Day 9: CT

Mileage: 26.6

Tonight I am camping in a grassy little nook tucked just underneath the trail. I’ve killed almost 200 mosquitoes. The sun is setting past the valley that’s before me and my feet are so happy to be done for the day.

Today was a very long day. I got a little bit of a later start just because I had to shuttle to the trail rather than waking up and immediately hiking. The first seven miles were a bit of a challenge with some Rocky terrain and a respectable grade leading up to elevation.

Eventually the trail opens up in a gorgeous meadow and brings you along a valley covered in wild flowers. This section is easily one of my favorites. After miles of Meadows and valleys the trail dove into the woods again and brought me down and into another section of rolling hills that blend into small towns and homes I could barely make out.

I wasn’t sure where I was going to camp, but I had enough water to dry camp. I found this little grassy spot with a beautiful view of the valley and correctly pointed myself in the direction of the sunset.

My body is exhausted as today was the longest day I’ve had in almost three years of hiking. It feels good to make so many miles in a day. Tomorrow is another big one with a good climb up and over Georgia pass. Just another day dodging lighting.

Day 8: CT

Mileage: 23.7

All day I think about thunderstorms. I feel like I’m constantly looking at the sky and gauging the likely hood of getting hit by a bolt, which seems to be something I can never gauge. The weather patterns change so frequently and quickly I literally can’t risk being near a pass after eleven am. I knew there was a storm coming in today, but supposedly it wasn’t coming in until 3, which is when I was due to the road that would lead me into town for the night.

The day started off very normally as I woke up next to the Platte River and began a slow climb through a burn zone. I woke up early enough to watch the sun rise and witnessed the morning glow on the rolling landscape. I felt strong and healthy, so I walked for a long long time before deciding I should probably take a break.

Most of the day was spent under a canopy of pine trees sprinkles with the occasional patch of Aspen. The clouds began turning grey around one and I knew I needed to quicken my pace. Around 2:30 I was about two miles from the road when I started hearing thunder. I was only 8,500’ up and not gaining much beyond that, but I still felt the need to hurry up.

The hail started within my last half mile so I took off in a sprint. As hail came down I flagged the first car that passed me and they took me into town where there were french fries and burgers. I made it to my hostel and cleaned up and then went to dinner with a few other hikers. We came back later to hang out around the fire before going to my bed, which essentially is a wooden box with a foam pad on it. Tomorrow is another big day, but being able to finish early helps me get a lot of rest.

Day 7: CT

Mileage: 16.6

Beginning the Colorado Trail in Denver makes so much more sense than starting in Durango. The first seven miles are smooth and easy along a graded road following the Platte River. These next few sections just appear to be easing you into the trail rather than having you go over 12,000’ passes immediately. Needless to say, I’m happy to be starting again from this direction.

Tonight I am camping next to the Platte River up a little bit in a rolling grassy field. I was able to do these past 16 miles today in about five hours, which is the first time since the PCT I moved that fast. Again the trail was very smooth. My body does feel worked and tired, but tomorrow I’ll be staying in Bailey for the night so I’m prepared to work hard for the rest.

About eight miles in the trail splits from the road and begins the single track trail of the CT. You never get above 8,000’ so the trees are in full coverage. There were a ton of people out and about today, which always makes me feel less lonely and more excited. Tomorrow I think there will still be a good number of people out, but the thunderstorms are supposed to begin in the early afternoon and that should keep most people inside.

Im looking forward to my biggest mile day as of yet tomorrow and a nice bed to sleep in once I get to Bailey. It’s so nice being back on trail.

