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Hiking the Colorado Trail at 60

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We at the blog met Arthur through Joe Howdyshell at Summit Endurance Academy, who trains folks to do things that seem crazy to the rest of us.

Here’s Arthur’s story of hiking the Colorado Trail solo last summer at the wizened age of 60:

The Facts:
I attempted to through-hike the Colorado Trail beginning June 3, 2017, at Waterton Canyon. Destination Durango: 484 trail miles away. On July 2, I ended in Purgatory — not Durango, as planned. A friend and devout Catholic commented on my Facebook page that she found it amusing that I was “stopped in Purgatory before reaching my ultimate goal.”
 
I covered 431 miles of the official Colorado Trail before being stopped unexpectedly about 50 miles short of my goal due to a closure at Bolam Pass resulting from the Lightner Creek Fire west of Durango.  

Along the way, I had four days total of off-trail stops in Breckenridge (which is my home), Monarch Pass and Creede to pick up packages of additional food and supplies mailed to me by my spouse. I summited San Luis Peak (the trail passes within 2 miles of the San Luis Peak summit), at fourteener along the way. Most days I hiked 15 to 20 miles, with a few longer days.

The Highs & Lows:
I left too early in the season. I encountered snow drifts and in some cases miles of snow pack at higher elevations. The snow caused very slow and some dangerous travel, but I made it through. I encountered only a few other hikers but they were heading northbound on the Continental Divide Trail, so my contacts were brief. At several points, I saw no one else for two or three days at a time.

During the first week, I was also out of touch with my family for a few days because the cell coverage was much less than I expected. While on a two-day break from the trail in Breckenridge, I purchase a satellite-based personal location beacon (PLB) with rescue- and satellite-based texting capabilities. The PLB was very helpful and highly recommended, especially while outdoors alone. Later the PLB was critical, so I could contact my family and friend following the wildfire closure that forced me off the trail.

Just west of Creede, I caught up to two other southbound hikers and had three great days with them. Scott, Jenny and the dog Ruby started at Mount Massive near Leadville. On the first night they invited me to share the yurt they rented, Colorado Trail Friends Yurt. I did not know this yurt existed! On our second day together, we had an epic adventure over the most beautiful terrain on the trail in sections #23 and #24. High alpine meadows, great views and more snow to cross. On my third day with Scott and Jenny, we headed down the Elk Creek drainage, over the Durango-Silverton historic rail line and on to the Molas Pass trailhead. There Scott and Jenny ended their hike and we said our goodbyes, as new friends.

I continued the next day another 20 miles to Bolam Pass, where I encountered the wildfire trail closure. Along the way, I crossed the Rico-Silverton Pass, where I struggled with the last of several snow crossings and cornices. After three attempts and two unplanned slides back down the snow-covered pass, I found a way over the cornice. At Bolam Pass, I slept on my decision as to what to do next. The posted Forest Service directions had me heading down FSR 578. My map had only the first few miles of the road before heading off the edge of the map. Again, I was all alone and likely to remain that way. No one would be coming toward me, as the trail ahead was closed due to fire. The trail behind me was likely to have the fire closure posted, and the Rico-Silverton Pass crossing was so difficult that it was unlikely anyone would try. I used my PLB to tell my family and friends of my thoughts and possible alternatives. In the morning, I decided to head into the unknown rather return to Molas trailhead and back over the Rico-Silverton Pass. I texted my family my decision and headed down the road.

FSR 578 turned out to have more traffic than I expected. After 6 miles I saw other campers and vehicles and a 15-mile hike from Bolam Pass was the Purgatory Ski Resort. I checked into the only room they had left on a holiday weekend — a two-bedroom condo with great room, kitchen, two bathrooms and washer dryer. Five-star luxury after nearly a month on the trail. What a treat! A friend drove 10 hours out of his way to pick me up in Purgatory on a couple of hours’ notice.

By midnight, I was back home in Breckenridge, very satisfied with my adventure despite not quite making it to my goal. Colorado is a terrific place to live and adventure outdoors!

I saw some incredible sights: wildflowers and wildlife large and small, including goats, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn, elk, pica, marmot, moose, fox, bobcat and a black bear sow and her cub. Bugs were rarely a problem. I crossed many creeks and a few fast-running rivers.  

I had sunshine almost all 29 days and nearly perfect weather for hiking, with 75-degree highs and 30-degree nights. It only rained 3 hours total in nearly a month. My water froze only two nights.

Read our interview with Arthur about this trip >>

Read about ways to care for Colorado's trails >>