The 177-mile stretch from Twin Lakes to Waterton Canyon in Littleton was a long but rewarding section that took me through a wide range of terrain. Since this leg was such a long distance, I had to carry 7 days of food but I didn’t mind this time since I now had my hiker legs back.
When I left the Inn at Twin Lakes Village I took some extra pre-packaged bagels and muffins from the continental breakfast bar and put them in my backpack. I felt after taking five bagels that it was bordering on kleptomania! Hiker hunger was kicking in.
From Twin Lakes I passed the side trail that takes you up Mount Elbert (didn’t have time to climb it as a side trip but would love to get back there some day). The Colorado Trail (CT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) use the same footpath from approximately Stony Pass to Georgia Pass (with the exception of Collegiate East).
The trail led me through the Mount Massive Wilderness and the Holy Cross Wilderness in the San Isabel National Forest. After reaching Tennessee Pass, I came to an old Army fort called Camp Hale, which was mostly demolished but had some old bunkers and military ruins. While hiking through Camp Hale, hikers are warned to stay on trail due to “undetonated explosives” where former weapons exercises were performed.
I then climbed to the saddle of Kokomo Pass (12,022 ft) and Elk Ridge which had some of the best views of my entire thru-hike! From here I descended down to Copper Mountain Ski Resort—yes, the trail penetrated right through the ski runs!
Next I traversed a ridge from Copper to the Breck/Frisco area and had a commanding view of Lake Dillon. While my plan was to blow past Highway 9 and avoid these trail towns altogether due to time crunch, I did manage to get a juicy hamburger patty at a nearby restaurant (had to yellow-blaze 2.8 miles but was totally worth it for some “real” food!).
After climbing the switchbacks on the other side of Highway 9 near Breckenridge, I made camp for the night. It poured that evening and the following morning the rain on my tent froze to ice. I woke up to a giant-sized bull elk grazing right next to me!
Well, at this point, I hit 400 miles and made it to Kenosha Pass—don’t even get me started on Kenosha Pass! Let me just say that every leaf peeper, mountain biker, day hiker, shutterbug, and outdoor enthusiast decided to show up on the Sunday morning that I happened to be hiking through that area. There must have been a line of cars a mile long to see the leaves change. Now, I don’t blame them for wanting to take pictures of the beautiful aspen trees but spread out people! Hiking in single file lines is not my cup of tea but I got through it and survived Kenosha Pass at Highway 285.
By the time I got to Lost Creek Wilderness I was alone again on the trail. Now Lost Creek Wilderness has special meaning to me since this is where I go in the summers to backpack and is where I took one of my first big backpacking trips almost 20 years ago.
After a 32-mile day through Lost Creek and the Clear Creek burn area, I reached the South Platte River—an indicator that I was almost to Waterton Canyon and the trail was coming to a close.
When I came to the 6.2-mile dirt road at Waterton Canyon I was happy because of the feat I was about to make. There was also the usual sadness and resignation that accompanies a thru-hiker as they approach the end of the trail. The roadwalk along the Canyon was peaceful and allowed me to mentally and emotionally prepare for the end. A herd of Big Horn sheep helped commemorate my final moments on the Colorado Trail.
At 2:00pm on Tuesday October 1st I touched the sign at the Northern Terminus at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead.
Just like that—it was over. Durango to Denver, 485 miles, 24 days, 3 zeros, and 2 neros.
A hike that almost never happened. I got off but then I got back on where I left off and finished.
It was hard for a time but it got easier.
The lesson I learned out here is one that will be with me always.
I learned to endure.