Day 21: CT

Mileage: 31.2

Each day leading up to the end of this trail seems to be getting more and more difficult, and more and more beautiful. From the second I left the Sawatch range and headed towards the San Juans the trail has opened up and stayed high in elevation. Today I knocked out a lot of miles with a ton of elevation gain and it was one of my favorite days on any trail I’ve ever hiked.

Tonight I am camping on an old yurt platform in an open meadow watching the sunset behind the mountains. The stars are already coming out and the sky is full of deep orange and pink. My body is exhausted, but not in a bad way. I feel proud to have made it this far today, making my final day on trail that much shorter and easier.

I woke up this morning about two miles from San Luis Pass and decided I would hike the 14er since it was only a mile and a half off trail. San Luis Peak is only a class one climb and only brings a little bit of steep hiking to the challenge. I was up and down within an hour because it was too cold to stay up there for long. I left my backpack and layers down at the pass not knowing it would be so windy and chilly at the summit.

When I got down from the mountain I started back up on the trail. The first ten miles of the day were an insane roller coaster with steep up and downs navigating me through the eastern section of the San Juan mountains. I saw a few moose grazing in a valley below me as I skirted the inside edge of one of the many ridges.

After the roller coaster climbs, the trail smooths out as it takes you through snow mesa, which is about a five mile long alpine meadow with small streams and lakes perimetered only on the north side by a small ridgeline.

The trail slowly makes its way down to a highway that leads into Lake City. My plan was to go into town and get some extra food that I needed for my last day on trail. I really didn’t want to take the road into town because I didn’t have much time left in the day and still wanted to hike 9 more miles into the next section. Amazingly enough a woman at the trailhead offered me some protein bars and let me pet her dogs for a while. This was enough to get me through the last day and brought any anxiety about going into town to a halt.

The last nine miles were incredible. I walked through more open meadows and passed by thousands of sheep. The trail brought slow uphills so I was able to make miles without too much exertion.

Eventually I made it to my yurt platform and jerry-rigged a way to put up my tarp on the wooden platform. It’s already pretty late and I plan to wake up around 4 am tomorrow in order to get done hiking before some storms roll in. I don’t think I go below treeline tomorrow so I’d love to be done with the trail and on my way down stony pass before any rain starts to come through.

I have a huge climb in the morning and in the final section will be doing some nasty roller coasters again. 25 miles left!

Day 20: CT

Mileage: 31.3Whew, I am exhausted. I’m a mile and a half from a pass, but don’t have enough in the tank to make it up and over. I think as far as elevation gain goes today I did about 6,000’. I’m camping alone in a gorgeous meadow above treeline and the clouds are just starting to turn gold and a few are pink. Today will be the biggest day I have done and will do on this trail.I got started around 6:30 and hiked the first few miles with the older man, trail name cobweb, I camped near last night. Most of the day was on a Jeep road passing through Meadows and tons of cows. It was nice to be able to just blast out miles and be constantly in awe of the rolling Alpine Meadows.Eventually the trail turns into a valley and for miles you can see the pass you are headed towards. The climb is slow and steady so it almost doesn’t even register, but it’s a very long way to the top. You follow a Creek the whole way and go in and out of Meadows getting views of the upcoming mountain range.I saw a muskrat looking animal today and a coyote. I’m tired. Two more days!

Day 19: CT

Mileage: 28

This was a perfect day of hiking. I woke up at a good time, hiked consistently, took healthy breaks, had plenty of water for the waterless sections and got into camp at my favorite time; 8.

It’s surprising I had such a great day with how little sleep I got. Last night was so cold that I hardly slept and couldn’t keep my feet warm. It was awful, but I got the sleep I needed for a long day on trail.

The first few miles were a gentle climb that led to a huge grassfield that went on for miles and miles. Tons of cows were around and I even followed a mother and her calf for almost a full mile. They just kept hiking along the trail in front of me and I couldn’t catch them or pass them. I did once, but the ran and passed me.

After the cows, the trail enters the trees where I stayed for the rest of the day. The trail had some good up and downs, but eventually led to a road that leads into Gunnison where I took my last break of the day.

The final miles of the day were smooth and well graded as I gained a little elevation to eventually top out near a gate and an older man camping. I asked if I could camp nearby as this was my final destination for the day and he didn’t mine. We chatted a while and eventually both got in our tents. My body feels good and full after a long day. Three more days and the mileage will keep growing!

