Colorado Trail – Durango to Silverton
I felt like this was the season I needed to take on the Colorado Trail. My trek in the Lofoten Islands of Norway got me in pretty good shape but it also meant I would get a late start on the CT. That translated to starting in Durango with the northbound goal of hiking to Denver. Normally I don’t focus on the through hike concept but I did initially hope to complete the entire CT. I was definitely onboard for the complete CT during my first week on the trail.
I knew that acclimating to the altitude was going to be critical for an old backpacker who was coming from an elevation of about 300′ in Oregon. So driving to Colorado was an excellent way to acclimate. Over about a week I adapted myself to the higher elevations of Colorado which enabled me to at least survive those initial days climbing up from Durango into the San Juan Mountains. Overall I believe that a late start on the CT is enhanced by taking on the northbound approach. Some positives were guarantees of maximum beauty in the San Juan’s, good water access thanks to a good snow year, and the sun is typically at your back (helpful for solar charging).
I was able to leave my car with a friend in Colorado Springs and receive a ride to the Durango Junction Creek Trailhead. I spent the night at the NFS Campground and started out on August 15th. I knew that the elevation climb over the next couple of days would be the greatest vertical change on the entire CT, close to 5000′ to Kennebec Pass but much more than that with the various undulations. The vertical alone would be tough but climbing from 7000′ to 12000′ feet is the real challenge. Once I reached 11000′ feet I was sucking air. Climbing at high altitude was slow and tiring, but thankfully I was not getting sick so my acclimation had worked.
The first day turned out to be longer then I might have planned, but water and campsite options dictate your decisions, So I had to go 14.5 miles with about 4000′ total ascent to Junction Creek for my first night. Yes you can push yourself the first day, but I sure was tired sharing the limited campsite space with about 15 other SOBO backpackers. I was getting acquainted with my various navigational aids: Guthook App, CT Databook, and my Garmin InReach Mini. Goal for Day 2 was Taylor Lake which I knew would push the altitude envelop but would set me up for the next days at that elevation. However, the 4000′ climb to Taylor Lake was brutal since high elevation took its toll. The last 500′ I would go about 20 feet and then rest, but I only had to cover about 8 miles so I had the time to slog along. I did have a bit of a headache at Taylor Lake, but nothing bad.
The trail to Taylor Lake was truly stunning. The beauty of the San Juan’s was exploding in perfect weather. Taylor Lake turned out to be a very nice campsite.
Day 3 would mean mostly hiking around 12000′ which amplified every uphill section. I was encouraged though because my body was not rebelling and I had hopes for getting stronger. However, water was known to be scarce in this section with a small seep of a stream as it was called as the only water for 22 miles.
The seep came after 7 miles which made for an easier day since that was my only campsite option. Unfortunately the seep occurred in a few places and from my northbound approach I ended up choosing to filter water out of the less desirable seep which ended up clogging my Katadyn water filter with mud. Oh well, live and learn.
But I did take advantage of the great viewpoint campsite just north of the seep. The following day meant 15 miles to the next reliable water, however, the terrain was not that tough so it turned out to be a good but I was tired. A strong motivator was the incredibly beautiful scenery that epitomize the San Juan’s. I do believe this is the most beautiful portion of the CT.
On my 5th day on the trail I was beginning to understand my challenges. One problem I have is loss of appetite while on the trail. This was not going to work for a sustained period of time so I would need to increase my calorie intake. I decided to address this issue in Silverton when I resupplied. Yes, Silverton, now I was starting to think about those nice cold IPA brews that I would have in town.
Blackhawk Pass presented some of the best hillsides of flowers that I saw on the CT. But not just here, the flowers were awesome throughout my CT Trek.
I was truly in heaven. The weather was fabulous and the scenery was amazing. My last night before Silverton was the beginning of many nights of being totally exposed above tree line, but the weather was cooperating. However, this day ended up being filled with smoke from a controlled burn.
My final push into Silverton at Molas Pass presented the most risky weather situation I had to deal with. Storms were forming but I felt like they were going to miss me to the south. Wrong, they moved north and overtook me when I had very little cover.
The hail was large enough to hurt so I had to essentially dive into a tree and hope that lightening would not choose that tree. I was lucky because a strike occurred very close as in the light and the sound were simultaneous. I was able to finish out the segment and hitchhike a ride to Silverton from the Molas Pass rest area.