Colorado Trail Segment 11B-12: The Solo Trip
Drumroll please: I quit my job! Long before the pandemic I’d hoped to quit my job earlier this summer to thru-hike about ¾ of the Colorado Trail. As everyone can relate, that did not exactly go to plan. I was very lucky to find a position I’m more excited about in the long term, with the added benefit of having a little time off between the two jobs. I decided to use a few of those days to complete my first ever solo backpacking trip while knocking out another segment and a half of the Colorado Trail.
Segments: 11 Part B – 12
Endpoints: Interlaken Trailhead to Silver Creek Trailhead
After Alex and I completed our weekend trek of Segment 11 Part A (plus a side-trip up Mt. Elbert), the plan was for me to return to the Interlaken Trailhead in the middle of Segment 11 and turn SOBO for the next three days of solo hiking. On a Sunday afternoon, we re-shuttled cars by dropping my car at the Silver Creek Trailhead, the end of Segment 12.
The road to Silver Creek was worse than I expected in terms of potholes and giant rocks, which increased my anxiety about the hike as a whole (not super logical). I’d never camped or hiked alone before, and though I wanted to push myself to accomplish the CT miles and increase my confidence, I was nervous. But, I’ve been treating every CT section as another training session for some eventual, future thru-hike, so I tried to think about the trip as a mini thru-hike, a manageable tester trip in preparation for future backpacking.
After replacing the weekend’s gear with fresh clothes and food for the next few days, we drove back to Interlaken. Alex helped me set up camp before heading back to Denver for the work week. The sun came out after a weekend of clouds and rain, which gave a quiet, relaxed atmosphere for my first night of solo camping.
Though it was sunny in the morning, the tent had a lot of condensation. I moved slowly while packing up to allow it time to dry off. After breakfast and packing up, I set off! I followed the lakeshore briefly to the point where the Collegiate East and West routes split. I turned left onto the East route and started climbing. My pack felt extra heavy with more days of food than I typically carry and no one to share gear weight with.
The first few miles alternated moderate climbing and flatter sections through the forest. I passed only two other backpacking groups, one day hiker, and two bikers all day. I reached an open area underneath a set of power lines to have lunch. Another climb followed, this time reaching the top of an impressive ridge with awesome views. I wish I could have enjoyed the views more, but I psyched myself out by analyzing the nearby clouds and basically running down the ridge for fear of lightning (which was nonexistent).
The Clear Creek Reservoir Campground sits at the bottom of the ridge. I filtered water while debating whether to hike up another mile to a campsite with reportedly good cell service. Ultimately, I decided to stay where I was to camp near the other hikers I’d seen that day. One pair let me set up camp next to them and I was reassured by having neighbors.
It rained off and on all evening, so I watched a movie in my tent before bed. In the morning, I waited to leave until the other hikers left. My goal was to subtly stay behind them and “coincidentally” end up at the same place to camp with them again that night. Mildly creepy-sounding, sure, but I felt much better camping near others than alone during my first solo trip.
Segment 12 starts with a big climb, gaining 2,500 feet in about five miles. It was a little eerie in the morning on my own, but I soon passed one of the other hiking pairs. It turned out I had the advantage of being acclimated to the elevation after hiking in the mountains all summer while my co-hikers came from sea level. I sure didn’t feel like I was acclimated though.
After reaching the top of the ridge, the trail led downwards to a beautiful valley where everyone ended up taking a long lunch break. A few other backpacking groups passed through on their way to Rainbow Lake. Despite my stalker-y plan from the morning, I ended up just asking another group if I could plan to camp with them that night. Being the kind folk that backpackers often are, they said sure. We would camp at Frenchman Creek, farther than I’d originally planned, but a site with a more established water source and camping area.
With camping arranged, I began the next climb. I thought it would be easier than the day’s first climb, since it was less elevation gain and fewer miles. But it killed. It was so steep! Walking slower than ever before, I was too tired to appreciate the views at the top, so I took pictures for future appreciation.
I made it to Frenchman later in the day than I normally make camp, around 5pm. However, I was glad I’d pushed to this location to have some campsite neighbors. I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I should be given the amount and intensity of the day’s hiking. But, apparently it’s a thing that you don’t feel as hungry as normal at high elevations? I did not fact check the person who told me that, so who knows!
The next morning, I hiked the last 6.5 miles slowly despite my motivation to reach a shower and real bed. The trail and surrounding area got more populated as the trail passed Harvard Lakes and intersected with shorter trails. After hiking down the final descent to my car, I completed my first ever solo backpacking trip! I hiked 27.8 miles and 47 total miles over 5 days.
I will say that I think this trip falls solidly in the type two fun category: not that fun while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect. A lot of the time, I was stressing about the logistics of miles and elevation and am I being awkward asking to camp near this group and will a bear destroy my Ursack? Writing from my temperature-controlled apartment and looking back, I feel good about accomplishing the miles I did. But, I think I’ll always prefer backpacking with friends.
NEMO Hornet 2p: Aside from condensation the first morning, this tent performed great on this trip. And the condensation I think has more do with my setup not being under trees anyways. And I LOVE that it can fit into the side pocket of my Mariposa.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SL: My pad seems to have started deflating slightly overnight. Not enough to make me think it has a whole, but probably just due to the lower temperatures.
Klymit KSB 20 Down Sleeping Bag: Pro tip for stomach sleepers: flip the bag over so the head portion faces down instead of up. This keeps your head covered and warm whether you’re wearing a hat or not.
Packs & Poles
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60L: Not gunna lie, this pack was pretty stuffed with gear and food. It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable at this weight; the hip straps more cut into my stomach than transfer weight from my shoulders to my hips. So, my shoulders hurt, which was a big bummer. I think this indicates I need to continue lowering my base weight.
Hiking Poles: The true MVPs of all the climbing and descending I did on this stretch.
Jet Boil MiniMo: I ate Mountain House meals for dinner these nights but basically ate snack food for the other meals. I love not having to clean the Jet Boil pot, but I know this baller lifestyle can’t continue forever.
Sawyer Squeeze: The little plastic ring that seals the bags kept falling out, but I didn’t get any water-borne diseases, so we’ll call it a winner.
Ursack Major XL Bear Bag + rope: I hung my food one night and did the trunk-tying method the rest. Pro tip: don’t tie your rope around a tree with tons of sap. I now have sappy rope.
Patagonia Down Sweater: This is a great puffy, IMHO. I used it as a pillow a couple times before worrying my big heavy head was crushing the down. Thoughts?
REI Sahara T-Shirt: The best thing about this shirt is that it’s not cotton.
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