A little synchronicity happened in our schedules allowing Marybeth and I to embark on a short backpacking trip to tackle segment 10 of the Colorado Trail. It was a good chance to test out our gear and have a little adventure. We started our trek in the great little town of Leadville, where we met up and had dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cafe. I popped into the Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market to pick up a dehydrated meal for our trip and ended up walking out with a new air mattress and a bunch of maps. The Market is a small but well-curated shop and the owner was very helpful and knowledgeable about her products. I can definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the area and need some gear.
Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail meanders through a pine forest along the base of Mount Massive, and aptly named 14er that is the second highest mountain in Colorado. There are two long up climbs going either direction on the trail. We started from the Mount Massive Trailhead, hiking “backwards” from the way most people choose to do it. The grade is not too bad on the legs and lungs (and about the same whichever direction you choose), though I think we both were a very happy when we completed the second uphill portion. Water crossings are abundant which made this a good section to go lighter on the amount of water in our packs and I didn’t need to carry extra water for Fluffy Dog which was a welcome change from most of my hikes. The trail winds mostly through pine forest and grants you occasional glimpses of Mount Elbert (which is right next to Mount Massive). After 10 miles on our feet, we found a good campsite at a large clearing with views of Leadville and the surrounding hills just inside the Mount Massive Wilderness.
The lack of good rain this summer and subsequent burn ban meant we couldn’t build a campfire, so we made quick dinners from our dehydrated meals. It would have been perfect except we were swarmed by mosquitoes for a couple of hours before the sun went down. We took shelter from the pesky bugs in Marybeths tent until they settled down for the night. We broke out the campstove again to toast marshmallows for ‘smores, my favorite camping treat.
While Marybeth and Fluffy Dog spent the night in her tent, I brought along my hammock and rainfly for a trial run. In one night, I’ve become a hammock camping convert! I spent a very comfortable night (even when it rained) with the exception of my sleeping pad shifting. A new sleeping bag with a pad holder is now on my wishlist, along with a bug net.
My pack weighed in at 28 pounds including 1 liter of water and all my food. I’d like to get that pack weight down a bit (under 20 pounds if I can) when my budget allows buying lighter gear. I have a toasty warm sleeping bag, but it weighs in at 4 pounds and takes up an extraordinary amount of pack space. A lighter, smaller sleeping bag is first on the list! Fluffy Dog is also going to learn to carry his own food, dog booties, some of his water and few other pup supplies. His gear and food (not counting water) adds nearly 3 lbs to the pack so I’ll be searching for a pack for him soon!
I’m loving my Osprey pack (3 lbs) which is big enough to carry all my gear, but not terribly bulky. My spur of the moment purchase of a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was a welcome upgrade from my old foam pad. I cut the foam pad down to Fluffy Dog size so he could have his own backcountry dog bed. My trusty Down Under oilskin hat, my trekking umbrella and my versatile shemya, round out my 3 favorite pieces of backpacking gear.
We packed up our gear the next day and had a quick 3 mile hike to the Timberline Trailhead. It was time to get back to civilization and our jobs (so we can buy more gear!). We’re already dreaming of our next journey!
But first, a few more pics…
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Soon, you leave the lower forest and gain a ridge, hiking the rolling terrain of the ridge for another 1.5 miles. Quicker than I thought I would get there I made it to Lenny’s Rest, and was officially back on the Colorado Trail. Three more miles of hiking up and down drainages (with several water crossings) finally found me at my turnaround point. Fluffy and I stopped for a bit and had some snacks and I refilled my water bottles at Bear Creek. This part of the trail is really lovely, and the moisture from the creek supplies plenty of water to support lush vegetation.
Snow is still blanketing the high country in Colorado, so we packed up the Jeep for Memorial Day weekend to spend some time with friends and visit one of our favorite places, the San Rafael Swell. The Swell is a unique geologic feature rising out of the high desert near Green River, Utah. It’s full of twisty slot canyons, adventurous 4wd roads and unusual rock formations.
We picked a campsite at the head of Crack Canyon that we had scouted on previous adventures. It’s a great spot off the beaten track and only accessible if you have 4wd vehicle. The Swell receives a lot of visitors on holiday weekends so we were pretty happy to score our secluded campsite.
