It was time....Colorado was calling, again.
Last year my buddy Jacob and I set off on our Colorado Trail adventure...hiking from Waterton Canyon just outside Denver, to Highway 9 in Breckendrige. This year we picked back up at Breck, and headed southwest, covering 163 miles in 10 days. The heavy snow this past winter added some interesting challenges, but we navigated our way through and had a fantastic mountain adventure.
Here we go...
Day one had us up early and headed out of Breckenridge at Gold Hill Trailhead (Hwy 9). The trail would take us up and over the Ten-Mile Range and along the back side of the Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Cruising through the wildfire scar from a few years ago.
Headed up the ridge. Due to record snowfalls this year, the snowpack lingered far into the summer. This was just the first of many areas where the trail disappeared into the white abyss. Thankfully most of the navigation was relatively smooth.
Jacob crushing the snow-covered uphill.
A snow cornice hanging off the top of the ridge. At least I think it’s called a cornice. I’m from Oklahoma, so I’m going with cornice. We don’t have a lot of cornices here. I think it’s a cornice. It was a cool cornice.
Can you spot the marmot?
It was cool to see the Breckinridge Ski Area boundary. The summer changes the perspective of the mountains in such an awesome manner.
A quick lunch overlooking Cooper Mountain.
Headed down the backside towards Cooper Mountain. Afternoon thunderstorms were rolling in so we absolutely began the downhill hustle. Very little rain hit though, it was mostly behind the next ridge. There was some light sleet as well.
Camp set up after 19.2 miles.
Hanging out enjoying our fantastic dinner. At Copper Mountain, we snuck over to the gas station and, like good little hikers, picked up a couple tallboy Voodoo Ranger IPA’s. Dinner was cold-soak this year....no stove at all. It worked very well and I looked forward to dinner each night! Couscous, refried beans, tortilla soup mix, and powdered cheddar. It was similar to a cheese enchilada, and tasted great.
The absolute best gear purchase I’ve made in the past few years is this Hummingbird Hammock. It’s 5.2 ounces, and the straps are a mere 1.2. The ability to get pressure off my feet at the end of the day (and often during lunch) made a tremendous difference in endurance. I highly recommend this Colorado-based company.
A clear Colorado sunrise on day two.
Moving into the sunshine. We would continue up the valley towards the pass...and the snow.
Top of Searle Pass - 12,034ft. The views were tremendous.
Made a friend for us to talk to!
Looking back as we descended Searle Pass.
The snow was mostly stable, with the occasional surprise posthole. The fun part was that when you got surprised...it was generally a big one. You can’t see my right leg, but it’s buried. Obviously my hiking pole went deep as well. Wet feet and fun times!
Cruising the ridgeline.
A short time later and we were on Kokomo Pass at 12,027 feet.
Coming into Camp Hale. This historic site from the 1940s was a training camp for the US Army and spawned the infamous 10th Mountain Division. The hut system in Colorado is named for these alpine-trained soldiers. Camp Hale mostly consists of this long from of bunkers. Apparently there are mines buried in the area too, so wandering off trail isn’t advised.
We tucked into the trees at the edge of the valley and waited for the rain. Thought it was only a 12.9 mile day, we were pooped after crossing two passes and navigating more snow. It was nice to crash early.
Camping behind the explosives sign! Safety third.
Stay tuned for day three and beyond!
The Ouachita National Forest extends from west of Little Rock all the way into southeastern Oklahoma near the sleepy town of Talihina. It’s a rare east/west mountain chain that features long rolling ridgelines, miles of dirt access roads, and numerous hiking and recreation opportunities.
Early spring is a great time to be backpacking...especially in Arkansas...and the desire to slip out of town for a few days was, to say the least, burning. Cue up the Eagle Rock Loop. This popular weekend loop runs 26 miles over ridgelines, underneath pine groves, and through numerous river crossings. Most folks do this one in three days, as was the plan for this trip.
Time to fuel the Tacoma and crank it east.
I’ve had the fortune lately to date a fiery young lady who, much akin to myself, prefers to be sans roof as often as possible. Though she has hiked and camped forever like I have, this trip was Erin’s first foray into backpacking.
She nailed it.
We took the scenic Talimena Drive on the way out. If you’ve not driven this highway, you’re missing out on 54 miles of hills, curves, and expansive views. The drive runs from Talihina, OK to Mena, AR. Fall is the popular season...but I’ve driven it at various times of the year and never have been disappointed. Go check it out!
