86 Incredible Photos from the Colorado Trail (Part I)

The Colorado Trail, one of the country’s premier long trails, is 486 miles in length, runs from Denver (technically, Littleton) to Durango, and most importantly, sits conveniently in my backyard.  For this reason, it has been my goal for 2015 to take on as much of the trail as free time would allow. Throughout the summer, I’ve been able to knock out a segment here, a couple segments there…before I knew it, I had conquered nearly all of the northern 170 miles (still missing segments 4 and 5).

In order to complete the remainder of the trail, my options were to complete a series of out and back trips, driving somewhere between 3 and 12 hours for each chunk, or taking on the remaining 315 miles in one swift go, otherwise known as “the obvious better option“.

The evening before leaving for Durango, I set the night’s sky ablaze with the Badger Signal.  A few hours later, The Real Hiking Viking sailed to the Appalachian Trials headquarters on his vessel, which was impressive for two reasons:

  1. He had set sea directly from Burning Man on zero sleep and more than one broken bone.
  2. I live nowhere near water.

Here’s the photo recap from our 15-day trek.

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.

Junction Creek Trail Head, the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail

the Good Badger: For most Colorado Trail hikers, this sign at the Junction Creek trailhead, the southern terminus of the Colorado, marks the end of their hike.  For us, ’twas the beginning.  Backwards is the best way to go about life. Also, long sleeves and pants was a bad choice.  I was topless within 15 minutes of hitting the trail.

Hiking Viking: With all the hiking that I have been doing all year (almost 3,000 miles prior to the start of this trail), I had really been looking forward to some autumnal hiking. In 2014 I hiked the Continental Divide Trail and while I was on the Colorado portion, it overlapped the Colorado Trail for a large chunk. I recognized how beautiful Colorado must be in the fall and put it on my mental radar. I had no intention when I started this year to be on the CT for fall but when I did a flip-flop on my PCT hike, the fires in Washington were a-ragin’. My plans quickly altered from completing a Triple Crown hike to wanting to  enjoy some different adventures away from the logistical nightmares that I was facing with those fires. I don’t have a single regret about my choices. Burning Man rocked (my second time) and we were about to hit the Colorado Trail at the most perfect time imaginable.

colorado trail cows

photo: gb

GB: Our first “wildlife” encounter.

HV: I consume more meat than these cows could possibly fathom.

GB: Looking on in fear, surely.

colorado trail san juans

photo: gb

GB: Day two.  First real glimpse at the Tim Burton-esque San Juans in the distance.

HV: Great to get back into the 10,000+ foot high country. The San Juans were the first real high country mountain range that I ever experienced while on a long distance hike last year on the CDT. It brought me a lot of nostalgia to be back. Our only concern with this hike was impending early winter weather conditions. Thus, the reason we decided to start in Durango so we could knock out the San Juans first. So far, so good on the weather.

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GB: View from Kennebec Pass.  Elevation ~11,700 feet.

HV: Not to be confused with the Kennebec River which is on the Appalachian Trail. Slightly different terrain. But only slightly.

Taylor Lake Colorado Trail

GB: Taylor Lake is an absolute stunner.  And nice spot for a nap and/or to eat an entire bag of Sun Chips.

HV: Yes.

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GB: “…it’s the circle of life…”

HV: On the Appalachian Trail, I used to get to a view and scream out my own words to the tune of The Circle Of Life, and it would go a little something like this…”IIIIIIII’M FROM PENNSYLVANNIIAAAAA, THAT’S WHERE IM FROOOOOOMMMMM, THAT’S WHERE I AM FROM.” And this photo is in the spirit of that.

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GB: Several miles of exposed ridge line walking does not suck. Know that this photo was selected amongst 50 others for no good reason.

HV: On the other hand, this ridge line would have sucked a little bit if it had been cold and rainy with zero visibility. Fortunately for us, this was not the case. The views were stunning and the breeze was just the right amount of air conditioning on an otherwise warm day.

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GB: Erin and her three pups were a day away from completing their south bound CT thru-hike.  When she mentioned that she was less than thrilled to soon be done, Viking suggested she turn around and start hiking back toward Denver. If it weren’t for our already potent BO, I’m guessing she would have.

HV: I don’t know about Badger, but Jabba’s BO smells like freshly baked cinnamon buns- and he talks in the third person. What’s not to turn around for?

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GB: Sunrise from somewhere along segment 27.  Little did I know how many of these we would’ve seen during the course of our hike.  A morning person I am not.

HV: I was referred to as “Drill Instructor” on many occasions. Before starting the hike, Badger made it CLEAR that there would be no mornings where hiking would begin prior to 8am. Looking back, I don’t think there was a single morning after the first morning where we started after 730am. Typically we started before between 6-7am. Look, if you wanna do big miles, you gotta get up at big boy times. With the sunlight hours dwindling compared to peak summer, you gotta do what is necessary to get the job done. I hold my title of Drill Instructor with great pride.

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GB: Mule deer. Ears for days.

HV: When deer see you, they hold completely still. They must think our vision is based off of movement. Essentially, they think we are a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Zach’s arms are short, but not THAT short.

GB: I’m often confused for a dinosaur. In fact, I was an extra in the recent Jurassic World.

