Thursday, October 1, 2020

Colorado Trail

A simple 6 mile hike/jog from Jefferson Creek to Georgia Pass last weekend seemed pretty uneventful.  It was nice to feel the crisp morning air, the aspen leaves starting to turn, and even a few snow flakes when I got on the divide. Fall creeping in on this last weekend of summer.  However, when I hit a particular trail post just above the pass I knew that I had finally stepped foot on every piece of the 560 miles of the Colorado Trail (480 from Denver to Durango, with an additional 80 miles around the Collegiate Peaks West option).

My finish line by Georgia Pass.

Why a finish line somewhere in the middle of Segment 6?  Well it's just one of many stories accumulated over this adventure.  More stories than I can share in a single blog post.  However, when I look up at my Colorado Trail (CT) poster hanging in my living room and pick any point along the trail, I have a memory and a story from wherever my finger lands.

Upon getting home that evening, I immediately submitted my "Colorado Trail Completer's" application.  I look forward to receiving a nice little certificate to hang above my trail poster courtesy of the great volunteers at the Colorado Trail Foundation.  One of the questions on the application was when I started my hike.  I just happened to know the exact date even though it was 11 years ago.  On June 20, 2009, I first stepped foot on this trail on Segment 23 at Carson Saddle in the San Juan Mountains during the San Juan Solstice 50-mile race.  I shared about 12 miles along that stretch above treeline through a summer snowstorm, passing the highest point on CT (13,271 feet), with David Horton.  Dr. Horton just happened to be the first winner of Hardrock, former holder of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) speed records, and the Barkley Marathons course record, all before Fastest Known Times (FKTs) and trail races were "cool".  He was gearing up for a shot at the CT FKT that summer (which unfortunately ended prematurely for him that year), but I was inspired to finish this whole trail myself one day.

2009 San Juan Solstice 50-miler.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I purchased the Colorado Trail Databook and started making note of which pieces of the trail I had done through various races or adventures.  Although I had covered many pieces, especially over the first 4 segments closest to home, there was still a lot of work to do.  So in 2020, I set out with the goal of getting this done.  In the absence of a lot of races due to the pandemic, including Hardrock for a 2nd year in a row, this goal provided me some respite as I spent many weekends exploring new trails, which is always exciting!

Hey look Rob, we found the Colorado Trail!

My many weekends of knocking off another segment in some fashion or another (most often out and back, covering the trail in both directions), eventually got me recognized by some of the thru-hikers.  Some trips had me carrying my bigger pack with shelter for an overnight or two, while other times I went full trail running mode with my running pack and no sleep until I finished my goal for the weekend.  Running out Half Moon Creek Road and Highway 24 to catch a 5am bus in Leadville was one of the hardest things I've ever done, especially after already covering over 60 miles.  I made the bus with 2 minutes to spare.  Another Saturday night found me sitting outside the Twin Lakes General Store with a group of SOBO (southbound) thru-hikers who had to ask me, "Are you a NOBO, SOBO, Yo-Yo, Flip Flopper?", to which my best reply was, "I'm trying to get this done any which way I can".  Gaining my trail name, "Any Which Way", that night made me feel like a part of their community.

A great night's sleep on Twin Lakes!

July flowers near Searle Pass!

Knowing that my approach to finishing the CT in this manner was very inefficient, I made the decision to go NOBO from Durango to Blanks Gulch trailhead on Collegiate East near Salida in one push over the first week of August.  This 250 miles in one week was quite the challenge.  I was packing a bit lighter than most thru-hikers, but averaging 35 miles a day, especially through the San Juan Mountains, was no small task.  I ended up going from Molas Pass to San Luis Pass without stopping (over 60 miles) as I hiked through a full night under a bright moon above treeline.  It was too cold to sleep on the ground and no trees for my hammock shelter, but it still made for one of the most memorable parts of my trip.  The hardest part of this self-supported adventure was carrying enough calories.  I ended up losing 16 pounds in 7 days and had to endure many long, hot stretches without water.  It was great to see my daughter Maddy on Day 7 with my truck at the trailhead and we headed straight to the Salida McDonald's!

Climbing up the Elk Creek Drainage along the Grenadier Range.

Of course, the San Juan Mountain Range threw plenty of weather at me, but more difficult were the hot, dry sections through the Saguache Park.  With little reliable water and temperatures pushing 100 degrees, I was so excited to run into a couple of "trail angels" at Saguache Park Road.  Cathy and Greg were wonderful, providing me plentiful fresh water and great conversation.  Mikaela also stopped at the same time heading the other way as she would go on to set the new self-supported FKT (incredible!).  I left replenished and a bit teary-eyed as Cathy and Greg reminded me so much of my parents

Trail Angels Cathy and Greg.  This is what the CT is all about!

I realized after my week long hike (with occasional running when I was feeling extra spry), that my body actually held together well and I sort of got into a rhythm where I could have kept going for weeks, if only I had some resupply of food, drink, and other goodies.  A single push over the whole trail would be fun if I planned some mail drops to pick up along the way.  Maybe some day?  It was actually a little sad after a day or two of sitting at home wishing I was still on the trail where life seemed so simple.

One meal per day.  Choose wisely.

After finishing Durango to Denver (minus my little 6 miles to Georgia Pass), I decided to complete the Collegiate West option as well.  I had already covered the first segment of CT West from other hikes and pacing Alan at the Leadville 100, which takes you over Hope Pass.  I really enjoyed some great runs/hikes over these sections.  I had been told many times by the thru-hikers how beautiful CT West was, and they were right!  However, I must admit that CT East is beautiful as well.

A little snow left from an early September storm on CT West (and wildfire haze).

There's something special about these long trails.  I was familiar with the sense of community surrounding the Appalachian Trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this on the CT as well.  From hiker-friendly towns to "trail magic", I got to experience it all.  I was also happy to meet so many thru-hikers, especially the SOBOs I shared miles with weeks earlier in their adventure, and saw again as they were nearing Durango and the end of their journey when I was headed NOBO.

I'd share more pictures, but you really just need to experience the CT yourself for it's full effect.  Thanks to all who shared miles with me in this long adventure, from my new thru-hiker friends, to Alan and Tara along CT west, and the earlier days with Kristel; and of course David Horton for the inspiration.

Thanks for reading!

"Any Which Way", CT '2020

Thank you Gudy Gaskill!

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