86 Absolutely Stunning Photos from the Colorado Trail [Part II]

This is part two of a two-part series of our 315-mile trek along the Colorado Trail.  Get caught up with part one here.  Or don’t.  The world is your oyster. 

Note: Nearly all of the following photos are courtesy of the Viking.  He carries a large, fancy mirrorless camera.  I use an iPhone 5.  The few exceptions are noted in the corresponding captions.

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the Good Badger: The choice to strip the color from this one was done purely to portray my mood.  Camping at +12,000 ft. with the looming threat of an approaching storm was a little bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone, and a lot like a death wish.  Viking was doing his best to conceal his concern, until he asked to join me in my spacious FlyCreek UL2

Hiking Viking: Once we were up on the continental divide, there were few viable camping spots. We chose a flat muddy spot on the physical trail itself. I’ve been known to do this from time to time on lesser traveled trails as to be courteous of night hikers on the more heavily traveled trails. But on this particular evening we had no choice. A storm and darkness was impending and it was the only flat spot around for awhile. While trying to secure my cuben fiber tarp for the windy and rainy condition, I over tightened one of my guy lines and ripped the grommet out where my trekking pole was secured to the tarp. This would have been more of a nightmare situation if Badger wasn’t packing a two person tent….KNOCK KNOCK!!

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GB: If it weren’t for the simple fact that I was there, I would assume these photos were fake.  Hot damn, this was a gorgeous stretch.  The morning started off with engulfing cloud cover, 30mph winds, and sleet.  I was mentally preparing for a full day of this, but quickly the clouds disbanded and a 26 mile day went by in the blink of an eye. Segments 23 + 24 are two of the Colorado Trail’s finest.

HV: I’ve seen my fair share of weather in all the miles that I’ve hiked, it still doesn’t make the miserable miles any easier. When sideways sleet is pelting your body and all you can imagine is how you’re going to manage an entire day of this, all you can do is think about each step one step at a time. It’s funny, when you’re in the desert and the sun is beating on you, all you do is imagine what you would give for a little cloud cover. In the high country when you are IN the clouds and there is no hiding from the elements, you’d give your right leg for a little sun.

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GB: We didn’t encounter a large diversity of wildlife (apparently endlessly reciting every line from Anchorman isn’t the best method for sneaking up on animals), but we did see approximately 15,000,000 marmots.  I’m not entirely sure what separates this guy from a groundhog, other than a superior choice of lifestyle.

HV: I typically find myself hiking alone for the majority of my miles so coming across wildlife turns out to be quite easy for me like this (sometimes dangerously easy). But if I have a hiking partner like the Badger here, the element of surprise is removed miles away from any wildlife. Between the laughing and yelling, it’s no wonder we didn’t see anything.

GB: Literally, yelling.

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GB: It really does amaze me how much faster the miles pile up when the trail is visible all the way to the horizon.

HV: The sounds of my whip help too.

GB: That was an actual whip?  I thought it was your man-bun doing this.

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GB: Right before the swan dive.

HV: I’m still dealing with a slight crick in my neck.

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GB: Mountain lakes, FTW.

HV: I don’t approve of this acronym. But this stretch was absolutely gorgeous. It wouldn’t have been the same if that sun had never come out.

GB: What do you have against Flying Turkey Wizards?

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GB: The valley just due west of Carson Saddle, the beginning of segment 23.  We sat here convinced that we would spot some elk.  Sure enough, that’s just what happened, although not closely or clearly enough to warrant a photo.  You’re just going to have to take our word for it, the Internet.

HV: I have a feeling that the typical patterns of elk in this valley might be different during hunting season. I was here last year in mid summer and saw about a dozen elk and two moose.

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GB: At 13,272 feet, this marks the high point on the Colorado Trail.  Time check on this photo is just after 7:30 am.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to add these numbers together and arrive at a temperature of “not warm”, as witnessed by Viking wearing 100% of his clothing.

HV: Between the PCT, Burning Man, and traveling to the Colorado Trail, I somehow misplaced my gloves. It was the only piece of gear that I lost all year. Gear accountability is crucial. My hands were freezing on this particular morning. There were other mornings as well. I silently cursed Badger for wearing his gloves some mornings. A couple times I almost jumped him…

GB: Game changers.

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GB: Shadows are to pictures as double stuffing is to Oreos.  (Answer key: makes better)

HV: Single stuff Oreos are an abomination and should be outlawed.

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GB: This one puts the “color” in the Colorado Trail.  See what I did there?  While taking this photo, the Viking said, “if that peak isn’t called Red Mountain, someone needs to be fired.”  We later learned that it was.  Looks like the good folks at the MND (Mountain Naming Department) get to keep their job.

