After a tough journey hiking the Colorado Trail, we arrived at the Junction Creek Trailhead in Durango around 11 a.m. on July 29. A brief trip report and some much-deserved thank-yous follow below:
Thank everyone who contributed to our making it to Durango, including but not limited to:
John and Megan
Matt and Emily
Gina and our friends at the Windspirit Cafe, Twin Lakes, CO
“Apple” the model Trail Angel
Joyce and our friends at the Princeton Hot Springs Resort, Mt. Princeton, CO
Melody and David “Grasshopper”
Melanie, Marsha, Laurie, and the team at Lake City Medical Center
Jim and Kathleen
CTF and their dedicated group of volunteer trail crews
& all of you unnamed trail angels who planted unexpected coolers full of soda, snacks, water, and inspiration along the way.
Colorado Trail Trip Report
Despite a good bit of training, the first 2 weeks were plagued with foot swelling and blisters for me. I bought my shoes too small (like many others on the trail also had) and on the third day as Phil was cleaning the pine needles out of his shoes, he inspired me to take out my insoles. Removing the insoles bought me a tad bit of extra room and I ended up throwing them out in Twin Lakes. Unfortunately, removing my insoles did not make the next hill any less steep and as we entered Long Gulch at then end of day 3, I was devastated to be feeling so exhausted.
Kenosha Pass and Georgia Pass, our first days above treeline and our first big hurdles, felt easy thanks to all the hill-workouts we had done; however, unseasonably cold weather that night had us questioning our choice of 32 degree down sleeping bags. As we headed through the beetle-kill “zombie” forests approaching Breckenridge, we met and tag-teamed with a few other trail-walkers and looked forward nachos and beer. On our first scheduled rest day, we hiked 10.5 miles, hustling over the Ten-mile range through a storm. We descended switchbacks through a lodgepole pine forest and camped in the rain next to a construction project which would serve to expand a Copper Mountain parking lot.
Another storm plagued our trip across the tundra from Searle Pass to Kokomo Pass and gave way to the longest 4.5 miles of my life down to Camp Hale. Camping at the old army bunkers led to an interesting night complete with spookily-timed gunshots, nightmares, and restlessness. This one being no exception, our camps in valley bottoms and fields left us foggy, dew-covered, frost-covered or otherwise damp, so we decided to make a habit of looking for forested campsites going forward.
We staggered in to the Lakeview Campground and were greeted by father-and-son team, Joe and Jacob, who invited us to the Colorado Trail Foundation’s camp dinner that night. We gladly accepted and about an hour later, we were eating burritos with the trail maintenance crew. They seemed surprised by our pace and we all exchanged stories over cheesecake for desert. The following day, we soaked in our rest day, sleeping in til 8 a.m., rinsing out our clothes and washing my hair before hitching in to town to pick up our resupply box. The general store had our box as well as about 25 others. We got a pizza and massive cinnamon roll next door at the Windspirit Cafe, where they let us use their phone for about 30 minutes.
We felt rejuvenated as we headed out the next day around the lakes and over the dam, but were quickly brought back to reality after completing our only “bonus” miles of the trip. We realized we missed the turn after walking about 1/2 mile on a logging road and reversed our steps to find the trail. Another pretty devastating blow to our morale. Each day seemed to balance on a knife edge – were we going to make it or was it just too hard?
The Mount Massive area and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness offered many potential diversions also known in the databook as side trips. These little jaunts would add mileage and elevation for those who weren’t quite tired enough after hiking 15-25 miles over high mountain passes for about 8-10 days straight. None of the through-hikers we met even mentioned doing any of these trips. The general gist of the Massive and Collegiate areas was: switchbacks up a nice forested mountainside, wrap around the side of the mountain, hike in and out of seasonal creek drainages, cross the trail to the summit, begin descending to the mountain’s trailhead through more pines and aspen, switchbacks down a sagebrush dessert hillside.
The road into Princeton Hot Springs was smoldering hot and indirect. We picked up our box as-planned and loaded our biggest rations into our tiny little packs. Grabbed some showers and a meal, and hiked an additional 2.5 miles by headlamp to bootleg camp, making this our longest day yet at ~22.5 miles. The next day, we pushed hard with our heavy, freshly reloaded packs to meet Matt and Emily. Around mile 15, I broke down. With 5 more miles to go that day, I just didn’t think I could make it and maybe more importantly, I really just didn’t want to. My feet hurt, my back hurt, my shoulders hurt.
That night, we camped about 1.4 miles north of Hwy 50, where we were supposed to be meeting Matt and Emily the next morning. Around 5:30am, we woke to the melodious sound of bike tires and Matt’s voice – they had found us! We hiked to Hwy 50 and threw our packs into their car for some slack-packing enjoyment. Hiked the road to the trailhead and enjoyed cold fruit tarts in honor of Emily’s birthday. We were able to leave half our ration in the car, which we would then pick up after the end of the segment Matt and Emily were to join us on. RELIEF, at last!!
Matt mountain biked and Emily and Abbey (drama-queen dog) hiked with us up over Marshall’s Pass. Beautiful weather and so great to have friends along. This truly was a turning point in the trip for me. I finally believed I could make it to Durango. Matt biked back to the car the next morning and Emily and the dog embarked with us, heading towards Sargent’s Mesa. Matt met us at Sargent’s Mesa with water and snacks. Mosquito camp that night for me and Phil. At the junction with Hwy 114, the Relief Squad met us yet again with pizza and beer, snacks, and good will. We shared dinner with fellow thru-hiker, “Eli,” and picked up our 2nd half of the split ration. What great friends we have!
The next few days brought flatter terrain, cow pastures, more rain, and tummy problems for Phil. In April, Phil was having troubles, but ignored it. Now it was back with a vengeance and Phil finally accepted that he had giardia. It poured on us for hours and the mud mixed with the cow pies and stuck to our shoes in big clumps. Phil ducked into the bushes every 20 minutes to an hour and I relieved him of some of the weight in his pack. We were hoping for a 28-30 mile day and we ended up doing about 24.
Hitched into Lake City with a lady on holiday from Holland. There was a mix-up/confusion about the hostel situation in town, so we ended up in a hotel room and went to the Med Center the next day. They were super kind there and got Phil fixed up. Another kind Lake City resident saw that we were thru-hiking and offered to take us back to the trailhead. Resupply went great at the local grocery market. Though small, they had everything a thru-hiker would need/want. Melody’s husband, David “Grasshopper”, had hiked the AT and they were always looking to payback the kindness he had received during his thru-hike.
The views kept getting better and the weather wetter as we headed towards Molas Pass, where were to pick up our next resupply. Our box was meager, especially in the snack category; we knew we had some hungry days ahead of us. The clouds loomed ominously over Hermosa Peak and Blackhawk Pass was a slap in the face as we approached what looked like the towering black gates of Mordor.
Into the San Juans, we had our best scenery of the trip. After interpreting the “Worst Sign Ever”, we skipped merrily down 26 switchbacks through an impressively steep wildflower field overlooking the spectacular Elk Creek Drainage. Camp in the trees kept us dry that night. Phil couldn’t talk about anything but donuts as we beautiful section was descending to the Kennebec Trailhead.
The last day was 11 miles to the Junction Creek Trailhead where we got a ride to Durango with a mountain biker. We spent the evening doing trail work with Jim and his friends at Trails 2000; felt good to have hiked 11 miles that morning and still have energy to swing a pulaski. Got showers and spent the night at Jim’s place. Enjoyed a delicious breakfast and picked up our rental car in the morning.
For more details, feel free to email us at email@example.com, or join us for one of our upcoming Colorado Trail slideshows.