supply was 20 miles apart therefore I carried a gallon of water (8 pounds of water). This is a rule you discover for yourself. A CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker told me he could get by on one liter of water for every 8 miles. Some people may need a liter of water for every 3 or 4 miles. It just depends on how much you are carrying, the terrain, how hot it is, etc. Also I think I may start using Aqua Mira tablets instead of a filter.
4. Always carry a smile. We need to be friendly on the trail. As I mentioned in my Final Thoughts post I had a lot of help from people giving me needed items to hitches into town. Being friendly helps a lot.
5. I just met a guy hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for his 4th time. He is really making me think about pushing the ultralight limits. I went the cheap way which isn’t really the light way of buying gear. I could use a smaller pack, a down sleeping bag, an even smaller pad, and possibly a smaller shelter system. I feel like I take too much unnecessary gear too. I dumped a lot of stuff after my first week of hiking. As of right now I’m thinking the two most mandatory second clothes items are a change of socks and a change of underwear. You can wash those almost every day and keep cycling them out. Yes, your pants and shirt may get dirty and smelly but you are hiking and don’t really need to worry about having a second set. That being said I feel like having a lightweight pair of running shorts is worth it in case you want to wash those pants. And you can always wear your jacket while you wash your shirt, etc. A guy I met on the trail did just that when he went to do his laundry in town. I also learned from him that soap is very polluting and is another thing that attracts animals so it isn’t really worth taking. Rinsing with water seems to do just fine.
6. I think I am having a hard time justifying carrying around my Nikon D40 with a 55-200mm lens. It does let me capture some great pictures, but the vast majority of pictures I take on the trail are landscape pictures. I mainly take the zoom to get wildlife pictures, but I am rarely fast enough to capture the wildlife I do see. On future trips I may just rely on my smartphone camera (My iphone 4 has done a pretty good job), or get a small pocket camera that is easy to carry and lightweight.
7. It’s about hiking. For me, I don’t do really well sitting in camp for a long time, even if it is in a great place. If I am going to be on a long trail, I am going to hike the majority of the day. If I am going to go sit in a place and camp I am going to backpack in a very different way. If I am just going to hike into a location and stay a night or two, and hike out again a lot of these things go out the window. If you are going to hike the miles you have to go as lightweight as possible. For me, going more miles means I get to see more and possibly do more. If I want to relax somewhere then I do a completely different trip. I think its just good to think about your reasons for doing a long hike in the first place. A lot of people go to just get away from it all, and I don’t think that is a good reason. You have to go cause you want that type of experience. Pushing your limits and really joining with natures rhythms and cycles. When you hike those long miles it is hard to think about anything else then where your next water is or where you are going to sleep tonight. You learn that if you work with nature, she will treat you well. If you don’t work with nature, if you try to do things your way, it won’t work out so well. It is an overall very humbling experience, and yet empowering at the same time if you let it be.
Below is a picture of what I got to wake up to one day on the trail. These kind of experiences make all the miles and pain worth it.
Growing up in a rural area of southwestern Pennsylvania certainly lends itself to these types of things. And by these things I am referring to what some might consider to be a crazy trek across 500 miles of mountainous terrain.
You see in southwestern Pennsylvania a lot of people don’t seem to mind standing out in the cold rainy snowy weather to watch a football game or hunt for deer. Maybe that doesn’t seem normal in your part of the country or world, but it was normal to me.
I grew up in a family full of hunters and my uncles actually owned an archery shop for awhile. My dad was a purist who used a recurve bow while my uncles embraced the latest technology that was to found in using compound bows. Needless to say we all spent a fair amount of time in the woods.
I was also a boy scout growing up. Besides racing pine wood derby cars we also spent a weekend every year at a local state park camping out and learning all kinds of cool outdoor skills like building fires. For some reason, the other boyscouts chose me to start a fire at the fire building station (you only got three tries to get an award for the station). You would think any boy would jump at the chance to start a fire, but maybe they just recognized that I spent a lot more time outdoors than they did. One of my proudest achievements came years later as I was starting a fire in some of the wettest coldest conditions possible. It took about an hour if I remember correctly, long after everyone else gave up, but our group really needed a fire that particular night.
The idea for this trek comes from another well known trek called the Appalachian Trail. Everyone knows someone that has done it, but no one had hiked the whole thing in one season themselves. It took on a mythical quality for me. I heard stories spoken about these people who hiked the whole thing and I figured they must be something really special.
It became a dream of mine to one day hike the AT (Appalachian Trail). But like most big ventures it got put aside for other priorities. You know the ones I speak of. Career, family commitments, etc. Nobody really gets 6 months off of work to hike a trail. So you do it when you are really young or old and retired. The “really young” part of my life has already passed me by, and the “retired” part of my life is a long way off, if it ever really comes.
Dreams don’t really die though. They take different forms. For instance, it has been a goal of mine to eventually visit all 50 states of the U.S. I am currently at 48 states with Hawaii and Alaska left over. To a certain degree this goal is easier than hiking the AT. I spent about 11 days driving up through Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. And I have visited the rest of the states for various degrees of time. Years spent in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Hours spent in South Carolina just to check it off the list. Sorry South Carolina…
Which brings me to this coming summer. Every year I usually spend about 2 weeks of the summer traveling. When I first arrived in Colorado I spent a lot of time exploring every part of it. Over the past couple years I have been neglecting it for other destinations.
Something else really got me thinking about hiking the Colorado Trail this year though. My job requires me to be present during the months of July and August (prime backpacking months) so June is my travel month. The problem with hiking the high country in Colorado in June is the leftover snowpack. Snowpack in high elevations makes crossing the area difficult and navigating the trail near impossible. June also carries with it a chance for snowstorms at higher elevations.
This year however, the snowpack has only been about 50-80% of the yearly average. I have been watching the snow depth gauges closely and this year’s snowpack makes it look like hiking some of the high country in May might even be possible.
Put it all together and you have a smaller, but perhaps more beautiful, cousin of the AT that is doable for me without quitting my job or taking an extended leave of absence.
For comparison the AT is almost 2,200 miles and takes most people 4-6 months to complete. The Colorado Trail is roughly 500 miles long and by going a little faster than normal I plan to finish in a month. To go a little faster I have started doing a lot of research into the lightweight backpacking philosophy…
This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…