Day 18: CT

Mileage: 22.5

Camp tonight is next to Tank Seven Creek with another woman and her dog. This dog is absolutely incredible and friendly. She’s a catahoula mixed with cattle dog and just about a year old. There is a fire going and probably another hiker coming into camp soon. The full moon was last night, but there should still be we good light when I wake up for my nightly pee.

I got to trail a little late this morning, but wasn’t expecting anything too challenging and the weather was looking great. With all my frustrations over the Eastern side of the collegiate loop I decided to switch over to the west and it was absolutely a great decision.

The western collegiates obviously traverse the western side of the CT, but stay way higher up and offer a lot better views. I didn’t realize the split in trail when it happened and just figured the Eastern side was the only way to go, unless you were doing side trails. Now that I’ve tasted the western side I can’t wait to do the rest of it that I missed on the CDT.

The first ten miles of the day were stunning. The trail lead through the Continental Divide and rides along Ridgelines with 360 views. Eventually the trail begins to drop in elevation a little with a few roller coaster gains before a long decent into where I am camped.

This is the last water source that is reliable for a good while so I’m hoping to camel up and bring extra out in the morning. The lightning today wasn’t the worst. It was unexpected, but short lived. As I reached my final high point of the day I heard my first crash, but it was far away enough I felt safe for the moment. I quickly got down, however, and heard a few more on the decent. It drizzled for a little while, but all in all it wasn’t that bad.

The rain keeps coming in and out making me want to enjoy a fire and then have to return to my tent. Tomorrow I have to decide if I want to take a long trip into Gunnison for fuel or just go to lake City and heat my water with fires. We will see.

Day 17: CT

Mileage: 29.2

Nothing better than being welcomed back to trail by a 29 mile day. Honestly it feels like not a day has passed since the few days I took off for my sister’s wedding. These miles flew by today, but again the trail layout infuriated me in this southern direction along the Sawatch Range.

I woke up ridiculously early today in order to get into town with enough time to get some shopping done for my next four days out. The first ten miles were a smooth and almost even single track trail leading down to Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. The trail turns to pavement when a five Mile long road walk begins. This is where I got pissed. The trail turns west and heads into a valley, which I thought may mean that I get some good elevation and maybe even brake treeline. However after a small uphill the trail turns east almost immediately and brings you right out of the valley and again on the outer edge of the range. Wtf. I’m sure there’s reasons, it just seems weird.

After that the trail began a roller coaster that allowed me to catch a comfortable place and knock out some miles. Eventually I and to my road that led into Salida and got a ride from a super nice man who loves to talk about his lathe. I’m in a hostel tonight and have a ride set up in the morning to get after it again. Next town ill get into is Lake City, but probably won’t stay the night there. Five more days out here and then back to school.

Day 16: CT

Mileage: 7.4

Today has been a whirlwind. I woke up at 5 am to go into work at my new job at a horse ranch. I busted out chores until 10:30 and then headed home to get my things together for the hike. Two buses, two lyfts and one lime ride later I was at the trailhead once again.

I was only able to take down 8ish miles tonight before I got too tired and decided to call it. The trail was smooth and nice as I eased back into hiking mentality. I have about a week left out here/175 miles until I reach my point at Stony Pass where I previously hiked to from Durango.

Not much else to report. The CT in the Sawatch Range kind of drives me crazy with it’s seemingly pointless uphills and traverses along the lower East side of the range. I’m sure there’s reason, but I’m ready to be back up high in the Rockies! The Aspen groves are gorgeous and the soft padded needle forest floor is nice on the feet, but I’m ready for some elevation.

Day 15: CT

Mileage: 18.7

Today couldn’t have ended at a more perfect time. In the last mile the thunderstorms that had been brewing made itself known sooner than expected. I heard a huge crack coming from the West just under the ridgeline and immediately started sprinting. I could see the road leading into Buena Vista below me, but still had to run switchbacks in very exposed terrain. I ate it pretty hard turning into a switchbacks and went head first into the trail scraping my body pretty bad. I didn’t hear another crash of lightning and felt a little ridiculous for my outburst down the trail. I just hate lightning so much.

I got to the road around 1:30 pm and quickly found a ride into town. The decision on staying in Buena Vista so I could take a bus home the next day or hitch home was difficult, bit the first person who picked me up ended up being the only ride I needed all the way home. This guy literally took me to my apartment in Boulder. I had him drop me a little ways away, just to be safe.

The trail today was kind to me as I needed to make good time to beat the storms that were coming in around 3 pm. There was one huge climb with about six miles left that totally kicked my ass, but I was graciously given some trail magic (hot dogs, Gatorade and Snickers) before the ascent.

