I’ve Been Here Before! Colorado Trail Thru-Hike, Part 1

Last year, I tried to thru-hike the Colorado Trail and had to end my hike early due to illness. As I prepared for my second CT thru-hike attempt, I desperately wanted this year to be different.

And how could it not be?

  • Last year, I didn’t live in Colorado (I do now).
  • Last year was not a high snow year – this year was.
  • Last year, life was changing rapidly. This year, things are more stable.
  • Last year, I got sick on day 4 and never fully recovered. This year, I’m healthy.

Back to the Beginning

Devastated by the untimely end of last summer’s Colorado Trail hike, I spent all year plotting my return to the trail. My first big decision: Where to start?

I’ve never enjoyed retracing my steps, assiduously avoiding out-and-back hikes for that reason. But I gladly made an exception this time. Instead of picking up at Cottonwood Pass where I left off in 2022, I decided to start over at Waterton Canyon, hiking 200+ miles all over again.

If I made it from the beginning of the trail in Denver to the southern terminus in Durango this season,  I would complete a full end-to-end thru-hike. The title of “CT Completer” would be mine.

Preparation and Experience

As a new Colorado resident, I enjoyed training hikes around the Front Range and beyond. I hiked short trails and long. I tackled steep elevation gains and high peaks, making sure I was well-acclimated above 10,000 feet. I hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park and as far away as Tennessee Pass.

I also tweaked my gear, subbing out old pieces for new items. A 1-pound, 1-person Dyneema tent shaved a pound from my pack. A new rain jacket promised to keep me dry in the inevitable monsoon storms, alleviating the problems I faced last summer.

By the time my boyfriend, Andy, deposited me and my too-heavy backpack (laden with 8 days of food so I could cruise straight to Breckenridge) at Waterton Canyon, I was good to go. My nerves were tempered by preparation, experience, and a drive to complete the trail, start to finish this time.

I was ready to try again.

Hiking 6 miles through Waterton Canyon

Good Vibes?

Last year, I started the Colorado Trail on a natural high, full of anticipation. All the photos and videos I saw made this trail appear positively magical and I was eager to experience that magic for myself.

As I made my way up the wide, 6-mile dirt road that wove along the South Platte River through Waterton Canyon, hikers, bikers, and joggers passed me, out for their weekend morning workouts. Many asked if I was going to hike the whole Colorado Trail and wished me well when I joyfully confirmed, “That’s the plan!”

For some reason, there weren’t as many well-wishers this year. The trail was quieter, with fewer recreational users and not as many thru-hikers, either. Many had started their treks the day prior – July 1 – traditionally a popular start day and a Saturday this year.

The Sunday morning mood felt different as I strode purposefully toward the unseen woods miles ahead. I still had good vibes in my heart, but the energy on the trail was more subdued.

I was on my way and I didn’t need to ride a wave of excitement fueled by strangers. I clocked my best time hiking up that long road, keeping a 3 MPH pace in spite of the heavy pack.

This Year Will Be Easier, Right?

Long before that first step of my second attempt, I assumed that hiking the Colorado Trail while healthy would be much easier than backpacking while sick. If I completed half the trail while struggling to breathe, it stood to reason (to me at least) that doing the whole thing in good health would be a much more enjoyable experience.

I was not naive enough to believe that thru-hiking the Colorado Trail would be a breeze. Its beauty belies challenging climbs, rugged terrain, and sometimes, wicked weather. Even so, I didn’t expect it would turn out to be one of the most difficult endeavors of my life!

By the time I arrived at the northern terminus of the Colorado Trail that first Sunday in July, I was thoroughly prepared for a completely different – and dramatically better – hike. It turns out I was only right on one count: this year would be completely different. And not at all what I anticipated!

(Want to start this series at the very beginning? Read this.)

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