CDT-CO: Highway 14 to RMNP (July 5-9, 2022) 58 miles

My buddy Patrick dropped me at the trailhead just off Highway 14, about 10 miles north of Muddy Pass & Rabbit Ears Pass. I had expected to be about the only southbound hiker, but was surprised as we passed four or five northbound Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers alongside the highway to the trailhead that morning. I probably crossed paths with dozen or more NOBOs on each of my 5 days through this section, and in the end I think my brief chats with so many of these folks was the best part of my hike.

I managed about 12 miles on the first day, following a quiet dirt road through rolling wooded hills. After just a few miles I met a nice pair of Czech CDT NOBOs, Kate & Day Dreamer, followed by Lemonhope and Swiss Monkey. The road passes by some private ranches and what appeared to be hunting lodges for the first five or so miles. Fairly early on I was surprised by the sweeping views looking back west towards the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and north to the Medicine Bow Mountains. The dirt road trail eventually turned into national forest and started a gentle climb through a long, pretty aspen grove. The climb got a bit steeper, but I passed on a dry campsite featuring a nice scenic overlook. After another mile I found the small spring along the trail, as promised by my FarOut navigation app. I could see the afternoon rain was coming and was grateful for a nice established campsite nearby.

After around 5 miles the next morning, I chatted for a few minutes with a NOBO section hiker. He seemed a bit discouraged by some of the challenging climbs and blowdowns he’d hiked through. I think just about every thru-hiker I had encountered on this trip was super up-beat and seemed genuinely happy to be there. As I hiked on I could totally relate to my section hiker counterpart; we spend the first few days of our trip struggling to hike relatively low miles and by the time we begin to build some decent trail conditioning our hike is nearly over. On these shorter trips it’s hard to settle into a daily hiking routine and set aside my obsession with all the details of off-trail life. In my contemplation I of course walked right by the unmarked trail that finally left the dirt road, and was probably half a mile past that before I realized. I somewhat foolishly decided I could navigate to the trail rather than backtrack, but thankfully found the trail after a fairly steep downhill bushwhack. Finding the trail then negotiating a handful of blowdowns turned out to be a nice confidence boost.

I was a bit gun-shy of the afternoon thunderstorms after getting pummeled a few times during last year’s epic monsoon season on the Colorado Trail. I now check the weather whenever I get a cell signal, and the forecast for the day said thunderstorms after noon with an 80% chance of rain. I decided to call it an early day after just seven miles when I crossed a nice stream with nearby camping ahead of the next climb. Sure enough a hail storm hit right as a climbed into my tent. The weather cleared up in the afternoon and I met a few more NOBOs who walking by, and a nice fellow called Good Monk set up camp nearby.

I was a bit discouraged having just covered 7 miles, so I tried to get an early start the next morning. Despite all the NOBO thru-hikers I had met, the trail was still fairly faint so a kept a close watch on FarOut to make sure I stayed on-trail today. As a climbed through the woods and above treeline, I realized I had made a good judgement not pushing my pace the day before. I chatted with a super friendly NOBO named Shredder who was finishing up his triple crown this summer. There were a number of blowdowns through this section, but these weren’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Once above treeline the views were pretty amazing in every direction and I began to anticipate what it must be like atop the next day’s climb, Parkview Mountain.

I was happy to chat with a super friendly bunch of NOBOs that morning, and it was fun to meet Sauce who had been a frequent contributor to the Backpacker Radio podcast that I listen to regularly. A couple miles later I met her friend Switch. I again checked my weather forecast and thunderstorms were expected after 2:00 pm. So this time I decided to set up my tent at the next established site, wait out the storm, then hike a bit more into the early evening. I was almost disappointed that the storm barely sprinkled where I was and I finally convinced myself to pack up and keep going. As a started up I met another nice NOBO couple named Happy and Gourmet, and they seemed to appreciate me sharing I thought that a great combination.

