Pre-game: I flew from Miami to Denver at the beginning of July 2017, a week before starting the CT, my very first long-distance thru hike. I stayed with my parents for a few days while doing some local hikes to acclimate to the elevation. This helped tremendously. Then I had a fantastic reunion with my 2 dear cousins that live near Denver and my Aunt Peggy, who lives near Steamboat, CO. I stayed with my cousin Kessia for a few nights, who happened to live within a few miles of the trailhead, start of segment 1. The day before the hike, I picked up my friend Rebecca Shivers, here-on known as PBR. She flew in from Iowa to hike the CT with me. We were both so excited the night before that we barely slept. PBR shares in my infatuation with backpacking gear.
Day 1: July 13th, Colorado Trail Terminus at Waterton Canyon to South Platte River, 16.8 miles, Segment 1.
One of many early starts to come…with my cousin living only 5 minutes from the trailhead, PBR and I were out the gates and moving at 0630 am. The first 7 miles were on a dirt road, following along the river. It was easy going and we stopped at a picnic table to play some John Denver songs.
Then we hit single-track and began climbing a series of switchbacks. We also started to encounter mountain bikers and other hikers…we hadn’t seen anyone in the first stretch. Some of the hikers were heavily laden with gear and already on their second day. Both of us had pretty small packs. PBR was in fact an early “student” of mine, where I impressed on her the advantages of lightweight gear. She’s now a rock-star ultralight backpacker.
We passed Bear Creek and our last water source for 10 miles. Doing over 16 miles on the first day was perhaps an ambitious goal but we both felt good and motivated to get to the river. Our early start helped a lot. We even had time to stop to take a nap and admire some wildflowers.
We made it to our 1st campsite by 3pm that day, with plenty of time to collect water and chat with other hikers. There were tons of people at this first site…maybe 30 or more. Unfortunately, with so many CT hikers, there was also some trash illicitly left behind in the pit toilet. New hikers are sometimes guilty of such trespasses.
While getting water, we met ultralight backpacker, David Poston. He planned to get water and begin hiking the 10-mile dry stretch in the next segment. I remember being impressed that someone would consider hiking more than 17 miles on their first day (my first day on the CDT, several years later, logged in at 26 miles…experience makes a big difference:). I also mistook David for a “kid”…or at least that’s how PBR and I referred to him for some time. He looked so young but I later found out that he’s about a year older than me and has 2 young daughters. We went to bed early and planned for another early start the next day. It was such a great start to this thru-hike!
Day 2: July 14th, South Platte River to Buffalo Creek, 19.7 miles, Segment 2-3.
We got an early start because the first 10 miles are through a dry burn area. The section is notoriously hot and exposed. We carried some extra water, not knowing if it would be enough. I was surprised to pass David’s campsite right off the bat. I figured he was going to hike further the day before.
It was a long climb out of the river valley but the views were pretty epic. Large boulders dominated the landscape, with Chair Rocks and Long Scraggy Peak being the obvious landmarks.
I pulled ahead of PBR and enjoyed some solo hiking. Then David caught up and we hiked together all the way to the end of the segment, nerding out about gear. David is as much of a gearhead as I am and has given me a lot of good advice over the years. In fact, it was his HMG backpack that I tried on which convinced me to get my own…the same backpack that has been with me on the TA, PCT, CDT and AZT!
We reached an unmanned fire house mid-day for lunch and the only water source since the river. They generously allow hikers to fill bottles from their outside spigot. We lingered in the shade for awhile, waiting for PBR to catch up. David mentioned that she had given him some of her water, since he was running low. I worried about her not having enough for herself and sure enough, when she arrived, she had ran out. Poor PBR. She was so hot and thirsty because of her generosity and concern for others. What a champ!
Everyone revived ok and we continued on. We began section 3 shortly after, which was thankfully back in the shade of the trees. We hiked another 8 miles to end up near a nice creek, where we watched trout swim while we ate our dinners. David carried on for another few miles.
Day 3: July 15th, Buffalo Creek to Long Gulch trailhead and creek, 21 miles, Segment 3-4.
This was a big day. We started low, crossing a few dirt roads and passing some trailheads. After the last, we began a big climb into the Lost Creek Wilderness area. We hiked along some old rocky logging roads (my least favorite), passed through some cool aspen stands, and I spied my first columbine flower for the trip.
At the top of the climb, we entered a long meadow that went on forever, following along the North Fork of Lost Creek. I was in heaven walking through this meadow and the day passed quickly. I listened to my first episode of Heavyweight by Jonathan Goldstein, which has become one of my favorite podcasts. It’s funny that re-listening to these podcasts brings back the memories of where I was hiking at the moment I first listened in. As I write this, an excerpt from this same podcast was in an This American Life podcast I just listened to today. What a coincidence!
We of course caught up to David again and thought his trail name should be Yo-Yo for the way he kept springing ahead of us and then being pulled back in. This name, in fact, stuck. He’s now YoYo on the Trail and has a popular YouTube channel. Check him out! This is probably the first and perhaps only instance in where I have given someone a trail name!
We neared the headwaters of the meadow at the end of the day, just as some rain clouds were beginning to roll in. We got up to nearly 11,000 feet in elevation (we stated at around 5,500 on the first day). The trail dropped quickly from a saddle and we rushed to find a good campsite in the valley. We got to the end of segment 4 to find it a very popular site indeed. There were about 8 other tents at this campsite. We socialized for a bit but it got cold really quick. I managed to scrounge some leftovers from one of the other campers since I was hungry still. Then we all went to bed. It was a very cold night and hard to get moving the next morning.
