By Zoie Jordan –
“Remember that guy, Peanut Butter? He was cute…” Peanut Butter was just one of the many nicknames bestowed onto fellow hikers and comrades that Kristi, Sheri and Kirsten met along the Colorado Trail from Silverton to Durango. The three amigas are avid adventurists who have known each other for years through the running community in Boulder, Colorado and are always looking for a new challenge in the elements. The girls admired and felt comfortable on the mountain terrain, whether it be through rock climbing, trail running, camping, or hiking. The Colorado Trail would bring a new challenge to the group, however – that of backpacking. Sheri aspires to through-hike the Colorado Trail someday, a rigorous 484-mile multi-day backpacking excursion from Denver to Durango. What better way to explore a new interest than by bringing two of your equally spontaneous, adventurous friends along on a “trial trip?” And thus, the Tale of the Colorado Trail had begun.
The girls would start in Silverton and backpack 74 miles along the meandering trail to Durango. Though they felt comfortable in the mountains as their playground, usually an adventure ended with the comfortable return home to a shower and bed. This one wouldn’t. The “what-ifs” were running wild in the days leading up to the trip. What if it rained the entire time? What if our gear doesn’t work? What if we run out of water? What if we’re not prepared? What if we get lost? And of course, most importantly, what if we run out of trail snacks?? All the answers to these questions awaited them on the trail.
DAY 1: Arrival
“I was immediately struck by the flowers, they were up to our shoulders,” Kristi was somewhat speechless in recalling this detail, unable to find the words that could accurately describe her first impression of the trail. “I think the photos speak for themselves, the views were absolutely breathtaking.” And that, they were.
Since the first day of their adventure consisted mostly of driving to Molas Pass Trailhead where they started their trek on the Colorado Trail, they only hiked about 7 miles before pitching camp for the night. It was all about anticipation of the next day and the views, flowers, wildlife and fellow explorers they would see.
DAY 2: Rain
Remember how they were considering what would happen if it rained the whole 74-mile journey? When they awoke to a damp trail and moist air, it was a promising sign that their journey would unfold in exactly that manner. “Luckily, we were totally prepared!” Kristi said.
On the note of preparedness, what does one bring on a backpacking trip anyhow? And how do you minimize how much weight you’ve got to carry? Here is (almost) everything Kristi, Sheri and Kirsten carried on their backs:
- A single person tent
- A sleeping pad and an “ultra collapsible” sleeping bag
- Light, breathable and practical layers of clothing suitable for the famously unpredictable Colorado weather
- A Jet Boil
- Dehydrated meals (for which the Jet Boil provided quick, boiled water)
- Reusable bowls
- WATER and a water filter for freshwater sources; they could not emphasize this enough
- Collapsible water bladders
- The Colorado Trail App on their phones, which provided live updates from other hikers about the nearest safe water sources, dangerous trail obstacles, or fun facts about what’s to come. This app could quite literally save a life!
- And most importantly, Starbucks single serve coffee packets for those brisk sunrise wake-ups.
Step by step, the gals trekked 13+ miles to their next camping site, a gentle rain beading off their rain gear with every forward motion. “The rain never phased us,” Kristi said. “It couldn’t possibly have taken away from the beauty of the trail itself.”
DAY 3: Highline Ridge
The gals awoke at daylight (5:45am) pleased to see that the rain from the day before had subsided and left behind a canvas of blue skies and light fluffy clouds. Mountain vistas spanned the horizon as far as the eyes could see. Sheri and Kirsten found themselves reminiscing on previous adventures of climbing every 14er peak in view. If you’re asking yourself, how many 14ers are there in Colorado? The answer is 58. If you’re thinking, that’s a lot of mountains to climb you’d be right – but for Sheri, Kirsten and Kristi, achieving that number is obsolete; for them, it’s about the beauty and peace one finds at the top of a mountain peak.
“Sometimes we would get random reception at the summit of some unnamed peak we were on. Which was nice because it enabled us to check in with family back home.” Krisit recalled. “We also carried a SPOT.” A SPOT, I learned, is a GPS tracker that people who do a lot of solo mountaineering carry with them so their loved ones can follow them from home and know they are OK. It comes fully armed with a panic button which signals for rescue via satellite should one find themselves in trouble. I’m thinking of the guy who got his arm stuck in a bolder for 127 hours and had to cut it off for survival. That guy probably could have used a SPOT.
Anyhow, Sheri’s husband had donated his personal SPOT to them so they could feel a sense of security. “It would have been a brilliant tool, except it took us all day to realize that the battery was low so it kept shutting off randomly,” Kristi laughed as she commented, “so after that every time we’d get random service at the top of a peak I would be sure to check in with everyone at home.” A gesture I know her family much appreciated.
