Future Colorado Trail Backpackers: Have no Fear, there’s a Great Community of Fellow Hikers Waiting for You!
+On Day 6 on the Colorado Trail, I was now on my own. Shorttimer had left for home after his customary four days at the beginning of most my long distance treks. I’d miss him for sure, but it’s also exciting and strengthening to tackle this on my own. As the next seven days unfolded, I would discover I was far from alone. At this time of year, there are many other hikers out there, either for one day, sections or the full thru-hike. All have their own unique stories to share. I had company if I desired it.
After a shuttle driver drove a fellow thru-hiker and me back to the trailhead where I had left the CT two days ago….
I immediately headed uphill 2400 feet in all for the first seven of nine miles, soon waving goodbye to the back of the faster “Bumpin.” Slow and steady I am, establishing my breathing patterns according to the present grade and resenting every added pound of that new food supply on my back. But the tough uphill work very often brings rewards.
This time it was entering the lovely, wide meadow of Lost Creek Wilderness, where mountain bikers where diverted to an alternate trail and not a sound was heard except that of nature. I can get into this!
In the next few hours, I passed only one couple. Silence. Lovely solitude in nature. I’m so glad that I became accustomed to this in the past, especially the solo camping, on the Appalachian and Florida Trails. However, distant rumblings of thunderstorms could be heard, and as much as I wished it to move some other direction, it gradually got louder and dark clouds approached. Not quite yet at my destination, I looked to the trees slightly uphill from the meadow and saw relatively flat spaces protected by the trees, with a stream for water nearby. This was to be tent site number five of this trip. I had just enough time to set up my tent and dive in as the rain began.
And continued. And turned into small pellets of hail.
And left its cold temperature behind. This would be the beginning of several cold nights. My down jacket and fleece cap were now being worn. Welcome to the mountains, Ruthless!
The morning of Day 7 was lovely as usual, blue skies and cool air. The going was rather level for the most part, so this was to be my longest distance for this five day stretch on the CT – 16 miles. I tried my hardest to break camp quickly, seldom possible for me as I dismantle the tent and put things into my backpack in a specific, tried and true manner. FEEL FREE TO SKIP THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF THIS LEVEL OF DETAIL FAILS TO FASCINATE YOU. My sleeping quilt, down jacket and sleeping clothes go in first into the bottom of the backpack which is lined with a waterproof, scent free plastic bag, then my bear canister stored horizontally in the middle (best with heaviest items in the center back of the pack), with the tent squeezed into the small space on one side and my tent stakes and rolled ground cloth on the opposite smaller space, topped with my rolled up insulated air mattress on top against my back, with lighter items (spare battery banks, medical supplies, minor toiletries, etc) towards the front of the pack. The plastic pack liner is closed securely with a large rubber band and finally topped with my windbreaker, gloves and rain gear, ready at a moment’s notice. Lunch is cold soaking in its plastic container in a secure pocket on one side of the outside of the pack, and two Smart water bottles are in the opposite side pocket. In the large stretchy front pocket: The Sawyer water filter, my poop trowel, my Colorado Trail data book with simple maps, mileage and landmarks in its waterproof ziplock, TP in a ziplock with a small rubbish ziplock and the bidet nozzle for one of the water bottles, the InReach mini sattelite communicator and bug spray. My 2 slim waterproof wallets are in a zipped pocket of my pants, and in another pocket chapstick, eye drops for the dry climate and a quarter (among others elsewhere) for opening the large screws that lock and unlock the bear canister, a bandana in another. My iphone is in one hip pocket with a ziplock handy for rain, and sunscreen and hand sanitizer are in the other pocket. An emergency whistle is fastened to one shoulder strap and a tiny thermometer to the other. Ready for takeoff!
Off I went, every single item in its intended spot. A lovely cool, sunny morning yet again, and soon I had the pleasure of seeing three bucks with full antlers drinking from the Lost Creek that ran down the center of this meadow.
So amazing! We all stared at each other as I took countless photos for at least 10 minute, grateful for the excellent zoom capabilities of my newish iPhone 14 Pro Max.
When seeing the above, I first thought, “More bucks!”
Taking so many photos is one reason I don’t cover much ground, aside for my sloth like pace up steep hills and talking to every person I meet. Oh well, “Hike Your Own Hike.” I enjoy it all.
