Colorado Trail Segment 2: The Burn Scar
Day Hikes: The 9-5 Compromise
After backpacking Segment 1 the previous weekend, I was hooked on hiking another segment as soon as possible. Given my job and life situation, I didn’t (and still don’t) really have the energy-slash-willing hiking partner-slash-time to fill up 100% of every weekend with overnight backpacking sections between working full-time weeks. Thus, the underappreciated day hike. Well, probably not underappreciated by the general public. Probably actually the most appreciated by most people. But in terms of balancing a busy workweek, maintaining some non-hiking time on the weekend, and still making progress down a long trail, I was eager to test out the day hike.
Endpoints: South Platte River Trailhead to Little Scraggy Trailhead
Type: day hike
Despite what I said above, I still needed a willing hiking partner to accomplish this section. My rambling list of complaints about car shuttling on section hikes (see here) has a new item: it’s near impossible to shuttle cars alone. Alex (not highly interested in big-mile days) definitely didn’t want to shuttle cars from both trailheads on top of a long hike. Instead, he dropped me off at the South Platte Trailhead, drove himself to Little Scraggy, and started hiking “backward” (NOBO on the CT) to meet me somewhere near the middle. With that arrangement and his slower pace, he would do half his walking with me, but fewer miles overall.
Back to the star of our story; me. When I set off across the Gudy Gaskill bridge around 9, it was cloudy. For whatever reason, the cloudiness made me a little nervous—not for rain, just for hiking mostly alone for the day. Things I’d never worried about when hiking with others, mainly mountain lions, were suddenly at the forefront of my thoughts. The lack of company on trail led me to hum and occasionally bang my trekking poles together to let any nearby predator cats know that a melodic, metallic snack was approaching.
Of course, I was nervous about the lack of other hikers until a single trail runner passed me, at which point I became more nervous about the human company than the animal. I expect many solo female hikers, especially when starting out, feel these types of nerves more often and more intensely than solo males. It can be difficult to remind the brain of the educated and cautious steps I take to be safe on trail, the general overwhelming kindness of other hikers, and the fact that lots of people backpack the whole trail independently. I reminded myself that I’m treating each section hike as a shakedown—both for gear and mindset—and told myself I could work through these nerves on some day hikes, and then level up to overnight and multiday treks.
After a mile of stress-striding up the incline leading away from the South Platte, I turned a corner to an impressive view of the burn scar, Segment 2’s main “feature.” As the morning went on, I passed the time by counting the other hikers and bikers I saw. One trail runner in particular passed me at a near sprint, as I wheezed up the hill at a walk. I forced myself to slow down enough to maintain my breathing, and soon enough, the sun came out and I relaxed into a good groove.
The trail levels out after a couple miles of climbing into a rolling path through some trees and back out into wide open meadows. I had to consciously remind myself to take water and snack breaks, which was harder to do without hiking partners. About seven miles in, I intersected with Alex and we ate lunch on a large boulder overlooking the hills. We hiked the rest of the way back to the car at the Little Scraggy Trailhead.
I was pleasantly surprised by this section; I had a great overall experience hiking on my own and doing more miles than my typical day hike. The reviews and notes I’d read online for this section really stress the lack of shade and water, but I didn’t really mind the landscape and in fact, found it beautiful to hike through. Of course, I can say that as someone who hiked with just a day pack, no need to plan the next days’ water sources, in early May—rather than a thru-hiker with a full pack in the heat of July. Regardless, I came off the trail buzzing for the next segment!
WOW does day hiking include a lighter load than overnight trips. No sleep setup, stove, or critter-proof food protection really cut out the pounds. Alex, do you mind supporting a slack-packed thru-hike?
Packs and Poles
Osprey Celeste 29L Backpack: For 90% of this backpack’s life, it’s dutifully carried my laptop, notebooks, calculator, and pens back and forth across my college campus. But for that other 10%, it has impressed me as a day hiking pack and occasional weekend bag if I can be a minimalist packer. Segment 2 was no different. My only complaint is that the waist straps start to dig in after several miles, depending on how much you’re carrying.
Hiking Poles: Many knee-problem-free hiking buddies have teased me about using poles, but my knees laugh in the face of your knees’ confidence.
Food: To make up for the convenience of single-use plastic-wrapped food when backpacking, I try to use reusable containers on day hikes. My food volume for one lunch and some snacks on this day hike was arguably the same size as my bear bag with enough smushed down food to last me two days.
Water: When I started learning about thru-hiking gear and strategies one of the biggest shocks was the fact that many hikers carry plastic Smartwater bottles or similar. A group of outsdoorspeople, who you can generally assume appreciate the earth and want to protect and preserve its resources, using plastic water bottles?! I was mildly horrified. I understand the weight benefits, the easy of attaching water filters, that they’re obviously reused many times. Still, it was a bit of a shock, though I’ve started eyeing my 6.2 ounce Nalgene with more skepticism.
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