I have hiked The Colorado Trail three years running and have a large selection of trail photos. While culling these for a book project, it occurred to me that it would be an interesting challenge to see if I could select one photo from each of the 28 trail segments that captured the “essence” of that segment for me. I’ll post a different photo and segment each day over the next month or so. If you would like to follow the tour in real time, you can also find this on my RawahRanger Facebook page.
Each segment of the trail is different for me each year, so this is not an easy job. One thing is a constant, however. I love the high, lonesome country of the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado. So to start the series, I offer the one picture that best captures the essence of the entire trail for me.
While I prefer to start or end my Colorado Trail thru-hikes in beautiful Roxborough State Park, rather than in Waterton Canyon, with its six mile road walk, there are some advantages to the official Waterton Canyon route. Namely, there is an excellent chance you will see a bear or bighorn sheep in the canyon. This year I was privileged to see both.
So, we begin our tour of the Trail with that most fearsome of Colorado mammals, the bear, whom you are unlikely to see otherwise, unless you insist on ignoring common sense and good hiking practice and sleep with your food. Much better to hang your food (difficult to hang properly in Colorado with our lodgepole pine trees) or use an Ursack, in which case this is probably the only bear you are likely to see.
This segment is dominated by the Buffalo Creek burn. It is a long, dry walk you may find challenging in the brutal July heat. Plan to start early in the morning, at first light, and pray for an overcast or rainy day. If your prayers are answered this segment can be one of your favorites, with expansive views and a morning of meadowlarks singing their sweet song from the top of every yucca plant.
To me, Segment 3 is the quintessential Colorado segment: gravely soil, huge boulders sticking up through the forest canopy, gunshots reverberating around you, and abundant wildlife. It is also the segment where you give up your naive notions of walking meditation in a zen-like bliss for hyper-vigilant alertness in which you constantly look over your shoulder for bicyclists bearing down on you. The “essence of the segment” picture is probably the out-of-focus one of the forest canopy all akimbo, taken accidentally as you flopped over on your back, scared out of your wits by someone on a bike yelling “Oh, shit!!!” behind you.
Unfortunately, lacking foresight, I’ve already deleted all of those. So, instead, I give you a picture of the excellent work forest managers have done in recent years clearing and thinning the forest so you can actually see some of the dangers bearing down on you as well as the abundant wildlife. I typically see more deer in this segment than I do in all of the rest of the trail put together. It would be great if all of our forests looked like this. You have a sense that it could defend itself against the inevitable fire.
It’s best to try to relax through this section, while still moving briskly. No need to duck every time shots ring out. They are, presumably, shooting in the opposite direction!
This segment continues the relentless, although reasonably gentle, uphill march to the Colorado high country. You can relax and breathe a little easier on this segment, as you enter the first of the six Wilderness areas you will pass though on The Colorado Trail. Bicycles fall off your radar and are replaced by wet feet as the dominating topic of concern.
The major physical feature of this segment is the Long Gulch, a six mile open meadow filled with wildflowers, cows, and water.
Did I mention water?
The entire hillside is leaking water! It is here your prayers change from pleas for safety to grateful thanks that you listened to those who told you to wear lightweight, non-waterproof shoes. These are now drying and your feet will be warm by the end of the segment. While those wearing GoreTex boots, still squishing along, will be in the early stages of foot-rot.
So commanded the hiking gods.
This is the first segment of the trail in which the traveler gains enough height to look down on the rest of the world. Specifically, the world that lives in the South Park of Colorado. No one who sees this view can resist reaching for their camera. But a strange energy exists here. No matter how many hundreds of photos you take of the extraordinary view, your pictures are b-o-r-i-n-g. Horizon after horizon, stretched out through the middle of the shot. Not a single one obeying the rule of thirds. WTF?
It is not your fault. A secret cult lives along this segment of trail and builds sacred power structures called “wapiti camps” (shown below). The camps all have different shapes and sizes, but a strange energy emanates from each of them. You will find if you enter one and perform a yoga pose–say a Salutation to the Sun, or even a Downward Facing Dog–some of this energy will be transferred to you. It won’t help you take better pictures, but it will make hitching on nearby Kenosha Pass easier.
