Doing a wrap up post is fun for us, as it allows us to reflect on our experience, and think about certain aspects away from the trail. Some thoughts are critical, and are included to be helpful to future hikers as they prepare for their hike.
The CT is fairly diverse within the miles that it covers. There is desert-like hiking, above tree-line, high elevation hiking, green-tunnel-in-the-woods hiking and everything in between. The trail itself is clearly a connected collection of other trails that were built at very different times. Some parts are particularly hard (old trails that didn’t consider erosion and long term wear), others are easy – even though you are climbing significant elevation (newer switch-backed trail). The CT is generally well marked and in the majority of places, well maintained.
Our favorite sections of the trail were from Lake City to Durango. These sections were high in elevation and had some pretty spectacular views, with fairly easy hiking. Wild flowers were quite abundant in this section as well. The day before we came into Molas Pass (Silverton resupply point) was outstanding. The Elk Creek Canyon and drainage are beautiful.
Our least favorite section was the East Collegiates. This section of trail (from Twin Lakes to Salida on the Eastern Slopes of the Collegiate Mountains) had a lot of ups and downs that were basically connecting trail heads that hikers use to climb the 14ers. Many of these are older trails that head up to the wooded ridges (read view-less) which ultimately lead up to the 14er peaks, and as such, tend to follow the fall line and are absent of switchbacks. Beardoh did both the East and West Collegiates of the CT and he recommends taking the West Collegiate route. The west side of The Collegiates is at a higher elevation and much more scenic. The challenging climbs are well rewarded.
As on most of our other hikes, we decided to send ourselves resupply boxes on the trail. We usually have a mix of healthy and less healthy foods with us…it generally comes down to finding the sweet spot dollar-wise. We like being able to have gluten-free foods and other higher quality snacks, so chances are we will continue this in the future.
As for thoughts on our specific food….
Epic Bars: Beardoh really liked these, but got tired of the turkey one. He would probably go with meats that are naturally more greasy (beef, bison) in the future…just for the extra flavoring. These are very expensive in outdoor and specialty stores. We found them for 1/3 of the typical price at Sprouts and Amazon.
Tuna: On this trail, we went with the water-packed instead of the oil-packed which we had eaten on the PCT. Sadly, when we were buying these, there was mostly just the Thai flavored tuna to be found. These packs ended up giving us heartburn pretty much every time we ate them. So, we really didn’t look forward to lunches. They wouldn’t be so bad with dinner, presumably because they were more diluted. The Jalapeño flavored wasn’t too bad, and Beardoh really liked the Ranch flavored.
Bars: We continue to enjoy almost all the bars. We had Lara Bars (awesome!), Luna Bars (Lemon Zest is the best, the Cinnamon Almond bar was always the last to be eaten), Cliff Bars and Nature Valley Granola Bars.
Dark Chocolate: We had planned for two of the thin bars each day, but we each only ate one per day. At the beginning, we just didn’t have the hunger, but as the trail went on, we just didn’t have the desire to eat to another bar in the afternoon. Maybe if we had interesting flavors we would have wanted to eat more, but we just had the plain 85% Cocoa bars from Trader Joe’s, which can be a bit bland.
Dinners: It was a really nice luxury to have the stove with us and to have a hot dinner each night. Our favorite dinners were Thai Kitchen Noodles (with a small packet of peanut butter added) and the Knorr Rice Sides Select (the “Select” versions don’t seem to have the pasta that most of the others have). The Zatarain rice packets were ok, but didn’t have a ton of flavor (They did hydrate really well, though, so they were just a quick heat-up for dinner). The Uncle Ben’s rice packets were really tasty, but they took forever to cook and strangely, they didn’t hydrate at all if we put them in a water bottle at lunchtime.
Databook: We found the databook really helpful. Although it seemed like maybe the data book hadn’t been updated in awhile, we still referenced it a lot during the day and always had it within reach. When we didn’t have our resupply box in Silverton, that meant not having the data book pages from Silverton to Durango (we pulled out the individual pages from the book and put the appropriate pages in each resupply box). We really missed having the data book pages for the last few days on the trail and would highly recommend the data book to other hikers as they plan for the CT.