Visiting places like this feel like entering another world. All your cares and worries fade away the moment your feet hit that red dirt. Though we’ve visited the Swell on multiple occasions, there is always something new to explore. This time, we used our base camp in the Swell as a jumping off point to explore some of the surrounding territory.
We started out by driving down to Hanksville to the maze of canyons in the North Wash. Leprechaun Canyon provided a fun, easy hike to help us break-in our hiking legs. This is definitely an area to visit in the cooler times of the year as even in late May, the heat was oppressive. Fortunately, once you get into the canyons it’s much cooler.
On the way home, we took a side trip down a long dirt road to the Burr Point overlook. We got a good preview of what our hike the next day into Happy Canyon would entail.
Happy Canyon is in the Robber’s Roost area near Hanksville. The canyons of Robbers Roost were used by Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang to elude capture and it’s easy to see why. There are very few trails down into the canyon and the top part of the canyon is largely bounded by vertical walls of rock. If it weren’t for the remote location, Happy Canyon would probably be swamped with people. Lucky for us the long drive up an unmaintained 4wd road with some pretty sketchy sections and exposure to shear drop offs keeps out all but the most intrepid travelers. The hike itself is an easy (but hot) walk few miles along a canyon shelf before dropping down to the bottom of the canyon with a brief, refreshing ford of the Dirty Devil River. The heat was searing (don’t even attempt this hike in summer), there were biting flies at the river and the climb back up to the Jeep was a bit grueling, but it was worth it.
We spent our last day in nearby Moab to put the Jeep through it’s paces on the Fins ‘n’ Things 4wd trail. It was great fun testing the capabilities of the jeep, with the bonus of amazing scenery.
Too soon, it was time to go home. We’re already planning future adventures and I’m sure some will include more of the slickrock trails around Moab!
One of my many hiking goals is to complete the Colorado Trail. I’ve made a slow start of it, but have some ambitious plans for the summer. Taking off work a month or more is not a financial possibility so I’m planning to tackle it section by section as time allows. I’m also planning nearby side trips to do a few 14ers and visit other interesting places I find along the way. I started with Section 2 to get my “feet wet.” It’s the nearest section to my house and is familiar territory. I started this section way back in November, with a 12 mile out-and-back hike from the Platte River to Raleigh Peak Road. Then, I got insanely busy with work and other trips and didn’t make it back to the trail until yesterday. To complete the trail, I started from the Little Scraggy Trailhead side and hiked to my previous turn around point on Raleigh Peak Road.
The Colorado Trail Guidebook (available at the Colorado Trail Foundation), describes this section as “brutally hot” and they are not kidding! Large portions of the trail meander through the Buffalo Creek Fire burn area and there is little shade and no water. Even though I hiked it in the cooler months of November and May, it was still uncomfortably warm. I would not recommend doing this section in the heat of Summer unless you enjoy being miserably hot.
Overall, it’s not too strenuous, mostly gently rolling hills, though the beginning near the Platte River has a short switchback climb that’s not too fun. There are some interesting sights along the way including and old abandoned quartz mine. The vistas are pretty wide open in the burn area and you can see Mount Rosalie to the north and Pikes Peak to the south.
Somewhere along the line I must have delete pictures I took in November, but here’s few from yesterday along the trail.
I’m planning to do some of the low elevation segments before the full force of summer heat is upon us. Stay tuned!
It’s Friday which means most of us are waiting for our work day to end so that we can head out for the weekend. In that light here are some pretty pictures to make 5pm come a little faster. It’s a Friday Photo Frenzy! This week’s Frenzy is from a trip to Isla Mujers, Mexico that Marybeth took last year. Hasta luego, mi amigos.
I have heard that you don’t need to invest a lot of money into gear to start hiking. At least I think I have heard that, but then again REI is a thing that exists, so I am not sure that is the truth. In any event, it is a fact that you don’t need much to head out to your local open space park for a short hike. However, if you are planning a longer hike you will want to bring more than a hat and a water bottle.
Below is a picture of my backpack and its contents. It should be obvious that I don’t subscribe to the ultralight movement. I like to think that the heavier the pack, the better your butt looks after hauling it up hill. What do I carry? I always have the ten essentials with me, but I also like to have some additional “luxury” items like the InReach and umbrella. Read on for my take on outdoor essentials.
