Perusing the Colorado Trail Ninth Edition, the official guidebook of the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF, 2016), I noticed that for Segment 1, the elevation gain is 2,830’ while the elevation loss is 2,239’ feet, the highest elevation for this section is 7,517’. Interestingly enough, when I was planning this hike, my brain kind of skipped over the first two numbers; I really didn’t think much of it because if you subtract elevation loss from elevation gain, the remainder is fairly unsubstantial. What Stryker and I have come to learn after completing this hike, is that those two numbers are quite significant. The first number, 2,830’, is a number referring to how many feet of elevation that you will climb while the other number, 2,239’ is how many feet of elevation that you will be traveling downhill; unfortunately, you don’t get to subtract one from the other. Both are equally taxing in their own evil ways.
Stryker and I, along with my buddy Don, set out Sunday morning to hike Segment 1 of the Colorado Trail. We began the day at Indian Creek Campsite, which is the official starting point of Segment 1 for those traveling with dogs. It’s a 4.5 mile bypass from the only section on the CT that doesn’t allow dogs (The first 6.5 miles coming from Denver). We intersected the CT at Lenny’s Rest and proceeded south to the completion of Segment 1 at South Platte River trail head. Gluttons for more, we continued on into Segment 2 to camp at/near the old abandoned quartz mine, now known to us affectionally as Camp Quartz. The old abandoned quartz mine has created a very neat area full of quarts scraps. People have build campfires and other designs out of quarts stones.
We had two goals for this first hike. First, we wanted to see what it was like to hike/ pack 15 miles in a day with our complete outfit. Fifteen miles is the average mileage a hiker must hike each day, every day to complete the AT in six months. I was carrying nearly 30lbs with 3X day’s food and water and Stryker had 8lbs in his pack. Secondly, we wanted to test out our gear and validate carrying all this crap for 2,189 miles. How does it work? Is it worth the weight? Can I, or better yet, am I willing to live w/o it? etc.
Goal One: Hiking for fifteen miles in a day, fully loaded over fairly significant terrain is very doable. The three of us took our time and enjoyed beautiful Colorado. We do live in a magnificent state/country. We took several breaks and stopped multiple times to take photos or simply, take a deep breath and enjoy. When we first started planning this trip, we discussed taking on Segments 1 &2. This would’ve meant fewer breaks, more fatigue, and less ‘camp’ time. In hindsight, thanks to Don, we made the right call and opted for a shorter trip this first hike. This decision meant that we arrived at Camp Quartz tired, but not over-tired, had plenty of time to set up camp prior to sunset, and were in high spirits and ready to enjoy each other’s company.
Goal Two: We made every effort to try out all of our gear. In doing so, this is what I learned:
NOTE: If you want to skip the gear reviews, please feel free to scroll down to the bottom and check out the pictures of the hike. Again, we live in an incredible country where natural beauty abounds. Please, help me take care of it by embracing the “Leave no trace” principle.
REI Flash 65 Liter Pack: This pack is solid. It held up and rode very well throughout the hike. It has easy access to water bottles on each side, a nice pouch for my hydration system, straps that let you adjust how weight is carried in the pack, and pockets on the belt for easy access (phone and dog treats). Another feature that is a must is bottom access that allows you to access things on the bottom of your pack without unpacking the whole thing. This feature is a must. My son, Andrew, helped me adjust the pack prior to the trip to ensure everything was ‘fit’ just right for me. Thanks, Andrew!
REI Half Dome 2+ tent: Andrew scoffed when I told him I was packing this tent. “That tent is way too heavy,” he scolded (You might be asking yourself by now, what does Andrew know? Well, this guy is a hiking and backpacking enthusiast and has been my sounding board for gear for quite some time now). Yes, it’s a bit heavy for a trek like the AT, but in my opinion well worth the weight. At nearly five pounds, it’s a sacrifice, but it’s a very nice tent with all sorts of intuitive features. Let me address the size versus weight. It’s a two-man tent, so it has plenty of room for both Stryker and I and all of our gear. During this hike, it rained nearly the entire evening with plenty of wind too. The tentfly kept everything nice and dry, not a single drop of rain got in. This means that if we have a day on the trail where we decide to hold-up for the day because of weather, it’ll do the trick and we won’t get too claustrophobic. Other features I love about this tent: There are two entrances, so we won’t have to climb over one another; there’s an attic that does a nice job utilizing space and allowing you to store things easily; there are tons of intuitive features, like D-rings on the rainfly that allow you to tighten it up very easily. All in all, I’m very happy with this tent even if I could save an entire pound by going a bit smaller.