HV: I was prepared to terminate anyone involved. Unfortunately, my services were not necessary.

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photo: gb

GB: Pancakes, french toast, bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and a cinnamon roll…otherwise known as the Viking’s breakfast.  Yes, seriously.  Michael Phelps, eat your heart out.  Not literally.  

HV: And to think, I was eyeballing your burrito the entire time too. #caloriedeficient

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photo: gb

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GB: These shots taken after our 2nd town stop in Lake City, a town I was very impressed with. If you ever find yourself in the area, be sure to stay at Raven’s Rest hostel.  The owner, Lucky, is the man.  But that’s there, not here.  Here you’re looking at the Snow Mesa region, from Spring Creek Pass to San Luis Pass.  This marked the end of our time in the San Juans, which exceeded my impossibly lofty expectations.

HV: I have now had the privilege of utilizing Lake City as a resupply twice in the last two years. I wouldn’t miss this stop for the world. While a small town and a potentially difficult hitch, this place has charm both in the town and in the hostel. As Badger has stated, Lucky IS the man. A former thru-hiker himself, he knows exactly what the hiker’s need and the conversation and hospitality is second to none. I stayed here on both my CDT and now CT hikes. I look forward to my travels taking me back here again. One hiccup this year, I washed my shoes and accidentally threw the insoles (removed from the shoe) into the dryer. They shrunk and were badly curled and disfigured. Luckily, Lucky had a spare pair of insoles in an old pair of shoes that fit PERFECTLY. Crisis averted.

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GB: Descending into the Cochetopa Valley.  Despite having done much of this section earlier this year, it was far more enjoyable the second go around, largely due to the foliage.  For those keeping score at home, hiking during the fall = the shit.  Fun fact: despite this being one of our lowest elevation nights camping of during the entire trip (right around 10k feet), it was also the coldest.  Apparently that’s what happens when you camp in a valley and within 100 yds of water.

HV: This also happened to be the one night where Badger decided to actually cowboy camp. I resort to this method of bivouac as often as I can. It isn’t quite as appreciated by my hiking counterpart. Getting up on this particular morning didn’t happen like you draw it up folks. Ice covered sleeping bags don’t inspire rapid movement before dawn.

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GB: One of my favorite pictures- from the trip, and ever.  The sunrise kissing the canyon wall right above a grove of aspens displaying their full range of color.  The entire valley was peppered with this throughout the day. We would’ve included more foliage shots from this stretch, if it weren’t for the onslaught of aspens you’re due to get in the remainder of this post.

HV: Its amazing how vibrant these colors are because everything in the foreground is covered in frost and ice…that would also include my beard and mustache. Considering the sun hasn’t even touched the aspens is pretty telling for just how vivid these colors were to the human eye. We hiked until our bodies were blanketed in sunlight, only then did we stop for breakfast.

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photo: gb

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photo: gb

GB: Trail magic is alive and well on the Colorado Trail. After 33-miles and an hour of night hiking, we were ascending a dirt road toward Lujan Creek Pass. An oncoming vehicle pulls up and its driver says, “Hey, do you guys want some beer?”  The answer was (and will forever be) yes, and this angel proceeded to load us up with a variety of New Belgium brews.  Fun aside: We later learned that the person who gave us the beer was mountain biking legend and six-time Leadville 100 winner, Dave Wiens.  Another truck pulls up- this driver says, “Hey, once you get to the top of pass, you’ll happen upon a trailer.  The person inside is Matt.  Knock on the door and introduce yourself.”  We agree and he drives off.  A couple minutes later we approach the top of the pass, and low and behold, the trailer.  Viking knocks on the door, and says, “Hey Matt. We’re a couple of Colorado Trail hikers.  Your buddy who just drove off informed us to come bother you.”  Our timing was a bit awkward as he replied, “Uhh, okay.  I’m in the shower.  I’ll drink a beer with you guys in a few minutes.”  A few minutes pass, he pops his head out of the trailer and asks, “Are you guys hungry? I’ve got some homemade pork and beans ready, I just need to heat it up.”  We had one foot inside the trailer before he could finish the question.  We sit down, proceed to eat one of- if not the best- meals of the trip, share good conversation and a couple more beers before deciding that sleep needed to happen.  Before leaving, Matt says, “if you guys aren’t hitting the trail too early tomorrow, I’ll cook ya up some eggs, sausage, bacon, and hash browns.”  Which is exactly what happened, as seen above.  This wasn’t our lone instance of trail magic on the trip, but in all cases, the highlight wasn’t the act of kindness (although it was extremely appreciated), but instead simply getting to know those who were doling it out.  The people you meet on the trail really are the best kind of humans.