I had my thumb out for no more than 10 seconds when an older, 70ish lady pulled over for me. “Wow! I didn’t think you would stop for me,” I said. “Dangerous people don’t carry hiking poles,” she said. “Right,” I thought to myself. “If you say so!”
This segment is exceptionally long and is divided into two halves. The eastern half is dominated by the first true physical test of the trail, the ascent toward Mt. Guyot and Georgia Pass at nearly 12,000 feet of elevation. Doubt and attrition start here.
Nearly everyone, even an experienced traveler, has packed too much stuff, and the effort to attain the pass begins to sort the essential from the “no friggin” way!” If you make it to the end of the segment, your gear will soon weigh pounds less than you are lugging now, as everything unneeded will be sent home.
The western half of the segment is associated in my mind by fierce, fast-moving storms dumping torrential quantities of rain and hail. It seems as though every time I get within a few miles of Breckenridge and the barbecue I have been obsessing over for days, I get hit with the “Storm of the Century.” Maybe I exaggerate. But, it’s big enough to deserve a story in the morning’s newspaper. My rain gear is certainly no match for it.
The good news is that excellent coffee, good food, and the Post Office are nearby. Take a day or two off to regroup, and you will be set for the rest of the journey.
This segment is a steep 3500 foot ascent/descent over the Ten Mile Range between the skiing resorts at Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. There may be significant snow on this segment deep into July. Many hikers take advantage of the free bus service in the area to complete this portion of the trail as a day hike.
Check into a local hiking hostel or hotel in Breckenridge or Frisco for two nights. On day one, complete your usual resupply duties. On day two, leave most of your gear in your room and take a day pack over the top of the range. Don’t, under any circumstances, forget to take your rain gear!
If you are hiking from Breckenridge, you won’t see the approaching storm until you crest the ridge. You may well have to run down the other side, chased by lightning. Aren’t you glad you left most of your stuff back in your room?
The essence of this segment of trail in one word is “wildflowers.” Even though the trail is steep, with both Searle and Kokomo passes ahead, you still climb the switchbacks with a spirit of joy and optimism. And, why not? The sun is shining (finally!) and you have sent all your heavy non-essential gear home at the last resupply. You are light in both weight and spirit. You are surrounded by the smell and sight of wildflowers.
You could not have imagined such an abundance before you started the trail. There are entire fields of flowers extending in every direction. You are astonished so many colors exist.
Even the marmots at the top of Searle Pass running off with your hiking poles won’t upset you. This is the place where you want to eat lunch and take a nap. A Heaven on Earth.
Or, you will be running for your life from the storm that is about to smother you. It depends.
But, even then, you won’t forget the wildflowers. They are spectacular!
This segment of the trail is a forest walk, and may be the segment in which southbound hikers begin to feel lonely. They haven’t seen many people and they wonder if they are alone on the trail. They aren’t. Hiking northbound, I see twenty or more hikers or riders a day. People are on the trail. They are just spread out enough not to run into each other often.
Solo travelers often enjoy the hostels in town as much as they do the trail. I highly recommend the nearby Leadville Hostel for meeting like-minded travelers. Hikers will sometimes spend days or weeks hiking together after these chance encounters in town. Lifetime friendships evolve. Having a friend to talk to on this segment is a good idea.
The trail can be what you want it to be. I enjoy solitude, so I almost always walk alone, and I rarely stop in locations where others are camping, preferring off-trail, out-of-sight locations whenever possible. Others think sharing a campsite is the best part of the trail experience. You choose for yourself.
Here you become a master in the judicious use of pace to select company. Speeding up, if necessary. Or, slowing down to spend an hour sitting in a swing or writing in your journal. No one will mind. You choose the trail experience that makes sense to you.
