On the Colorado Trail I’m being taught a great lesson about the nature of beginnings and endings—the two things oftentimes have nothing in common. When I started this hike from Durango from the Southern Terminus on September 8th I went in charging from the gates like the bettingest horse in the derby. I was a seasoned hiker now and nothing was going to get in my way. WRONG!!
Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong those first 94 miles from Durango to Stony Pass outside of Silverton.
Now I do not intend to proceed with a woe-is-me sob account; however, it would be irresponsible if I didn’t fill in the reader with some basic facts about the story.
First the rain—I’m talking precipitation that comes down so fast and heavy that the trail is flooded within five minutes! Then the resultant mud, the kind that wants to suck the shoes right off your feet never to reveal the whereabouts of your shoes again. And the periodic mountain biker that zooms by you at warp speed on an uphill approach giving you the sensation you get when you get too close to a fast-approaching subway train.
That was my first hour on the trail.
Then there are the backpacking blunders I made personally that would make a first time hiker look like a Survivor contestant. Yes, I forgot my blow-up air pad to sleep on—don’t ask. Just know that for the first week on trail I had to center my hipbone each night on a twelve inch by twelve inch foam sit pad—not the easiest thing to do when I’m not even a side sleeper! I laugh about it now.
The other embarrassing mistake I made was that I worried so much about a phenomenon known as “hiker hunger” that I brought enough food to stock an IGA market. My food alone must have weighed in excess of 30 pounds. I needed to do a food and gear dump and I needed to do it fast. I had to reduce my pack to its essential contents, not unlike the airplanes in the Doolittle Raid to clear the aircraft carrier decks after Pearl Harbor. Only problem was the nearest town was Silverton and I’d end up walking 94 miles to Stony Pass before any relief.
To get there I had to walk on top of avalanche debris fields that seemed like they went on forever and the sopping wet logs that I had to shimmy over presented their own dangers. Also, somehow I missed a trickle water source—one of the driest stretches on the trail. My mouth was so dry from dehydration I could barely open it. I survived the ordeal by drinking out of mud puddles created by Jeep tires on the backcountry mining roads. Crazy thing is I hiked the Mojave desert on the PCT and never had any issues with water (probably cause of trail angels and water caches).
Then I had to climb—as one of the few hardy northbounders—up a grade something around 14-16 percent which is so steep it hurts to even stand up straight with feet pointed in the usual position. Once up to the saddle of the Pass, I encountered one of the longest hailstorms I’ve ever been in, pounding my face for over 100 minutes. I was numb. Also 1-2 inches of snow descended on my tent making for a cold wake-up call the next morning.
The combination of the excessive pack weight and the steep ascent had caused a fiery pain in my knees that felt like I had done soccer-style knee kicks with a bowling ball. I felt like a cripple who had just about lost the use of his legs.
But I made it. I made it to Stony Pass (Mile 94.1)—was picked up there by a good friend that went way out of his way to drive up a 4-mile off-road trail to pick me up and take me into Creede where I was to have met him the following day for a resupply box. Of course my daily mileage had dropped so low that I knew I couldn’t make it to Creede in time as scheduled.
So I got off trail.
After some rest and reflection I thought I was just going to call off the hike and start fresh next year. I figured I had started too late in the year anyway and begun the hike on the wrong side.
It was hard.
So after a rest-up in Creede I got dropped off at my house in Colorado Springs and proceeded to unpack. That unsleepable Friday night it hit me that I had not just “shifted” plans.
I had quit.
The next Saturday morning I realized that I had to get back on trail where I had left off. I was not a quitter. I just needed to get off trail to let my body heal and remedy some problems. I was determined. But how was I to get back on trail? The trail was over 6 hours away and the “drop-off” was up a restricted Jeep trail.
By pure coincidence my sister and her kids were heading to Durango that Sunday to meet some friends at Lake Vallecito—a popular annual cabin-vacation spot for my family. My sister was more than willing to “swing by” Silverton and drop me off at the base of the off-road trail to Stony Pass. So Sunday morning before sunrise I loaded up my stripped-down Hyperlite pack (with my airpad!) into her Dodge SUV and we hightailed it on Highway 50. Maybe it all happened for a reason.
Yes, I had to blue-blaze 4 miles straight uphill on the Jeep trail to get to the trailhead but I didn’t care cause it meant I could be back on trail.
Back where I belong.