Sunday 6 May 2012

Colorado Trail 2011 - Part 1, Denver to Frisco

In 2011 I hiked the Colorado Trail. I chose the Colorado Trail (CT) because I had little experience of high altitude hiking, and I wanted to get a feel of what to expect on my future Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike. Both trails share the same route for nearly 300km, but so as to not spoil the CDT experience I hiked the CT from north to south. I'm sure when I hike the CDT in 2014 it will all look fresh from the opposite direction.

The CT is staggeringly beautiful for most of its 782km length. It starts just outside the city of Denver and finishes in Durango. With an average altitude of over 3047m (10000ft) and with many peaks over 4267m (14000ft) easily accessible from the trail it looked ideal for my needs. I expected the hike to take around 35 days but, unfortunately, not all went to plan and I failed to finish due to illness. To have to pull-out, only 4 days from the end, was tough but it didn't dampen my feelings for the CT, and I learnt a lot from the trail. I would recommend it to anybody looking for a challenge that includes altitude, jaw dropping beauty and  miles of wilderness hiking.

The CT usually starts in Waterton Canyon but the official route has been closed for nearly 2 years  to allow extensive dredging work to be carried out. A couple of alternative starts are described on the CT website and I chose Roxborough Park which would join the CT after Carpenter Peak. As Waterton Canyon involves a long road walk, while Roxborough Park gets you straight into the mountains, I didn't feel I was missing anything. Waterton Canyon is due to reopen for the 2012 season but check on the CT website.

Roxborough Park was a surprise. Sitting on the suburbs of Denver I hadn't expected it to be so scenic. Red rock formations, along with open grass plains and forested foothills. Looked to me like a much better place to start the CT than the official Waterton Canyon.

Memories of the Arizona Trail came flooding back with my first, and only, snake encounter. 

From the park it's straight into the hills through bush and onto Carpenter Peak (2184m). This photo looks back to the park and downtown Denver is just visible in the background. As I hiked up Carpenter Peak I kept thinking of a Mountain Lion attack that happen here some years earlier. Today it was all peaceful.

The first half of the CT is often in airy Ponderosa Pine forests. I enjoy these massive US forests and it still amazes me that you can hike for hundreds of miles in one continuous forest. Coming from Scotland where a forrest might take an hour, or two (at most), to cross it's a revelation.

The CT is soon joined at Lenny's Rest. The trail is well marked throughout its length.

When hiking in forests its always nice to come upon a clearing. This spot has been used as a campsite in the past, and I'm not surprised!

A steep descent takes you down to the Platte River with its substantial bridge.

The early forests are occasionally broken by grass plains. It looks like there has been a forest fire here at some point.

My first encounter with Poison Ivy. Not 100% sure what it was at the time I asked a Ranger if there was any Poison Ivy in the area, he assured me that there wasn't. He changed his mind when he saw my arm! The Ranger also warned me about a Bear that was getting a taste for "human" food and had been breaking into cars. I saw many signs of Bears on the CT but never an actual real-life Bear.

Any view in a forest is good! Can I really hike (and enjoy) the 3500km AT hike in 2015, which is almost all in forest? I hope so!

The scenery on the CT increases in quality as you progress towards Durango, but when the worst is this good you don't have much to worry about.

First view of the Continental Divide which is followed by the CT for the next 300km. The CDT follows the Divide for nearly 5000km. Made me want to be on the CDT sooner than 2014.

CDT hikers have long since past here if they are heading north and I'm too early to meet any of the southbound hikers. The CT was quiet when I hiked in August. I counted no more than 10 hikers over the 4 weeks.

The Continental Divide is a truly impressive sight.

The CT crosses over the Divide before dropping down to the first resupply town, after almost 160km of hiking. You have a choice where to resupply as the trail comes out directly between the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco. Breckenridge is much bigger and a major ski resort in the winter. Frisco is a small alpine style village which has all you need but none of the tacky teeshirt shops which fills Breckenridge during the summer months. I chose Frisco and was happy I had. The following day I took the free bus into Breckenridge and just didn't like the feel of the town. Frisco was much more my thing. Small, pretty, but everything you need.

Forests are full of interesting photo subjects.

Continue onto part 2