I passed the Troublesome Campground and FarOut reported there was water about a mile ahead. I was nearly out of water so I decided worst case I could backtrack here to camp. I hiked on to the stream and I filled up my CNOC to start filtering water. I then saw a happy young boy hike up with his dad, and as some other kids followed I realized this must by “the family” hiking the CDT together. When I had first heard about them this spring, I wasn’t sure what I thought about a family with young children on the CDT. But almost immediately I could tell these kids were completely content and in their element on the trail. Without prompting one of the daughters who was about 8 even ran over to hold up the filter on the end of my CNOC bag while I changed water bottles. Dad doled out side dishes as the kids cooked up their own meals without missing a beat. Then mom walked up carrying the one-year old and the other kids took turns looking after her. I spent at least 45 minutes visiting with this lovely family, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. They even shared the welcome news that there was plenty of camping ahead and I wouldn’t need to backtrack.

Feeling invigorated, I continued uphill for about a mile to a near perfect camping spot. There was a rock formation I could hike around that gave me a good enough signal to call my wife. I had covered nine miles today, again well short of what I had hoped but I’d had a really fun day on the trail. And I knew I was well rested for the big climb tomorrow up Parkview Mountain.

The next morning I was up and out of camp early. I knew I had a long day ahead, and along with the climb up Parkview I would need to log around 15 miles to have even a chance of reaching Grand Lake the day after. I passed through the big, eerie burn scar from the East Troublesome fire ahead of sunrise. I worked my way around Haystack Mountain, and Parkview came into view right as the sun came up. It was a decent climb just reaching the saddle below the final ascent, I and was thankful I had been conservative on my miles the day before. It was a beautiful morning, and I had the trail all to myself.

Parkview Mountain revealed itself like a miles-long par 5 golf hole. The saddle was green and lush. As I had heard from hikers the day before there were no switchbacks to the summit, just hiking from one wooden marker post to the next. The final mile gained about a thousand feet. The little summit shelter slowly got closer and closer, and I crossed paths with the first other hikers that day just before the summit.

I reached the top and unfortunately didn’t resist the urge to take a panorama video. Had I taken a look around to enjoy the view first, I would have noticed the trail following the saddle to the north. After I ducked into the shelter I had a quick snack at the summit and kept my cork-handled poles in site with an aggressive pair of squirrels nearby. Then I started down the only trail I had noticed along the ridgeline to the southeast. I had gone about 3/10 of mile when I checked FarOut and realized I was off the CDT. Fortunately I hadn’t lost much elevation, but I really hate backtracking after a wrong turn. The only thing worse is when a thru-hiker sees you having to backtrack, and I could see some other hikers reach the summit just in time to watch me sheepishly hike back. There was a super cheery British-sounding fellow named Pirate waiting for me, and I could see he was recording on his phone to memorialize my wrong turn. I then met Swiss Chris and Nature, and Pirate let me know Mr. Fabulous would be next to the summit. I’d been following Mr. Fabulous’ CDT thru-hike on Instagram while listening to his book, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker, and probably fan-boyed him a little too closely as he summited up through the scree. Still he was a very gracious fellow and was happy to chat for a bit. As I continued down the correct trail, I met their other companion Buckwild. It turns out Buckwild and Pirate are documenting their CDT thru-hike on YouTube; I’m a still bit nervous to see if my wrong turn makes it onto their Parkview summit video.

As I continued down Parkview, with plenty of switchbacks in this direction, I could see the hike from this side was much longer. I now understood why Pirate seemed so happy at the summit. I had a few more blowdowns to negotiate when I finally made it down below treeline. I took a lunch break at a creek and then passed through another long burn scar. Hiking through this seemingly unending burn area felt brutally hot in the late afternoon sun. It was still oddly beautiful through here, with seas of wildflowers growing among the devastation.

