The Colorado Trail: A Daily Photo Journal

Last week, I posted the basics of my thru-hike in “The Colorado Trail: Route, Stats and Resources.”

Today, I pulled together a photo gallery that takes you through each day of my five-week hike in pictures.

Day 1: I took off midday on July 6, 2016, from Waterton Canyon just outside of Denver – happy tears streaming down my cheeks as I left work and responsibility behind. Later in the day, I squared off with a bachelor herd of aggressive bighorn sheep. I had to yell and wave my trekking poles to make them back off. Daily mileage: 8.7.

Day 2: A mountain biker told me it was 100 degrees the day I hiked through the Buffalo Creek burn area. Some people like this section, but it held a weird vibe for me the entire time I walked through its hot, waterless moonscape. Daily mileage: 18.8. Total miles: 27.5.

Day 3: My kids, fiancé and dog joined me at Little Scraggy Trailhead for two low-mileage days of hot, but easy, hiking and camping. I was all smiles at the beginning, but that would soon change. Listen to “The Motherload” podcast episode to hear what really went down on Day 3 and Day 4. Daily mileage: 5.9. Total miles: 33.4.

Day 4: We headed to Rolling Creek Trailhead outside of Bailey. Hiking with my boys for a few days helped them better understand what I would be doing, day after day, for five weeks. Daily mileage: 6.8. Total miles: 40.2.

Day 5: My family went home and I was on my own again. I hiked through Lost Creek Wilderness, past Brookside-McCurdy Trail, and along six mellow miles of meadow (seen here with a fellow thru-hiker) toward Long Gulch Trailhead. Daily mileage: 16.9. Total miles: 57.1.

Day 6: I walked through tunnels of aspen on the east side of Kenosha Pass, reached the parking lot and took a huge digger after tripping over my own feet. I called it a day and made camp to lick my wounds and comfort my bruised ego. Daily mileage: 14.6. Total miles: 71.7.

Day 7: I hiked up and over the Continental Divide at Georgia Pass (11,874’) with another solo thru-hiker I met from Durango. Mt. Guyot is to the left. Daily mileage: 17.1. Total miles: 88.8.

Day 8: There’s so much beetle kill outside of Breckenridge in Segment 6, but they're doing a great job of forming slash piles for controlled burns. Beetles are ravaging our spruce forests right now. I was shocked at how pervasive it is across Colorado, and especially along the CT. (cont'd)

Day 8 (cont’d): I hit 100 miles and pushed on to Breck, looking forward to my first shower since I left home. Daily mileage: 15.6. Total miles: 104.4.

Day 9: Spent a relaxing zero day eating my way through town, and goofing around, with a friend who hand-delivered my pre-packed resupply box from home (thanks, Annie!). Daily mileage: 0. Total miles: 104.4.

Day 10: I hiked along the ridgeline of the Ten Mile Range on my way to Copper Mountain. Can you spot the marmot? Made the rookie mistake of packing eight days-worth of heavy food up and over these peaks. Daily mileage: 6.1. Total miles: 110.5.

Day 11: I hiked 6.7 miles to meet my friend Dani in Copper Mountain (beginning of Segment 8) for two days of hiking and an overnight. This selfie shows where we filtered water at the headwaters of Guller Creek near Janet’s Cabin, part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. We hiked up and over Searle Pass and camped above 12,000 feet. Daily mileage: 16.9. Total miles: 127.4.

Day 12: Hiked with Dani up and over Kokomo Pass (12,023') then down to meet her family near Camp Hale. I lost my water filter at some point along the way and had to bail off the CT at Tennessee Pass to buy a new one. No water, no hikey. Daily mileage: 15.2. Total miles: 142.6.

Day 13: After an overnight in Leadville, I picked up a new water filter and was back on the trail by 11am. I hiked though Holy Cross Wilderness where the views and paintbrush were outrageous. I experienced my first afternoon storm on the CT and met another thru-hiker who gave me my trail name Serendipity. Daily mileage: 8. Total miles: 150.6.

