Looking at the Colorado Trail map, I told my boyfriend “I think I could manage to get 18 days off. For 485 miles, I would have to average 27 miles a day. That’s a lot more than what I am used to, I’m not sure I could manage it. But I can give it a try and get as far as I can. What do you think?”. I had never tried to hike that fast, that far, but if other people could do it, why not me? I decided to give it a try. “I’ll get as far as I can” I told my friends in the weeks leading up to my hike. I was afraid of failing and did not want to talk too much about what I would be attempting.
Up to Breckenridge, I did not feel like I was exploring new areas of Colorado. I had trained a lot in the area up to Kenosha pass and the hike between Breckenridge and Kenosha pass was mostly one big climb and downclimb. By now the Continental Divide Trail had joined the Colorado Trail, and I was excited to get a mixed CT/CDT experience, as the CDT is definitely on the list of trails that I wish to hike. I left Breckenridge early the morning of day 4, feeling refreshed but with a bag full with 5 days of food, which was suppose to take me to Monarch pass. I enjoyed the views of Breckenridge and Copper Mountain from the ridge above. The area around Copper mountain was full of tourists. Far from the usual encounters with hikers, tourists hiking around Copper Mountain would jump away from me (pandemic-style) as I approached and hardly returned my greetings when I passed them. Luckily, they usually don’t venture more than a mile or two away from Copper village, so I was soon back on my own. That night I camped not too far from a creek. At about 1am, a group of mountain bikers passed my tent at full speed! It startled me but I was tired enough to fall back asleep easily. I don’t have many memories of day 5. I only took four pictures that day and the sky was gray. I know that I went by the Leadville area and entered the Holy Cross Wilderness.
I reached Twin Lakes early on day 6. The hike around the lakes, although mostly flat and with beautiful views, was difficult because of the sun exposure. It took me what seemed like many hours to circle the lakes. Lots of tourists were hiking on the south side of the lakes. I reached the junction between the east and west variant of the trail around midday and stuck to my decision to hike the West route. After my long hike around the lakes, I found the climb up Hope Pass to be very difficult as I was getting tired. A thunderstorm developed as I was approaching the pass, but luckily I was able to keep hiking and get on the pass right in between two masses of clouds and make it safely back below tree line on the other side. The western collegiate peaks were beautiful and I was excited to see more. I had a long day on day 7 the next day and kept hiking until the sun was setting. Because the weather was nice I kept hiking past the valleys and had to sleep above treeline. I lucked out and got a beautiful night with little wind.
On day 8, I knew that I would get to my resupply that day! I was about 22 miles from the junction to reach Monarch Lodge. My initial plan was to hike all the way to Monarch pass and then try to catch a ride down the pass to the lodge. However upon reaching the junction that leads to the lodge, I could not resist and got off the trail rather early that day. That was my shortest day in the whole hike. I picked up my resupply, marveled at the hot shower and candy bars and went to bed early after watching a Harry Potter marathon on tv. A perfect rest afternoon.
It was still dark when I left the lodge the morning of day 9 to get back to the trail. I had about 1.5 miles to hike to get to the trail, and I wanted to hike a long day. The hike was pleasant until I hit Monarch Pass. Past Monarch pass, mountain bikes are allowed on the trail., It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon by the time I got there and it was crowded with mountain bikers. I had to jump the trail every couple minutes to let them go by and it made that stretch rather unpleasant… but hey, we have to share the trails 🙂
On day 10 I got to a section of Colorado that I knew nothing about. The trail crosses a lot of cow pastures and I was very careful to pick my drinking sources! The cow pastures kept going pretty much up to the San Juan mountains.
On day 11, I entered the La Garita Wilderness and left the cow pastures behind me. By that point, my body was becoming tired of the long hiking days and my morale was declining some. However, I now knew that the end was much nearer and I had the extra motivation to finish in 15 or 16 days in order to have some rest days before returning to work. Luckily, I entered one of my favorite sections of the trail soon after, the San Juan mountains. I had never been to that part of the start and it totally blew my mind. I was still doing long days with a lot of elevation each day but the scenery was so amazing that it made it easier.
On day 12, I hit the highest point on the trail at 13,271 ft and was lucky enough to meet a mountain biker there that took a picture of me!
Day 13 & 14 are blurred together in my mind. Get up early, hike with little breaks, stop hiking in the evening. Sleep. Repeat. The end was in sight, but my body was tired and I was ready to be done. On day 13 I hiked until 7pm in order to get to my resupply at Molas lake campground. Unfortunately for me, the campground was full and I had to go back to the trail to camp. No shower for me! I camped near Molas lake and all my gear was soaking wet when I woke up in the morning. I had to stop later in the day and let it all dry in the sun.
On day 15, I started hiking at 4.30am, very much ready to be done with the trail. I had 39 miles to cover that day and I knew that it would be brutal. Although the last miles are mostly downhill, I had a fair amount of climbs to cover in order to get there. I passed hikers that were planning to spend one last night on the trail before finishing. I got very discouraged after covering 30 miles as I still had 9 to go. The worst part was when I started having very sudden and bad shin splint about 4 miles from the end. At that point, I was not going to quit, but it meant I had to stumble down the trail sideways since my shins were so painful. I met a hiker on a day hike and chatting took my mind off the pain and helped immensely. His car was parked about a mile before the end of the trail, but he was kind and came to pick me up and take my end-of-hike picture at the trail head.
After a good meal with my new friend, I went to a hotel for a well-earned shower and rest.
My official time on the trail ended up being 14 days, 13 hours and 58 minutes. I had never aimed at a FKT (Fastest Known Time) before in my life, although I did end up getting one on the Trans Adirondack trail. The Colorado trail is much more reknown and there are a lot more attempts. Of all the categories you can claim a FKT for that trail in (I calculated that there are 24…), I now have one, but probably not for very long. A few days after I finished, another female hiker finished the Denver to Durango, collegiate east variant, self-supported, in 11 days! Amazing!! I doubt that I could have gone that much faster on the trail. My goal was to finish it below 18 days but still to enjoy it. It was amazing and I truly enjoyed the experience, but I didn’t savor the experience as much as other long distance trails I have been on, on which I hiked at a slower pace. I will hike it again, at least sections of it, and next time I will take my sweet time! 😀