Thermolight Sea to Summit ultra-light sleeping pad: This may be my favorite piece of gear. It’s very comfortable and it only took me about 30 seconds to inflate manually. Another thing, it stayed fully inflated all night long. How many times have you woken up on the ground in the morning when using a sub-par sleeping pad? Excellent.
Kelty Tuck Thermapro sleeping bag: At two pounds and compact, this is a nice, synthetic bag. It’s rated at a 22 degree comfort level for men. The temperature dropped down to about 35 on this trip and I was very comfortable without any additional additives. I did sleep in my Army silks. Additionally, there is plenty of room in the shoulder/chest area allowing for easy rolling during sleep. I hate getting all tangled up in a bag that is too tight. The bag also has some nice feature, such as a pocket to store loose change, headphones, etc.
Sawyer water filter system (regular size): This water filter did the trick; however, when I tried to dip one of the two, one-liter water pouches in the Platte River to fill it, the pouch wouldn’t fill. So, I was forced to use the syringe provided to fill the pouch. The filter is made to connect directly to the pouch and then has a ‘water bottle type’ spout on the receiving end. I didn’t count, but I think it took me about fifteen syringes to fill the one-liter pouch. Meanwhile, my buddy Don, reached down with his liter water bottle and filled it instantly then attached his Life Straw filter and was good to go. In fairness, Sawyer gives you all sorts of attachments to use with this filter, such as the ability to hook it directly up to your hydration system. Also, I’m sure the pouches would fill easily under a spigot…but then do you need to filter the water?
JetBoil Flash: For anyone that has one, you know this piece of equipment is a win. Again, Andrew was concerned about the weight. After I explained that I would be using the JetBoil to replace my complete cooking set, he understood. Besides, hot coffee and a warm meal in seconds is one of the creature comforts I plan to have on the AT.
Additionally, I picked up the coffee press made to go w/ the JetBoil. I don’t recommend it. It worked ~okay~ but, the amount of water to clean grounds (especially if you boil it over as I did) is too high of a price to pay to make coffee. Water is probably the heaviest thing I will carry; it’s EIGHT pounds per gallon. I will buy instant coffee that I can just add to boiling water and drink.
Buff multifunctional head ware: I wore my Buff to cover my ears all day. It protected my forehead from the sun during the day and continued to protect my ears from wind as the day grew tired and into the evening. In camp, I took it off and wore it around my hands (I forgot gloves) to keep my hands warm. It’s super light, and I appreciate the versatility. I can use it to cover my head, ears, as a neck gator, and ladies and gents, it can even be used as a hair-tie. Hell, maybe I’ll be able to use it as a hair-tie by the end of my AT trip.
Kuhl rain jacket w/ hood: This light-weight jacket worked wonderfully. It kept me nice and toasty and did a wonderful job blocking out the wind. It wasn’t raining while we were hiking, but I wore it anyways as temperatures began to drop towards the end of the day. I switched to my Kuhl fleece in the evening because it just looked so darn comfortable. And, it was. Just as a side note, because of rain jackets ability to block wind, it was as warm as the fleece and a lot lighter and more compact. I think I’ll still take them both.
Brooks Zero Drop trail running shoes: These shoes are super light-weight and are wonderfully padded, very comfortable. As a matter of fact, I ran into some other hikers who noticed I was wearing these shoes and he was sure to tell me that ‘his’ research uncovered the fact that “Zero Drops were what EVERYONE is wearing on the trail.” Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be wearing them much longer. Interestingly enough, the wide toe box doesn’t work for my wide foot and the excessive padding on the outside of the shoe is causing me to over-pronate. The toe box allows my toes to move just enough encouraging a blister to develop between my big toe and the adjacent toe—this I’ve never had a problem with in any shoe or boot. My ankles are extremely sore as I am naturally neutral to supine. Also, the shoes may be great for the AT, but here in the Rockies with all the “rocks,” I need a shoe with a bit more support.
Ruffwear Dog Pack: This pack works great for Stryker. It takes a bit of adjusting to get it right and then you still have to keep an eye on weight distribution or it’ll lean one way or another, but overall, a real nice, durable pack that is showing ZERO signs of wear after about 50 hiking miles.
Check out the contour lines and intervals…again, we walked every step both up and down!