Day 14: I left my campsite near Porcupine Creek (above), hiked past the Timberline Lake Trailhead and into the Mount Massive Wilderness Area. I camped off a side trail so I could make an attempt at Mount Massive the next day. Daily mileage: 16.1. Total miles: 166.7.

Day 15: After an early morning summit of Mt. Massive (14,421’), I hiked on to Twin Lakes, grabbed a beer at the general store, and finally made camp around dusk. Such a long, massive day. Daily mileage: 21.8. Total miles: 188.5.

Day 16: In the middle of Segment 11, hikers choose between taking the newer Collegiate West route or the standard Collegiate East route. Both segments are roughly equal in length, so you can hike either option and officially thru-hike the entire CT. I chose Collegiate West for the views and extra elevation. It didn't disappoint. Daily mileage: 14.5. Total miles: 203.

Day 17: I hiked through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, past Huron Peak, Ice Mountain and beautiful Lake Ann, and then over the lake’s namesake alpine pass (12,588'). Daily mileage: 16.1. Total miles: 219.1.

Day 18: I hit mile 200 and hiked on to Cottonwood Pass, my third 12,000-foot pass in as many days. My friends Scott, Mel and baby Wally met me at the top with hugs, my pre-packed resupply box, cold cider and a ride into Buena Vista. Daily mileage: 6.6. Total miles: 225.7.

Day 19: Another day, another pass to kick my ass on Collegiate West. I started hiking toward Tincup Pass at dawn, knowing my entire 16-mile day would be at or above 12,000 feet and I didn’t want to get caught in an afternoon storm. Daily mileage: 15.9. Total miles: 241.6.

Day 20: I saw so many animals on my hike, including ptarmigan and countless other birds, moose, elk, deer, ermine (or stoats), bighorn sheep, fish, beaver, marmots, pikas, cows, sheep and more (photo by Aimee Cazares). Daily mileage: 18. Total miles: 259.6.

Day 21: I left my campsite at Hunt Lake (above), finished the Collegiate West route to rejoin the standard CT in Segment 15, and hiked to Marshall Pass Trailhead. If hooking a Greenback Cutthroat Trout is on your bucket list, you can catch and release at Boss and Hunt lakes near Garfield, Colorado. Daily mileage: 19.1. Total miles: 278.7.

Day 22: I took a half-mile side trip to Soldierstone, a 10-foot granite backcountry memorial on top of Sargents Mesa. The memorial reads “In memory of long wars lost and the soldiers of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.” Daily mileage: 16.8. Total miles: 295.5.

Day 23: When I made camp near the Lujan Pass Trailhead, I fixed this salty, three-serving dinner and ate the whole thing in one sitting. I was still hungry. The story “Coyote’s Beauty Secrets” is about this difficult night and morning on the trail. Daily mileage: 16.8. Total miles: 312.3.

Day 24: So many cows, gates and cow pies on this part of the CT – about 40 miles outside of Gunnison before you enter La Garita Wilderness. The legendary trail angel Apple (pictured above) is a retiree who spends weeks feeding, watering and protecting all the bikers and hikers who pass through Segment 18. This section is a vast expanse of open-range cattle country. Translation: all the water is filled with cow shit. Daily mileage: 26.2. Total miles: 338.5.

Day 25: After weathering an afternoon hail storm, I set up camp and took a two-mile side trip to summit San Luis Peak (14,014’) with some fellow hikers, including Nora the dog. You can barely see my tent in the willows (where the red arrow is pointing). Daily mileage: 14.7. Total miles: 353.2.

Day 26: This shot is looking back at a terrifying storm cell that caught me exposed on top of Snow Mesa, a flat 4-mile expanse above 12,000 feet. I had to duck into a dirt washout, and hunker under an overhang of tundra grasses, to ride out the storm. Daily mileage: 18.7. Total miles: 371.9.