Day 4: July 16th, Long Gulch trailhead to Guernsey Creek meadow, 18.4 miles, Segment 5-6.
In the morning, I became better acquainted with another CT hiker and nearby camper named Bam (Coleman). He had already hiked the AT and PCT so I was impressed by his thru-hiking experience. He had started the CT a few days before us but had to take a day of rest in Bailey to get used to the altitude (he’s from FL/NC). Coincidentally, Yoyo had given Bam a ride to town while Yoyo was caching some food for himself ahead of the hike. Suddenly we were all together and it felt like the beginning of some good times and long-lasting friendships.
Bam planned to become a Triple Crowner in the near future, so the CT was a taste of the much bigger and daunting CDT, the final trail he needed to complete. I wondered at the time if I would ever be in his shoes (the answer is YES!).
I hiked much of the day with Bam and Yoyo. We passed through a variety of environments with very beautiful views of South Park (yes, this is a real feature of Colorado but is not a town full of cartoon kids, but rather just a region). There were also views of the big mountains to come, including Georgia Pass and pyramid-shaped Mt. Guyot. We hiked through some extensive forests of aspen and past a few ancient bristlecone pines (trees that can live as long as 5000 years!).
My UL frameless Gossamer Gear pack (30L Murmur) was too small to fit my tent, so I lashed it to the bottom. Also note, 3 years ago I was already ready for Coronavirus with my merino wool buff face covering.
Protection from the sun has been key to my thru-hiking experience.
Bam has a lot in common…he wears a Purple Rain kilt and loves his sumbrella.
We took a lunch break at Kenosha Pass, managing to get some water at the nearby campground. It had gotten really hot and I was enjoying the relief my umbrella offered. Yoyo made the mistake of wishing more clouds would come and just like that, the thunderclouds were upon us. We just managed to clear a ridge and take refuge under some trees near a meadow before the deluge struck. This was our first taste of the many afternoon thunderstorms that were to harass us the rest of the trip. At least I got some practice pitching my tent in the rain (after it had lightened up a lot). Plus, my umbrella got to serve double duty for the day.
Some of the Solplex’s first days on the trail…who knew this tent would come to have over 9,000 miles on it?
We called this meadow the Zpacks showroom. The four of us camped together all had Zpacks tents: 2 Solplex, 1 hexamid, and 1 Altaplex. It was a great day and we had fun comparing gear in the evening. Suddenly a Tramily was starting to take shape.
Day 5: July 17th, Guernsey Creek to North Fork Swan Creek, 16.4 miles, Segment 6.
The day started off frosty and we could hear elk bugling in the distance. We spent the morning climbing steadily up to Georgia Pass. We took lots of pictures at the top and I stopped to garage sale (dry-out) my gear.
This is where we first encountered the portion of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) that shares roughly 300 miles with the CT. A CDT hiker happened to come by at this junction. We tried to get some info out of him but he looked pretty haggard and in a hurry to move on. Now I realize just how far behind schedule he was and tired from dealing with all the snow. I watched him head up and up towards an even higher ridgeline from the pass, wondering what magic and strife might await him up there. Now I know…a whole lot of both.
We continued down from the pass, making it into camp early for a relaxing break along the creek. I set up my tent in some willows (having yet to learn the lessons of proper site selection). Willows, aspens, and meadows make for poor sites given the condensation. Pine trees are the golden ticket. At this site, we also became acquainted with 2 women CT hikers, Sofie and Sarah from NC. They live in Franklin NC, 1 town away from where Bam lives. We had a nice evening and planned an early start, anxious to get into our first resupply point and trail town, Breckenridge.
Day 6: July 18th, North Fork Swan Creek to Breckenridge, 12.5 miles, End Segment 6.
This was our longest stretch of having to carry food—a full 6 days worth! We made it in 5.5 days but were still eager to get to town. PBR and I had reserved a room at the plush hostel, The Bivouac. We looked forward to showers, laundry, and town FOOD.
We hiked up out of the drainage basin, past a dog-farm???, and down a whole bunch of switchbacks to make it to the highway by mid-day. Summit County operates a series of free buses, one of which came along in proper time and delivered us to burgers in town. We shared the bus and then burgers with Sarah and Sofie, who also happened to be staying in the same female dorm room with us at The Bivy. During this time, we learned that Sarah had decided to get off the trail and Sofie was unsure about continuing on alone. So we adopted her, welcoming her into our Tramily. Meanwhile, Yoyo stayed in the other hostel and Bam opted to stay in the slightly less-expensive town of Frisco, another ski resort down the road.
Day 7: July 19th, zero in Breckenridge.
We enjoyed town to the fullest, visiting the PO, grocery, restaurants, gear stores, and most importantly, the hot tub at the hostel. The place was really nice, with down comforters, a continental breakfast and an awesome hiker box. This was a good thing since my first resupply box didn’t make it. My parent’s had to overnight me one of my prescriptions and fortunately Sarah was able to give me most of her unnecessary food.
We met a lot of hikers in town…so many it was a bit overwhelming. We bid farewell to Sarah and made arrangements with another friend of Sofie’s to give us a ride to Copper Village early the next morning, since all of Segment 7 was closed due to a recent fire. (I finally got to hike it in 2019 while completing the CDT.) Thus ended week 1! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Thank you for the “Heavyweight” recommendation. Great podcast!!