Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last Hike of 2017

2017 has concluded with one final hike up to Weverton Cliffs yesterday just off the Appalachian Trail. I hiked a couple miles north along the AT while a light snow fell from the sky. Really peaceful. Here's to another year along the trails and hopefully more to come in 2018. Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Colorado Trail 2017: Final Random Thoughts and Unsolicited Advice

Here are a few final thoughts on my hike of the Colorado Trail this past summer:

1.) Rain:
It rained a lot more than I anticipated this past summer. I wasn't mentally prepared for it. I was aware of the 1:00 daily thunderstorm. For some reason in my mind, I pictured a quick thunderstorm followed by a blue bird evening. This often was not the case. Many days on the trail, the thunderstorms came at 1:00 and persisted until early evening. It rained often at night as well. My gear and clothes were wet most of the hike. Although the pictures look beautiful, I had weather anxiety pretty much every day. A bluebird morning was often not as beautiful because of the anxiety and anticipation I had for being wet the rest of the afternoon once the storms arrived. I think if I was more mentally prepared to be wet before the hike began, I would of had a more realistic expectation of the trail and the conditions I was going to face. So if I were to offer a piece of advice to future CT hikers it would be this: Be prepared to be rained on often! Which leads me to my next realization.

2.) It's not about you!
Every long hike I've taken seems to hit this point home. Then I forget about the lesson, and have to learn it again on the next hike. The scenario often starts like this: I've been working my butt off for the last couple years. I've been saving my money. I've been doing my research. My plans are ready. I've done all the work I need to do to get to the point where I set my first foot on the trail. I hoist my pack onto my back and begin walking. My vacation has begun and I DESERVE sunny skies, white fluffy clouds, green valleys, and clear mountain vistas as far as the eye can see... WRONG!!!! As Moosie pointed out, Colorado owes us nothing. There are far greater plans working themselves out in the mountains of Colorado and my little thru-hike is just a microscopic blip on the radar screen of those plans. Prepare to be humbled!

Hikers heading up Mt. Elbert
3.) The trail is crowded.
The Colorado trail is pretty crowded relatively speaking. Thanks to social media and blogs like this one, the trail's popularity has skyrocketed. This seems to be true of many of the long distance trails around the country. With more information, comes more people.  If you are looking for a thru hike with solitude, the CT may not be the one for you. If you don't mind crossing paths with other hikers throughout the day, this trail may be for you. Moosie and I both were in the habit of hiking late into the day. Often this did not bode well for us when it came time to find camping, especially in the beginning of the hike. Most of the best convenient campsites were already taken, often as early as 3:00 in the afternoon. As a result, we had to get a little creative at times, often camping in less desirable areas. There was another unexpected problem we faced when it came time to camp, which led to some frustrating evenings. Which leads to my next point...

Dead Trees
4.) There are a LOT of dead trees. Choose your campsites wisely!
Pine beetles have ravaged a lot of the forests in Colorado. Many trees were sick and dead. Ponderosa pine, Lodgepole pine, and Engleman spruce seemed hardest hit. In areas around Breckenridge and the San Juans, the damage was shocking. The state will probably have some pretty severe wildfires in the coming years. The dead trees led to challenges when it came time to pick a campsite. I would advise using caution when picking a site. Moosie and I had to pass on many desirable spots due to the fact that there were several large dead trees ominously looming over the site. Perhaps there was a bit of paranoia on our part, but I know I don't sleep well knowing that a dead tree can fall and squash me in the middle of the night.  There were many more dead trees along the trail than I remembered when I passed through on the CDT in 2013.

