M.A. Van Wey Travel & Photo

The Colorado Trail, pt 2
October 5, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Hiking/Backpacking | Tags: , , , , , ,

After being dropped off at the trail above Bailey, fully restocked and gung-ho ready to go, Jennifer and I made tracks.  Speaking of tracks, we both recently got sucked into an addictive Canadian reality show called Mantracker, essentially pitting 2 cowboy trackers against 2 hapless “prey” in a cat-and-mouse chase through the woods.  We soaked up a few episodes while on R&R, and now back on the trail we found ourselves analyzing every track and scuff we came across.  Was this a dog or a coyote? Notice the toe-kick of this print, he must have been moving fast!  We were shameless.


The thick pine forests eventually thinned out to open meadows and pasture as we climbed higher into the hills, where we frequently camped among cow pies and their makers.  On a couple occasions through this stretch we were forced to use water of questionable quality, although my nifty Steripen anhailated (hopefully) the undesirables in it.  Through this stretch we also learned a very important lesson about the fluid-dynamics of cold air.  Even at lower elevations, valleys tend to channel the coldest air from the mountains, the result is the coldest air sits in the bottom of the valley, and much warmer air sits just above it on the sides and ridges.  By far the coldest nights were spent camped along a stream or river in a valley, frequently awaking with ice covering our tarp and bags.

We continued working our way to the first major pass of the trip, Kenosha Pass.  In hindsight, this pass was incredibly easy and the view was pretty, but not that breathtaking.  However we had no idea what lay ahead nor how absurdly steep and exposed future passes would get, so as we topped out on this one we were quite proud of ourselves.  To add to the excitement, we were buzzed by a military plane running low-altitude exercises through the valley.  I’m not an expert on planes, but I think it was a C-130, which look pretty massive when they’re bearing down on you just 75 feet above your head at full speed.  Just close enough to give the pilot a salute with eye-contact.  The scenery kept getting better, from golden rolling hills of pasture to huge stands of aspens as we hit the pass.  The largest and prettiest aspen groves of the whole trip were on top of Kenosha.  Straight black & white trunks as far as you could see, shooting up into a canopy of flourescent green that cast a glowing, dappled shade on the ground.  The sound of aspen leaves rustling in the wind is incredibly soothing, like the sound of a fall wind blowing piles of leaves down your street, or like the sound of a distant stream full of little waterfalls and cascades.  These little oasis of warm, soft light and seductive whispers were always appreciated along our trip; we often stopped in these groves to watch and listen, and surely felt rejuvenated afterwards.

The trail carried us higher across more passes, each higher than the last.  Georgia Pass was our first taste of the alpine tundra, an ecosystem that exists above treeline and below massive amounts of snow most of the year.  Some of the oldest living organisms in the world live here, the bristle cone pines.  A stumpy, gnarly little tree that doesn’t reveal it’s secret longevity at first glance.  Wildflowers were always blooming when we climbed the passes, a gentle reward for the exertion.  Marmots were ubiquitous at these elevations as well, always signaling our arrival to their friends with a sharp chirp.  Another cute and fuzzy mammal that often joined the marmot’s chorus was the pika.  A member of the rabbit family, it resembles a guinea pig with big ears, or a big mouse.  They also announced our arrival with an even cuter whistle/chirp/sigh.  Their sounds became so familiar through the trip that it almost became background noise.  Although I still pointed and laughed every time I saw one of the marmots shuffling down the trail away from us, a big mass of fat and fur and tail flopping around until it was safely parked under a rock.

Now about 70 miles into the trail, we were approaching our first official resupply, Breckenridge.  Before we left for the trail, we strategically planned out our meals for the next 4 weeks.  We shopped around and loaded up with what we thought would be hearty, health, easy to cook food.  We ended up with a lot of granola, jerky, oatmeal, muesli, coffee, sugar, dried milk, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, Annie’s mac & cheese (mmmm), mashed potatoes, pepperoni, salami, dried veggies, bullion cubes, tang, and tuna.  We divvied this up into 4 boxes, one per resupply point along the trail.  Then we mailed these boxes to the post offices in the respective towns for “general delivery”, which essentially means you’re mailing it for pickup at the post office.  This way we saved a lot of time and hassle (and money) when we arrived in town, with all our food ready to go.  This worked rather well, although a few items we shipped didn’t make it across, namely the salami which arrived bearing new and foreboding colors.

We arrived in Breckendridge early, where we promptly set about rounding up food and supplies, then treated ourselves to an epic meal.  We heard rumors of an italian place with calzones that were as big as your thigh, each big enough for several people.  Considering our appetite and trail dreams of greasy cheesy pizza, this was a no brainer.  Our expectations were soundly met, the calzone was massive and delicious, and the two of us barely put one away.  I still managed to have room for a  caesar salad and a cannoli.  This was the beginning of a trend for me; after every resupply I would gorge myself silly on rich food, eating epic proportions and managing to make room for every course.  What followed was a form of food euphoria, a drunken stupor of bliss and giddiness with frequent attacks of the giggles.  Even 3 weeks after the trail I still get this euphoria after eating a big meal; it’s as though the trail opened up a level of food appreciation I’ve never known before.  Before setting back out on the trail, we resolved to get ourselves a pair of trekking poles.  We had debated the idea before we left Denver, but decided it was probably just an unneccessary accessory for gear-obsessed hikers.  By the time we got to Breck we were using whittled wooden poles, having realized the benefits on your feet, knees, and arms from using them.  Each pole relieves about 10 lbs of impact from your leg each step you take.  Compounded over hundreds of miles, this is a huge amount of impact.  We were sold on the idea, and wanted to upgrade from our sticks.  We browsed a couple shops in Breck and found that the cheapest poles were a hundred bucks (Breck is a cute, but touristy and ritzy mountain resort town), so we caught a bus up to a neighboring, more blue-collar town with a Walmart and found a pair of cheapo poles which would carry us all the way to Durango.

The bus took us back down to the trail, and after another few miles and several rolled ankles later (for some reason I forgot how to walk, maybe a result of the calzone) we set up camp at the base of what turned out to be the hardest mountain pass of the trip, the Ten Mile Range.


2 Comments so far
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Comment by Brean

Epic post bro! Your writing truly impresses me with its clarity of emotion and detail for the sights on this amazing journey. Glad you took it, even gladder still to be reading about it!

Comment by Drew

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