Day 27: I took a true zero day to sleep in, buy supplies, do laundry and eat my way through Lake City. Daily mileage: 0. Total miles: 371.9.

Day 28: At this point, my fiancé joined me for the last 130 miles of my thru-hike. We hiked through bone-chilling rain past the official highest point of the CT (13,271’) just below Coney Summit. Daily mileage: 18.7. Total miles: 390.6.

Day 29: We spent the entire morning hiking above 12,000’ in Segment 23. The weather took a turn for the worse, so we made camp early above Cuba Gulch, drank a beer and played cards in the tent.  It started raining around 1pm and didn't stop until 5am the next day. Daily mileage: 8.4. Total miles: 399.

Day 30: I hit mile 400! After our cold slog through the highland bogs, we were greeted by this stunning view as we hiked down the switchbacks into the Elk Creek drainage in the Weminuche Wilderness (I’m the tiny red spot on the left). It’s hard to see, but the hillsides were covered in a blanket of wildflowers. This part of Segment 24 in the San Juan Mountains, where I scattered my dad's ashes, is my favorite section of the CT. Daily mileage: 16.6. Total miles: 415.6.

Day 31: This epic day included two curious moose on the edge of camp, flash flood warnings, bone-chilling rain, finding a lost child, and finally hot food, dry clothes, and a warm bed in Silverton. Daily mileage: 9.6. Total miles: 425.2.

Day 32: Back on the trail the next morning at Molas Pass, we hiked through rain in our Hefty bag kilts, occasionally setting up the tent to ride out several bad micro-bursts. We hiked a few more miles after this photo was taken, and finally called it a day when the weather turned biblical. Daily mileage: 8.0. Total miles: 433.2.

Day 33: Our first encounter with sheep on Jarosa Mesa in Segment 22 was intense. Aggressive, working guard dogs barked and chased us up the trail, and it scared the crap out of me. So when we hiked past a second herd of sheep in the alpine meadows of Segment 25 (above), I brandished my trekking poles, ready for war. Luckily a sheepherder was camped on the ridge in his canvas-topped wagon, so the dogs and sheep were mellow. Daily mileage: 14.7. Total miles: 447.9.

Day 34: Today we hiked strong all day and had great weather while storm clouds rolled around us in the afternoon. I loved walking through healthy forests after hiking through so much beetle kill in earlier segments of the CT. Daily mileage: 21. Total miles: 468.9.

Day 35: We hiked over the exposed Indian Trail Ridge down to Taylor Lake, ate wild raspberries, and shared stories around the campfire with a group of fellow thru-hikers. Only one day away from Durango. Daily mileage: 16.7. Total miles: 485.6.

LAST DAY: Finish line! Bittersweet tears and hugs with my trail sister “Trapezoid.” We made it to the Junction Creek Trailhead in Durango on August 10, 2016. Including the side trips to summit nearby 14ers, I hiked nearly 500 miles, and 100,000 feet in elevation, during my five weeks on the CT. Daily mileage: 13.5. Total miles: 499.1.


After I returned home, I wrote an essay about my time on the trail called “The Motherload” that aired on Out There, a podcast that explores big questions through intimate stories in the outdoors.

“The Motherload” briefly describes why I left home in the first place, and offers a glimpse at my experiences before, during and after thru-hiking the Colorado Trail. It tells only a fraction of the story, but it’s a good summary.

I recently shared “Coyote’s Beauty Secrets” with Out There podcast and Misadventures magazine. It’s a story about body image, and how I learned to love the skin I’m in – thanks, in part, to one clever coyote on Day 23 of my hike.

A version of Coyote’s Beauty Secrets, and parts of The Motherload, will be in the book I’m writing: Serendipity on the Trail.

I plan to include stories about falling trees, lost children, how I earned my trail name Serendipity, how Slipshits earned his name, riding in the back of a sheriff’s car (twice), and more.

And if you’re curious how the book is coming along, sign up for my monthly newsletter (under the comments section below).