5.) Social Media and Smartphones on the trail: Good idea or bad idea?
I can only speak from my own experience. I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology, and as of late, I've been choosing to leave the technology behind on my hikes. I still own a flip phone in 2017 going into 2018. When I was hiking the Colorado Trail in the summer of 2017, I was in the middle of a ten month hiatus from Facebook, and had thought that I had pretty much quit the site for good. That being said, I felt like I was at a disadvantage without those tools at my disposal. Moosie had both a smartphone and was still connected to sites like Facebook during the hike. She used the site sparingly, but was able to connect to a trail angel and arrange our ride from the Denver airport to the trail head when our hike began. She was able to relocate her lost hiking poles through Facebook. She was also able to stay connected to T-Rex and arrange a place to stay in Durango after the hike ended. With the smartphone, she was able to use the GPS, access maps, research and secure rental car information, just to name a few advantages, while I was left twiddling my thumbs. I think my next hike I would prefer to have the technological tools at hand. There is one ancient piece of technology I will not give up though...
6.) Paper Maps
I love paper maps, and don't think I will ever be able to give them up in exchange for maps on a smart phone. A couple weeks ago, there was a huge traffic accident on the capital beltway which caused major traffic problems around the Washington DC area. It took me almost an hour and a half extra time to get into work that morning using alternate routes. Many of my co-workers were late that morning as well. As we were venting our frustrations about our morning commute, one of my co-workers asked which app I used to get into work that morning. "App?" I asked. "I used a paper map!" That answer was met with a chorus of laughs from my co-workers. I don't care, I will not give up my maps! For the Colorado Trail, I purchased Jerry Browns map book which cost about 40 dollars. The maps worked great, and I loved being able to see the terrain on a map I could hold and fold in my hands. I removed all of the maps from the spiral binding before the hike began. The maps are slightly larger than a gallon sized ziplock. If I used them again, I would simply cut the extra margins down to size so they could all fit into the ziplock bag securely. I did not do that before the hike began so that was a mildly irritating visual I had every morning packing up when my maps could not be securely ziplocked with the edges sticking out of the plastic bag.

Wet Pants
7.) Wet Pants
For some reason, I chose to wear pants on the Colorado Trail. I guess it was because I wore pants the entire time I hiked the CDT and didn't remember any problems. This time around though, was a different story. My pants were wet all the time which really made me feel irritable. I forgot how wild western trails have these bushes that line the trail in many places. Walking through them in the rain or after the rain is like walking through a washing machine. I told Moosie many times that I was wetter on the Colorado Trail than I ever was on the Appalachian Trail. I don't know if she believed that statement to be true, but I still think that. If I were to hike the trail again, I would bring rain pants. I used to carry them, but stopped once I started carrying an umbrella. Maybe I would just wear shorts next time. Which brings me to gear...

Nice high ceiling in the Tarp Tent
8.) Tent vs Tarp
I tarped the PCT, CDT, and AT as well as a few other trails. This time, I decided to live in luxury a bit and bought a two person Tarp Tent. The tent weighed about 2 and a half pounds while my tarp weighed about 8 ounces. It's safe to say that I felt the weight difference. My tent was often wet which added to the weight. At night I tried to relish the extra space and was VERY happy not to have to worry about mosquitoes. That being said, the two person tent was a bit excessive. Next time, I would go with a one person tarp tent which I'm sure would suit my needs just fine. Before the hike began, I seam sealed the tent which I would stress as a necessity for anyone attempting this hike due to rain.

9.) Water treatment
I used a sawyer squeeze water filter while Moosie used a steri pen. We both were satisfied with our decisions.

Moosie's water colors

10.) Art on the trail
I brought my little Yamaha junior guitar that I bought on the Appalchian Trail in 2015. It's a great, sturdy little guitar and I loved having it on the AT. On the Colorado Trail, it often felt like dead weight. It was just too cold and wet to play much. I wrote a couple little tunes while on the trail so I guess it wasn't for naught. Moosie is an artist and brought some water colors to do some painting. She also said she didn't paint as much as she had hoped for, but I think she was also able to create a few small pieces.

Enjoying a beer and calzone in Salida

11.) Resupply
Moosie and I both resupplied as we went and had no issues that I was aware of. Silverton's resupply was a little pricey, but overall, town stops were frequent and convenient enough. Hitching into towns also went without incident.

12.) The trail is epically beautiful.
Enjoy your hike!