OUR 500-MILE WALK
THROUGH THE ROCKIES
A brief moment of sunshine while approaching Durango
Lori and I have been backpacking together in Colorado's San Juan Mountains since the early 1980s, but our trips were generally short -- only 2 or 3 days out at a time, then back to civilization for a shower and a good meal. We became familiar enough with the trails and mountains that occasionally we'd even take groups of friends on treks to our favorite spots. Hiking the Colorado Trail was something we'd added to our "Bucket List" while on one of those earlier trips, but we didn't get serious about it until I "suddenly" had my 60th birthday. Time (and my "youth") was quickly slipping away. We decided to take the bull by the horns, damn the business, and "JUST DO IT!" during the summer of 2010. We spent a lot of the '09 - '10 winter planning for the journey, ordering supplies, and updating equipment. All was ready for a June departure when Lori discovered she needed an operation. The medical staff worked quickly and she underwent a full abdominal hysterectomy on May 12th. All our plans were put on hold until the doctor gave her the OK to go ahead with the trip on June 14th. We began the drive to Denver (with many doubts) on June 17th, arriving June 20th. After a few days of acclimating to the altitude, our good friend Mike Pyne (Wild West Scale Model Builders, www.wildwestmodels.com) drove us to the trailhead in southwest Denver and our lives began a major change.
The Colorado Trail (www.coloradotrail.org)
is a continous path running from Denver to Durango, nearly 500 miles in
all. It's divided into 28 segments, the ends of which can usually
reached by a car but some sites require a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
it enters 6 different wilderness areas, crosses 8 mountain ranges, and
13,300-feet above sea level at its highest point. We divided the
into 6 different sections, shipping supplies ahead to towns close to
trail. We used the re-supply points to rest, relax, and refresh
The towns were Frisco, Twin Lakes, Salida, Creede, Silverton, and
Durango. Ten of our long-time friends planned to meet us for a
reunion/celebration in Durango, so we were on somewhat of a
it turned out, we managed to cover the distance faster than expected
more time in the rest stops than first planned in order to make the
rendezvous. (We still arrived a couple days early!) We
the hike on August 11th after 41 actual days of hiking, averaging about
12-miles a day.
Day 1, apprehensive, overweight The weather could change quickly!
A long vista of South Park
Of course there was NARROW GAUGE railroading along the way -- it's COLORADO!
Because of her recent operation, we weren't sure how Lori was going to handle the trail, so we started with lighter packs. Mike and Korie Pyne met us on the fifth day with fresh supplies for the rest of the 10-day section. They camped the night with us, and, in spite of the snowballs in the morning, wanted to join us for the rest of the trail. It was good knowing they were always just a satellite signal away from rescuing us if we got into trouble.
Although one of the big challenges along the way was finding water, occasionally we'd encounter an idyllic mountain stream. Streams are common in the San Juans, but less so along the CT. One day we ended up walking 22 miles to a source, and on another occasion resorted to catching rainwater off our tent fly.
There were a number of other hikers enjoying all or parts of the trail. In fact, only a few days were we ever entirely alone. Here's a picture of two friends, "Dutch" and "Dioko", that started the trail the same day we did. We often passed each other along the trail and/or hiked together. We also enjoyed some R&R together (pictured above in Twin Lakes, CO). When we started Lori and I weren't familiar with "trail names", something more commonly found along the Appalachian Trail in the east. We eventually settled on "Slow" and "Easy" for our trail names...!
Those are the "chalk cliffs" above Princeton, CO (left photo, above). The old Denver, South Park, and Pacific roadbed could be seen far below. The photo to the right shows Lori approaching the Continental Divide on the first day of the second half of the trek (after a lazy layover in Salida). We had full packs, enough for 10 days, and it was an 8-mile hike up from nearby Monarch Pass. That made for a very long day....one of many!
That's Marshall Pass today. It was easy to imagine multiple K's pulling long freights over the pass between Gunnison and Salida. Much of the route is still visible.
We spotted a lot of wildlife along the way, but this was the only bear. We actually felt more threatened by a "mad cow" that we encountered on a ledge road later on in the trip.
Creede was one of our favorite resting points, although difficult to get to. We actually came through that notch in the background of the photo. Creede has an excellent repertory group that performed to a full house while we were there. The photo to the right was taken along the trail, far above Lake City, Colorado. That's Lake San Cristobal in the distance.
Carrying a 40-pound pack at 13,000-feet, and going higher.
After leaving Creede, we had to put up with 6 straight days of rainy weather, all well above the tree line. The only sun we saw was in the early morning one day while breaking camp (left, above). We've been losing weight along the way and it's starting to show.
This was day 6 of the rain. I'm surprised I caught a smile on Lori's face. The photo was taken near the head of Elk Creek -- the same Elk Creek the Durango & Silverton stops at a few miles south of Silverton (a few miles west of us). It's one of the most beautiful hikes in the country...when it's NOT raining!
Picking raspberries along the D&S tracks near Elk Park (left photo). After emptying out the water from our boots and plastic bags around our feet, we started up the trail to Molas Pass -- a 5-mile climb with 33 switchbacks. It was an 18-mile hike that day to Silverton, just to escape the rain. That's the Los Animas River with the D&S r.o.w. below. Mount Garfield is the backdrop -- a place I used to hike into on weekends to fish (when I was MUCH younger!).
Our rest stop in Silverton was great, especially if you're a narrow gauge railroad fan!
Headed for Durango on our LAST SECTION! At this point we'd hiked more than 400 miles and couldn't believe it.
That's our "home away from home" on the left, and Lizard Head on the right. Yes, the Rio Grande Southern at last!
Sunsets from the tent could be spectacular.
We encountered a lot of rainy weather along the way, but when it cleared we really appreciated the country around us.
Even though we were into the final section, the going was tough and we were still regularly climbing well above 12,000-feet.
Durango's FINALLY in sight! (but still two days away!)
We made it to the end and our friends showed up to celebrate. We still couldn't quite comprehend that we'd backpacked nearly 500-miles and that I'd lost almost 30-pounds in the process. She lost weight, too, but won't say how much. The journey definitely changed the priorities in our lives, particularly with the business. Life isn't all about work work work. I hope you understand!!
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