The Trials of the Trail

The Plan

This summer, my partner, Legs, and I will each be doing a supported thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. I will be hiking SOBO from Denver the 486 miles to Durango and he’ll be following in our Toyota Dolphin with our two pups, Thru the husky and Flynn the Dane. Then we will switch and he will hike NOBO while I support.

We know that this trail is going to be very different from our experience on the Appalachian Trail. But how much harder could it really be? As my Gram so tenderly put it, “Oh but honey, those are REAL mountains! They aren’t like these nice hills we have over here. You’ll fall right off the edge!” Now, I have to write this article simply to prove to my Gram I’ve done my research and trust me, if I survived the Appalachian Trail I should be able to survive this one. I should probably mention this is the same woman who arranged a search party in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while I was on my last thru-hike. So Gram, this one is for you!

Altitude

The Colorado Trail has an average altitude of 10,000 feet. That’s enough to seriously tax a hiker’s energy who hasn’t properly acclimated to the elevation. In some cases, hikers develop altitude sickness while in the first stages of their hike. I actually had a relative text me, warning of the dangers of HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Thankfully I will be starting in Denver, at an altitude of about 5,500 feet and also the lowest altitude on the trail. By the time Legs starts in Durango he’ll also be in good shape, having been my mountain chauffeur for around a month at that point.

Difficulty

The different class ratings of trails refer to the difficulty of terrain and advise what amount of skill and equipment is needed. While Class One is easy to navigate and hike on, Class Five requires climbing equipment and a buddy for safety. The Colorado Trail is rated as Class One and is open for mountain biking and horseback riding, so the terrain stays quite manageable. The final mountain on the AT, Mount Katahdin, reaches Class Four in some sections and I can remember at least a dozen times a day in New England that involved some sort of rock scrambling. Thankfully for our knees, the steepness of the CT is also not as severe as the AT. The steepest section of the CT is 668 feet over a half mile. On the AT, Legs and I only validated climbs as such if they had a minimum grade of 1,000 feet over a mile. So don’t worry Gram, I think I can handle these “REAL mountains.”

Wildlife

We are used to most of this. Even though the Appalachian Trail offers similar hazards in the form of bears, moose, and venomous snakes, nothing will come close to the mountain lions of the CT. The main detail that sticks out to me about this particular predator is the stories of how people realize they’re being stalked. Most of the stories have one common experience: “And I just knew I was being watched.” If that doesn’t give you chills and make you want to have an emotional support Great Dane escort you on your next hike, I don’t know what will.

The Pups

Although the dogs aren’t going to be walking every paw-step of the way, they will definitely be going on some hikes. Dogs can be affected by high altitude and the symptoms are pretty noticeable so we will keep four watchful eyes our pups. As with humans, hydration is paramount to prevent any type of altitude sickness. The most likely obstacle to our dogs being happy on trail is probably similar to our main key to happiness; adequate rest.

Humans have amazing stamina; a hiker I met on the AT recently took a workshop that involved tracking a single deer until it laid down and you could pet it. We are slow comparatively, but our endurance pays off in terms of a thru-hike. Only specific dog breeds, such as our Siberian Husky, are made for that kind of travel. Our Great Dane, on the other hand, tops off at about 8-10 miles of easy hiking a day: less if it’s steep elevation and taxes his knees and hips. That’s where having the support Dolphin comes in handy; a thru-hike with built in pup-boarding!

Stay tuned. My next update will be from the trail!

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Comments 1

  • Catherine : Jul 10th

    Good luck and happy hiking, Katie!!

    Reply

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