Setting up camp near Shawnee
Arthur's Home for 5 Weeks
Atop San Luis Peak
What made you want to set out on this adventure?
I had hiked about half the trail, doing section hikes over the previous three years. I had experience on several longer backpacking trips, including a couple of weeks on the Pacific Coast Trail and five weeks each in both the India Himalayas and in Yukon, Canada.
It just seemed strange that I had not hiked the full Colorado Trail, which is right in my backyard. The Colorado Trail crosses CO-9 just 1.5 miles from my home just north of Breckenridge. By through-hiking, I would not miss any of the trail, which is known for its beauty. I'm glad I did it (or nearly all of it).
What kinds of things did you do to prepare physically?
I am retired and active year-round anyway, including some long ski tours in the winter that use many of the same muscles and skills. Even with that background, I hired a personal coach at Summit Endurance Academy who created a training plan that included a variety of intense muscle-group exercises, interval and vertical training, long hikes and jogs, plus recovery periods. Mostly, I just hiked with my full pack for about five weeks before I left to build on the base I had from ski touring.
What advice would you have for other folks of, ahem, more advanced age preparing for such a journey that would differ from what you’d tell younger folks?
For long-distance hikers of any age: Do short but multi-day section hikes with all your through-hiking gear on terrain as close as possible to what you expect on the trail.
Practice your outdoor skills. Fine tune your gear, nutrition and footwear.
Start out with smaller objectives and build up to 15 to 20 miles per day and 3,000 to 5,000 feet of vertical.
Planning what to take is always a compromise between hiking comfort (weight) and camping comfort. You need to make your own decisions but most inexperienced hikers take too much stuff. Gear must serve multiple purposes.
Long-distance hikers should be confident in their outdoor skills (leave no trace, navigation, staying found, camping, cooking and first aid, to name a few). Older hikers especially need to listen to their body. If you are tired, sore or hurt: Stop! Take a rest. A couple of hours can help a lot. Get to a campsite and call it a day. You might have planned a longer day, but it does not matter.
One hears the trite statement “hike your own hike” from long-distance hikers. Accordingly, while you need a longer-term plan to complete the whole hike, day-to-day plans change. Be flexible and plan conservatively.
Did you encounter any doubters along your way — anyone who thought you couldn’t or shouldn’t make this trek? What did you tell them?
My family and friends are tremendously supportive. They know of my lifetime of outdoors experience and, just as important, my persistence. Some call it a completion complex. My goals for this hike were to experience the trail and to work on some things about myself.
During my career, organization and drive were assets. Now in retirement, few others are counting on me in the same way. Now life is more about the journey and relationships are ever more important. I thought both those I care about — family and friends — and I would benefit if I was more relaxed, more focused on the needs of others rather than the end goal. I am not there yet, but the trail was a walking meditation to focus on the journey: Do not see obstacles as something to overcome but as side trips to be enjoyed.
Anything you wished you had packed that you didn't?
Nothing was missing except the personal location beacon picked up after week one. Given the few people on the trail in the early season and the lack of cell coverage, something more than a cell phone was necessary. If I had been hiking later in the season or with a partner, the PLB would not have been necessary. Now that I own it, I will take it on all my adventures. It weighs just 8 ounces and might save my life. It sure is comforting to send or receive a text to or from the family with my location a few times a day. It can be lonely on the trail.
Anything you wish you hadn’t packed?
With my experience, I can pack very light. My base weight is not quite considered ultralight (less than 10 pounds), but at about 15 pounds, it’s typical of experienced long-distance hikers. Base weight is all your gear carried in you pack except fuel, water and food, which of course varies daily. My heaviest days were barely over 30 pounds with 5 ounces of propane fuel, 3.5 liters of water and seven days (3,000 calories per day) of food. I carried a few things that might not have been necessary in other conditions.
I had a very small tripod for my iPhone to use as a camera because I was alone and wanted higher-quality selfies. I carried a little-larger-than-necessary auxiliary battery to charge my electronics. I did not know how efficient the PLB was going to be because it was new to me. I now plan to carry a smaller 5,000 mAh battery, which weighs a few ounces less. I only used some lightweight gloves for about 1 hour in 29 days, and since I could have used my extra socks instead, I could have saved about 4 ounces by leaving them at home. But if it had rained regularly, maybe I would have worn them often.
I see your next adventure was climbing five 14ers. What’s the one after that?
In September I hiked the 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California. I am in the very early stages of planning ski-touring trips for next winter.
I am booked for a five-night hut-to-hut 10th Mountain Division trip here in Colorado from Polar Star to Aspen in February. Another seven nights in the Dolomites of Italy in early March and maybe a third the last week of March and early April in Norway.