On I went, seeing only five people all day, all enjoying this lovely, silent wilderness, following the path as it sometimes dipped into fir and aspen forests.
Signs of yesterday’s hail storm:
And yet again, it was now afternoon and rumblings began in the west and dark clouds were most definitely approaching. I found a relatively good site under trees again, but a bit more slanted than I like. But any port in an approaching storm. With my trowel which is intended for other purposes, I dug some trenches around the uphill side of my tent, hoping to divert any rainwater from flooding me. The storm hit and the trenches were a 50% success. The rain, wind, thunder and lightening (not too close) lasted for nearly an hour. I thought to myself, “Go ahead! Do your thing! I’ve got patience.” And it finally ended, with some water pooling under my tent and the outside a muddy mess. Yuck. This was the first night I ever slept with my food, luckily in its canister, not wanting to go search for a hiding spot in the wetness. A light rain during the night did help clean the tent’s exterior a bit. During times like this, I do wonder why I do things like this. But the fellow hiking community, the time in nature and the experience as a whole always call me back.
Packing my wet tent into its intended plastic bag, off I headed on Day 8. It was wonderful having another day in this wilderness. I stopped along the way to dry my tent and ground cloth by draping them on a fallen log in the sun and breeze.
After leaving the Lost River section, I had a lovely walk through groves of aspen
in a section I had hiked twice before on other trips. Expansive views of wide open South Park soon came into view. I love this stuff!
All of this brought me to a busy 2 lane highway at Kenosha Pass. Putting on a smile, I asked a woman in hiking shoes getting into her car if she was heading towards the tiny town of Jefferson, where I had a food drop awaiting me at the Jefferson Market. She cleared out a spot in her back seat, and off we went, just four miles away. I was grateful for the company and the ride. The town has only 16 permanent residents, just a wide spot along the busy road, but its market has a steady of stream of customers passing through, with minimal groceries but lots fun conversation and the typical fare at its busy grill.
After fetching my package, the friendly ladies were quite willing to microwave one of their potatoes for me, which I topped with my own lunch of split pea soup, accompanied by one of their apples. A very nice lunch!
The tiny Two Burros gift shop next door, with its also friendly owner, had a surprisingly wide assortment of items in its little space. I ended up with a pocket knife to replace the one I thought I had lost (but hadn’t) and a lovely see through wood carving that will hang in our dining room window. They wisely ship.
After thoroughly claiming most of their dining table as I packed the my food resupply in my bear canister, I prepared to leave. Where were my hiking poles? Panic struck. I can hike without them if need be, but they are also my tent poles! Then I remembered placing them in the back seat of the car I caught a ride in. Aughhhh! Long story a tiny bit shorter, a fellow customer heard my distress and offered me the spare pair of poles he had in his car. Would I like them? Well, YES! What a massive relief. He refused cash till I insisted, as gas money for the car.
This was my first trail magic I experienced on the CT. People are nice. After my very pleasurable two hour lunch break, during which I also talked with a German cyclist riding all over the western continent, off I went, this time catching a ride back to Kenosha Pass with a very nice pair of dogs and their owners.
You can bet that my poles will never again leave my hands when I hitch rides in the future. SIDE NOTE: I would never dream of hitchhiking in my usual life. It’s simply an accepted way of life in areas where there are many backpackers. We tend to be picked up by other hikers.
After a few more miles on the trail, I found a lovely place to camp, this time with company to talk with, first, another thru-hiker, Cornstalk, and then a woman who wandered over from a nearby group that was camping out. This was a group of women who would spend the next four days working on relocating a small section of the CT from a marshy section, a project that would take much longer than their four days. What a pleasure talking with Deborah. It turned out she has been a raw vegan (no cooked food) for decades. It sounds difficult and I don’t know much about it, but I understand that people feel wonderful and are very healthy. I feel like I already have that with my program, but I do mix up the raw and cooked food in general.
No rain that night! The next morning I dropped in on the women’s breakfast to say hi to Deborah, and guess who else was there? Alice, in whose car I had left my hiking poles!
But she had unfortunately ridden up with someone else, so I just moved on with my new poles, which were nice but were intended for snowshoeing, not hiking. The difference is that there’s no little tip at the end, which I need to fit into special grommets (I guess) in the top of my tent. I could get by with these, but if a storm came, the tent wouldn’t be secure. I’d replace them in two days in Breckenridge.