A hiker described this segment to me as a “rejuvenating forest walk. A time of strolling miles in a mixture of sun and dappled shade and feeling as if there is no need to stop hiking. No need or desire at all.” Indeed. It is a beautiful section of streams, lakes, and wildlife.
This is a good segment to walk with a friend. Making plans to summit one or both of the easy 14ers in the next segment will pass the time. The day passes with quiet thoughts, an easy walk, and occasional glimpses of deer and other wildlife.
Colorado Trail Tour – Segment 11.
If you thought you were lonely in Segment 10, you might find the opposite problem even more vexing in Segment 11. Here you are suddenly surrounded by hundreds of people on the trail. So many, in fact, it is going to be difficult to find a place to step off the trail to conduct your daily business. What has happened!?
Most of these people are headed for the summits of Mt. Massive or Mt. Elbert. On a nice day, there will literally be hundreds of people heading for the summit. And you should join them. The biggest regret I hear from people who have hiked the trail is that “I didn’t spend enough time” taking in the entire trail experience. A summit of one of the many 14ers in the vicinity of the trail is one of those classic trail experiences. These two 14ers are particularly accessible and well worth the 4-5 hours it will take to summit and get back to the trail. Pro Tip: Wake up early and start up the trail with your headlamp to avoid the huge crowds later in the day.
If you are on the trail in August, you may find yourself competing with the Leadville 100 ultramarathon runners. Twin Lakes, a sleepy little town of maybe 100 people swells to 3000 souls on race day, all wanting that same breakfast burrito you have been thinking about for hours!
Trail reality is so distorted on this segment you may even encounter someone out walking their pet cookatoo on the trail!
Segment 12 (East) – CW01 (West)
Before you get to this segment, you will have had to make up your mind about whether you are taking the Collegiate East route or the Collegiate West route around the Collegiate Peaks section of the trail.
The Collegiate East route is a forest walk. It is considered easier and has the decided advantage of a dip in the hot springs and a second big breakfast at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs resort. This is the best breakfast on the trail, in my opinion.
The Collegiate West route was added in 2012 and is a high, hard, lonesome, sometimes dangerous excursion into spectacular. This is the official Continental Divide Trail route. You should consider the weather carefully when you make your decision. The Collegiate West route is not a place you want to find yourself in a lightning storm!
I did the East loop route, and that’s enough. I could do the West route every year for the rest of my life and I would never get tired of it. The prayer flags on Hope Pass are there so you can give thanks for getting up that slippery, gravely mule track they call a trail and for making the right decision to go West.
Segment 13 (East) – CW02 (West)
If you are on the Collegiate East route, this segment comes down out of the mountains and you walk on paved roads on the approach to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs resort. Buy a day pass and soak in the hot springs pools for an hour or two before moving on. Your body will thank you.
The Chalk Creek trailhead, a few miles farther down the trail from the Mt. Princeton resort, has a history of problem bears getting into unsecured food. The Forest Service now requires everyone to hang their food (great idea!) or to use hard-sided bear-proof canisters to store their food. It is probably best to find an out-of-the-way campsite farther up the trail, if you have time.
If you are on the Collegiate West route, you are probably negotiating some of the persistent snow fields on Lake Ann Pass. The trail here is steep and slick. Care is required to avoid falling. The snow is usually gone by the middle to end of July.
The 23 miles between Texas Creek and Tincup Pass on the Collegiate West route was opened in 2014 and is known as the High 23. It is some of the most well constructed, beautiful, and heart-stopping trail in Colorado. It starts in this segment. Take it slow and remember to stop frequently, look around, and breathe deeply.
Segment 14 (East) – CW03/04 (West)
If you are on the Collegiate East route, this segment is a straightforward walk through pine and aspen forests to Highway 50 and access to Salida. Salida is one of my favorite places to take a zero. On summer evenings you can stroll the river walk, drink a beer overlooking the river, dance to a jazz band, and watch kids and dogs frolic in the water. Not to mention catch the church’s annual barbecue fund raiser, where you can meet the RV crowd and discover how fundamentally alike you actually are.