Day 5 & 6: CT

Mileage: 20.2These two days will rival for the sweetest, best days on this trail. Not only did I get to see section 24, which most people say is the most gorgeous section, but I also got to do it with my partner and experience that beauty with someone else.The night before we started hiking we tried to park our car at the top of stoney peak, which is an extremely rocky, difficult road to get up. We made it maybe a quarter of the way and turned back to camp just below the road. We were nervous about getting to the trailhead in time with a big storm coming in around eleven the next morning, but luckily someone was heading up early so we were able to catch a ride up to the pass.This section of trail rides a gorgeous path above 12,000’ for the first 7 miles before dropping down a canyon towards elk Creek. The highlands are a spectacle and seem to stretch on for miles and miles with rolling green hills surrounded by rigged peaks with snowy tops.Dropping into elk Creek was beautiful as well. There were tons of blow downs from avalanches leaving sections ridiculously difficult to cross and me with a few good cuts and bruises. A couple of lightning strikes made me decide to get into the tent where were waited out the storm with Yahtzee and castle. Eventually we were back at it and made our way down to the Animas river and found our camp for the night.The next morning brought a slow uphill to reach back with Molas pass where I left off just a few days before. The plan now is to head home for a few days and begin again from the north side of the trail and make Silverton the end of my thru-hike rather than Durango, which feels great for many reasons. Now a long, long drive back to Denver.

Day 4: CT

22.7 milesWell, I wasn’t expecting to be in Silverton today, but here I am. I am currently camped out close to town where a few vagabonds park their sprinters for the night. My dinner was paid for by a very kind person in town and I couldn’t be happier having a zero day tomorrow in town.I woke up this morning feeling incredibly refreshed and ready to go. My legs felt solid so I set off at a solid pace that really never slowed down.I can’t really describe what happened on trail today because it makes no sense to me. The way this trail is laid out as it rolls between peaks and massive ranges is a work of art, but quite frankly I can’t understand what’s happening. As I rounded a pass today I noticed the surrounding mountains and figured I knew where I was and within an hour nothing looked the same.Short and simple; I spent the day going over passes and skirting the sides of ridges to maintain elevation. I never dropped below 11,000 and don’t think I’ve gone below 10,000 since Durango.My favorite part of the day was the last seven miles before town. The mountains began to roll out into the valley below and a huge expanse of Green hills laid the way to the pass. It was gorgeous.I got a hitch at the trailhead to some showers at a campsite, but then was taken into town for dinner by that same person who then showed me a perfect place to camp for the night.Tomorrow is a zero day in Silverton and I intend to eat, sleep and stretch and repeat all day. These next sections look intense with high elevation and probable snow pack. Thunderstorms loom everyday it looks like, but that’s Colorado.

Day 3: CT

21.3 miles

Alright this was going to be short and sweet. Camp tonight it’s tucked under a massive mountain right below tree line where the sunset has turned the entire month purple. My fire slowly cooking out and I am resting about to pass out and my tent.

Today was a really good day! First 20 + miles and my body felt really good. Lots of smooth terrain witg a few inclines that made me work really hard. For the most part I stayed on the inside lip of a ridge skirting around ranges in going over a couple of passes. Lots of snow around eleven thousand five hundred feet. It really makes things interesting up there. I got to glacade today which is really fun and the snow is nice and slushy so my body didn’t get scraped up or frozen. I’m expecting to see more people as I get closer to Denver. Alright well I’m exhausted another 20 miles a tomorrow if everything goes right.

Day 2: CT

15.4 miles

Today was a bit of a struggle. Thankfully the weather stayed mostly clear as I traversed the Indian Ridge section. I was able to watch some massive storms blow through east of me and felt grateful to whoever created this trail for keeping me west. I believe I gained almost 4,000 feet today and struggled like crazy getting over my first pass around 12,500’. It seemed that I was taking a break every hundred feet just to catch my breath. My body felt fine for the most part, but my legs were exhausted and ready to be done with 8 miles to go. I’m glad I’m starting slow and letting everything find their place before kicking up the miles.

As I summited my first pass the trail became unbelievably gorgeous. Everything opened up and I was able to see the massive mountain formations that held me and the trail. I must have stayed above 11,700’ for about five miles before returning to tree level and the dense pine forests. There was a ton of snow on the north side of the ridges and I took a few tumbles and post holes trying to make my was across the snowy landscape. I didn’t see a single soul for the entire 15 miles and have yet to. That should change tomorrow as I enter an area highly used by mountain bikers.

The weather should be clearing up tomorrow, but who knows what will happen in these mountains. Depending on how I feel tomorrow I may attempt my first 20 mile day, but we will see. Loneliness creeps in from time to time, but the benefit of being up so high is that I have decent cell service to call for support and love.