I finally got past the burn scar and entered a swampy area with some possible camping ahead. I had made it 15 miles and was worn out, and was happy to reach a small established site. It was nice to be close to water but I knew my Tiger Wall sil-nylon tent would be soaked with condensation the next day. I crawled into my tent before dark and not long after heard a quiet rustling nearby. I have a probably bad habit of growling out loud to calm my irrational fear of wild predators waiting outside my tent to devour me. I felt kind of guilty when I finally peaked outside to see another tent not far away – this poor fellow hiker must of thought I was quite a jerk to growl at him as he very quietly and politely set up his camp with barely a sound.

The next morning I was again up and out of camp before daylight. I knew I had another long climb ahead up Bowen Pass, and needed to cover 15 miles again today to reach Trail Ridge Road. Today’s hike was a grind from the start, especially after Parkview the day before. Thankfully I met a very kind NOBO named Jeemac who correctly read the look of despair on my face. He stopped to make sure I had plenty of food and water to get through the day – I must have looked pretty bad! Still his kindness without being condescending perked me up for the day’s hike. We coincidently met a few days later back in Steamboat, and I was really happy I had the chance to return his kindness with a ride back up to the CDT from town.

I had some challenging blowdowns to maneuver over, under, and around approaching Bowen Pass. A couple times I had to crawl through on my stomach and elbows. Still I thought the trail overall was in great shape and much better than what I had heard. I finally reached the saddle, and met a fun mix of thru-hikers, day hikers, fishermen, and section hikers on my way down. I wasn’t sure how my hitch to Grand Lake might go but the positive vibe a got from my fellow hikers was letting me know it would be ok. Right as I reached the trailhead near Trail Ridge a National Park Service truck drove by. I must have been wearing the same expression on my face as when I met Jeemac in the morning – the ranger pulled up thinking I might be in some distress. I said I was good but took the opportunity to ask if it was ok to hitch along Trail Ridge Road to get to town. He responded that it was not a problem and to go ahead and toss my stuff in the cab. Before I’d even had the chance to take off my backpack I had a ride to town. This very kind man turned out the be one of the more senior park rangers and he graciously gave me a ride right to my hostel.

Shadowcliff Hostel far exceeded my expectations and had a pretty awesome view of town and the lake from the lodge gathering room. I even somehow managed to get the hostel room to myself for the night. It was Saturday and my long time backpacking friend Bill was meeting me for a quick overnight trip into Rocky Mountain National Park on Monday. Shadowcliff was sold out Sunday and a CDT trail angel named Cairn was kind enough to let me camp out in her backyard. I had never spent much time in Grand Lake but ending up having a really fun couple days hanging out downtown and by the lake. Pretty much everyone I encountered was really accommodating & welcoming to hikers, and I quietly wished my home town of Steamboat was more that way. I vowed to bring my wife back here soon for a summer weekend getaway.

After a nice but quick overnight backpacking trip into RMNP with Bill, I again got lucky with an easy hitch from Granby back to Steamboat. And I’d heard a great message in the local church over the weekend, that the highest form of praise we can offer our higher power is to treat our fellow humans with kindness. I certainly felt that kindness over these few days on the CDT.

CDT-CO: Rabbit Ears Pass to Buffalo Pass (Oct 7-8, 2021) 15 miles

Last pitch of my trusty X-Mid tent at Grizzly Lake

Living in Steamboat Springs made this 15-mile section hike of the CDT from Rabbit Ears Pass to Buffalo Pass logistically fairly simple. I drove my pick-up truck up to the Buffalo Pass parking area near Summit Lake, then rode my mountain bike back down Buffalo Pass and to our place in downtown Steamboat. The next morning my nephew Korillo dropped me at the Wyoming Trail/CDT trailhead near Dumont Lake.

I hiked a fairly easy 12 miles with some gentle up and downs through the woods the first day. I had hoped for some nice views of Pleasant Valley below Rabbit Ears Pass, but the trail didn’t quite reach the ridgeline. It was an early October weekday, so I had the all trail almost all to myself. The only others I saw on this section were some Big Agnes staff hiking back to Base Camp after an overnight gear-testing trip. I made camp at an established scenic spot near Grizzly Lake.

