Colorado Trail: Segment 7 | White River National Forest
Breckenridge to Copper Mountain, CO | 08/31/19
13.78 miles | 3,760 gain | Class 1
I was finally ready to get back on the CT after more than 2 years. (Read about our 2017 journey on Segments 1-6 here.) Our intention for the 3-day Labor Day Weekend was to backpack the next 30 miles; all of Segment 7 and most of Segment 8. You can probably tell from the title that that’s not what happened, but what’s another adventure on the CT if it doesn’t brutally show me what I can and can’t do?
The interesting thing about Segment 7 is that it can easily be slack packed. That just means that you don’t have to carry a giant backpack full of camping gear! Sounds great to me! There’s a free shuttle that takes you between the trailheads on either side, which makes the car situation a little more flexible. The first night, we drove two cars to the Camp Hale Trailhead, which would be about 30 miles from our starting point. Holiday traffic was terrible so we ended up sleeping at Camp Hale and then finishing our car drops in the morning. We had a lot to do before the 7am bus; wake up & cram all of our gear into one vehicle, drive the 30 minutes or so back to Copper Mountain (the end of Segment 7), cram everything into our day packs, and then walk the 10 minutes or so to the bus stop (to get to the beginning of Segment 7).
The hour or so bus ride took us through Copper Mountain, Frisco, and finally our Breckenridge stop near the Gold Hill Trailhead. The bus stop was about 0.2 miles from the trailhead, but we had a nice bike path to follow and it was a perfect day. We crossed the Blue River, and then we were finally there and setting out!
In 2017, I had backpacked 4.5 miles into Segment 7 before quitting, and it was amazing at how much I remembered once I got on trail. But there were plenty of new things to look at and of course the anticipation of getting beyond 4.5 miles was intense. Could I make it this time?
Segment 7 starts out at a steady incline, first through an open hillside, then the trail finally plunges into the forest. There was always something to look at, and I found myself truly enjoying the section.
We happened upon a vast logging operation, which was still ongoing. Obviously this was new, and while we enjoyed the views that this afforded, I’m unsure why a clear cut was the right option for this area.
We descended through the logging area for nearly a mile, but then we reached the “bottom” and started to head back up.
I was desperately trying to remember the trail and where I stopped. All I could remember was the Peak 2 burn area, which was fresh when we stopped in 2017. But where was it? Shouldn’t we be close by now?
And then just like that, the burn area was right around the corner. A little less blackened than in 2017, and crews had done some work felling dead trees near the trail. I imagine it is a little bit safer now.
I loved the pockets of green that have popped up after the fire. In another 10 years, most of the hillside will be back to being green, and eventually the land will entirely regenerate. Nature is truly resilient.
I considered it an accomplishment to pass the spot that I stopped last time. I’ll admit that it was a slightly emotional moment. I’m actually doing this! After the burn area, we walked through lush, green forest. We’ve truly had a wet year, and to see so much green at the end of August was amazing.
About 7 miles in, we reached treeline, then continued up and up through the tundra into the high country, one of my favorite places to be. That settles it, I really like the Segment.
“Kyle, do you like this Segment?”
“Oh yeah…” *stops for the 367th time, ensue heavy mouth breathing*
Oh yeah, it might have been steep, but the views kept me from hating anything that day.
Once we crested the ridge, the trail flattened out for a little while and we were able to more easily enjoy our surroundings.
The final push to Segment 7’s high point of 12,495′ was pretty tough. I don’t move quickly on steep terrain, that’s for sure!
Obviously I had to climb the rocks on the high point, otherwise it doesn’t count.
The high point marked the end of the uphill, and now it was all downhill to Copper Mountain; our car, food, tent, and the luxury of stopping after a long day.
There were a few large avalanche areas along the trail, some cleared better than others. It was a record year for avalanches in Colorado with the amount of snow we received.
I didn’t take many pictures on the way down as I was getting tired and my feet were killing me. But finally we made it back to the car, and then we had a decision to make.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to walk tomorrow…”
“Okay, well we can get a hotel instead of camping and see how you feel tomorrow?”
A real bed felt great! But that didn’t stop the migraine from setting in, so as you can imagine, plans for Day 2 were tossed out. We decided to sleep in and relax until check out, and then head back to Camp Hale (where our second car was) and explore the area.
Camp Hale | White River National Forest
Leadville, CO | 09/01/19
Camp Hale was once the home of 15,000 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. In this mountainous environment, troops learned mountain skills such as survival, climbing, and skiing. The 10th helped in the mountains of Italy during WWII, climbing an “unclimbable” ridge and surprising German troops. Most of Camp Hale has since been torn down, and I wanted to save the main group of ruins (along Segment 8 of the CT) for when I’m on trail again. But there is still much to see and learn.
The first thing we did was hike to the nearby Cataract Falls, where we filtered water and enjoyed the solitude for a few minutes. We then drove around the dirt roads of Camp Hale to see what else we could find.
There are numbered signs along the main roadway (though we missed #1 & 5, so if you find them let me know!) and we stopped at each one to read a little snippet about life in Camp Hale.
Warning signs were everywhere, apparently there are still dangers lurking around.
We explored much quicker than expected, and we still had most of the afternoon so we decided to head to Leadville for dinner. On the way, we stopped at the 10th Mountain Division memorial on top of Tennessee Pass. The interpretive signs here gave much more information about Camp Hale than the signs at Camp Hale did, so it’s definitely worth a stop.
We found our way to Leadville by 3pm, much too early for dinner, so we drove around a little and explored the Leadville History Museum. It was small, but enjoyable. Dinner at Mountain High Pies finished up our day, and we headed back to car camp at Camp Hale.
When we got back to Camp Hale, Kyle couldn’t find his truck keys. We checked both of our day packs and backpacks. Nothing. Then I remembered, we’d left them in my car’s glove box. Oh my god. We’d totally forgotten! If we’d continued our journey as planned, our keys to get back to Copper would be 18 trail miles away…in Copper! Okay, so I guess it’s a good thing we stopped when we did! WOW!
We were considering hiking an 8 mile section of the CT on Day 3 but ultimately decided to avoid the Holiday traffic and head out early. That ended up being a good decision, and we had a quick drive home.
Once again, our CT plans didn’t turn out as expected, but we finished another segment and we’re not letting this deter us from completing another segment or two each year.