Atlas guides Colorado Trail App: We originally bought the app because we have found it very useful on previous hikes to be able to see photos of the campsites in order to know if we could count on trees being present for hanging our hammocks. Especially on a trail like the CT which can get up over 12,000 on a regular basis, we figured it would be helpful to see what the different campsites looked like. Well, it turns out that the app for the CT does not list any campsites (at the Colorado Trail Foundation’s request). We ended up almost always camping in an area that was not already an established campsite, so it didn’t really make a big difference for us. Since we had the datebook with us and used it frequently, we used the app more for checking out elevation data. In the final days on the trail, where we didn’t have our databook pages with us, we used the app quite a bit. It seems that all of the Guthook and Atlas Guide’s trail map apps are very similar, so it was really easy to use, since we were already familiar with its layout. The app does show more water sources than the databook, and those water sources had water (at least for the sources that we were paying attention to).
Maps: On our previous long-distance hikes (the AT, and Long Trail excluded), we have always carried paper maps with us. Beardoh especially likes having them to reference throughout the day. We did buy the map set for the CT, even though it was quite expensive when including the shipping and handling. Once we were on the trail, however, we realized how unnecessary they are. We still carried them for the first few sections, but then just started throwing them in the trash before we even got to the trail. It was really frustrating each time we tossed them, knowing how much we had spent on them, but unless one is hiking the trail in the winter when the trail is covered in snow, we just didn’t find the maps very necessary. The map waypoints are hard to read, with the text not being enclosed in a contrasting color bounding box.
Hammocks: We took our hammock setups with us on the trail and only had to sleep on the ground once. We knew ahead of time that there was a 32 mile treeless stretch, so we knew that we would have to spend at least one night on the ground. In general, it was quite easy to find a spot to hang our two hammocks. We generally didn’t sleep in established campsites, but it was usually no problem to find large trees without a lot of undergrowth. This was the first trail that Beardoh used his new Hammock Gear tarp and really liked it. SweetPea is still milking her six year old tarp which can only be hung up one way in order to avoid leaks during the rain. We also noticed a true hole on one of the side panels…looked like it was due to plain ol’ overuse. But, luckily she stayed dry during all the nighttime rains.
Tarps: Having our tarps (part of the hammock rig) was excellent. It rained a lot, and if we didn’t feel like walking or eating in the rain, we pitched a tarp and relaxed underneath. A tarp of some sort has been a mainstay of our gear for some time and will continue to be.
Poncho: This was Beardoh’s first time with a poncho on the trail, and it seems that he is a definite convert. The benefits he saw of a poncho were: all of his clothes stayed dry (minus compression sleeves, socks and shoes), his pack stayed totally dry, he could keep his phone and databook in his shorts pocket without it getting wet (and actually snap some photos during wetter days), he stayed quite a bit warmer than SweetPea who was just using a rain jacket. Because of this success with the poncho, we are currently working on a poncho/tarp for SweetPea as well.
Backpacks: We used the backpacks we had sewn up over the previous winter. We had used Dyneema on the packs, and it held up really well. The packs definitely weigh more than other packs we have made, and for that reason alone (Dyneema is heavy), we will probably be making new packs before these wear out. One annoying thing with our packs was the hipbelt pockets. We had made them detachable using watchband clips we had bought off Z-Packs. Unfortunately, we didn’t check them when they came in, and it turned out that at least half were junk…just didn’t lock together. So, the hipbelt pockets would slide off the hipbelt. We’ll do a fix of that now that we are off the trail, but if you happen to buy watch clips from Z-Packs, be sure to check their functionality before sewing them onto anything.
MicroSpikes: SweetPea carried a pair of micro-spikes from Frisco until the end of the trail. When we hiked the Sierras last year on the PCT, she was really glad to have them going up and down the big passes. We assumed that we would be hitting snow on the CT since it seemed as though we were starting a bit early, and this past winter had been a higher than normal snow year. But, we encountered very minimal snow and SweetPea only had the micro-spikes on for five minutes at the most. She probably wouldn’t keep them for as long in the future. It is always hard to know what is coming up in the future sections, but it seemed like the snow was almost always gone, and what remained was easy enough to deal with without using micro-spikes.