After a relaxing solo overnight at the lake I hiked the remaining 3 miles up to Buffalo Pass and my truck and made note of where the CDT leaves the road and heads towards Diamond Park, my next planned section of the CDT for the following summer. This was a nice way for me to finish out an epic backpacking season, take the edge off a bit of post-trail depression after the Colorado Trail, and get my mindset looking forward to section hiking more of CDT in Colorado the following summer.

I didn’t realize at the time this would be my last pitch of my Durston X-Mid 2p. This had been a great tent for the Colorado Trail but I found the footprint too large in a couple smaller camp spots and wanted something a bit lighter as well. The Durston X-Mid Pro looks to fit the bill so I sold my OG X-Mid to help offset some of my nearly $700 investment in the Pro version. I also feel some loyalty to my home town Big Agnes brand, who also makes great tents, and will be carrying my Tiger Wall until the X-Mid Pro finally arrives.

Coming up for the summer of 2022 I’m planning a 95 mile SOBO backpacking trip on the CDT from Rabbit Ears Pass to Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Lake in July, a 35 mile NOBO trip from Buffalo Pass to Diamond Park on the CDT, and a 105 mile thru-hike of the Uinta Highline Trail in August.

CT Day 32/CDT: Cataract Lake to Elk Creek

I hadn’t made 20 miles in a day since starting the San Juans, and hoped to reach that mark today. It was Tuesday and I had 105 miles left to complete the trail in Durango by Sunday. I was out of camp before daylight and began hiking over a series of saddles.

Not long after daylight I stopped to take in the view as the trail passed above Cuba Gulch.

A nice couple of hikers called Sunshine and Toyota leap frogged with me a bit, and I saw them stop to dry out their tent from last night’s rain. They seemed to know what they were doing and it looked like more rain was coming our way, so not long after I stopped to do the same. I was happy to reach the high point, although the morning’s scenery took the edge off the first 7 miles of climbing up and down saddles.

A saw a lone horse looking a bit out of place quite a ways below the saddle. I descended a bit, but not much, on the other side as the trail followed the mountainside above the drainage.

The trail crosses a surprisingly small creek that marks the headwaters of the Rio Grande, then bottoms out at Stony Pass Road. Toyota and Sunshine passed me for the last time as the road climbed back up a short hill, before breaking off again into single track. I had hiked around 12 miles by noon and felt strong until the next couple miles of dry terrain. I crossed paths with a group of hikers using pack mules to carry the their gear and provisions, which they cheerfully pointed out. I then had a short climb to a large rolling green mesa with some small lakes. I would have enjoyed this earlier in the morning, but I was now dragging and could see a wave of rain rolling in. There was no cover here, but the lightning was still off in the distance and thankfully most of the rain missed me. I had one final rolling hill to climb before the CDT broke away from the Colorado Trail and towards New Mexico.

I recognized the view below me from the cover of the Colorado Trail Guidebook. Another hiker had warned me about the switchbacks into the Elk Creek drainage being a challenge, and they did not disappoint. I later heard there is one switchback representing each of the 28 segments of the Colorado Trail. I made room for an uphill hiker hiker who was surprisingly friendly despite being only half way up.

After the switchbacks the trail down was rocky and steep, and I had to scoot belly down over a couple of the sketchier spots. This downhill section felt harder than all of the day’s earlier climbs. At least I’ll never have to climb this, I thought, until I realized that my plan to someday hike the rest of the Colorado sections of the CDT would mean hiking back up that hill.

Towards the bottom of the drainage, orange ribbons marked the suggested but dicey routes across large avalanche debris fields. What appeared to be the worst of these had been cleared thankfully; this must have been a huge undertaking.

I reached a large open campsite alongside Elk Creek right at the 400 mile mark from Denver. Expecting to be out of camp before daylight the next morning, I followed the trail to find where to cross the creek. I didn’t see the crossing, but thankfully some other hikers came along and were able to follow the route across. I was further humbled after a lanky, athletic hiker, who I later met as Danimal, rock-hopped over the creek in two or three long, easy strides.