If you are on the Collegiate West route, you are probably in the middle of the segment the Databook told you doesn’t have any place to camp, with light running out and a cold, nasty wind making it impossible to keep your stove lit so you can eat something warm. You might have to throw together a makeshift camp in a semi-flat patch of ground in the krumholz. In the morning, you might wake up from a fitful night of sleep to 100 or more elk grazing in the valley beside you. You might think you were having a religious experience.
Segment 15 (East) – CW05 (West)
This segment reunites the Collegiate East route with the Collegiate West route some eight miles south of Monarch Pass on a narrow ridge of the Continental Divide. This is the Monarch Crest Trail, one of the most famous mountain biking trails in Colorado.
If you are arriving at the confluence point from the Collegiate East route, you are huffing and puffing from scaling what is called the “steepest portion” of the Colorado Trail, a 668 foot climb in a half mile that leaves you breathless and concerned your heart may be about to jump out of your chest.
If you are arriving from the Collegiate West route, you have already become inured to the numerous (hundreds on weekends!) mountain bikes approaching from the pass behind you, and you no longer think it is strange or an annoyance to step off the trail and pause for bikes to pass you every 30 seconds or so.
As you step off the trail for a moment to rest, you may experience another pleasure of our multiple use forests: dirt bikes! Yes, indeed. You will be sharing the trail for the next 50 miles or so with dirt bikes. Not many, and the riders are inevitably courteous. But the bikes are loud, an advantage, you could say, over mountain bikes. You will have more notice to find a good place to step off the trail and allow them to pass. Breathe slowly to stay in your deep meditative state as you wave them by.
This segment begins what I think of as “cattle country.” The views expand and you have to be more careful with water in the next three segments. You often walk jeep or forest roads, rather than single track. Depending on when you hike, you will see hunters and car campers along these segments. You will certainly encounter cows, some of whom will be reluctant to yield the trail to you.
Not everyone considers these their favorite segments of the trail. I’ve always found them fascinating. I love to start early in the morning and watch the light play out over the vast landscapes. Or speculate whether the hit-or-miss afternoon thunderstorms will come close or stay in the distance. This is often a day when putting on your rain gear is certain to stop the rain, and taking it off is certain to draw it to you.
Whatever the situation, you can be sure things will look completely different 15 minutes from now. If you get a few moments of sun, take it to dry your tent from the night before. It may be the only sun you see all day.
Be careful with water in this segment. It is a long, dusty 17 miles from filling up at Tank Seven Creek in Segment 16 to the trickle (in wet years) of water in Razor Creek in this segment. You may have to take a half mile downhill detour to Baldy Lake, about half way between the two sources, to fill up. Baldy Lake is the only absolutely reliable water source in this segment. Plan accordingly.
Razor Creek, because of its water and location, often serves as a campsite for hikers. It is memorable for many, and not always because cows have trashed the place before they arrived. (I described this campsite in my first trail journal as a “cow shit hole,” and it took me months to picture it in my mind when I was plotting my campsites on a map. I’ve found more suitable accommodation in the area since then.) I would try to avoid getting here late in the day when campsite options are dwindling.
Two of my friends spent an interesting night at Razor Creek with a lovelorn female mountain lion caterwauling outside their tents. They described the sound to me as “a woman getting her throat slashed.” Neither made a sound all night long, afraid the lion had already torn their partner apart. Both were pleased to see the sun come up in the morning.
The trail after Razor Creek is some of the smoothest and most comfortable of the entire trail, with wildflowers filling the forest.
This is one of my favorite segments. I love the wide open views of cattle country!
But, don’t get so wrapped up in the views you forget to look around. I got lost here one year when I was daydreaming and missed a turn on one of the numerous ranch roads the trail follows in this segment. The road I was following eventually wrapped around and came back to the trail, but in a fashion that now had me walking the wrong way on the trail.
