Last year, I decided to hike the Colorado Trail (CT), and now I’m writing a book about my experience. Serendipity on the Trail is a memoir loaded with personal stories, life-changing events and a cast of characters I couldn’t make up if I tried. My plan is to finish writing it by June 2018.
I’m often asked What does the actual path look like? Did you hike it solo? How long did it take? So I created this post to share the basics about the route I chose, my hiking stats and the planning resources I found most helpful.
The CT is a 485-mile trail between Denver and Durango that winds its way through six wilderness areas, eight mountain ranges, six national forests, and five river systems, and climbs nearly 90,000 feet in elevation.
Lowest elevation – 5,522 feet (Segment 1 near Denver)
Highest elevation – 13,271 feet (Segment 22 in the San Juan Mountains)
Average elevation – 10,300 feet
The CT is divided into 28 segments with access points at the end of each. Understanding the numbered segment system is key to using The Colorado Trail Foundation’s official guidebooks, and helpful when using the awesome CT navigation app for your smart phone.
Near Twin Lakes in Segment 11 south of Leadville, CT hikers have to choose between taking the East or West route around the Collegiate Peaks – a section of the Sawatch Mountain Range that includes some of the highest peaks in the Rockies.
The red arrow points to the newer, more remote Collegiate West route – the road less traveled – that I decided to follow. And I gotta say I chose wisely ... it did not disappoint.
MY THRU-HIKE STATS
Some people section hike the Colorado Trail – meaning they tackle the CT a few segments at a time, rather than all 28 segments at once, and not necessarily in sequence. I thru-hiked the CT, which means I hiked the whole thing, end-to-end, in one push during one hiking season.
I also hiked the majority of the CT solo. I camped in the forest, near lakes and streams, and sometimes above tree line, in a tent I carried along the way. Everything I needed to survive was in my 60-liter backpack, which weighed between 30-34 pounds when fully loaded with food and water. With the help of friends, and by shipping boxes ahead of me, I resupplied food about every five days, and I filtered water from streams and springs along the trail.
Because thru-hikers are in it for the long haul, we often take a half-day break from hiking (nero day) or a full-day break (zero day) in a nearby mountain town to shower off the grime, do laundry, drink a beer, grab some supplies, eat a hot meal, chat up the locals, devour ice cream and sleep in a mediocre bed that feels like heaven.
I averaged one shower a week, and I typically ordered two high-calorie meals whenever I hit a restaurant. I ended up losing 15 pounds, and gained a ton of muscle, by the time I reached Durango.
It took me 35 days to complete the Colorado Trail, taking two zero days and four nero days, leaving Denver on July 6, 2016 and arriving in Durango on August 10.
I averaged 15 miles a day for the 33 days I hiked, my longest day was a true marathon at 26.2 miles, and I took two detours along the way to summit Mount Massive (14,421’) and San Luis Peak (14,014’).
All told, I hiked over 500 miles and gained nearly 100,000 vertical feet during my trip. I wore the tread off my first pair of trail runners until they were smooth, and I hiked roughly 340 of the 500 miles solo. I also earned the trail name “Serendipity,” but that’s a story for another day.
The calories eaten and poos taken are rough estimates, but the other stats are spot on.
CT PLANNING RESOURCES
There are a lot of resources out there to help you hike all or part of the CT, and my list is not exhaustive. The most important thing to know is The Colorado Trail Foundation is your definitive source for official guidebooks, maps and other important information. I also highly recommend the CT app for your smart phone. It saved my bacon more than a few times on the trail. And believe it or not, the Facebook pages are good forums for discussion before, during and after hiking the CT.
- The Colorado Trail Guide Book, 9th ed.
- The Colorado Trail Databook, 7th ed. (The CT Bible, don’t leave home without it! New waterproof 7th edition coming out in 2018)
- The Colorado Trail Map Book by Jerry Brown
The Colorado Trail app by Guthook Guides
The Colorado Trail “End to End” Guide by Paul Magnanti
The Long Haul by Dean Krakel
- Colorado Trail Thru-Hike 2017
- Colorado Trail Thru-Hike 2018
- Women of the Colorado Trail (women-only group)
- The Colorado Trail Foundation
“Yogi’s Colorado Trail Handbook” by Jackie McDonnell
Next week I’ll post a photo gallery with daily mileage and experiences from my five weeks on the trail.
And if you’re curious how the book is coming along, sign up for my monthly newsletter (under the comments section below).