HV: You could entrap me however you’d like with the promise of food. Even Superman had his kryptonite. Matt just happened to be the proud new owner of the next 7 miles of trail, he knows just how important trail maintenance is and how bad this next stretch for us needed it. He hiked the Colorado Trail the year prior. I didn’t remember this stretch being so bad last year when I hiked the CDT but sure enough, the stretch was filled with loose rock and the need for trail maintenance was apparent. It is people like Matt that we all must give our most sincere thank you’s to for giving all hikers the ability to enjoy our great outdoors and trails in such a manner.

GB: Hear hear.

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GB: Sunrise from Lujan Creek Pass, the scene of the baller trail magic.

HV: Between the great company, the warm abode, the hot food, and the cold beers, I don’t think we got out of camp until after 9am. I don’t think that has happened to me all year. And for that, I’m grateful.

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GB: The Colorado Trail has two routes between Twin Lakes and just a few miles north of Marshall Pass.  Pretty much everyone you talk to will recommend the Collegiate West alternative, which follows the CDT instead of the traditional eastern route.  You can now officially consider me as part of “everyone”.  Although I don’t know what the east route looks like, I couldn’t imagine it being better than what we saw in the west.  This from the first day north of Monarch Pass around Bald Mountain

HV: Yet again, another day of an exposed stretch of hiking where the clouds appeared ominous. There were rain showers all around us to the south, west and north while we traversed the mountains above timberline for the first several miles out of Monarch Pass. Badger blazed on ahead, determined to reach the cover of treeline before things turned potentially sour. I, however had cell phone reception, and since I don’t have any mp3’s on my phone, I decided to take my time and jam out to some internet radio while I had it. The clouds and showers all around made from some pretty cool views, even if it was cold and windy.

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GB: The appropriately named Boss Lake, our campsite for the evening, shortly after sunrise.

HV: We packed out some whiskey and had ourselves a pretty nice campfire. A couple times we thought we were going to be rained out but the sprinkles never gave way to any real rain. The clouds eventually gave way to the moon and stars late in the night. I actually had my own tent this night. I had my one person tent sent to me in Salida. The last time I carried a tent this year was way back when I was on the Florida Trail in March. Badger would no longer have the privilege of experiencing my evening flatulence. Pity.

GB: I think I’ve got the ol’ brown lung.

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GB: Heavy flow, bro.

HV: CLEARLY hydrated.

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GB: I believe this is Hancock Lakes, just past Chalk Creek Pass.  Although the lakes through this stretch were plentiful and my memory’s capacity is not.

HV: “John Hancock? It’s HERBIE Hancock.” If you don’t know that line, we can’t be friends. This morning started out pretty awesome. Clear sky overhead, some awesome clouds in the distance over some adjacent mountains, a beautiful view of Salida, amazing lakes, warm sun, there wasn’t much to complain about.

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GB: The serendipitous moment of the trip award goes to running into fellow Appalachian Trials writer, Mike “Hiker Box Special” Henrick and his hiking partner, Heartbreaker.  Despite writing for the better part of a year, Hiker Box Special and I had never previously met.  Somehow strangely fitting to cross paths in the middle of Rockies.  That’s just how AppTrials Nation rolls.

HV: Apart from Badger’s serendipitous moment, I had my own with Hiker Box and Heartbreaker. You see, we had been in touch prior to my hike on the Arizona Trail. He and Heartbreaker were on the AZT at the same time as me. They started a couple weeks before me and my hiking partner (Spills) began. By the time we had hiked out of Flagstaff headed for the Grand Canyon, Hiker Box and Heartbreaker were in the same stretch. Unfortunately, somehow Spills and I passed them on the trail while they hiked off trail to a ranch to get water while Spills and I remained on trail. Passed them without even realizing it until later when we reached the Grand Canyon. Heartbreaker and Hiker Box have been hiking ever since and it’s truly a mind job that we have somehow managed to have an opportunity to cross paths again. I think about the what ifs sometimes when moments like this happen. What if Badger and I took the East route? What if I never decided to hike the Colorado Trail? What if I were still on the PCT? I only think about the what ifs because I am so amazed by how perfectly things seem to work out with the decisions I make.

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GB: Nice effort by whoever did their rain dance, but it was no match for Viking’s “sunshine ninja kick”.

HV: I don’t wanna take ALLLL the credit but…..but I will!!

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GB: Remember what I said about shadows?

HV: Who could possibly remember all rubbish that flies out of your mouth? Or is that rubbish out of my mouth? Clearly I can’t remember where the rubbish is coming from. I’m too busy taking pictures.