I was happy to finally set up camp after a rough 20-mile day, hiking over what seemed like every possible type of terrain. I friendly hiker named Paperback came along told me she was waiting for some friends. I let her know there was plenty of room in the campsite as she sat down and of course read a paperback while she waited. Her happy bunch of friends called Puff, Lightning Rod, Trout, & Nightcrawler soon followed and set up camp. It was nice to chat a bit with some nice folks after a long day on the trail.

CT Day 31/CDT: The Colorado Trail High Point

My ideal daily scenario had become to camp at a lower, more protected site near water, then start the next day before daylight with a climb. I would already have my CNOC bag filled and ready to filter water into my bottles while I packed up. This morning I tried to be as quiet as possible with other campers nearby, and suppressed my usual urge to swear out loud when my routine doesn’t go just as planned.

I was starting at around 11,700 feet and had to climb to the Colorado Trail high point of 13,271 feet over the first 7 miles. Once I reached tree line I could see the clouds fill in the valleys below. A bit further up there was a great view of Lake San Cristobal; as a child my family would often rent a cabin near there. With the exception of a challenging switchback corner I had to crawl over, the climb was more relentless than it was steep.

The alpine mesas and rolling hills were green and lush with all the rain we’d been getting. Rain looked likely today as well, and I tried to keep a good pace to get up & over to relatively lower ground before the thunderstorms hit. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hold off a pair of younger, faster hikers that easily passed me. At least they were friendly, I thought.

As I descended from the high point I could see some side-by-sides along the dirt road below me, and noticed the other hikers had stopped to visit. When I got closer, a woman named Jo ran up and excitedly offered me a sandwich and soda. She explained that her sister had hiked the Appalachian Trail, and since then Jo had wanted to be a trail angel. They hadn’t planned that for today, but were eager to offer the first and best ham, bacon, & cheese sandwich I’ll ever have. The other hikers were called Peaches and Neanderthal, and Jo was disappointed to hear I didn’t yet have a trail name. Seeing that I was hiking solo, she quickly suggested that I must be the Lone Wolf as Peaches and Neanderthal nodded in approval. I liked the name and smiled as Peaches stood behind her making Pope-like hand gestures to officially christen me as Lone Wolf.

I nursed my amazing Mountain Dew on the way down the fairly steep Jeep road, and finished it slowly over the next couple of mornings. It had been the perfect compliment to my sandwich and a fun moment on trail. It was fun to introduce myself as Lone Wolf to a couple hikers I crossed paths with on the way down. I had a nice visit with a CT NOBO hiker called Squirrel until a sudden rain began to pummel us. I didn’t envy Squirrel with her stormy climb ahead, not to mention the 375 miles she had left to reach Denver through this epic monsoon season. I was happy when I later saw that she successfully completed her thru-hike.

I initially missed the trail junction just below Carson Saddle but didn’t hike far before I realized my mistake. It had been a big day already, and I still had a couple challenging climbs ahead. I was impressed with the bikepackers I saw making those same climbs. I set up camp just beyond Cataract Lake at about 15 miles for the day, and not long after my campmates from the night before joined me.

CT Day 30/CDT: Into the San Juans

I had planned to spend just one night in Lake City to pick up my resupply box and other provisions, then return to the Colorado Trail on the next day’s noon shuttle to Spring Creek Pass. I kept hearing about the near-record monsoon, and was continuously checking the weather on my phone. The forecast was always the same – rain and thunderstorms starting early every afternoon. After the first 10 miles I would be near or above 12,000 feet continuously for 35 miles. I ended up staying for two unplanned zero days in Lake City.

I had enjoyed revisiting my family’s favorite vacation town from my childhood. The bakery on the other side of town was well worth the mile walk from my campground every morning. I had met Bill, who was doing a1000+ mile LASH hike on the CDT, earlier on trail and it was fun to hang out with him in town for a couple days. I found Lake City to be a super hiker-friendly town, and local merchants even took turns volunteering to drive the daily hiker shuttle to Spring Creek Pass using their own vehicles. I was a little disappointed to be leaving on Sunday as I would miss that night’s free community hiker dinner, hosted weekly by the Presbyterian church.

