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Through Hiking the Colorado Trail (Part 1 of 3)

Hi guys! By popular demand, I have a guest post to share from my brother today – he did a through hike of the Colorado Trail this summer and when I mentioned it on the blog, a few of you said you’d love to read all about it! I agreed – and so here we go with part 1 of 3 – there was too much to put in one post, so I’ll share part 2 next week and part 3 the week after. Enjoy!

Hi All!  It’s Anne’s brother Steve, (somewhat) fresh from spending a month on the Colorado Trail.  This is a photo of me at the end of the trail just a few miles outside of Durango, CO:

through hiking the colorado trail

Flashing back to earlier this year; I knew I was getting out of the Army and going back to grad school, and I had a goal of completing a long trail or some kind of physical challenge in the period I had between signing out from the Army and starting school.  The Colorado Trail appealed to me because it seemed like it would be doable in the month-long period I had available, and it also provided plenty of opportunities for challenges along the way.

the colorado trail

The Colorado Trail is about 480 miles long, from end to end, and it can be hiked either from Denver to Durango or the other way around.  Given the time I’d be going there (July into August), the southwesterly route seemed the most logical.  Given that the trail is about 480 miles, this would mean I would need to hit about 16 miles a day on average (a bit more in reality given days in town and other side trips).  In addition, I planned to head into town to resupply every 5 days.  Pictured below is the town of Twin Lakes, one of my resupply stops:

MY OTHER RECIPES
 

twin lakes colorado trail refuel stop

The first big hurdle in preparing my trip was gathering together the necessary supplies.  I had a lot of equipment already available from my various mountaineering trips in the Cascades, but a lot of it was heavier and bulkier than I would need for a summer trip in Colorado.  Some of the new equipment I bought was as follows: a lighter sleeping bag (28F temperature rating instead of 15F), a water purifying gravity filter, a solar charger for my phone (my primary navigation device), a bear bag to keep my food safe from critters, and a pack cover to keep my backpack dry in the rain.  The majority of the other equipment I was able to carry over from my other expeditions.

(Side note – here are a few more posts about previous mountaineering trips I’ve done: Hiking Mt. St. Helens with Anne and Matt, Summiting Mt. Rainier in summer, and Winter Ascent of Mt. Hood.)

gear for colorado trail through hike

This resulted in a heavier pack than I would have liked, but I never had any shortcomings in equipment over the course of the month.  Food came next, and I tried to aim for 3500-4000 calories per day.  I had a combination of trail mixes, nutrition bars, dehydrated meals, jerky, oatmeal, and fruit snacks.  This ended up working well throughout the trip, needing only minor tweaks to add some additional calories in per day during the hardest portions of the trail.  Pictured is five days of lunch food before being separated out into individual bags.

lunch food for colorado trail through hike

Finally, after organizing my food and my pack, I planned out a rough itinerary of how I was going to hike the trail.  As I said before, I had a time constraint of about a month, so I had to figure out how to hike each day in order to make it to Durango before I needed to head back to start school.  In this planning, I had a few constraints: I needed to hit a town for resupply about every five days, I didn’t want to hike more than 25 miles a day if possible, I planned to finish each day and camp at a water source, and I wanted to build in days to hike Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive.  There are limited good spots to head off the trail and into town to resupply, so that served as the primary constraint, with water sources for camping coming up next.

colorado trail through hike itinerary

After all the planning was done, I packed my bags and headed to Denver to start down the trail!  I was lucky enough to stay with the parents of a good friend from the Army, who provided me with a final meal and then drove me to the trailhead the next morning. Their house was in a beautiful area just miles from the start of the Colorado Trail, and gave me a preview of the amazing scenery I’d see over the next month on the trail!

near the start of the colorado trail in denver

I was nervous starting the next morning.  It’s always tough going into the unknown, and this was my first experience on a long trail.  I had no idea how I was going to be able to deal with day after day of heavy mileage at high altitudes.  Additionally, I had never used my equipment for this extended of a period in the wilderness.  I was worried about something failing on me, or having forgotten some key piece of gear in my inexperience.  So, it was a bit hesitantly that I began the next morning from Waterton Canyon.

waterton canyon colorado trail start

The trail initially follows a dirt access road to a dam on Waterton Canyon, and is fairly flat for the first six miles.  After that, though, it begins to climb sharply, leading up to some ridgelines before eventually descending to the Platte River and the end of the first segment (of 28) along the Colorado Trail.  I finished the first day early, around 3pm, and felt fairly good about the whole situation, although I did get my first experience of the Colorado monsoon season shortly after setting my tent that afternoon.  This would be the first day of rain, but not the last by any stretch of the imagination!

colorado trail hiking

hiking the colorado trail

I’ll pick up in the next segment with stories from the first half of the Colorado Trail, including meeting moose, walking up and over the Breckenridge Ski Area, and being rained on more times than I can count!  Until then, I hope you enjoyed my peek into the planning and thought that went into the decision to hike one of the wonderful long trails in the United States.

