The Sawatch Range

Ever since I started doing multi-week hiking trips, a few years back, I felt I was going one step forward every time. Maybe several steps forward: longer, more difficult, more remote… in 2008, though, the Colorado Trail left me with this Deja Vu impression and the feeling that I had already done this before. But maybe I shouldn’t be starting here with a seemingly negative comment on an otherwise wonderful trip that basically reaffirmed my faith on backpacking as my best battery charger and necessary break from the modern. And the Colorado Rockies are a great place to feel the noise.

I went to Colorado to bring back some of those days in the summer PCT were I could trust the weather gods and relax. I’d still expect some of the (in)famous Colorado storms for some thrown in epic and some story to tell… but I definitely wanted to get away from the often overwhelming feeling of the constantly daunting weather in my most recent trips to Lapland or Scotland. I also wanted to bring back that feeling of the western America with the vast, open spaces… or not so open (yet particularly interesting) when the mountains close them in. I got some of that all but not really according to expectations. Wrong expectations.

If there was any personal breakthrough in this trip it came from that sensible piece of gear that’s the shelter. I had never dared to use a self-made one on the long distance and it was great to see it through some mildly tough conditions and still feel safe. The perceived protection is as much a psychological thing as it is physical. And it’s not only about the designing and sewing (both fairly straightforward) but the actual use and what it takes to live through a Colorado thunderstorm at 12 k feet under a tarp.

The CT is a great trail in a great setting. The one thing that somehow spoiled my experience was the motorized access galore, even across the most remote areas. It’s exactly one of the things I’m trying to scape from when I visit America so I may be very sensitive about it but I find cars and motorcycles just plain wrong in the middle of the mountains. They don’t belong there. It was still nothing like Western Europe where the people / mountains ratio is so much higher but crossing paths with a 4wd or spotting a motorist group in the distance is so disheartening to me.

The other thing that I found could be better is trail location. Most of it is fine but just at first glance (the one from a first time CT hiker) I found painful how the CT misses the Sawatch Range by going around and not across, not even for a short stretch. That short stretch I took over Hope and Elkhead passes, off CT, was enough to show what’s in there, an amazing array of towering peaks, high altitude valleys and some real wilderness. Sure it’s more challenging but the rewards are obvious. Those two days in the Sawatch were among the very best in my hiking CV and I couldn’t even imagine my trip without them.

On the other hand, the now apparently official new trail section over the San Juan Mountains is a step in the very best direction (but not a place to be in bad weather! so please keep the valley option).

I saw no bears but I could see many elk, fox or deer, could hear elk bulging and felt greeted by pika everytime I was near rocks. Didn’t have to get my feet wet not even one time, which is good and bad but it shows the trail caretakers really do care. I could feel the power of the mountains when summer turned to winter for a day or two and thought a lot about how special it is to step on a continental divide for such a big continent. Met the nicest people, both on the trail and off and had a great time on the little trail towns. When are we going off again?