I was in touch with Lucky at the hostel and he let me know that hikers were still going back out on trail every day. I had built a couple contingency days into my time away from work, which I had just used up with my double zero. I could see I was “losing my mojo” to get back on trail. Although the CT is a much smaller endeavor, I had read Zach Davis’ book “Pacific Crest Trials” to help mentally prepare for my hike. I thankfully had written out Zach’s suggested lists and saved them to my phone. I read my “I am thru-hiking the Colorado Trail because…” list on the noon shuttle back to Spring Creek Pass.

There was a trail magic canopy set up after the first mile on trail, but I just stopped for a few minutes and started right back out. The weather forecast proved correct and after another mile I could see a wall of rain headed my way. There was thankfully no lighting, so I hiked on through the rain. I had only planned to hike in about 9 miles this afternoon and wanted to get settled into camp as soon as possible in case a thunderstorm rolled in. After hiking past the most sheep I had ever seen and some modest climbing, I reached a good camping area at the edge of a meadow with water nearby. I met a pair friendly hikers there ahead of me who were happy to share there campsite. Their CT attempt the prior year had been interrupted when one of them broke an ankle on-trail, and they were back at it this year.

CT Day 29/CDT: They Howl at the Sunrise, Too (Snow Mesa)

I had to hike 10 miles to Spring Creek Pass by noon to catch the shuttle for Lake City and my resupply box, so was again was up and out of camp well before daylight to allow plenty of time. I had a short climb to a saddle to start the day, and enjoyed hiking through the frosted alpine willows in the early morning. I then crossed a rockslide trail to Snow Mesa. The scenery was pretty incredible in all directions, and the sun rose over a nearby peak as I reached a little lake. Right as the sun rose I was startled, then enchanted, to hear the chorus of countless unseen coyotes howling away. I had never heard this before, and had no idea they howled at sunrise. I experienced many special moments on the Colorado Trail, but none like this, and I had it all to myself.

Snow Mesa is huge and literally goes on for miles. I was excited and honesty a bit intimidated as I slowly walked closer and closer to the San Juan mountains. The Collegiates were hard but seemed to follow a predictable pattern. It had been more than 30 years since I last hiked in the San Juans, and there was just something wild and mysterious about them.

Other than the few hours I spent away when I resupplied at Monarch, I’d been on-trail for going on 12 straight days. I was unshaven and had worn the same clothes almost the entire time. I thought of my friend Jeff who’d seen me in such a state too often during some past hard years. But now there was a smile and a light in my eyes; I was truly overjoyed to be here.

I reached Spring Creek Pass early and tried unsuccessfully to hitch a ride to Lake City rather than wait. Some other hikers eventually got picked up, which left just enough room on the shuttle for the rest of us. I ended up taking a covered campsite in town at the River Fork campground instead of the hostel. Lake City was kind to me that first night when some other diners paid for my cheeseburger at Packers after I changed tables to accommodate their larger party. The sign out front celebrated my most feared childhood nemesis, the cannibal Alferd Packer, by depicting him as another famous Packer wearing the #4 and carrying a skull for his football.

CT Day 28/CDT: San Luis Pass

I was up and out of camp before daylight. expecting some challenging climbs today after a couple days of easier going through Cochetopa. After about 3 miles and a short climb I passed some other CT hikers breaking camp alongside a scenic creek; I complimented them on finding a much better site than I had settled for with the cows the night before. I was climbing out of a lush drainage with pretty beaver ponds and crossed back & forth over a stream until I reached a series of switchbacks.

The campers I had passed by earlier caught up and we leap-frogged up the the saddle to the base of San Luis Peak. I had hoped to summit the peak but had not planned well for this. It would be a 2-3 hour roundtrip, and it was late morning already with more several more ridges ahead for the day. Plus my mindset was that I really didn’t want to hike anywhere that wasn’t forward on the Colorado Trail. I hiked down the rockslide from the saddle and crossed paths with a several hikers marching up to their next 14er. I’ll be back for this one, I promised myself.

