Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Colorado Trail: Reflections on a 500-mile Adventure (Part 1)

The Colorado Trail is a rugged ribbon of dirt, stretching 500 miles from Denver to Durango, crisscrossing the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountains.  It climbs and falls over alpine ridges, the average elevation over 10,000 feet, as it passes through six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges.
It’s an awesome journey.
In 1994, my friend Richard Shinaman and I completed a through hike of the trail — a six week ramble that continues to shape my life almost 20 years later.  My memories of that summer are a primary reason that I’m planning a through hike of the John Muir Trail with my wife and two sons in 2013.  I want to share the transformative adventure of a long trail with three of the people I hold dearest in my life.

And I want to share it with you too.  I recently dug into old boxes in my garage and found dusty containers of slides…  Yes, old 35mm slides (I had to search far and wide to find a projector on which to view them). 

I understand the fact that I own a box of 35mm slides dates me.  But that doesn’t matter.  The wild places along the Colorado Trail have changed little since that summer of 1994. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post pictures and snippets of my journal from that summer.  I don’t pretend to be anything close to a professional photographer (and these pictures were taken back in the days before digital — when you had 24 or 36 frames per roll and rarely took more than a single chance on any one view).  But they’ll lend a sense of the journey we had.  Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire you to dust off your old backpack and get some mud on your feet!

I hope so.
We set up camp on a gentle ridge above the South Platte River then headed down to fish and get water.  It rained briefly while we were at the river, just enough to cool things off and stir up the smells of soil and leaves.  Now the sun has retreated beneath the Rampart Range Mountains and we are enjoying the quiet of the valley.

Earlier today we passed a ghost town called the South Platte Townsite.  The only building left intact had a sign that read South Platte Hotel — an old western style building nestled against the river.  It was fun to stand beside it and imagine crusty old miners gambling and swilling whiskey to the clanking of some old piano.  This valley must have felt a lot different in those days.

This morning we woke with the sun and fixed a breakfast of potato omelets and coffee.  We started hiking early, the sky a bit overcast, the trail winding through streamside trees.  The ground was colored by columbine, Indian paintbrush and bluebells, and the air inside the aspen groves felt cool and fresh.

By afternoon, thunder rumbled and a soft rain made its way through the canopy of pine needles.  We pulled our rain covers over our packs, put on our raincoats and kept walking until we reached Redskin Creek.  We sat under a tree in the rain, cracking jokes and laughing as lightning tore at the sky and rain jumped on the stream’s surface.

Eventually birds began to sing and the sun came out.  We strapped on our packs and climbed a ridge west of the creek to pitch our tent.

Up Next:  A midnight hike across the Continental Divide.

Read the whole series:  Part 1  -  Part 2  -  Part 3  -  Part 4

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.