I walked five miles in the wrong direction before I realized that if I were going in the direction I thought I was going in the sun would be behind me, not in front of me! The only possible explanation I could come up with for the next couple of hours as I retraced my steps was Alzheimer’s disease. Not very reassuring. Of course, I had maps and a GPS application on my phone, but I didn’t believe them! Sheesh.
People who haven’t been lost yet, just have no idea how hard it is to question your own experience and rely on things like maps and GPS units. If you are not used to being lost, it is even harder to accept the obvious facts. I was prepared to believe any outrageous thing, except that God would put the afternoon sun in the East!
This was one of those days when I walked 25 miles to make 15 miles of forward progress. Sigh…
All part of the adventure.
The defining feature of this segment is Cochetopa Creek and the return of abundant water to the trail. If the weather is nice, most travelers throw off their socks and shoes and relax in the welcome cold water of the creek.
If you are still carrying your fishing pole, hoping for fishy water, your prayers have been answered. You can spend a couple of hours or a day here and eat well.
The highlight of this segment for me is the old cowboy ranch settled into the valley along the creek at the end of the segment. Every time I pass by, I think, “I would buy that place if I had a chance!”
But, after meeting the owner of the ranch on the trail one day, I realized I don’t look anything like the owner of a western ranch and probably don’t have any business owning one.
The ranch owner laughed at me when I made my low-ball offer. “The Forest Service has wanted to buy this ranch for a long time,” he said, “but I won’t sell it. Property like this is irreplaceable. I’m an artist and I love the way the light changes everything in this valley. It is magical. I was married here in the month of September. The entire hillside over there was a wall of gold. It’s fun to watch the elk come down out of the mountains and scare the horses to death!”
For me, every step of The Colorado Trail is wonderful. But from Segment 20 south to Durango, I think The Colorado Trail is extraordinary. Few trails in the United States can be compared to it. It is high, lonesome, windy, cold, dangerous, and exceptionally beautiful. In short, the perfect trail adventure.
The segment starts off with a beautiful uphill walk in the La Garita Wilderness to the headwaters of Cochetopa Creek and the saddle of San Luis Peak (14,014 feet). This is another easy 14er for those of you encountering the mountain on a clear day. This is one of the least climbed 14ers in Colorado. It shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours to hike the 1.5 mile trail to the top and back, with about 1,400 feet of elevation gain.
Hone your appreciation for weather here. You will be above tree-line on this segment, with spectacular views and fields of wildflowers. Notice the dead trees on the opposite hillside. The Rio Grande Forest has been ravaged by spruce budworm, which to my eye has apparently killed every non-aspen tree in the forest. Look more closely and you will see the odd young tree still hanging in there, offering hope for the future.
Look for moose on the way up the valley. Give them a lot of space. Moose are inscrutable. I can never figure out what they are thinking. They don’t behave like normal animals. At times they don’t mind your presence at all. At other times, they appear agitated and dangerous. Give them space to work out their own psychological problems.
The segment ends at San Luis Pass and access to the town of Creede, which many consider one of the best resupply stops on the trail. A small repertory theater offers plays there throughout the summer, a favorite diversion for many travelers and an excellent option for a zero day, a day of rest and recuperation, when no hiking occurs.
I say I love the Weminuche Wilderness, and that is certainly true, but Segment 21 might be my favorite segment of the entire trail. It just goes up and down, and up and down. Every time I get to the top of something and look around, I think “Nothing could be better than this!’ And, yet, the top of the next hill is even better. And on, and on. The camera is never put away.
Usually, a cold wind is blowing in my face and it is either sleeting or raining. It doesn’t matter. Nothing can take away from the feeling of standing on the top of a mountain and seeing the world laid out before me!
It is just about here that you start to realize how much you are being changed by the trail. Not only are you in the best shape of your life, powering up hills you were intimidated by before, but you start to realize how groundless the fears you started the trail with are in reality. You feel a self-confidence you have maybe never experienced before. It is exhilarating to catch a glimpse of how your life could be.