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GB: We’re somewhere near 11,500 feet, it’s before 9am, and it’s already hot.  In mid-September.  I had prepared for winter, what we got was summer. A good problem, but a problem none the less.  Oh, and the views were nice.

HV: Even if it were snowing, I’d probably still be in shorts. “Milk was a bad choice.”

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photo: gb

GB: The challenging climb up Blackhawk Pass was made easier with these views.

HV: We passed a hoard of mountain bikers on the way up to this pass. Typical for a weekend on the Colorado Trail. What we didn’t expect going down on the other side was running into a mountain unicyclist. He told us that to his knowledge he was to be the first unicyclist to complete the entire CT. Pretty remarkable. We were impressed. Hard enough balancing on our own two feet at times.

zd colorado trail 10

photo: gb

tg colorado trail 14

GB: He’s single, ladies.

HV: My response upon seeing these included in the post,”OMG dude!!” His reply, “Those are staying in there, those are staying in there.” PM me for any inquiries.

zd colorado trail 11

photo: gb

GB: One of my favorite parts of this hike was experiencing fall in the various ecosystems throughout Colorado.  Southwest Colorado had its own, distinct autumn vibe, which is hard to capture with an iPhone camera.  This one was the best I could do.

HV: Every time he pulled out his iPhone to take a picture, I would pull out my camera. It was like that scene from Crocodile Dundee where he would say “That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife.”

GB: Ironic, because this one was my photo.  Point: Steve Jobs.

tg colorado trail 15

GB: Just straight mountain porn everywhere you look.  This view was par for the course through the first few segments.

HV: And by par for the course, he means it felt like getting a hole in one every time.

zd colorado trail 9

GB: First town stop: Silverton.  First order of business: Food.  Always.

HV: It’s no secret that I have an insatiable appetite. Badger would learn first hand what that really meant.

GB: The unicorn escaped just before the picture was taken.

HV:  Silverton was one of the few mountain town stops that I did not make while I was on the CDT last year. I was glad this hike was giving me an opportunity to check it out. One of the best things about a long hike is experiencing the small towns that make up this wonderful country that we live in. The timing was perfect, it was cold and rainy weather in the high country when we rolled into Silverton. But down in Silverton we got to experience being below all of it. Even snagged a picture of this beautiful double rainbow.

tg colorado trail 16

GB: After leaving Silverton, you descend 2,000 feet and then climb 3,500.  Why?  Because.  That’s why.  The views ain’t shabby though.  This onlooking the Animas River, which the EPA recently dumped 3 million gallons of toxic waste into.  Yes, the “Environmental Protection Agency”.  Something tells me they’re hiring.

HV: Newsflash: I did not drink the water.

zd colorado trail 12

rain insanity

GB: After about 2,250 feet of climbing through rain, insanity can ensue.  Case in point: a photo battle.

HV: I won said photo battle.

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GB: Some dynamite camera work here by the Viking.  This near the top of the brutal 3,500 ft. climb.  But the reward was well worth the climb…

HV: This moss was crazy. It was completely soaking wet, yet there was water running over top of it as though the moss was completely waterproof. Nature is mostly mind blowing all of the time to me.

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GB: The clouds cracked, leaking some sunshine once we reached to the top of the ridge.  One of the most spectacular moments of the entire hike.

HV: There was a legitimate discussion over whether (weather) or not we should proceed up to the divide. The clouds weren’t exactly looking the most friendly and once we got up to the divide there was to be no cover from the elements as the next 40 or so miles were almost completely exposed. Zach quickly became familiar with my motto in life, “If it’s my time, it’s my time.” He does not share the same thought process as me. That’s not to say that I’m entirely reckless. I’d say that in my travels I’ve been on the more fortunate end of certain dangerous situations. This probably has wrongly emboldened me in this motto. But so be it.  tg colorado trail 19 tg colorado trail 20

GB: The view to north plus a panoramic.  Hey Viking, how do you feel about ending part one of this photo journey with some zero-gravity, rap video inspired heroics?

HV: I feeeeeeeeeel……….I feel good about it. Looks like you might just be feeling great about it.

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Check back for part 2 of this series in the near future Here’s part II!– or just be smart and never miss a beat by joining the Appalachian Trials Newsletter. Also be sure to follow The Real Hiking Viking on Facebook and Instagram.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come…

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Comments 8

  • George Turner : Oct 2nd

    I’m planning to hike the Colorado trail in 2017. What’s a good resource to figure out hi to resupply?

    Reply
  • Anne : Oct 3rd

    Excellent!

    Reply
  • Julieann : Oct 15th

    Gah, I love the picture commentaries…. and I’m now convinced I must hike the Colorado Trail.

    Reply
  • Lori Adams : Mar 24th

    Zach, found The Trek blog on Facebook and am SOOOOO impressed with the photos and you and your buddy’s narration. I cannot get enough! I am closing in on 60yrs old so will never be able to do the entire CT but I can live through great folks like YOU!! Thank you for posting on FB.

    Reply
    • Zach : Mar 27th

      Thanks for reading, Lori! If possible, you should get out and section hike segments of the CT. It’s a great trail.

      And more adventures from Jabba and Badger (Jabbadger) upcoming.

      Reply

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