Friday, February 20, 2009

The Colorado Trail

I am in a very “bloggy” mood today – as this is my second post of the day!
Zack and I are planning to do some hiking this weekend on the Colorado Trail. So I thought I would do a post about the trail. The Colorado Trail is one of the outdoor “gems” of Colorado. It is a series of trails that traverse the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. The total distance of the trail is 430+ miles. (The exact mileage varies a little bit every year due to trail closures and detours.) The eastern starting point for the trail is just outside of Denver in a place called Waterton Canyon. This canyon is where the South Platte River emerges from the mountains and begins flowing across the Great Plains. Waterton Canyon is also the source of Denver’s water. Water from the reservoirs in the mountains is channeled through the South Platte River and is then extracted from the river at diversion points in Waterton Canyon.
(The picture above is of bighorn sheep on the sides of Waterton Canyon.)
From Waterton Canyon, the trail heads to the southwest as it journeys over the first ridges of the Front Range mountains. This section of the trail, though close to the cities of the Denver Metro area I have found is not well traveled. Once the trail reaches the South Platte River again at a point 15 miles north of the town of Deckers, it journeys through the burn areas created by the Buffalo Creek fire of 1996 and the Hayman fire of 2002. Once through this desolate, foreboding section the trail begins it true journey through the alpine glory of Colorado.

(The picture above is from the top of the ridge above the South Platte River prior to the Hayman Fire of 2002.)

Along the way to Durango, the trail crosses some of the wonderful “Wilderness Areas” of Colorado. (A wilderness area is a federal designated area in which there can be no development and in which all motorized traffic is prohibited.) Additionally, access to some of the states highest 14er’s is just a short way from the trail itself. The trail runs across the flanks of both Mount Massive and Mount Elbert – the two tallest mountains in the state. Hiking the trail the whole way through without stopping is quite a feat. It normally takes people between 1 and 2 months to complete the journey. However, timing your hike is a difficult proposition. Due to the elevation of much of the trail, it does not become snow free and passable until late June at the earliest or mid July at the latest. Given that snow begins to fall at the higher elevation again in late August to mid-September, the window of opportunity to clear some sections of the trail is very limited. On top of the issue of timing, storms and lightning are another constant issue that needs to be dealt with during any Colorado Trail hike. Since the elevation is so high, much of the trail is above tree line. Any human out on the high alpine terrain during a storm becomes a constant target for lightning. Many hikers rise very early to get done with their day’s hike before noon to avoid the worst of the almost daily thunderstorms. Additionally, it is advisable to journey several miles off the trail to find a suitable campsite that is BELOW tree line. There is nothing worse than being in your tent above tree line when a huge thunderstorm comes upon you. From my own personal experience I will tell you it is one of the worst things you can face – nature at it’s wildest. Anytime you experience this, it reminds to be careful where you camp! Zack and I are planning to hike a section of the trail from the bridge over the South Platte near Deckers to the east on Saturday morning. Our hike will be characterized by a very steep and long climb up to a ridge call Russell Ridge that is high above the South Platte. From there we will have a fabulous view up and down the river for many miles. Unfortunately when we look to the south all we will see is the tremendous damage done by the Hayman fire of 2002. I doubt that we will go much past Russell Ridge as the hike there and back will be between 6 and 7 miles. At this point, Zack loves hiking with me and the one thing I don’t want to do is turn him off to it by taking him on one of my 10 or 15 mile long “death marches”. So for now – 6 or 7 miles per day is the limit! Through hiking the Colorado Trail is one of the goals on my list of “lifetime” goals. Of course being able to do that will ultimately depend upon what happens in life. If things continue the way they are now, I am hoping to do that hike in the summer of 2013 or 2014 when Zack is 15 or 16. I am sure it would be a wonderful experience for the two of us. Other than our hike we have no major plans for the weekend. I think we are just going to be hanging around the house. I have a couple of major cleaning projects that are underway but that is about it. The weather is supposed to be good on Sunday – so that may give me the opportunity to get out the bicycle and do my first ride of the season – provided I go and get a new inner tube today and mount it. But I need to get going as Death Ride 2009 is only 4.5 months away! I will be sure to do another post over the weekend with a report about how our hike went.

Til then - thanks and peace to all!

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