I hiked up two more saddles then finally reached San Luis Pass where I stopped for a solo lunch. The next saddle was the high point of the day above 12,800 feet on the Continental Divide, and I lost track of the number of climbs after that. Good thing I passed on San Luis Peak, I thought. The next campsite I passed had probably a dozen or more tents set up all around, which was easily the most I had seen on the whole trail to this point. I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to catch the next day’s noon shuttle to Lake City, so I decided to chance that the campsite in the Databook 10 miles from Spring Creek Pass would be available. Along the way I visited with a friendly CT hiker named Shawn who kindly invited me to share his campsite, but I continued on in the hope of having a campsite near water. I found the small site was just as it had been described, and it was a tight squeeze for my Xmid 2p with its notoriously bit footprint. But it was available and with water nearby. It had been a rough 16-mile day full of climbs but I felt lucky to have my spot and be inside ahead of the that afternoon’s rain.

CT Day 27/CDT: Finding Cochetopa

I was up a bit later than usual and hiked out of camp in daylight. The sun rose and I passed nice family whose two young kids were warming up in the sunlight alongside the trail. I later heard that the whole family successfully thru-hiked the Colorado Trial. As continued on past the woods, I began to see this beautiful, undeveloped, almost endless tree-lined meadow with rolling green hills that was right of an old west movie. I had never been to Cochetopa and never even heard of it until I started preparing for the CT. Being born in Colorado and having lived here most of my life here, how did I not know about this place? I understand Cochetopa is a Ute term meaning “Pass of the Buffalo”.

In this giant park I saw just one lone RV, and as I got closer I saw a little paper sign that invited hikers over for trail magic. I think I was the first there that morning and met this wonderful, dog loving couple from Kansas City that just loved to help out hikers. I could leave my trash, refill my bottles with fresh water, charge my devices, sit in a lounge chair, and drink hot tea or cold orange juice. I told them how grateful I was to charge up my phone and batteries, as I had forgotten to pack the correct cable to charge my phone from my primary portable battery. The husband went inside, happily gave me the cable I was missing, and wouldn’t take anything for it. A hiker couple stopped by soon after me – they had thru-hiked the PCT together at 66 years-old, 11 years ago, and were now thru-hiking the CT. I thought that’s who I want to be when I grow up.

I had left camp a couple hours late this morning, and spent at least an hour with my new KC friends. But I still felt like I needed to get in my 20 miles for the day with relatively easy hiking through Cochetopa. I found hiking this section was a bit more challenging than expected later in the day. I had to find a spot to wade across Cochetopa Creek where the old bridge had washed out. After a short, steep climb, the trail then follows a narrow, dry, and angled path along the steep hillside for several miles approaching the Eddiesville trailhead. It was easier hiking after Eddiesville, and the cows liked it here too. An impressive collection of kinda mean looking bulls were fenced off. A bit further up the trail the cows were unfazed as I set my camp up among them, just short of 20 miles for the day.

CT Day 26/CDT: What is Los Creek?

I was again up super early and packed up quietly, knowing others were camped nearby. I had a short but pretty steep climb from Baldy Lake back to the Colorado Trail, and hoped for another 20+ mile day today. I was expecting easier hiking as the trail elevation would drop from 11,500 feet to below 10,000 feet for most of the day. I reached a clearing as the sun came up behind me, and saw some nice-sized elk crossing the trail ahead. I had another short climb to scenic overlook where I was surprised to have the first good cell signal since leaving the Collegiates. I was able to order a charging cable that I had forgotten to pack in my last resupply box, that would arrive in Lake City by the end of the week. I made the mistake of assuming I would have cell service to check in with my wife Maria later that morning, not wanting to call her this early. I enjoyed the view a bit longer when my campmates from the night before, both hikers and bikepackers, passed by. I was able to filter and top off my water at Razor Creek, which was still flowing as reported by another hiker a day earlier.