We both agreed that we would hike the CT after the monsoon season in the early fall if we were to hike it again. The daily rains of the monsoon season can be tiresome. In general, the temperatures were good in July, and 10-15 degrees cooler would still be pleasant and an easy compromise over the rain. We’d miss the wildflowers, though. Maybe some would still be in bloom?
Frisco/Breckenridge – Both of us really liked Frisco especially. A friend of ours lives in Frisco and we had a great place to stay, so we don’t have any intel on lodging, but the town itself was nice, it had good grocery options, a free shuttle to get to Breck/Copper Mtn and around town. We had a nice afternoon outing to Breck and have heard there is a good hostel in town. The trail is right en route. We’d recommend resupply or rest in either town.
Leadville – We had planned to stay overnight in Leadville at the hostel in town, but it had been booked up for several days prior. We did use the hostel as our mail drop, which worked fine. The diner didn’t let us recharge our phones – weird. We’d only recommend if the miles made sense.
Twin Lakes – The trail doesn’t go directly into the little town, and we had enough food to keep walking-so we didn’t go in, but we regret it. We wish we would have done a mail drop here, and got a fresh meal in retrospect.
Mt Princeton Hot Springs – Probably the most hospitable and hiker-friendly folks of the trail. The front desk people here were wonderful. In retrospect, we should have stayed the night and just had a relaxing day instead of walking out into a storm (in our defense, the rain started 20 minutes after we left 🙂 ). Not sure if this place is particularly accessible if you are hiking the West Collegiate side, but if you are on the East, we highly recommend.
Salida – The town has everything. Nice dining, cheap dining, grocery store, an outfitter, lots of lodging. We both stayed at the Brown’s Canyon Motel and liked it. SweetPea also stayed at both hostels while Beardoh hiked the West Collegiate side. The hostels are not hiker-hostels, so not the same vibe as some other trails. The Salida Hostel was very clean and provided fresh baked goods. The Simple Lodge was less clean, and communication was very difficult to reserve a room unless in person. Getting in and out of Salida can be hard, and may take two hitches. We waited quite a while. At Monarch Pass, there is a place that you can send a package and get some hot food (you pass right by the store if you are on the West Collegiate route). Sending a package there could save some hassle getting in and out of town.
Lake City – It is a nice small tourist town and has a group of volunteers that take turns bringing hikers to and from the trail. In 2017, they are taking hikers from the town square back to the trail at 12:00 and picking up hikers at the pass around 12:30. This can be a tricky place to hitch into and out of, and the volunteers are a big help. We both liked the town, and would recommend the stop. A couple well-loved restaurants, laundry, a little store. We stayed at the G&M Cabins, which were comfortable, though expensive.
Silverton – We cannot comment on the hitching in and out, as a friend brought us in and out of town. Silverton is a tourist town, lots of folks taking the Durango-Silverton tourist train coming in for lunch and shopping. Our resupply box was sent to the Blair Street Hostel, but the manager returned-to-sender the package since we were 5 days after our ETA. The PO does not keep packages here for more than 15 days, either. You could send a package to Molas Lake Campground and skip Silverton altogether. The campground has some hot food and showers. Short of having a friend nearby, we’d probably just resupply and take a break at the campground.
**Additional thoughts on lodging
The hostels on the CT are unlike many of the hostels that thru-hikers are familiar with. The town stops on the CT are in places that have a high volume of tourist traffic. As such, there is more competition for rooms at the hostels.
Some hostel proprietors do not understand the difficulty in predicting arrival dates and expect hikers to reserve a room a couple weeks ahead of time (and are seemingly frustrated if you have a package to pick up, but failed in your attempt to reserve a room 250 miles prior). Understanding ETAs on packages were also difficult for at least one hostel proprietor as we had a package sent back prematurely.
It can be also difficult to contact the hostels to make reservations as they are understaffed and often it is necessary to reserve on site.
Raven’s Rest in Lake City (though we didn’t stay there) is owned and operated by a thru-hiker, and as such will most likely provide a more hiker friendly experience than the hostels in other towns.