Mid-drive picnic stop. It was chilly and breezy so we backed the truck up towards the overlook and enjoyed a cold beverage and some lunch.
Taking refuge from the wind. All the gear is tucked up tight...ready to deploy!
Time to launch!
Within the first half hour or so we found ourselves navigating several wet crossings. Nothing too difficult this first day...but the continual on and off of shoes and socks slowed our pace some. Not to worry though, we enjoyed every minute and embraced the adventure.
Arkansas features some of the prettiest backdrops in this part of the country. How can you argue with that green water?!?
Hiker by a hiker sign.
Sometimes nature lends a hand.
Seriously...this photo is in Arkansas. The water was so pretty!
So pretty that I needed two pics in the blog just to emphasize the point.
Camp One - we had a nice fire and some well-deserved dinner.
Blackberry Lemonade makes me happy! (So did the booze we added....maybe it was just the booze)
Sunny overlooks on day two.
Another wet crossing...another shoe exchange.
Meadow cruise. This loop really offers a wide variety of terrain.
More sunny views of the ridgeline.
Rounding a bend...ticking off the miles.
Evening sunlight over more gorgeous water.
Camp two. My job was to take photos while Erin made dinner. Maybe I was supposed to help make dinner. (She was nice and shared).
Brekkie on day three - hot banana and blueberry granola, coffee for Erin (gross), hot chocolate for Byron (tasty), Rum Chata in both (appropriate).
Mas agua muy bonita.
Little Missouri Falls - very pretty and flowing well from the recent rains! I have a LOT of pics here.
One final wet crossing for the trip. If you’ve seen my Facebook page, you may remember there’s a hidden item in this pic.
Success! We had a nice stroll on day three...a few wet crossings but nothing to raise an eyebrow at. It was a great loop and comes highly recommended! Erin rolled along like a pro and we really had a great time enjoying nature.
Next of course - celebration beers!
After a quick swim to chisel off the first layer of funk, we changed into real clothes for a riverside hang. However...before any of that...we stashed some room-temp beer in the cold Arkansas water. Nature took care of the rest. A quick reconnaissance mission yielded cold beer in hand.
Cheers to hiking and to lowgiene!
We sat on the bridge soaking the sun, watching the water, snacking some cheese, sipping some brews, and wrestling with the idea of having to drive back to the world of responsibilities. Being able to escape from the daily makes the little things even sweeter.
Sunset on the return drive, Muse, OK. Find that one on the map!
The Eagle Rock Loop was a great hike for anyone looking to get away for a weekend! If you'd like any tips or further info, feel free to contact me via Facebook, Instagram, or email!
Now go outside before the heat rolls in!
How time FLIES when you are....working.
I've gotten a bit behind...maybe more than a bit....I hope to remedy that. We left off last time with a solid thunderstorm rolling into camp.
Post-storm morning chores. It was definitely more bark than bite! The best kind of storm when hiking.
Looking down the valley as the sun peeks over the ridge. Quite the contrast from 12 hours earlier.
Headed up through a gorgeous valley. The air was chilly and felt great!
Cruising into the sunshine.
Split rail running through the trees.
Another shot back through the valley....dirt road meandering through.
Moving into the full sun. I was happy for my long sleeves and had. Nothing feels worse than lathering sunscreen onto an already-grimy body.....so I opted for the sun clothing. It was definitely the right choice for me.
Red flowers. I'm sure they have an official name......probably 'red flowers.'
Camp Four in yet another beautiful valley! It was nice to get out in the open sun though it was pretty hot. Jacob and I hid out in the shade of the scrub bushes until the sun dipped below the ridge.
Sunset on the far side of the valley.
Happy boy at the end of the day! I always enjoy the evening downtime in the tent.....a time to just lay and relax for a bit.
Look at all those bears!
Jacob leading the charge.
One of many gorgeous aspen groves we had the fortune to stroll through. They're such a treat every time.
Kenosha Pass! We needed to resupply so it was hitchhiking time. I've hitched a ton in my time along the Appalachian Trail and I'm pleased to say that the experience in Colorado was great! We secured a ride into town within 15 minutes of thumbing....and got back out of town in under five!
These had pizza, but not for long.
Post-pizza...pre-grocery evaluation of our stock. Three rules of resupply runs....
1. DO NOT go into the store hungry (trail hunger and life hunger are very disproportionate) unless you enjoy a wickedly heavy backpack coming out of town
2. DO plan ahead so you can repackage your resupply in a hiking-conducive manner
3. Buy a piece of fresh fruit! Eat that mofo while you're out in front of the store reloading your pack.
Work smarter...I wished the cart would fit on the trail.