There is literally no place to hide from lightning on the segment, so be very careful when you decide to cross, especially on Snow Mesa. If you do get caught out, head for the lowest piece of ground you can find and make yourself as small as possible. Storms normally do not last long.
The trail only goes higher as you leave Spring Creek Pass and head up and over Jarosa Mesa toward the high point of The Colorado Trail near Coney Summit at 13,271 feet in this segment. Before you get there, you will pass by the Friends of The Colorado Trail yurt, where you can make reservations and spend the night. Cook your dinner on wood-fired stove and share a nip with friends as you watch the sun go down from the elevated porch. There is a Porta-John, too. Please don’t be the guy who takes a shit on the wood pile underneath the cabin!
Load up with water from the small creek in the meadow. Water will be scarce on this high ridge walk toward the abandoned mines of the Carson mining district. Red Mountain is looming in the distance. I remember thinking the first time I walked here that if that mountain wasn’t named Red Mountain someone should be fired!
Ptarmigan are common in this high country. They are so well camouflaged they are difficult to see. They won’t move until you are about to step on them. I don’t usually see them until I step off trail to water some plants and find them scurrying away from me.
It is easy to take a fall on the gravely mineral soil that is common in Colorado. The steep trails here are particularly dangerous. Go slowly downhill and take full advantage of your trekking poles. When you get to the high point, have your camera ready. You have about 10 seconds to snap a picture before the rain hits you!
This segment is nearly all above 12,000 feet and contains some of the best views of the entire trail. I certainly have more pictures of this segment of the trail than any other.
When people talk about being cold on the trail, this is usually the segment they are talking about. It is not unusual to see snow falling here at any time of the year. A cold wind is almost always blowing in your face if you are hiking southbound. If you forgot to bring gloves on the trail, here is where you really pay the price. The people who only brought shorts to hike in begin to question their sanity.
The headwaters of the Rio Grande river is here, as well as the location of the photo you look at every time you pull out your Databook. It is fun to try to recreate that photo with your own picture.
Take some time to study the ridge lines around you. There are large herds of elk in this area, as well as groups of bighorn sheep. If you are up early, and are lucky, you might see both. Deer abound. At night a moose might come crashing through shallow Cataract Lake, an excellent place to camp.
Above all, get your camera out and make sure it is accessible. Even with cold hands, you are unlikely to put it away.
In this segment, you enter the high lonesome of the Weminuche Wilderness, one of my favorite places on Earth. The magical San Juan mountains surround you. It’s cold. The wind is always blowing. In every direction you look you see 14ers whose names you are familiar with. You think you might possibly be the only human, ever, to walk in this place. (At least until you see the thousands of sheep grazing near one of the lakes that dot the landscape.)
The Continental Divide Trail branches off here and heads south into New Mexico, while you take a right turn and feel like you are falling off the face of the Earth. You plunge down Elk Creek toward the Animas River, which runs between the mining towns of Silverton and Durango. A narrow gauge railroad travels up and down the river between towns each day, and you may hear its plaintive whistle as it passes the stops where hikers can jump on and off the train to access this beautiful country.
Take a moment to relax on the Animas. Grab a snack to fortify you for the 38 switchbacks that lead out of the Animas valley and up to Molas Pass on Highway 550. This is an easy hitch into Silverton, a true Colorado mining town even now.
If you have time, visit the Silverton Museum, housed in the old jail, at the far end of town. It is worth your while. And, if you are there on a Sunday evening, don’t miss the brass band concert, always held in the middle of main street. You don’t need to worry about traffic. There won’t be any!
This segment continues the legacy of big climbs and steep downhills in beautiful and expansive surroundings. The light in this segment is often extraordinary. The colors are sometimes otherworldly. It also contains one of my favorite short sections.
The Lime Creek drainage fascinates me. It is a carpet of wildflowers, at its absolute height in early August. If the weather is good, there are delightful camping spots in the willows on the bench to the south, with fabulous views of the Jura Knob in the setting sun. But, the creek itself is the best. It pours out of a spring in the side of the mountain, runs just a 100 yards or so, and then plunges into a hole beside the trail and disappears! No need to filter your water here. Walk downhill less than half a mile, and the creek appears again on the other side of the trail, running as strong as ever. The whole place feels like a miracle to me!