Aside from seeing Deborah and Alice again, the highlight of this ninth day was meeting people and an amazing view. There was a young couple who was doing a 4 day section hike with their two dogs. I continually played leapfrog with them this day and the next, which was fun.
And there was Fresh, a 27 year old who was able to take seven months off from his engineering job to do two big outings that he felt like he needed in his life: cycling across the US and hiking the length of Colorado in the portion where the Continental Divide Trail shares with the Colorado Trail. He’s a smart one, doing what he really wants to do.
The reward to climbing nearly 2500 feet over 5.5 miles to Georgia Pass/the Continental Divide….
at 11,876 feet was the 360 view, which totally made me forgive the past slow and steady hours that lead me there. This was the first time above tree line, with its drop dead views.
I was able to share it with the couple with the two dogs. The dogs couldn’t have cared less, but the humans enjoyed it. Down I came, camping near yet another river, which always mean colder temps but convenient water. Again, I had another human to speak with, a nice fellow who did make me a bit concerned about how late my hike will end in mid-September. He felt I’d definitely have snow in the San Juan Mts. I’ve been cautioned there might be a dusting by natives, but I’ll just have to deal with that when it comes.
I hadn’t intended to do 16 miles into Breckenridge the next day, but the miles came easy, with all the usual ups and downs. The mountain bikers were back, which meant listening for the jingle of their bell or a shout as they approached from the rear, and being cautious on sharp turns in the trail.
Once again, I played leap frog with the couple with dogs as we made our way down the trail, headed for civilization.
..and the beast.
It was fun to be in the final mile or two, since this is where Bill and I had done a practice hike the previous week as we adjusted to the altitude, which hasn’t been a problem at all for me, thanks to this.
I had actually gone past the site where I had intended to camp, which gave me an extra zero day in Breck. A double zero! My first! The legs were weary of five days in a row, but I felt good otherwise. Waiting at the bus stop for the free shuttle into town, a couple immediately pulled over and offered me a ride. What a coincidence! Bill and I had done the very same thing for two hikers at this stop last week. Yet more trail magic, provided by two Trail Angels on their honeymoon.
The hostel where I’m staying is a lovely older home, right in the heart of this busy ski town, close to everything. I have a twin bed in the attic seven person coed dorm.
My first night, there was a fellow and a woman joining me, very friendly backpackers. Last night there were four different women and myself, so it felt like a slumber party, except the chatter ended by 9 pm, late for backpackers. So fun meeting all these fascinating people, one of whom suffered from a debilitating disease her whole life till she had stem cell transplant in 2020 and is hiking the CT for a second time to celebrate her now healthy life, her recent escape from an abusive marriage and new career as a social worker awaiting her in a couple of months. What a joyous person she is! I loaded up on fresh food to eat during these two days, such a pleasure…
found a fine set of ski poles that were just what I wanted, and bought a second warm base layer for my upper body as well as warmer gloves. A thin insulating foam pad was ordered to be placed under my air mattress and will be delivered to my next zero day location. My thermostat simply runs cold, and I want to be prepared. The snow shoeing poles will be donated to the hostel for the use of any of their guests.
I’m thoroughly enjoying having so much time to chill (quite literally for me in these mountains), and will be ready to hit the trail tomorrow. I have a huge mountain to climb over, about 3,700 ft. in 9.4 miles, which eventually gets me to Copper Mountain ski resort. I’m taking two days to do the 18 miles, some above tree line, to get me up, along and over the exposed Ten Mile Range. I have been so very pleased with how my body is performing and my sometimes problematic right knee continues to play nice.
When I’m asked why I look younger than my age, I answer, “It’s the food.” As for the pleasure on the Colorado Trail? It’s the mountains and views, but it’s also the community of fellow hikers and the locals, for which I’m very grateful.
And, as a P.S., I simply have to share that, this weekend, my dear husband placed 11th out of the 50 participants in his age group (71-75) at the National Triathlon Competitions in Milwaukee. In his age group, he was THIRD in cycling and NINETH in running! I’m impressed. It shows what working with a coach and doing all the training can do. He also credits the food, similar to my way of eating. I’m very proud of his efforts and achievements.
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