In the summer of 2017, Kyle and I set out on the adventure of a lifetime. We intended to thru-hike the entirety of the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango (485 miles). We spent nearly a year beforehand planning the logistics and purchasing gear. Somehow we were both able to get 6 weeks off work, and before we knew it, the day came. We were ready to go!
The following are journal entries (italicized, in block quotes) from my journal that I carried on the trail. I’ve added some comments to provide clarification as well as many of the pictures I took along the way. If you haven’t guessed already, we weren’t successful in completing the entire thru-hike, but you’ll have to read on to find out why!
Day 1 | 07/24/17 | ~ 10.0 miles | Segment 1: MM 0.0 to MM 10.0
Waterton Canyon Trailhead to West Bear Creek Campsite
Today we started at Waterton Canyon. We were both nervous, but excited to start. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that we’re actually finally doing this.
We saw tons of wildlife today: 3 mule deer, 12 bighorn sheep, some rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and a BEAR. Kyle saw the bear, but it was very close, ahead of us on the trail. We made a lot of noise & scared it off. We could hear it crashing through the brush.
It was a long, hard day. Everything hurts. I wonder when we will stop hurting.
We saw a hummingbird on a purple flower [at our campsite].
I just threw up. “Breaking in the Trail”
Dehydration, heat exhaustion, [bladder issues]. Yay…
Day 2 | 07/25/17 | ~ 9.8 miles | Segment 1: MM 10.0 to Segment 2: MM 3.0
West Bear Creek Campsite to Buffalo Creek Fire Campsite
We made it to Segment 2! The morning was perfect weather, cooler & overcast. We made it to the South Platte [River] around lunch & took a long 1.5 hour break. It started sprinkling on us as soon as we were packing up & it rained the rest of the day, on & off. About 0.5 miles into Segment 2, we realized that we didn’t have Kyle’s pack cover. He ran back to get it but it wasn’t there. We must have left it miles ago. At one point, the rain was so bad, we had to stop & pitch the tent. After that, we kept moving, trying to get to MM 5.2. Around [MM] 3.0, it started raining hard again, so we decided to just set up camp for the night. It stopped raining as soon as camp was set up. Figures. It was a wet day.
Saw very few people today and just two deer.
Feeling much better today. Head is good, bladder is good, everything else is still sore.
Kyle found his pack cover. It was in his backpack the whole time. LOL! But thank goodness.
Day 3 | 07/26/17 | ~ 12.0 miles | Segment 2: MM 3.0 to Segment 3: MM 3.4
Buffalo Creek Fire Campsite to Stormy/Soggy Campsite
Stormed terribly all night. Was a hard push to get as far as we did with the weather.
It was around Day 3 that I started to question whether or not my foot pain was normal. I didn’t write specifically about my feet in my journal, but as the days went on, I wrote less and took less photos.
Day 4 | 07/27/17 | ~ 8.8 miles | Segment 3: MM 3.4 to MM 12.2 (end of segment)
Stormy/Soggy Campsite to Rolling Creek Trailhead (& Detour to Bailey, CO)
Had a hard morning going uphill but made it into Bailey around lunchtime. We hitched a ride (after an hour of trying) from a local who took us right to the hostel. They were closed, so we went & got lunch next door from the Coney Island Boardwalk. Delicious hot dogs! We went back to the hostel & waited a little while on the porch for the owners to come back. It was relaxing hanging out and watching the hummingbirds. We were the first ones to check in but shortly after, 3 more came! Steve, Dan, & Skyler. We all went into Bailey to get dinner & drinks & ended up in bed around 9pm. It was a rough night. The cots were very uncomfortable.
We weren’t planning on making our first town stop until Fairplay or Breckenridge, but we took a half day off in Bailey to rest my aching feet.
Bill [the hostel owner] let us feed the fish [in his pond]!
Stayed at Lynwood Park, dinner at the Rustic Station, drinks at Mad Jacks.