Farther down the trail, Cascade Creek rumbles out of the mountains and forms a delightful waterfall just below the bridge over the creek. If the sun is shining, this is a wonderful place to grab some lunch and spend a delightful half hour taking pictures.
This segment starts at Celebration Lake, an excellent place to fill your water bottle and view hundreds, if not thousands, of tiger salamanders, a Colorado native amphibian. Their presence indicates this lake lacks predatory fish.
The trail continues, wrapping around Hermosa Peak, with plenty of rock falls to attract pikas and marmots. These curious creatures will surprise you with a sharp warning whistle as you get close. Once, I heard an entire hillside erupt with pika and marmot whistles. I looked up, startled, to find a red-tail hawk, their real enemy, flying low over the rocks.
The highlight of this segment for me is Blackhawk Pass. In the evening gloaming, the light and view of the surrounding mountains is unsurpassed. You can see Lizard Head Rock, a distinctive local landmark, off in the distance. Hurry though! It is hard to find a suitable campsite on this steep ground. In the morning you might hear elk softly bugling to one another. If it is foggy out, and it often is here, this will sound ethereal.
Make sure you fill your water bottles as you cross Straight Creek. This will be the last reliable water you can find in the next 22 miles, the longest stretch without water on the trail.
This segment is dominated by a long walk along Indian Trail Ridge. In some years, it can be a 22 mile dry walk with no water source available along its length. In wet years, there are sometimes seeps and a spring about half way through the segment, but you are wise to check with northbound hikers before you commit yourself. Being without water is just about the worst thing that can happen on the trail.
Well, outside of lightning, of course, which is also a distinct possibility on Indian Trail Ridge. The ridge is extremely exposed on its southern end and is battered by westerly winds. Depending on your location, you may not see the approaching storm until it is upon you. I once spent a terrifying 45 minutes in a lightning posture, preparing to meet my maker on this ridge! Thankfully, still here.
There is really not much point in worrying about lions or bears on the trail. But you should worry about lightning. A lot! Almost everyone I know who has walked the trail has been threatened by lightning at least once. Read up and know how to take care of yourself in these situations. Be sure you left a will behind.
In good weather, though, Indian Trail Ridge is a delight, with fields of wildflowers and expansive views of the San Juan mountains in every direction. Taylor Lake looks like a God-send to a thirsty hiker from above. Eat your lunch and drink your fill here before moving on to the final segment of the trail. The big climbs are all behind you.
Oh, my goodness, here already! This segment, mostly downhill, is easy walking and a roller coaster of emotions. You are anxious to get home to reconnect with loved ones, but terribly sad the journey is coming to an end. Even the thought of the free beer Carver’s Brew Pub gives to thru-hikers doesn’t cheer you up as much as you thought it would.
Take a moment to find someone in the trailhead parking lot to shoot the obligatory end-of-hike picture for you in front of the Colorado Trail sign. It is a picture you will treasure for a lifetime.
Move slowly at the end of your journey. You will need time to decompress. The world will feel like it is whirling by, faster than you ever imagined. Hang out in Durango for a day. Get a ride to Glenwood Springs and soak in a hot springs pool until the train to Denver arrives. You will find winding along the Colorado River at 30 mph with an interpreter explaining the history of Colorado to you, a drink in your hand, is infinitely more pleasing than hurtling along the freeway at 80 mph. Ease back into civilization slowly.
You did good. It is a journey you will always remember. You are probably worried now that you have changed so much you won’t fit back into the real world. But, you will, it just takes time. Eventually, believe me, you will stop sneaking out at night to pee in the backyard. There might even be a few moments when you don’t think about the trail. You will fit back in. But something in you has also been changed forever. That’s the part you want to treasure and nurture and remember for the rest of your life.