I think Segment 10 on the Colorado Trail from Timberlinke Lake Trailhead to the Mt. Massive Trailhead will always be my favorite. This section had gifted me many special memories since I first came here just a couple years earlier.
I hadn’t gone backpacking in probably 30 years until I reconnected with my old backpacking buddy Bill a few years ago, when he invited me to join him and his son on a weekend trip. Even though I struggled with both my fitness level and garage sale gear, by the end of that weekend I had rediscovered my passion for backpacking. My friend and co-worker Kat is a backpacking enthusiast, and she offered me lots of tips and inspiration as she answered my endless questions. I upgraded my gear a bit, and later that summer I challenged myself to go on my first ever solo backpacking trip to Timberline Lake. I remember thinking it was cool to be at trailhead that also connected to the Colorado Trail, but never imagined at that time that I might hike the CT one day. The hike to Timberline Lake was only about 3 miles but it was uphill most of the way and was a hard hike for me. It was fun to reach the lake, especially when I discovered no one else was camped there. I was a bit freaked out about being there solo, but soon realized that there is so much to do in camp that the time passes quickly. On my way out the next day I was in a happy mood already when I passed a hearty woman, at least my age if not a few years older, hiking with her dog. I let her know was excited to have just done my first solo overnight backpacking trip. She proceeded to tell me I could hike to Tennessee Pass in one direction and towards Mt Massive in the other from that trailhead if I wanted to pursue some more adventures. By the end of our talk, I was on fire to explore at least of bit of the Colorado Trail. I don’t think she had any idea how much that brief conversation would change my life.
My son lives with his daughter in Leadville, and on his first Fathers’ Day he started a tradition of us all going on an annual campout. Erik loves 4-wheeling with his Jeep in the hills around Leadville and we had camped a couple times up Hagerman’s Pass not far from the Timberline Lake Trailhead. I love the view of Mt Massive from his house (or just about anywhere in Leadville), and I dreamed of someday summiting Mt Massive. In 2020, I drafted my buddy Art to join me and we made it a multiple day backpacking trip along segment 10 of the Colorado Trail. Upon summitting Mt Massive I realized I needed a new goal, and after picking up on this seemingly magical trail vibe from the CT thru-hikers we encountered along segment 10, I knew this goal was to someday hike the entire Colorado Trail. So that’s a lot of the “why” I wanted to hike the Colorado Trail in 2021 and Segment 10 is such a special trail to me.
I had hiked the first 71ish miles through Segment 5 of the CT on my weekends earlier this spring, and the higher elevation snowpack was still too much for me. Along with many others, I was following the Colorado Trail 2021 Thru-hike Facebook page to see how a few hearty soles were faring getting over Georgia Pass in early June and cheering them on. These very experienced backpackers were struggling to get through, so I skipped ahead to Segment 10 and would hike Segments 6-9 a few weeks later. I arrived at the Timberline Lake Trailhead around 10:00 am on a Monday and thankfully found a parking spot for my truck. I carried a full backpack to get in some more training and planned to finish the 13-mile segment, plus another mile or two to get past the Half Moon Road closure to meet my son that afternoon.
Segment 10 is almost entirely through the woods. It starts out crossing over a creek and then begins with a pretty good climb up to Hagerman’s Pass Road. There’s a nice campground just above the road where Art & I had waited for my son to pick us up after Mt Massive last year, and I remembered being impressed watching last year’s thru-hikers make that climb. Now I had done the same, and fairly easily. I had started training for the Colorado Trail in January by skinning up to Thunderhead at the Steamboat ski area a couple times a week with my buddy Jim. Then in late March I switched to carrying my loaded backpack from our place in downtown Steamboat up Emerald Mountain, plus a bit of trail running. Hiking the lower elevation sections of the CT on my Sunday-Tuesday weekends was turning out to be a lucky good plan as I was slowly getting into hiking shape, and was I able to take some physical therapy for one very sore ankle in between hikes.
I saw just a few other hikers that day, and once again enjoyed the solitude. The trail has some nice up & down, through-the-woods hiking and I think I wore a smile almost the whole way. I could see Leadville from the trail and remembered all the times I had looked up this way at the treeline along the base of Mt Massive. Through the trees I could see snow-capped Mt Elbert and Mt Massive. When I crossed the fish hatchery trail I remembered seeing all the thru-hikers at that intersection the summer before; they seemed to have this silly, happy, but “serious as a heart attack” disposition that I not seen before. I passed the big, odd shaped rock that marked our campsite last year, then passed the Mt Massive trail intersection. The descent down towards Half Moon Road was steeper than I remembered, and was happy to be finishing downhill.
I hiked past the Half Moon Road closure where I met my son to drop me back at my truck at the Timberline Lake TH. He had shown up with one of his off-road buddies and we finished an already pretty awesome day with fun Jeep run past some of the trail I had just hiked. The rest of the Colorado Trail would far exceed any of my expectations, but this day had solidified Segment 10 as my all-time favorite. As I drove back towards Leadville I could see a far-off thunderstorm in the sunset; I missed the foreshadowing of what was to come.