After a full day of hiking, the girls made it to their next camping destination. As part of a parks and recreation law, campers are required to protect their food and scented items from bears using approved methods of storage. URsacks are just one of a few ways that people can store their goods overnight to prevent access to bears. They are made from bullet proof material which essentially means that bears can attack with brutal force and effort but will not rupture the bag(s). A natural human instinct, the gals tied these food bags far from their tents. Kristi said she set her empty backpack in the vestibule of her tent with full confidence no creature would be inclined to invade. Yet, in the middle of the night she could hear scurrying and nibbling as a tiny creature explored the pockets of her pack sniffing out for crumbs. It seemed pretty harmless, but apparently it was another story for Kirsten; she lay wide awake in her tent watching a mouse climb around above her tent. Suddenly she heard a *flop* on her tent and watched with quiet terror as the mouse’s moonlit shadow, complete with little tail, slid down the side of her tent. Needless to say, Kirsten didn’t sleep well after that.
Of all the wildlife they were prepared to lie awake for, nobody expected it would be a mouse. One through- hiker told them a story about a bear hanging out on the bridge over the Animas River – blocking the only safe path across. The hiker waited for over an hour “but the bear wouldn’t let him cross” so he hiked an hour back to his group of friends hoping the group would would scare it away if it wasn’t gone by the time they reached the bridge. We’re left to imagine the end of this story.
A mouse in comparison seemed trivial.
DAY 4: Indian Ridge
Indian Ridge brought with it another day of stunning 360 views of mountain vistas and shoulder-height wildflowers.
It also demanded a 22-mile stretch of trail that was considered “dry,” meaning that for 22 miles there were only scant or unreliable water sources. This meant any hiker on Indian Ridge would need to carry with them plenty of water on their backs. This can make any pack heavy and difficult to carry, especially considering the elevation which was close to 12,400ft in certain sections. Along the high-altitude path were 2 unnamed summits which they were advised (as all Coloradeans tend to know) to have descended before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. Imagine this: Colorado is notorious for its unpredictable and quickly-changing weather patterns across the state. This unpredictability becomes tenfold at elevations above treeline (11,200ft) where the stratosphere can give you a bright sunny day and turn it into a dark dangerous thunderstorm seemingly out of thin air (literally) and in a matter of minutes.
All that being said, Kristi, Sheri and Kirsten considered themselves extremely lucky not to have hit bad weather atop either peak that they hiked over late in the afternoon. Instead, they were able to soak up the views and “stop and smell the wildflowers” as they so desired.
To the traveler hoping to make this same stretch successful – heed the warning signs of a storm building above you!
DAY 5: The Finish Line
After 2 long days in the row, the girls were feeling their legs a bit. The final stretch was “a blur” and the wildflowers had become such a common backdrop to their day, they hardly looked twice at them. The idea of spending nearly a month on the trail to through-hike the 484-miles no longer seemed like a daunting task to Sheri. In fact, the scenery made for an inviting lure to adventure. But as the finish line approached, Kristi, Sheri and Kirsten were counting final steps.
Towards the end, the girls started to estimate how much further they had to hike to the next rest stop. Sheri started counting how many “laps of the track” they had left to next destinations. “At one point we asked Sheri how many laps to the next rest stop and without hesitation she answered, ‘One and three quarters!'” Less than half a mile.
I asked Kristi about the other ways they entertained themselves on the trail, apart from the near grit and exercise that was happening naturally.
There was the alphabet game, where for each letter, we’d each go around and name a place in the world we’d want to travel. All three of us have kids, so there was plenty of gossip to share about parenting mishaps and triumphs. Sheri and Kirsten had both climbed all 58 14’ers in the state and had plenty of adventurous stories – many of which are humorous. We would ask hikers what their favorite food was and that became the hiker’s nickname… We all really liked Peanut Butter.
At the finish line the girls were given a chance to reflect on their journey. They’d relied solely on their grit and power as an all-female team in completing this challenge, with no help from “boys.” The greatest accomplishment perhaps is having successfully triumphed the Silverton-Durango section of the Colorado Trail unharmed with legs of jello, after having spent 5 days submersed in the Colorado wilderness with nothing else to focus on other than water, food, and sleep – the most basic of human needs.
I asked Kristi what their next adventure would be. She laughed when she told me the most exciting part about doing the Colorado Trail was that “not just anybody” could do it; it took a special type of dedication and grit. Kirsten and Kristi were enthused by this goal: “If anybody can do it, ask Sheri to find something harder.”