Im happy to be on this trail and hopeful that my body continues to be healthy and strong. Camp tonight is next to a scenic overlook with hundreds of birds singing around me. The thrush song seems to be the most popular. About an hour until darkness and I’m already in my tent ready to pass out and start another day on the CT.

Colorado Trail Day 1

14.4 miles

I am currently sitting next to a fire trying to smoke out the black flies which rival those of the north east I experienced only a week ago. So far it’s working, but every now and then the occasional brave souls finds themselves on my ankle and annoys the hell out of me. Beginning a trail is always a mixture of feelings ranging from excitement to loneliness, from thrill to fear. Right now I feel very at ease and relaxed reading my book and enjoying the mostly clear sky that I haven’t seen all day.

I woke up from my stealth spot by the river in Durango this morning around 8 am and finished a few errands before catching an Uber to the trail head. The first few miles were luxurious with tons of people and mountain bikes out and about. I was thoroughly enjoying myself until around 1 pm when I heard my first crash of lightning. I was about seven miles in and had been skirting the mid-section of a Ridgeline for most of the day when the clouds started to darken to the east and rain slowly began to pelt my head. I finally pulled off trail and rain proofed my pack and torso when it started to really come down. There were a few strikes that cracked closer to me than I wished they would, but eventually the storm passed for a few minutes until another rolled over the ridge.

I didn’t stop much today or take many breaks. When the weather turned sour I just wanted to get to my camp spot and take cover. And that’s pretty much what I did. I got to the creek I’m at now around 3:30 pm and immediately set up my shelter in just enough time before a small hail storm blew through. I learned quickly about camping on muddy ground and how rain will splash mud on your sleeping set up even though you have a shelter. My bivy got covered in mud specks as well as my pack and face.

Finally the rains stopped and the sky opened up allowing me to step out, make dinner and rinse off before getting ready for bed. I believe I’m really going to love this trail and the many different types of experienced that wait ahead for me. Tomorrow I plan on doing another shorter day to continue warming up my legs for this hike. I’m just really hoping for a thunderless day, but I don’t think I’ll have many of those in the Colorado Rockies.

Castle Peak (and Conundrum)

It’s been a few weeks since we made this trip, but the pictures are so gorgeous I thought I’d write a little something and post them throughout. Castle Peak is considered a class 2 climb, but near the top I personally would classify it as a 3. Conundrum doesn’t technically count as a 14er due to the rules about it being to close to another peak, but it was still a gorgeous view point of Castle Peak.

Molly and I got to our camp spot really late on a Tuesday night and woke up early to get started on a long 13 mile out and back with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Fortunately the first 4 miles are on a rocky 4wd road that leads up to the base of the mountain. We made great time and even got an incredible encounter with three moose as we began.

Once we were at the base of Castle the trail goes up into a notch covered in boulders and ice. We lost the trail a few times in this section and ended up just decided to go straight up the notch until we found the trail again.

Once we were at the top of a small rise in the trail we had a gorgeous view of Castle Peak and the trail the leads up to the ridge on the north side of the mountain. We sat for a while and ate some lunch before we made our way up the gradual slope.

Near the top of the mountain the trail goes through some sketchy exposure with some difficult areas to move around comfortably. There was ice and snow on small passes we had to cross climbing up and over huge rock spires and around others. After pushing our fear down multiple times we made it to a smoother section and made our last move to the top.

Once we were on the peak we took a few pictures and headed down the west side of the mountain to connect the ridge over to Conundrum. The trail was really smooth throughout this section and in the saddle we noticed a small trail that shot straight down the ridge. We thought about taking this on the way back, but were sketched out by the grade and loose rock going down.

We slowly made our way up Conundrum and admired the grandeur of Castle Peak blanketed in snow and protruding higher than anything in sight. We didn’t stay up for long and decided to give the saddle trail a try. I made my way down first and felt like it was safe enough for us to continue. This trail was a huge blessing as neither of us wanted to continue back up and down the North side of Castle Peak.

We were in the valley right above the glacier as we came down and noticed a huge crevasse in the ground under Castle Peak. We made our way across the boulder field and eventually got back on the trail that led down to where we had parked.