I had a few more ups and downs than expected as I continued on. I leap-frogged a couple times with another hiker named Bill, who was hiking the CDT from Winter Park, CO to Lordsburg, NM. I kept checking for a cell signal to call my wife whenever I reached a clearing or high point, and felt bad walking up on Bill’s tranquil lunch as I was swearing out loud at my cell phone. I was finally able to reach Maria to reassure her that I was still on-trail and not off on some other adventure that didn’t involve hiking.

It was fun to pass the number “300” written neatly with little stones, marking my progress as I continued my descent towards Highway 114. I shared the final walk to the highway in the company of surprising number of cows. After crossing the highway I stopped to filter some water at Lujan Creek. Later that afternoon I crossed paths with several hearty mountain bikers riding the Colorado Trail bikepacking race, and they encouraged me on as much as I did them. I visited with a woman waiting at the side of the road hoping to see a glimpse of her husband who was riding, although she couldn’t have contact with him in the unsupported race.

After about 15 miles for the day felt pretty worn out but knew I had to hike at least another 5 miles to stay on pace for my next resupply in Lake City. This was kind of a turning point for me on the trail as I found another gear to push ahead for 7 more miles. I finally reached, then rock-hopped across, Los Creek. I wondered what the history around the naming of Los Creek might be, and never did find out. I found camping not far up the hill from the creek, after logging 22 miles for the day. I got lucky with the rain and was inside my tent just as that afternoon’s storm rolled in.

CT Day 25/CDT: Marshall Pass to Baldy Lake

I needed to make up some miles today after logging just 9 trail miles the day before. It was Sunday and I had packed enough in my resupply to last until Thursday, when I also had a bed reserved at the hostel in Lake City. That was still 90 miles away, which meant averaging 20 miles a day through Wednesday with 10 miles left for Thursday morning to catch the the noon shuttle from Spring Creek Pass. I was a bit disappointed to leave the hikers I had camped with last night, but the only way I could get in the miles I needed with the anticipated storms ahead was to leave camp by around 4:00 every day. I was now used to leaving camp in the dark and looked forward to having the trail all to myself at my favorite time of the day.

Marshall Pass is a well-used, mult-use trail and was rough hiking, especially on the chopped-up downhill sections. I was still making good time and planned to stop at the Soldierstone monument on Sargents Mesa. By early afternoon I had nearly reached the the mesa when dark skies quickly turned into heavy rain and lightning flashed at the top of the climb. I dashed into a grouping of trees which provided surprisingly good shelter from the rain. I could see there was no cover on the open mesa and felt lucky to have reached these trees, despite ample evidence that the nearby cows had recently taken refuge here. I waived a few other passing hikers over to share this spot through the worst of the rain. I was happy to hear one of them report that the next on-trail potential water source at Razer Creek was flowing, although still 10 miles away. One by one we eventually decided the lessening rain was preferable to the surrounding mounds of cow poo and I hiked up to the mesa. I saw a trail marker on the far end of the meadow and assumed that must be the trail to Soldierstone. As it turned out, I had passed by the unmarked and barely worn path to the monument at the front edge of the mesa. I was about 15 miles in for the day and already tired & wet, and just couldn’t see myself backtracking. I promised myself I would return one day and continued on to hopefully find a campsite after another 5 miles.

I leapfrogged for the next few miles with a fun and encouraging group of hikers, Moxie, Legs, & Jingles. The Databook listed Baldy Lake as the next good camping, but I didn’t really want to hike a half mile downhill off trail to camp. Eventually the hiker trio drew further ahead and out of site, and I reached the Baldy Lake trail intersection after about 22 miles for the day. I hadn’t seen any decent campsites, so I turned down towards the lake despite feeling exhausted. Thankfully it was a much easier hike down than expected, and I was happy to see Moxie, Legs, & Jingles had set up their camp by the scenic lake. A friendly group of bikepackers soon followed me down, and I thought how I didn’t envy their ride back up the hill to trail the next morning.