I recently embarked on the most challenging backpacking trip of my three years of backpacking experience. Most of my trips so far have been just a couple days over the weekend and the places I’ve gone have usually been pretty close to civilization. We usually stay within driving distance of home, frequenting places like southern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia. This trip was a step up though. This time we went all the way out to Colorado and started section hiking the Colorado Trail. In today’s blog I’m going to share a summary of my thoughts on the trail, the sights, the challenges and the journey overall. If you'd like to read about what I brought in my pack or how I flew with my camping gear read my other blogs. So stay tuned for those. I’ll be sharing lots of pictures here of my favorite sights and places along the trail.
Our hiking route
- We hiked for a total of 5 days starting out in the afternoon on Sunday and finally exiting the trail late Thursday morning. We hiked Sections 3, 4 and 5. Each day had its challenges but I was pushed to my limits on day 2 when we hiked about 13.5 miles and did over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. That day was rough and I don’t think I was quite prepared for it. However, the following days made up for it with the beautiful sights, the amazing feeling of accomplishment and awesome the vastness of the landscape. This was the farthest out into the wilderness I had ever been and because of that it definitely had a different feel than the other backpacking trips I’d been on.
- We skipped sections 1 and 2 because the views were not known to be that great - especially with a recent fire - and the entire area was very scarce on water. We would have had to carry in a crazy amount of water or stashed it on the trail ahead of time to do those sections. We also had some time constraints for this trip and we wanted to get through Section 5 so we opted to skip the first couple. I'm very glad we hiked through Section 5 because it had some of the most amazing views.
Some challenges we faced
- The altitude was a challenge to become acclimated with. We had only 24 between arriving in Denver and starting our hike and we were coming from Ohio which is around only 1,000 feet above sea level at its highest. We started at the Little Scraggy Trailhead which was 7,730 ft elevation and our highest was nearly 11.000 ft on day 4.
- Not only was the altitude higher than we were used to but the elevation that we were doing each day was something I hadn’t trained well-enough for. Halfway through the roughest day (day two) when we were climbing up another steep hill and I got a head/neck-ache and started to feel sick to my stomach and a little lightheaded. I think that my problem was a combination of altitude sickness, and problems with my pack. I adjusted my pack and that helped my shoulders to feel better but I still felt terrible until we finally made it to camp around 6pm.
- Getting water. We were doing this hike in mid July and there had been a dry spell in the area so a lot of the seasonal streams that we had on our maps were dried up. We had marked many different streams on the map though and we loaded up when we did have a chance to filter. There was only one time when some of us ran out of water and that time was the hottest day. We were drinking like crazy because it was so hot and because it's good to drink a lot to combat altitude sickness. I was getting dehydrated by the time we found a flowing stream. It was never a desperate situation because someone shared with me and I had enough to make it but it's kind of scary not knowing exactly when you'll find water next.
The wildlife and plant-life
- The abundance of wildflowers was amazing to me! I had no idea that there was such an amazing variety of flowers and different plant-life. I loved it. There were many different flowers and I tried to capture my favorites but there were a ton of others besides what I photographed.
- We saw lots and lots of Lodge Pole Pines as well as Bristlecone Pines and Aspens. At a couple different points there was an Aspen Grove full of the lovely white and dark spotted trees.
We did not see a lot of wildlife. We did see some Elk, lots of little squirrels and chipmunks and a notable little grasshopper that clicked it’s wings to make a surprising noise. We passed through a giant cattle grazing area on day 4 which was near the end of section 4.
One more thing I want to note before I share the rest of my pictures is just how impressed I was with the cleanliness and the care taken to keep this trail in good condition. The Colorado Trail Foundation does an amazing job maintaining it. There were lots of fallen trees along the trail but we only had to climb over two or three because they were all cut and moved off of the trail. So props to them for keeping things so well!
Here we are on day one just taking in all those pine trees and that red dirt!
We just saw some of the mountains through breaks in the trees on the first day. We weren't very high up yet.
Here's one of those precious good-flowing streams that were few and far between! It was a sight for sore eyes to not have to scoop our water bags 10 times to get a couple liters.
This was the Aspen forest area.
This was the start of day 3 where we went up a hill like this for nearly 3 miles straight. It was a killer but thankfully we got it over during the cooler part of the day.
Some places were pretty magical.
Here's when we came upon the giant open meadow.
We spent several hours walking in the open and thankfully we were blessed with mild weather. It was partly sunny for a while, then a storm came through but only dropped rain for a few minutes. The sun came back out, dried us and then it was nice and overcast for the last part of the day. I usually love sunshine but it's a killer when you're out in the open.
This was at our day 3 campsite.
This was the beginning of day 4. We always look super excited in the morning.
Here is where we camped on our last night. It was an amazing spot.
This is the only time I got to do a little sketching, the rest of days we got to camp at about dinner time, ate then went to bed because we were so tired.
This was the campsite at dawn.
After another difficult climb we saw some amazing views on our hike out.
I don't remember which day this was taken but I think it's a good one to end on. Me and my hubby doing adventurous things together.
I hope you've enjoyed hearing about our adventure and that you'll be inspired to try an adventure of your own! If you do I'd love to hear about it! If you'd like to read about what I packed for this trip read my Pack Breakdown and if you'd like some info on how we flew with our packs read this blog.