This peak took us about 10 hours to complete and totally wiped us out. As hard as it was, it definitely paid off in the end. Castle Peak is definitely my favorite peak I’ve climbed so far and can’t wait to do it again.

Kit Carson and Challenger Point

With an entire Wednesday off, Molly and I decided to head south to the Sangre de Cristo mountains and attempt two 14er’s. In preparing for the climb I didn’t do a ton of research, but noticed the mileage at 14.5 and an elevation gain of 6,000 ft. I figured it would be a more difficult climb than anything I had done yet, but I was not expecting to feel the way I did when it was over.

Molly and I pulled into a camp spot a quarter mile from the trailhead around 11 pm. The weather looked like it was going to be perfect for our summit the next day, but we still wanted to get an early start. We set our alarm for 5:30 and passed out immediately.

It was warmer in the morning than either of us expected it to be at 8,000 ft., but we still got our base layers on as we began a gradual uphill towards the trailhead. The trail was smooth and sandy covered by a canopy of aspen and conifer. With the morning light rising on the high peaks to the west of us we were given gorgeous color as we climbed.

The trail switch-backed up the north side of this range and kept a very steady incline for about five miles. Eventually we made it up to Willow Lake, which is backed up by huge cliffs with a narrow waterfall. We skirted the west side of the lake and came around to where the trail began to get incredibly steep up Challenger.

We couldn’t see the top of Challenger down in the valley, but we could see the ridgeline that led towards it. It was intimidating to look at and with Kit Carson covering the Northeast view we knew we were in for a challenge.

  • Kit Carson to the right.

The climb up was slow, but steady. We stopped almost every ten feet to catch our breath. The ground was covered in scree and loose rock making every step a challenge. After almost an hour we were near the ridgeline where we could see the other side of mountains down toward the plains far below. Looking east along the ridge we could see Challenger and the dominating Kit Carson beyond it.

  • Kit Carson, Crestone Needle and Challenger from left to right.

  • Looking back West.

The ridgeline was covered with big rocks. We tiptoed across the line with wind smacking us from the north coming over the ridge. We had every layer on with the sun shining unhindered by clouds. Slowly we made our way up to Challenger for a beautiful view down the valley we came from and the mountains beyond the mountains that enclosed us below.

Once we were on Challenger we noticed how far down we had to go to begin climbing again up Kit Carson. We were both feeling pretty worked from already gaining 5,000+ ft., but decided to push on. Once you leave Challenger you hit a small saddle between the two peaks where the trail veers off Southeast up along an incredibly steep and narrow track. You come around the side of Kit Carson and begin heading East again going down the backside of the mountain. It all feels very counter intuitive like you’re just passing the mountain, but eventually the trail turns North and then West as you begin the final climb up to the summit.

  • Looking Southeast down to the plains. The lighter brown on the left before the rest of the Sangre Mountains begins is the Great Sand Dunes.

  • Narrow track going around to the back side of Kit Carson.

This final push was pretty damn challenging. We were both exhausted and near the end of our water. The trail disappeared a few times so we had to do the best we could to make our own path. Kit Carson is a Massif and once you’re at the top you have a ton of space to walk around and enjoy the view. We were at the top a little after 2 pm and ate lunch taking in the grandeur of the Crestone’s to the East and the rest of the Sangre De Cristo’s to the Southeast.

  • The final push!

After about half an hour on the peak we decided to turn back and hopefully make it to the car by 6 pm. We knew we had two small climbs left that kept nagging at us until they were finished. Going back down Kit Carson and up Challenger took us some time, but eventually we were along the ridgeline again and headed West to begin a long decent down to the valley.

The way back was quick and steady. We made a few stops along the way to rest from the never ending downhill and also stopped to enjoy the lake and the huge cliffs on the north side with the narrow waterfall. We made it back to the car a bit after 6 and immediately threw our tent in the car to get water and food as quickly as possible. We stopped in Crestone for burgers and drinks before our long four hour drive back to Boulder. Another successful trip up some 14ers!

  • The West face of Challenger and the plains below.

  • Willow Lake

  • Kit Carson on the left.