Im going to miss being on trail for the next few days while I’m in Cancun at my sister’s wedding, but I’ll be back in Buena Vista soon to finish this incredible journey through Colorado.

Day 14: CT

Mileage: 27.9

So much elevation gain and so little views. Yet, it was still gorgeous and a great day to be outside.

I slept in a little this morning and just couldn’t find the energy to move quickly. For the first seven miles my body just felt sluggish and lazy. Eventually I made it to a road where I planned to take a break when I man drove by and asked if I wanted to run into twin lakes for anything. I thought how nice a Coke might be for a caffeine boost so he ran me into town and right back out. I opted for a healthier option and got a kombucha, but it still had caffeine.

The next seven miles were great. The trail skirts around half of twin lakes and brings you to the south side before another climb. The hike around the lake is extremely flat and smooth so I was able to move quickly and out the kombucha to use.

The climbs really started coming into play after the lake. By this point my body felt super awake and I made great time over the next few miles. The trail stayed mostly in the trees and brought me up and over small hills that slowly gained total elevation ascending the side of the Sawatch Range. Once the climb was over the trial begins to descend down to a gorgeous river in a desert looking ecosystem. The sun was beaming down and scorching me so I took full advantage of the river and took my last break of the day.

The biggest climb was saved for last. Gaining 2,600’ in 4 miles the trail gets up to 11,600’, but still was under tree line. This climb was difficult and exhausting especially since it was at the end of my day. However, I made it to the top and slowly descended down into another valley where there is a gorgeous Creek surrounded by mountains. A lot of other hikers are camped here as well so it should be a nice night to meet people and all together pray the rain holds, which right now is not looking so good.

Tomorrow I hike into Buena Vista to take a bus home so I can be at my sister’s wedding. I’ll have about ten days in total off the trail before I get back on to finish this oddly executed thru hike.

Day 13: CT

Mileage 26.7

Today is one of those days where listening to the weather forecast was a bad idea. I was sure that there was going to be huge thunderstorms rolling in early afternoon and would carry on for the rest of the night, but by 3 pm the skies had opened up and the rest of the evening was gorgeous. Unfortunately I retreated into down half way through my day to wait out the storms and spent about four hours hunkered down chilling at a hostel.

The first 13 miles flew by as I made my way to turquoise lake with some minor inclines, but nothing that took much out of me. The sky was dark and the clouds were completely covering the sky and the idea of taking advantage of another hitch into town grew into a highly anticipated next step. I got to the road around 11:30 and almost immediately got a ride into town.

I went to the hostel I stayed at the night before and posted up for a few hours while the storms blew through. Eventually the sky looked clean enough so I made my way back to trail and blasted through 14 miles in just about five hours.

Trail in these sections seems to be bringing me up and down the Sawatch Range, but without many views and sometimes it seems unnecessary. However, the trail is gorgeous in the sense for forest with spurts of Aspen groves.

Camp tonight is in a campground next to a dirt road. I got in late so had to improvise a place to sleep, which is an ability I pride myself in. I made a small fire for heating dinner since I forgot gas in town, made my bed and am going to pass out hard. Tomorrow is my last full day on trail before my sister’s wedding so I’m hoping to make some good miles. Hopefully some views will come into play as well.

Day 12: CT

Mileage 23.4

The few sections leading into Leadville are absolutely stunning. I got to spend most of the day to day hiking with another guy I met the day before coming over Georgia pass. It’s been a great day and now we are down in a hostel with full bellies.

The beginning of the day brought a good climb up to Sturly pass. The climb was smooth and gentle and I was able to keep a solid pass. When the trail left treeline it stayed open for about six miles. Just as I came over the stunning rolling hills of Sturly pass a golden eagle was flying around the pass.

The trail then traverses elk ridges and begins to drop back down as it passes Kokomo pass. The rest of the day brought a smooth downhill and a calm 10 miles into town. About three miles before the end of my day the trail crosses our road for the first time into Leadville. I almost hitched in here as the weather was looking pretty nasty, but I ended up hauling the final three miles on an old dirt road to finish the day just in time.

When I got to the road for the second time I met the older man I had met a few days and was given a ride into town by him and his wife. They took me to the hostel, to dinner and to Safeway to resupply. Trail magic is real on the Colorado trail! It’s nice being in a hostel early enough to spend most of the evening relaxing inside with a shower. Headed out again tomorrow hopefully keeping up this pace.