GB: One of my favorite delusions is to pretend like people read these comments.

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GB: Just a bit northeast of Emma Burr Mountain.  The clouds that came rolling in made an already epic scene even more surreal.

HV: It was like walking through Mordor here, without the impending DOOM.

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GB: It’s nearly impossible to watch where you’re walking when this is what you have to miss.

HV: I fully admit to cutting a switchback to run down and take this picture. The wind was RIPPING up this valley here. It was freezing.

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GB: One of the few species on earth whose eyebrows are more gingery than mine.

HV: The Rock Ptarmigan as it’s coat changes to give it the camouflage it needs for when the snow starts piling up. Fun fact: its feet are feathered so that they function more like insulated snow shoes in winter time. Somehow, this bird allowed me to get as close as I was to grab this shot. Watching me trying to creep up on this bird would probably have been an entertaining sight all in itself.

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GB: Last rays from the evening’s sunset kissing the mountaintop. This view from our campsite for the night.

HV: We somehow found the only flat, non-rocky place around. We had to do a group reconnaissance mission just to find a suitable place for two. And what we came up with was as close to a win as it gets. The view alone says it all.

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GB: Sunrise the following morning.

HV: Some mornings, you have to wait hours for the sunlight to hit you based on your position in a valley or where the trail is on a mountainside. This morning, we were fortunate enough to wake up and get the sun immediately. I went from wearing all my layers one minute, to sweating my balls off the next minute. Mountain stripping is a thing folks, it just doesn’t pay well.

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GB: Sweet cat eyes.

HV: Find your own, this one here is mine.

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GB: Right before descending onto Cottonwood Pass.  Despite the desaturated nature of this climb, the color profile on either side of the ridge was incredible.

HV: Another morning of cell phone reception = trail jamming/dancing for this guy. Sometimes I literally break it down right there on the trail. That’s why Badger is so far ahead of me on the trail here, I’m too busy WINNING.

GB: You’ve seen how short this guy’s shorts are.  It doesn’t take too many stanky legs before you get a show you didn’t sign up for.

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GB: See?

HV: That lake looks like 2,000 Flushes.

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GB: +1 for fall.

HV: The colors are so different from that of summer. I wish we had this exact photo from mid summer to compare them. The contrast would be drastic.

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GB: We might as well have been walking through quicksand.  These groves stopped us in our tracks.

HV: I must have taken 200 pictures inside of Aspen Groves. Did you know that a grouping of Aspens is actually called a “Clone?” They all stem from the same root system and are genetically identical to one another.

GB: AKA Vikingpedia

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GB: Sunset super-show from the top of Lake Ann Pass. We busted our ass to get here- and we were not let down.  The best sunset of the trip, seen from 12,588 feet.

HV: I always find myself at the right place at the right time. No exception here. This spot here was the money shot. We proceeded to descend 500 feet to a nice flat spot right off the trail still above tree line. The stars were magical. And when I awoke in the morning, the twinkling of the stars seemed to make their way onto my sleeping bag….no, no that’s just a sheet of ice.

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GB: This from our final day on trail.  A fitting end.  The climb up Hope Pass was one of the most difficult, yet rewarding ascents of the trip.  We trekked through miles of yellow aspen groves to get there.  This culminated with a long descent onlooking Twin Lakes to the north and this absolutely jaw-dropping scene back to the south.  Viking and Badger are already in talks for how we can top this in 2016.  Stay tuned.

HV: You’re a brave man Badger, to have me as a tent mate for a week and yet still want to hike together.

GB: The nostril scars are very real. Much like your hiking viking status.

Thanks to all for indulging our vacation.  And thanks to The Hiking Viking for providing ~97% of these stellar shots.  Be a smart human: follow his ongoing journeys on Facebook and Instagram.

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Comments 5

  • Tim Speciale : Oct 8th

    I need to start hiking…

  • Loren Rupp : Oct 8th

    Wow, great shots. This really brings me back to those spots from this summer. You’re narrative helped me locate the spot in my mind, otherwise I would just be staring at more vaguely familiar mountains lakes and trees.

  • Michele Weiner-Davis : Oct 8th

    Fantastic photo journal. The photos are amazing. The conversation makes the photos 3D.

  • Loosie : Oct 15th

    Officially on my list!! Can we get a How To article??? (ie shuttle and hostel recommendations)

  • Kevin Neal : Oct 12th

    Thanks for further inspiration . I plan on hiking the CT this coming July. It looks to ba an epic adventure. Hiked the AT in 2015 and read your awesome book prior to my AT hike.


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