Day 5 | 07/28/17 | ~ 14.0 miles | Segment 4: MM 0.0 to MM 14.0
Rolling Creek Trailhead to Long Gulch Campsite
This morning we woke up early at the hostel so we could get back on the trail by 6am. Bill told us that it wasn’t just us 5 in the gathering room [hostel sleeping area] last night, but a guy from Guadalajara, MX was in the bunkhouse. We wished we had known so we could have invited him out with us. Only 3 of us ended up back on the trail this morning, us & Steve. The other 3 decided to quit. On the way to the trail, we saw a bear! (My first on this trip!) The first half of the hike was very strenuous & uphill, and we lost Steve after a mile, as he is faster than us. We entered the Lost Creek Wilderness Area (no bikes) which is very forested & damp. It was beautiful, however, and we saw some of the biggest aspen we’d ever seen before. A super fast thru-hiker passed us during this stretch, and we lost him within seconds. We got to the long 6 mile meadow right around storm time & it started raining & hailing on us. We were right by a trailhead & watched some people spend 30 minutes trying to back up their truck LOL! We braved the rain & kept on as the trail through the meadow is relatively flat. 2 guys from North Carolina passed us. They’re doing 20 mile days already & aren’t taking good care of themselves. We wonder if they’ll burn out or even get altitude sickness. Finally we found a campsite at 14.0 miles in, almost to the end of Segment 4!
The meadow was beautiful even in the rain. We expected to see a moose but saw cows instead. (Close enough.)
We found wild strawberries at our campsite.
Day 5 was our longest day so far, and even though I’d just rested my feet for nearly 16 hours, the pain was getting more and more intense. Day 5 was the first day I cried due to the pain, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Day 6 | 07/29/17 | ~ 11.1 miles | Segment 4: MM 14.0 to Segment 5: MM 8.5
Long Gulch Campsite to Johnson Gulch Campsite
Today mostly sucked. Woke up with my period, which I wasn’t expecting and didn’t plan for. I was also super sore from a long 14 mile day yesterday. It was a beautiful section though, and it was fun following cattle tracks and then coming out to a meadow where we watched them graze. It rained all morning (which sucked) but then it cleared up all afternoon & evening so we could actually hang out around the campsite which was nice. It’s just starting to rain again at 7:45pm. We tried & failed to get a fire going.
Day 7 | 07/30/17 | ~ 10.6 miles | Segment 5: MM 8.5 to Segment 6: MM 4.5
Johnson Gulch Campsite to Deadman Creek Campsite (& detour to Fairplay, CO)
My journal entries stopped after Day 6, and for some reason unknown to even me, I wasn’t journaling about the immense pain I was in. My feet were killing me and it took up my thoughts 24/7. I couldn’t even bear to journal because I was so upset about my situation.
We pulled off the trail on Day 7 to see if the sporting goods store in Fairplay had any insoles. Maybe my shoes were what was bothering me. But unfortunately, it was a small store and they didn’t carry footwear.
Day 8 | 07/31/17 | ~ 15.2 miles | Segment 6: MM 4.5 to Segment 6: MM 19.7
Deadman Creek Campsite to North Fork Swan River Campsite
On Day 8 we reached treeline for the first time along the trail. Views of Mt Guyot and a curious ground squirrel we named “Brian” kept spirits up for a short while until we plunged back into the trees. Today was our longest day yet and the foot pain showed no signs of improvement.
Day 9 | 08/01/17 | ~ 13 miles | Segment 6: MM 19.7 to Segment 6: MM 32.7 (end of segment)
North Fork Swan River Campsite to Gold Hill Trailhead (and detour to Frisco & Dillon, CO)
On Day 9, we pushed to reach Breckenridge as early as possible. Kyle booked a hotel and we took the free bus to REI, where I traded in my dirty trail runners for a sturdier pair of hiking shoes. I thought for sure these were going to do the trick.
Day 10 | 08/02/17 | ~ 9.0 miles | Segment 7: MM 0.0 to MM 4.5
Gold Hill Trailhead to Peak 2 Fire Burn Area
Sadly, my new shoes seemed to make things even worse. Not only was the pain worse, but the new shoes (literally) rubbed me the wrong way, causing blisters to form. In tears, I made the decision to pull off the trail. It was the hardest decision I had ever made, but it ultimately was a good one.
It took a long time to accept my decision to pull off the trail. I desperately wanted to finish, and I truly felt like a failure for not being able to do so. Other people thru-hike and deal with foot pain, so why can’t I? After visiting a podiatrist, it was determined that I strained tendons in both my feet. It may not sound very bad, but I can assure you that it felt like it. To this day, I still deal with issues from it and am working on strengthening my feet so I can walk longer distances.
Even though I know I can never complete a thru-hike, I can still section hike. And a goal of ours is to finish the Colorado Trail one day, one section at a time. Over Labor Day weekend 2019, we planned a 3-day backpacking trip of the next 30 miles of trail. Stay tuned for that post!