The north american wilderness has this certain attractive: it may be easy, smooth going but also remote and solitary. Miles and miles of uninhabitted land not because conditions were consistently too tough but because there were better places and yet huge chunks of terrain were spared from human occupation. Now they may be visited by hikers and I enfasise the fact that we are visitors in some other’s home. We’ll try to be respectful and enjoy.
Back in 2007, I went north to look for wild, uninhabitted land this side of the Atlantic; I found it, it was beautiful and travelling through it was a great experience but I still missed a bit of that relaxed and peaceful feeling that comes from a not so tormented climate. In 2008, I’ll be back in the great wild west to hike, see, smell and hopefully sleep under the stars. Nylon walls will be ready just in case.
As usual, hiking in North America means a shift from anything I can find at or near home. Beautiful scenery, rough terrain, a physical or technical challenge, you name it… all that I can find in my local mountains… but not the wilderness. I’ve said it too many times throughout this website but I can say it again: the real added value I find in North America is the big empty spaces. Look around and see nothing human but the trail I’m hiking on and know it’ll be a few days before I meet a road.
The Colorado Trail may be technically easy (that’s what they say) but I’ll be on my own and I’ll have no other option than being on my own. No huts! and no mountain hotels to be found. That’s estimulating. Americans may take it for granted. It isn’t so in Europe.
Where and what
Rocky Mountains, at the very heart of the north american sub-continent. Highest part of the Rockies and a true world of neverending mountain scenery.
The Colorado Trail traverses alongside the range, near (or right over) the continental divide. It’ll be odd to think of a divide when the sea (any sea) is so far away.
As easy as it gets: an established route, plenty of documentation available that’s straightforward to get and a trail frequented by long distance hikers so finding first hand info is a couple mouse clicks away. Nothing to do with the big void I found in 2007 when trying to plan for a hike in northern Scandinavia. The CT will be a relief from all the Nordkalottleden hassles in too many ways to mention (not that I didn’t enjoy the Nordkalottleden hassles…).
length: 470 to 500 miles (750 to 800 kms.) depending on the source
highest point: almost 4000 m.
average elevation: around 3000 m (it’s definitely a high trail)
Going northbound had the obvious advantage of getting closer to Denver and my flight home but I happily decided to sacrifice that for the easier introduction and more stylish end the southbound hike provides and the ease of reading the guidebook forward.
I decided for a mid-late season hike. I’ll hope for no bugs, settled weather and a diminishing chance of thunderstorms. In a high snow year, water should not be an issue and obviously late season snow itself should be long gone. I’m trying to make things as easy as possible. My own time frame is limited to 4 weeks minus motorized travelling time so I don’t expect much spare time for contingencies.
The CT has no technical terrain and it’s supposedly easy to follow. Major obstacles expected are:
thunderstorms: almost daily frequency and often violent but quite predictable. It’s important to time the day to avoid being in an exposed place at thunderstorm time.
exposure: plenty of trail length above tree line and over ridges. Not a problem (and a beautiful thing indeed) in good weather but a very bad place to be if things get ugly weather wise.
relative isolation: this is obviously from a european point of view where it’s unimaginable a trail of this length and quality has no hut network and only crosses a road every few days. Ok, the CT is not the Alaska wilderness but it may still take long to get to civilization if the need arise and help may be kind of far away when needed.
Rough plan consists in hiking 20-30 mile days and ressuplying every 6-7 days for a total of 3 ressuplies that will break the trip in four sections. I don’t plan on any rest day but will most probably spend a night in civilization every time I come down for supplies and a shorter hiking day, either before or after each stop. This plan is consistent with my latest long distance trips.
I have a total of 26 days to hike the trail. In an emergency, I could add a 27th day but that’d mean travelling from Durango to Denver the same day my flight leaves and just on time to take it… not a nice prospect.
Of the trailside towns, I’ll hopefully stop at Leadville, Salida and Creede:
The last few years have saw me increasing the challenge (albeit not dramatically, but increasing) and the complexity of the tools. This time I’ll downshift some. The Colorado Rockies will mean a step back into that place I know… or so I hope from the reports because I’ve never been to the Colorado Rockies before… but the conditions I expect there look more like the typical summer mountain weather I met on previous hikes on the HRP or the PCT rather than the inhospitable variability met in the Lapland Arctic or the Scottish Highlands. The gear I’ll take with me will reflect this and I hope to step back into the lighter pack weights I used to get.
Most of the gear will stay the same as usual but there are a few relevant changes; most important around the shelter system:
It’ll be the first time I take a self made shelter for a long distance route. I made the Siltoldo just in time for my HRP trip and considered taking it but I thought I wouldn’t feel safe enough in the often exposed environment of the typical Pyrenean campsite. I also missed those reports from previous users that prove it’s doable: tarps are not that usual in the Pyrenees… but they’re popular among long distance hikers in the Rockies so this time I had the reports. It was surprisingly easy (for my wimpy self) to decide to take the Siltoldo along this time and I guess that means it was the time and the place.
The Siltoldo is a small shelter but not as small as the typical poncho-tarp. It’s considerably longer though not any wider but the extra length and some built-in extras allow for a big range of configurations to match the conditions. Yet, I might have been wary of going with just this so I thought about supplementing it with something else to make it bigger. What else? (read on…)
A poncho-tarp is too small for my liking for the long distance, as a tarp, and too compromising a synergy… but nobody said it should be your only tarp. A poncho, in its rain clothing function, should be quite adequate for the Colorado Rockies conditions (mostly dry with frequent, often violent afternoon thunderstorms) and I had a smallish tarp waiting for a matching friend that’d be useful for some other thing to justify the extra item and its weight. So my poncho-tarp, apart from being useful as a tarp on its own, would attach to my main tarp when needed for a winning team. It’ll be my rain clothing to use both when I want to keep hiking or when I prefer to hunker down and wait the storm and it’ll give me the peace of mind of knowing I can have a big sheltered space at night if I need to.
This is a tiny addition of little importance but it’s something I’ve made and it’s always nice to take home-made gear along. Just as nice as seing it working fine as expected (don’t know about this yet!). I hope cold hands will not be a problem this time, no matter the conditions.
And the rest…
Pack, sleeping bag, most clothing and major (and also minor) items will be similar to previous trips. It bears mentioning I decided to change the typical second shirt for a thin fleece pullover, thus making official the comeback of fleece to my summer list. Not a good insulation/weight ratio but excelent breathability and definitely the item to wear while on the move if its cold enough… and sometimes it is.