I have a new idea for a physical and mental challenge to tackle. Finishing the Colorado 14ers in 2015 was a cool moment, and I discovered I’ve missed having that kind of multi-year goal. Others have made a project of Colorado’s 100 highest summits (called the Centennial Peaks of which the 14ers are the first 56 on the list). Or even the 200 highest summits. Or even the highest points in all Colorado counties. Those are cool, but I haven’t felt an inner inspiration for those lists.
Instead, I’m going to hike the Colorado Trail!
The plan I’m hatching does not include a continuous multi-week hike of the Colorado Trail. Instead, I want to tackle it one segment at a time.
The Colorado Trail is 486 miles and travels continuously from Denver to Durango, along or near the continental divide for much of the route, with 89,354 feet of elevation gain. The trail is broken into 28 segments based on where it crosses public roads thus creating trail access. Each segment is between 12-32 miles and 2,000-6,000 of gain.
I want to do a self-supported hike of every segment, and this is going to create some unique logistical challenges. For example, I plan to hike from east to west (Denver to Durango). What happens when I get to the end of a leg? Do I hike back to my truck, doubling my mileage? I’m definitely not up for that.
My idea is to drive ahead the day before and leave my mountain bike and some camping gear at the end of the leg. I can hike the leg one-way, find my stash and camp overnight, then re-stash the camping gear and ride my bike back the other direction.
I need to figure out when I’ll retrieve the camping stash. After I’m done biking? Or maybe just leave it until I tackle the next leg, which could be weeks or even months later.
Also how much total time will I need to complete a leg in this manner? For example if I leave my house in Boulder on a Saturday afternoon, I could drive to the end of the leg (could be 1-3 hours or more depending on the leg), drop off bike + camping gear, then drive around to the start of the leg (could be another 1-2 hours). Then camp at my truck overnight at the trailhead so I can get an early start hiking Sunday morning. Even the shorter legs of 12-16 miles will take me all day, so I’ll camp Sunday night, ride my bike back to the truck Monday morning, and drive back to Boulder Monday afternoon. Seems I’ll need at least a 48-hour window for every leg. Repeat this 28 times, and remember that the further I go the further each leg is from Boulder. That’s a lot of weekends and a lot of driving!
Plus some of the legs are LOOONNNGGGGG like 25-32 miles. Not sure I can hike that far in a day, so is there an option for ultralight backpacker camping? I’ve never done anything like that before, and it scares me a little.
I expect this will project require multiple years to complete. I probably can’t get started until I’ve got more free time than currently available in my life. I don’t want to be away from my kids so this will go into play in 2024 after my youngest finishes high school and heads to college. To accomplish this radical plan, I’ll also need to make some changes in my professional life. Not sure what that looks like yet but current work constraints are not compatible.
That’s all okay because there are clearly a lot of details to figure out in the meantime.
Beyond the overall lifestyle changes that will be necessary, I need to figure out how to train and what to pack. Since I’m planning mainly day trips, It’s great that I can essentially hike with a day pack instead of an overnight pack. That should protect my legs and back from repetitive use injuries carrying heavier loads. But I turn 50 next year and I’ll need to train for back-to-back hiking/mountain biking days.
Many people have hiked and biked the entire length of the Colorado Trail and their blogs and other published resources are filled with rich information. The Colorado Trail Foundation has a great guidebook. I’ll need to buy maps of the areas I’ll be visiting. I think I’ll also want to take a back-country orienteering course; such classes are offered by the Colorado Mountain Club.
The Colorado Trail is not as long as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, but it’s close to my home and it will be an epic adventure. I plan to post here as I research, plan and learn. And then continue to post when do it!