We Done Did It
We finished the Colorado Trail yesterday! 487 miles in 21 days.
After leaving Lake City we had one tough day with a bunch of climbs and then a few days of easy miles through valleys and on jeep roads. While some hikers complain about long road walks, there is a bonus to road access – we ended up running into trail magic three days in a row! The second evening of trail magic was from two ladies in their camper van who brought us a 3-course meal of salads, burgers, and pies. They told us to leave them a positive Yelp review: An enthusiastic 5 stars to Stormy and Sparkles!
We got vortexed (when town is just too good to leave) into Salida and ended up staying there for an unplanned zero-day. The day included lots of pizza and a trip to the local aquatic center for some pool volleyball. I think I said this in my last post, but between the PCT refugees and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hikers, town has become a jarringly social experience. It’s overwhelming after spending so much time alone or just with one or two other people.
Heading out of Salida we started on the west side of the Collegiate Loop and made it about 13 miles. This section is supposed to be one of the tougher and higher (i.e. colder) sections of trail. Pretty instantly it delivered copious amounts of wind to make things a bit more challenging. On day two of the Collegiates, we hiked 32 miles over several passes all above 12k feet. It was beautiful, but the temperature never got above 50 degrees and the wind was whipping the whole time.
I went over the last windy pass as the sun set and basically ran as fast as I could down the trail to try to get to lower elevation. After about 45 minutes of night-hiking I found Dabbles and Full Moon setting up camp. What a relief. They were glad to see me too, they were worried that I’d freeze up there. That was one of the only times I’ve ever been actually worried about exposure in the elements. Dabbles asked how far I wanted to go the next day, I think my answer was “as far as it takes to get out of this.”
That happened to be another 32 miles, and that’s exactly what we did. It was another beautiful day, with another high point scheduled to hit late in the day. That pass, Hope Pass, was a 2000 foot elevation gain over 2 miles. The climb killed me, but it was probably my favorite view of the entire trail. Full Moon and I got to the top right as the sun was setting. It cast gorgeous colors over the mountains behind us. We hiked down with our headlamps and found Dabbles on asleep the ground about 6 miles later.
The next morning we got to Twin Lakes after a quick 8 miles around the edge of a lake. Nothing was open in town except a convenience store, but they had orange soda and ice cream so that was enough for me. There were a handful of other hikers already there and we spent a good 4 or 5 hours just sitting there drying out sleeping bags and tents and talking about our favorite recent podcast episodes.
After our long break we bid farewell to our friends and made plans to meet them the next afternoon in Leadville for pizza. We got back to the woods and hiked another 16 miles. The 20 or so miles into Leadville the next day were fairly easy and unremarkable, such a quick turnaround from the challenge of the Collegiates.
For many hikers, getting to Leadville means one thing – getting a Melanzana fleece. It’s basically the unofficial Colorado Trail uniform, and even though they’re really just an overhyped fleece I was happy to drink the Koolaid and needed to get one.
These things are so popular you’re supposed to make an appointment to shop there and appointments are usually booked a week or more out. We had heard from virtually every hiker who had passed through Leadville that they were able to show up without an appointment without issue. Of course, the day we got there they must have had a few hikers too many because they were a bit cranky with us and we were almost turned away. A little begging and groveling did the trick, and we were eventually able to buy one. We said we’d help spread the word that hikers can’t just show up and expect to shop, so PSA – call ahead if you’re a hiker and planning to go here.
Leadville was the beginning of a bit of a townnado. It was only 23 miles to Copper Mountain and we were able to make it there the next night for dinner and from there it was only 16 more miles to Breckenridge the next day. Three nights in a row with beds and ample town food? Are we even real hikers?? Well, we had the fleeces so I guess we were.