Read the next post in this series: Through Hiking the Colorado Trail, part 2

If you enjoyed this post, check out Steve’s two previous guest blog posts:

Comments

  1. 1

    Wow you guys stocked up on snacks, hah! This looks absolutely beautiful and comes at a great time as I’m going to Denver this weekend! Hoping we can sneak in a little hike :)

    • 2

      Yeah, he had to pack enough to fuel through a LOT of mileage each day! I was impressed with all the meticulous planning that went into this – his spreadsheet is intense!

  2. 3

    This was so inspiring to read! I’m an avid hiker, but have only stuck to short day hikes. This opens me up to all new possibilities!

    • 4

      Right?! I really want to do more through hiking – although I think I’d start with one to two nights on the trail vs. a whole month, heh.

  3. 5

    So cool! I would LOVE to take a long hike. Definitely on my bucket list! P.S. Colorado is my absolutely favorite place!

  4. 6

    So awesome! Looking forward to reading more. Anne – your bro is the male version of “Wild”, only more prepared than Reese Witherspoon! :)

  5. 8

    Thank you so much for sharing, Anne! I always share these posts with my husband to read, as well. Hiking is one of the few physical activities we enjoy together, and he is really interested in through-hiking at some point. Me, not so sure, but you never know!

  6. 10

    so great to understand the planning aspects. it gives me a sense of what I’d need to do if I ever do this, which I hope to when kids are in college or something, or maybe earlier if we got tons of gear.
    a couple of questions for him: how much did his pack weigh? how much water did he figure he needed each day? anymore details on how he used his phone while trail hiking–was it a specific trail app or just a gps/compass?

    • 11

      Hi Julia-
      I think with a full five days of food, coming out of town, my pack was probably around 35 lbs if memory serves. Maybe a tiny bit higher. This was heavier than a lot of thru hikers I met, who kept their pack weight less than 25 lbs or so. A couple things allowed them to do that – much lighter packs (mine was a heavy pack for hauling rope and stuff up a mountain); lighter tents (I had a large two person tent); and less in the way of extra (I had a kindle, extra batteries, etc). So, definitely not hard to get much lighter than my bag.
      For water – I’d usually start the day with about two liters, and then refill once around mid-day and then refill at camp at night. So, about 3-4 liters for walking and another 2-3 in camp for cooking and coffee, etc. Easy to do when you have a filter and can get as much as you want out of a river!
      Finally, for the phone, I used an app called GaiaGPS that I loaded with waypoints marking every half mile of the trail, and followed that when I was unsure. Honestly, you could do it with no GPS and just the Colorado Trail databook and be fine though. It’s a well-marked trail for the most part!

  7. 13

    This is fascinating! I loved hearing the planning that goes into this. Curious what his pack weighed and if he met other through hikers along the route? Are there designated spots to setup camp for the night or can he pretty much find a spot?

    • 14

      Hi Beth-

      My bag was about 35lbs, I go into it a bit more in depth in the comment above. I did meet other hikers along the trail – lots of other folks were doing the full hike, so I’d usually have company when I’d camp at night. And there are lots of spots, but usually you want to use a pre-existing camp site, as it has less of an impact on the wilderness areas. The Colorado Trail Databook that goes over the route lists campsites on each segment, although they can be pretty far apart, so it pays to plan ahead on how far you’ll go!

  8. 15
    Amanda Lillis says:

    So interesting! He was very well-prepared. I look forward to reading the next installments!

  9. 16

    I love these posts! Looking forward to part 2!

  10. 17

    I love this! can’t wait to hear more about this!

  11. 18

    So interesting, especially the planning! I always wonder how people plan their trips. Bery neat of Steven to include the sheet in his post. Looking forward to part 2&3! I also loved to read his earlier posts.

  12. 19

    I love these posts! Curious about a WHOLE days worth of food, though! Any chance you can add that into the next post?!

  13. 21

    Thank you so much for this post! My brother-in-law just got back from doing a hike on the Colorado Trail before competing with his running group in the RAGNAR series race there. He had lots of photos but not much text to share so this really helps fill in the gaps. I am looking forward to the next post!

  14. 23

    Super post, Anne, please thank your brother. Very impressive in all respects!

  15. 24
    Alex Weber says:

    awesome post!! looks so so incredible… I am working on my itinerary for this summer and was wondering if you would be willing to share a copy of yours with me? my email is [email protected]
    thanks so much!!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] the Colorado Trail this summer.  In my last post (check that out first in case you missed it: Through Hiking the Colorado Trail, Part 1), I talked about the logistics of thru-hiking and the preparation I underwent before […]

  2. […] the logistics of the hike and some of the exciting moments along the way. (Read those posts here: Through Hiking the Colorado Trail Part 1 + Through Hiking the Colorado Trail Part 2.)  In this final post, I’ll talk about some of […]

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