What is in the bag from left to right:
- Knife – one of the ten essentials. Mine is really big, I could buy a smaller one, but the “old timer” always impresses the boys so I keep carrying it.
- Potty Bag – Hey we all have to go, it pays to be prepared. Bag includes: trowel, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and extra bag to pack out trash.
- Snack Stuff Sack – Food is one of the ten essentials. Also hiking is really just an excuse to eat all the M&M’s out of the trail mix. P.S. When on a hike together you probably shouldn’t offer me any of your trail mix, I will eat the chocolate and hand you back a sad bag of peanuts and raisins.
- Hat, gloves and buff – Weather changes on a dime in Colorado, bring extra layers.
- InReach Satellite Communicator – The InReach allows you to send messages to loved ones and allows them to track your progress on-line. It also includes an SOS function that alerts search and rescue in the event of an emergency.
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm – Sun protection is one of the ten essentials, also sunburn sucks.
- Emergency Tarp with pre-tied paracord – This tarp can be used to build an emergency shelter in the event of an unplanned night out in the woods. It can also be used to build a shelter to wait out a storm, create a wind block or sunshade.
- Emergency Bivy Sack – The bivy sack, combined with a well built emergency shelter will make an unplanned night out less horrible.
- Umbrella – The umbrella is a luxury item, but it is nice to have on a rainy day or to provide some shade on desert hikes.
- Whistle – One of the ten essentials and useful for alerting rescuers or your hiking partners to your location.
- Flagging Tape – Very useful in an emergency situation. If you need to send hiking partners out to get help, the flagging tape can be used to mark the trail for search and rescue.
- Map and Map Case – Paper doesn’t require batteries, always take a physical map with you.
- Compass – Just like a map, a compass doesn’t need batteries. Learn to use one and never be in a bad situation if your GPS dies.
- Sawyer Water Filter System – On longer hikes, with good water sources, it is nice to be able to carry less water (water is really heavy) and filter more when needed.
- Headlamp – One of the ten essentials. If you end up out after dark, it is good to have illumination.
- Fire Starter (cotton balls in vaseline) – cheap and easy fire starter.
- Storm Matches in water proof case – These matches stand up to wind and rain.
- Field Notebook and pen – Sometimes you need to take notes.
- Flint and Steel – Because starting a fire with a flint and steel makes one feel like a badass.
- Esbit Solid Fuel Tablets – These work great for starting a fire.
- Sam Splint – Lightweight, moldable splint for medical emergencies.
- First Aid Kit – Ok, you don’t need one this big. I took a wilderness first aid class and promptly freaked out about all the terrible things that could happen on a hike, thereby causing me to buy a ridiculous first aid kit.
- Soft Shell Pants – Insulating layers are one of the ten essentials.
- Soft Shell Gore-Tex Jacket – Insulating layers are one of the ten essentials.
- Down Sweater – Packs up small and weighs nothing. It is great to have when hiking in the variable weather conditions of the mountains.
- Water Bottle with holder – self explanatory.
- Keffiyeh style scarf – This has multiple uses, primarily I use it as a handkerchief, but it can be used as a sunshade, a sling for an injured arm, a towel, etc. Also it looks way cooler than a regular bandana so it has that going for it.
- Pack – Gregory Jade 30 liters. I have had this pack for about 6 years. It has held up to some pretty good abuse and is comfortable for long days on the trail.
Not pictured: Hiking Poles, Peak Designs quick clip for DSLR camera on chest strap of pack, small foam seating pad, cell phone, extra battery with charging cord and my cat. Just kidding, the cat doesn’t come hiking with me (yet!).
Written by: Marybeth
My happy place lies in the heart of the Red Desert. It’s a seemingly barren wasteland that stretches across south-central Wyoming. The largest geologic feature is Great Divide Basin, the only place where the continental divide splits in two and the scant amount of water that lands in the basin evaporates before ever finding its way to a river. It’s a lonely place, largely inaccessible by vehicle. Millions of people whiz by it on the freeway, never dreaming of the wonders hidden behind the sagebrush. It’s a place for wandering (trails are almost non-existant) and for being alone, truly alone. There isn’t a speck of civilization for 50 miles. Once the yips and howls of the coyotes die down for the night, it is utterly silent. It’s a place to recharge your soul.