We had about 105 miles left of trail once we left Breckenridge. We were planning to finish the trail on a 50-mile day, so we figured it would be about 3 days of hiking. The first day, we hiked about 27 miles out of Breckenridge. The next morning we woke up with 78 miles to go until the end. Dabbles said something like, “we don’t have to stop early just so we can end on a 50.” I said (jokingly, I think) something like “yeah it makes sense not to waste daylight, we might as well just hike through the night though and finish in the afternoon tomorrow.” And, turns out, that’s what we did.
The day was nice, we went through lots of prime aspen groves and the terrain was really easy with a lot of walking on gentle trail and old forest service roads. When it was getting dark and I was around mile 30 I mentally committed to the all-night hike. Weirdly, my feet didn’t hurt at all. I was feeling good. I knew it’d be tough but I knew I was capable of it. It would be nice to finish the trail in daylight, the terrain was right, and I may never get the opportunity again.
I lost Full Moon after lunch but she caught up at dinner, we hiked together until midnight when she pealed off to get a few hours of sleep. From midnight until 2am it was a little tough to follow the trail in the dark. There were a lot of junctions and unintuitive turns.
While I knew there was nothing actually scary or different about the trail in the dark, I couldn’t help but be creeped out when I’d sweep my headlamp around and see several pairs of green eyes looking back at me. I think they were all just deer, but it put a pep in my step anyway. Around 2am, the trail opened up a bit around a burned out area that would last until sunrise. The Denver lights and clouds on the horizon made it look totally spooky and I had to change my podcast to something lighthearted so I would stop freaking myself out.
As morning came my feet still felt pretty good. I was just a bit tired and my head was hurting from my too-tight headlamp. I very much welcomed the return of the light. I reached the South Platte River right around the 24 hour mark, ate a snickers, and started up the last climb of the hike.
Part way up I got a text from Dabbles saying he finished. It was 8:30am. I still had 14 miles to go. I know the night hiking slowed me down a bit, but how the heck did he finish THAT far ahead of me? (Answer: he literally ran the last 13 miles).
I charged down the mountain at a decent clip, although the anticipation of getting to the end made it feel like forever. With about 10 miles to go, my feet finally started the throbbing I had expected much earlier.
The trail comes out at a road following a canyon. Then it’s 6.5 miles on that road to the end of the trail. I kid you not, that 6.5 mile road walk was the worst part of the whole trail. It was so hot, there was no shade, and I could feel every rock on the balls of my feet. Also, while I know everyone was excited for me and curious, this road was really busy with hikers and bikers. People kept coming up to me to ask me about trail. I hadn’t seen a soul since I said goodnight to Full Moon at midnight and now I was being barraged with people. I was tired, a bit delirious, and I just wanted to finish. I’m sure if I hadn’t been hiking for 28 hours I would have welcomed the conversation.
I made it to the sign around 1:00. 29 hours and 78 miles after I had jokingly suggested hiking through the night. Dabbles and his friend from the Appalachian Trail, Twirl, were waiting for me with an orange soda. That evening, once Full Moon finished, we met up with her at a local burrito place and all debriefed our crazy long day.
I slept really well last night.
I’ll likely do one more post with some post-trail reflections once I get home… if Dabbles doesn’t convince me to go do the Arizona Trail.
Day 7: 21 miles (out of Lake City)
Day 8: 30 miles
Day 9: 29 miles
Day 10: 21 miles (in to Monarch Pass/Salida)
Day 11: 0 miles (Salida)
Day 12: 13 miles (out of Salida)
Day 13: 32 miles
Day 14: 32 miles
Day 15: 23 miles (afternoon pit stop in Twin Lakes)
Day 16: 19 miles (in to Leadville)
Day 17: 23 miles (in to Copper Mountain Resort)
Day 18: 16 miles (in to Breckenridge)
Day 19: 27 miles (out of Breckenridge)
Days 20-21: 78 miles (8am to midnight on day 20: 43 miles, midnight to 1pm on day 21: 35 miles)
Total Colorado Trail Miles Hiked: 487
Total Miles Hiked this Season: 1,302
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