Colorado Trail: Segment 1

First Steps on the CT

Take yourself back to early May, mid-quarantine, and there I was. Responsibly day-hiking when possible, bonding with my cat every day while remote working, and geeking out on gear lists for a very theoretical, eventual possibility of a Colorado Trail hike. I’d decided to tackle the Colorado Trail in sections, at least for the first 100 miles, treating those sections as shakedown bonus hikes while feeling accomplished as I step toward Durango. So, in early May, I blocked off a weekend to hit the trail for the first time on Segment 1.

The Stats

Segment: 1
Endpoints: Indian Creek Trailhead to South Platte River Trailhead
Miles: 12.8
Type: overnight trip

The Journey

With the first six miles of the Colorado Trail through Waterton Canyon closed due to COVID-19, we started at the Indian Creek alternate starting point instead. Alex (meet Alex, my boyfriend/roommate/Java-the-cat-co-caretaker, he’ll probably be featured frequently!) and I each drove a car to South Platte, then drove half an hour to Indian Creek, in the classic section-hiking method of car shuttling. 

I immediately noted several annoying factors of the car shuttling process; these include but are not limited to: needing a hiking partner with a car OR somehow finding someone to drive you to your car OR getting dropped off and picked up by a vehicle-having person, driving to both trailheads in both cars both before and after the hike, the amount of time spent driving in general when you’d rather be hiking, the amount of time spent driving considered particularly in relation to the likelihood that section hikes take place on brief times off work (say, weekends) when you’re even more desperate to be hiking, (deep breath, this list continues), needing to drive up and down multitudes of less-than-smooth dirt roads multiple times, and the inevitable increasing ratio of drive time to hiking time while going south on the CT as the multitude of trailheads at the ends of less-than-smooth dirt roads get ever farther from Denver. But hey, if the drive is longer from Denver, that must mean I’m making some trail progress, right?

Anyway. At the Indian Creek trailhead, we experienced a minor kerfuffle with the parking permit box lacking any parking permits. In the awkwardness of the early pandemic times, not wanting to approach or breathe near others, we asked a guy on his way out if he had both paper and a pencil we could use to make ourselves a makeshift permit and pay the necessary dues to the park. Permit paid, we set off down the equestrian trail and officially began the CT hike! 

The Indian Creek portion of the trail was leafy, following the creek along a relatively flat slope until the last 0.2 or so miles before connecting with the primary CT route at Lenny’s Rest, a large log bench. It was supposed to rain or thunderstorm most of the afternoon, but we stayed pretty dry. We refilled water at Bear Creek (9.1 of the standard route), and then walked another 1.4 to our campsite. After nearly turning around during a steepish climb passing no good sites, we hurled our things down at the first flat spot we came to around mile 10.5.

Compared to what I’ve heard and read from other thru-hikers, we camped very early, at 2 p.m. I’ll say unofficially that Alex might not have the same hunger for miles as I do. Officially, I’ll say that it was our very first section outing, so we were taking it slow, shaking off the rust as our first Colorado backcountry trip of the season, and enjoying our weekend off of work. We set up the tent, tossed a Frisbee, played some card games, and chatted with our campsite neighbors who arrived with dogs (!) to camp at the only other site nearby.

Dinner was backpacker chili mac with chocolate pudding for dessert. If you want my opinion, calling something chili mac implies mac and cheese, by far my favorite meal, but this had no cheese. A crime. After dinner, we hung our new Ursack (my first bear hang) and went to bed. It thundered a little, pretty far off, but I managed to sleep badly despite my cushy inflatable pad and warm temperatures.

In the morning, we took our time getting up (officially, Alex will be tired—aka cranky—waking up before 8 a.m., regardless of the hours slept). After eating breakfast and packing up, we set off for a beautiful half day of hiking. The second day of hiking, about 6.5 miles, wound us up to a high point with a view before switchbacking down the other side to the South Platte. We reached the river by 1 p.m., picked up our cars, and checked off Segment 1.

The Gear

Sleep System

Marmot Tungsten 2p: Not a lightweight backpacking tent. Better carried when split between two people, but being the newfound gear expert I now am, this is not a lightweight tent. Sure is roomy though. 

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SL: A lot of my gear is hand-me-down from my brother’s scout trip to Philmont… from 7 years ago. Certainly not the lightest weight you can buy, but I can’t see myself moving to foam from this luxury of an air mattress.

Klymit KSB 20 Down Sleeping Bag: Not a lightweight backpacking sleeping bag. But seriously, so warm. If it’s above 30, I’m sweating in this thing, and I consider myself a generally cold person. My complaint is more the bulk than the weight.

Packs and Poles

Osprey Men’s Aether AG 70: Laughably the absolute wrong backpack for me. I mentioned some of my gear is from my brother, but did I mention he’s two feet taller than me? This bag has never not pained me or prevented me from looking anywhere but straight at the ground, since the frame goes higher than my head. Because my brother is TWO FEET TALLER THAN ME. If you’re a 5 foot, 5 inch woman, I feel I can safely, expertly recommend against buying a men’s pack designed for men 11 feet tall.

Leki Jannu Hiking Poles: Just some poles. Sometimes they seem to shrink at will, but it’s almost definitely user error. The only time they’ve ever really let me down was when they spontaneously contracted and I faceplanted going down stone steps on the Inca Trail in Peru. Other than that, they’re poles.

Duck’s Back 80 liter liner: I feel like I’ve read a lot about thru-hikers only doing rain protection with trash bags inside their pack, but I honestly really like having an outer cover. Even if it does make me look like a walking orange pill bug.

Cooking

Jet Boil MiniMo: Alex’s. I basically just learned how to use it myself, and have been letting him and my friends prepare my camp food for years. Some call it mooching, some call it lazy, I call it both.

Sawyer Squeeze filter: Alex’s. I basically just learned how to use it myself, and have been letting Alex and my friends filter my water for years.

Ursack Major XL Bear Bag: New purchase! I’ve done enough backcountry trips with a bear bin to know I hate carrying it, and I’ve been letting Alex and my friends carry it instead for years. With the Ursack my goal was to eliminate the weight and bulk of a hard-sided container, but still hang it to maximize bear safety. A lot of people do this differently, but it seemed like a good approach to me, and bears have not yet gotten my food.

Other Stuff

Kahtoola Microspikes: Damn, do I love these things. You can walk on ice with the confidence of a person who knows they won’t slip while walking on a normally slippery surface. Alas, I did not need them on Segment 1 in early May. I’m working on fine-tuning my “just in case” packing.

First aid kit: A real one, which I’m pretty sure got laughed at on a recent podcast episode. That’s OK, I’m working on fine-tuning my “just in case” packing.

Clothes: I brought a set of  hiking clothes and a set of camp clothes. Sue me.

Toiletries, electronics, food: Maybe one day I’ll dive deep on these categories, but for now I’m finding them too boring to detail.

Captured while I walked around waiting for Alex to wake up so we could walk around some more

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