Colorado Trail

Colorado Trail
Colorado Trail

Starting in early July, my wife and I are thru hiking the Colorado Trail which spans 484 miles along the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. For the past few months we have been planning, training, and evaluating and purchasing new gear that will enable us to hike ten to twenty miles a day for four to six weeks.


On the trail, everything you need to survive including food, shelter, and clothing needs to be carried in your backpack. Like many thru hikers before me, I have created an excel spreadsheet with every item we plan to take and its weight. This strategy enables me to easily calculate my pack weight as well as identify items that can be left behind or replaced with a lighter-weight alternative. Here is an example:

Item Quantity Single Weight Weight (oz) Weight (lb)
Shelter       6.63
EMS North Star Tent 1 96 96 6.00
REI Emergency Tarp 0 12 0 0.00
Footprint 1 10 10 0.63

Our goal is to keep our base pack weight, which is the weight of our backpack and its contents minus food and water, below 20 pounds. Extra weight adds to fatigue and energy expenditure on the trail, and can reduce the enjoyment of the hike and the number of miles you are capable of hiking in a day. Thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail are notorious for doing almost anything to reduce weight such as carrying ultralight homemade alcohol stoves constructed from aluminum soda cans or drilling holes in the handles of plastic silverware.


Transportation, resupplying, and campsites require careful planning. Every four to seven days, we will be picking-up resupply boxes that have been mailed to post offices or shops in towns along the trail. Resupply boxes include additional food and replacement equipment since five weeks of food and redundant gear is prohibitively heavy. While unlikely we will finish exactly on our planned date at the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail in Durango, I have nonetheless reserved a hotel and rental car for our return. Hotels and rental car companies are typically flexible with date changes to reservations given a few days notice. I have also put together a rough itinerary with mileage and camp sites. Again, I don’t expect to stick to the itinerary all or any of the time, but this helps evaluate our progress and determine where and when to send resupply packages.


We would be very naive to think this hike will be without unique challenges. We are aware that we cannot anticipate or prepare for all difficulties, but are educating ourselves and preparing thoroughly with the hope that we can mitigate or avoid problems that pose a threat to our safety or ability to complete the trail. Personally, my biggest fear is lightening as much of the trail is above timberline and on exposed ridges and peaks, and afternoon thunderstorms are routine in the Colorado Rockies during summer months. Lightening deaths are unfortunately a yearly occurrence in Colorado. Another concern is the ability of our bodies tolerate the daily demands of hiking and remain injury free, so we have been hiking regularly with weighted backpacks and are feeling strong and somewhat trail hardened. We have not however been able to train at trail altitudes (5,500 to 13,500 feet) and plan to take the first few days at a slower pace if necessary.


We are both excited beyond words for this hike and are looking forward to the mental and physical challenge, trail camaraderie, and opportunity to escape to the Colorado high country from the hustle and obligations of normal life.

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