I always recommend asking the store employees if it is okay to bring gear inside. Some places don't like you to (which I desperately don't like....not a fan of being separated from my pack....but I understand and respect it if that's the policy). It is polite and helps build a positive rapport between hikers and businesses. It may come as a surprise.....but some places aren't terribly fond of furiously rank backpacks being toted throughout their shops. Yum.
A town run calls for beer. How convenient that the grocery store had a brewery right next door.
I love you.
I spy with my little eye.
We watched this storm roll into Fairplay and dump buckets of desperately- needed rain onto the Colorado landscape.
Guernsey Creek Campsite - we shared this gorgeous meadow with two dudes from Mexico who had flown up to bikepack the CT. Bikepacking is like backpacking, except you're on a mountain bike. The Colorado Trail is a prime location and draws a number of enthusiasts. It's not something I've tried yet, though I'd like to! I'm a cyclist and mountain biker as well so I think it would be a fun trip. Plus I have much of the lightweight gear already.
Another shot of our camp at Guernsey Creek. We were tucked into the aspens on the edge of the meadow. There were a lot of flies here, but thankfully the mosquitos weren't much of a nuisance.
Yellows near the Guernsey Creek campsite.
Moving along. It was an unusually dry summer in the Rockies so coming across a stream with such a great flow was a real treat.
Great views of Mt. Guyot as we approached Georgia Pass.
Flower pic for my mom.
Jacob and I in the meadow near Georgia Pass. We had been leapfrogging a nice family and we traded photography duty here while they were stopped for a break. It was a gorgeous day to hike in the Rockies!
Mt. Guyot - 13,370 feet. The CT doesn't go up to the summit, but we enjoyed the views of the peak under the bright blue sky for much of the day.
Georgia Pass - 11,598 feet
Endless views as we rounded the bend at Georgia Pass. I finally had to force myself to stop taking pics and just hike.
Sharing a portion of the trail with the Continental Divide Trail. That.....is pretty sweet!
You just walked through it bro.
Drying out the leftover condensation from the tent fly at lunch. Though the humidity is very low, the cool overnight temps create enough moisture to warrant spreading out in the sunshine.
Another mountain stream tumbling over fallen logs. Clean and clear.
This is a thing that happened. Everyone in camp got a solid laugh out of it!
Camp at North Fork Swan Road. There were quite a few folks here tonight but there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. We had a great time eating dinner together and chatting about the trail, food, and life. All the good vibes.
Crew. We had a fun night camping out with these diverse folks! Can you spot the bear-bag photobomb?
Pretty big tracks here! Maybe elk?
More purple lovelies.
The signage on the CT was so superb.
Descending into Breckenridge
Jacob leading the charge as we approach town.
Looking down over the outskirts of Breckenridge. There were some storm clouds building off towards the west so we stayed conscious of the weather and hoped to dodge the rain before we got into town.
Two dirty dogs! We got to the highway before noon and caught the bus into town to get my pickup.
Home sweet Toyota! I always prefer to hike TO the vehicle rather than from it on a long-distance hike. This adds a great element of flexibility to the hike since you aren't scrambling to meet someone for a ride....which is can be complicated by poor cell service, weather delays, or physical hiccups along the way.
Post-hike rewards! Broken Compass had some tasty brews which we made short work of. There were also lots of dogs in the brewery....bringing joy....and masking the scent of two whipped hikers. Remember I'd mentioned storm clouds? The skies cut loose while we were inside the brewery. Perfect timing if you ask me.
After heading back into the Denver metro and chiseling off the layers of trail funk, it was time to celebrate the hike with more beer! Golden City Brewery is one I've visited a couple times before and been quite pleased. It is very quaint.....based in an old house tucked into a quiet neighborhood near Clear Creek. It is Golden's "second largest brewery." I love that marketing.....because the largest brewery in Golden....is Coors. Ha! (GCB definitely gets the gold medal for beer though!)
Enjoying the sunshine at GCB.
Meeting the Yeti at Great Divide Brewing Company. So many tasty beers here.
Finally we landed at Black Project for some excellent sours to round out the trip.
The first leg of the Colorado Trail was definitely enjoyable! I look forward to picking back up at Breckenridge and cruising through the Rockies again soon!
As always....let me know if you have any questions about anything outdoors....hiking or otherwise! Always down to chat.