Colorado Trail Re-Attempt: The Lead Up
After leaving the Colorado Trail 220 miles into in my 2022 attempt and deciding to return in August 2023, I knew I needed to make a few changes. I needed to tweak my training, change some gear, prepare better for altitude, and – most importantly – figure out how to get enough calories even if I didn’t want to eat.
I had trained harder than I ever thought possible for my 2022 hike. However, after leaving trail, I was able to pinpoint some gaps. While I had done lots of hiking and climbed stairs every week, I hadn’t done any more targeted cardio training. To prepare better for altitude, I knew I needed even more cardio preparation. I also knew I needed to do even more strength training. Stair-climbing and some basic strength exercises were part of my training before the first half of the Colorado Trail, but the more I could build up my muscles, the easier all the relentless elevation gains and losses would be.
I followed a specific training program for 8 weeks during the spring. It included 3 days/week of strength-training, regular cardio, and one hike per week that increased in difficulty and distance. I added in stair-climbing every week. One of the great benefits of living in Seattle is the number of public outdoor staircases. I live just a few minutes from a set of public stairs that is 367 stairs/175 ft gain per climb – perfect for this kind of training.
Once I completed the 8-week program in early May, I changed it up. I focused on longer/more difficult hikes, more cardio, and targeted anything else I felt was still weak. I added weight to my stair-climbing, started running, and did a couple small backpacking trips. Unfortunately, my training took a huge hit when I left the country (planned) and returned with a bad cold (unplanned). The cold took another week out of my training and forced me to miss a major shakedown trip I had planned. All these factors combined made me a little nervous when I arrived at the trailhead.
I had carefully invested in plenty of new gear before my 2022 attempt. However, I wanted to try to be lighter to lessen the load on my feet. The plantar fasciitis I had developed was sharp and painful and I knew it could derail my second try. I made three major changes:
- Tent – I had opted not to spring for an expensive new tent in 2022. Instead, I carried my Big Agnes Copper Spur 2P. I love this tent! Easy to set up, can be set up fly-first, and sturdy. But for my 2023 attempt, I went for a much lighter option: the Durston X-Mid Pro 2P.
- Backpack – I actually had a decently light pack before in the REI Flash 55, but upgraded to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. (Even better that it came in a special edition purple this time!)
- Shoes – I thought I had the right shoes the previous year, when I wore the Hoka One One Stinson trailrunners. But they lost tread within 200 miles and they weren’t supportive enough to prevent the plantar fasciitis. I spent all spring looking for the right shoes. I tried a few Topo options, and liked them, but the first longer trip I went on they proved not to be the right shoes. At the last second, I bought a pair of Altra Olympus 5 – and they worked! I had tried the Lone Peaks to immediate failure, but the Olympus proved cushy enough for my needs with all the toebox space I knew I wanted.
I made a few other minor gear changes, but these were the largest impact to both my base weight and my on-trail experience. In all, I shaved 3 lbs off of my base weight.
Last year, I left trail for many health-related reasons but the most important reason was that I couldn’t eat enough. Altitude dampens hunger, but for many hikers I met their hiker hunger was still strong enough to prevail. That simply wasn’t the case for me. I needed a better plan.
I did some research and joined Backcountry Foodie, a nutrition, recipe, and meal-planning resource for backcountry adventurers. Quite a few of the recipes from there built my resupplies, and I especially focused on liquid options. Breakfasts are the hardest meal for me on trail and drinking my calories seemed like the best and easiest way to get a good start to the day. I also set an alarm on my Garmin watch that went off every time I burned 500 calories, reminding me to stop and eat. I wasn’t expecting to replenish calories 1-to-1 – that’s not realistic. But the reminder to stop and eat was pretty effective through my training.
In addition to all the cardio training and food prep, I tried a couple other things to better acclimate. First, I got a prescription for Diamox, or acetazolamide. This is a medicine often prescribed for high-altitude adventurers to prevent altitude sickness. I started taking it about half a day before I traveled to higher altitude to acclimate.
My husband, Alex, and I traveled to Colorado 6 days prior to my start date. We spent a couple of days in the Boulder/Denver area seeing friends and family (and easing into the altitude). We then traveled up to Leadville, the highest incorporated town in the U.S. Somehow, despite growing up in Colorado, I had never previously visited Leadville. We both really enjoyed it! We happened to be there just a couple of days before the Leadville 100 Mountain Biking Race, so the energy was electric. I love mountain towns that understand those who seek the outdoors. We stayed on the second floor of a hotel that did not have an elevator, which was a good test for our low-lander lungs. I could definitely tell we weren’t at sea level anymore.
The day before my official start day, we drove up to the Monarch at the Crest store to drop off my first resupply package and get even higher altitude exposure. The new owners have really done so much here! This store is very thru-hiker friendly now, with great resupply options and a delicious food truck. As we sat enjoying lunch, I started to get excited. I could picture hiking in there in just a few days, and hoped I would be hungry enough for the burger and giant basket of fries. I wondered who I would meet, and how I would feel, and imagined the sense of accomplishment at making it to my first resupply stop. But as we started heading back down Highway 50 to Salida (where we stayed the final night), the nerves started to gather. There’s nothing quite like the night before something you prepared months (or years!) for. I barely slept, but the morning came bright and early anyway. It was time to see if all this prep actually worked.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.