I just got back from an amazing trip—my first in many years. Since most of my gear selection for this trip was informed by this site, I thought it appropriate to post a report—and say thanks!
About 175 miles, 15 days, solo. To avoid the logistical headaches of transportation, I devised a huge loop. I parked the car at the Molas Pass trailhead just south of Silverton, Colorado. I hiked up the popular Elk Creek drainage until I hit the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail and turned left (North). I followed the CDT to San Luis Pass where I dropped straight south into Creede. After a rest day, I continued south out of Creede connecting the Deep Creek Trail, jeep road 528, Roaring Fork Trail, and finally the Goose Creek drainage until I regained the CDT in the famed Weminuche Wilderness Area. I then followed the CDT back to Elk Creek and the car.
I hope you enjoy the pictures. Just keep in mind the photography is all hand-held point-n-shoot stuff with an ancient 3.2 megapixel camera (Canon A75). Don’t judge too harshly!
I started the trip by car camping and playing tourist for 4 days in and around Durango. The purpose of this was to sleep at 8,000 feet for a few nights to acclimate. I think this turned out to be a key element to the success of the trip.
I got a late start on Day 1. I soon hooked up and camped with 2 other solo hikers and we talked about bear encounters all night. On Day 2 we climbed out of Elk Creek and onto the Divide, which was one of the highpoints of the entire trip for me. My companions both turned south toward Needles and I continued north on the outstanding new Cataract Ridge re-route of the CDT. It was my first experience of the Divide. The little alpine lakes rimmed with snow and white flowers, the 360-degree views, the thin rarified air, and a remoteness all emphasized by a cold, overcast, rainy day. It really impressed me.
A high camp right beside the trail. Note the Divide marker right above and the abundance of natural toilet paper on the hillside.
The wildflowers were so abundant throughout the entire trip that I decided early not to spend any time photographing them; otherwise I’d just fill up the memory card and never get anywhere.
I shared a camp near Cataract Lake with some fine gentlemen from Oregon out for their annual adventure. Here they are setting up their freaky little tarps and poncho shelters. Most of the other backpackers I saw on this trip, however, were definitely not travelling as light.
Ah, Creede. I was completely exhausted by the time I got to Creede on Day 7. I was also late, having underestimated the terrain and overestimated my abilities. Sure enough, my contact person back home had called the local sheriff. All the store owners in town had been alerted to look for me and the owner of the local market knew who I was as soon as I walked in. Fortunately, Creede has to be one of the best layover towns on the planet. Between the Snowshoe Lodge, Kip’s Grill, and the Sci Fi channel I had a happy recovery.
Here is the 8 day food supply I had mailed ahead to myself. I wasn’t terribly imaginative with food, but it worked. Breakfast everyday was instant oatmeal, dried milk and a handful of dry fruit in a Ziploc, plus coffee. Lunch was a balance bar, a clif bar, a handful of trail mix, and 2 packets of Emergen-C. Dinner was either a Mountain House Pro-Pak meal or my own FBC concoction of instant brown rice, Knorr Swiss veggie soup mix, and a 3 or 4 oz foil pack of chicken or tuna. That was about it.
I enjoyed my day following Goose Creek. It provided a nice contrast to ridge walking and, being from Arizona, I enjoyed hearing the sound of rushing water all day. The trail was pretty vague in places and there was considerable blowdown to contend with, so the going was rather slow. Here’s an impressive beaver pond on a side stream. I’m standing about 4 feet below the water level.
I can’t resist catching snakes. Wandering Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans).
Yours truly, near the high point between Squaw Pass and Weminuche Pass. By Day 9 I experienced the payoff for huffing up all those mountains during the first week, as my conditioning finally kicked in. Feet, legs and lungs all started to work as they should (mostly) and I started cruising up those huge climbs with steady breathing and minimal stops. It was a beautiful and empowering thing to experience.
It rained almost every afternoon in this place, but one storm stood out from all the others. Luckily I had just made the trees at Squaw Pass before it hit. I could feel it was going to be big so I set up the Contrail and dived in. It started with a barrage of BB-sized hail, then rain, lightning, thunder (really really CLOSE lightning and thunder) and more rain. It was a little too exciting, actually. It continued to rain all night and into the morning, which broke the usual pattern. The Contrail did great throughout and I gained a lot of confidence in my new shelter.
The elk watching was especially fantastic on the more remote portions of the CDT east of Weminuche Pass, where I saw about 4 large herds and many other individuals. For some reason this group let me get close enough for a photo.
I was hiking early from my camp at West Ute Lake when there it was: a sleeping moose! This guy was curled up in the grass about 10 yards off the trail. He eventually got up and stared me down, but decided I should be allowed to live and walked off. This was the find of the trip for me. Other cool wildlife I saw included marmots, pikas, white-tail ptarmigan, and a group of 3 bushy-tailed canines (fox?) way off in the distance. I was really hoping for a bighorn sheep, but no such luck. No bears, either, which was OK.
The very photogenic Nebo Lake.
Another shot of the trail.
A Llama trekker
A closing shot (i.e. accidental art). I hated this trip to end. Southern Colorado is a magnificent place, with very clean air, and I had one of the best trips I’ve had in a very long time. Thanks for reading.
For starters, I replaced almost every piece of gear I owned this year. My 20 year old gear still worked, but we’re talking about a 4 lb pack, 5 lb tent, and a 4 lb bag. Also, the gear/trip fantasy helped me through a particularly rough year at work this year :)
My general approach was to read reviews and purchase the “safe bet”, or the piece that a majority of people seemed to be happy with. Overall, I was quite impressed with what I ended up with. I know I can still cut a few ounces here and there (I prefer Nalgene bottles over Platypus , for example) but all in due time. The only piece of gear I didn’t bring that I really wished I had was gloves. My hands took a real beating. I needed sun protection, and cold/rain/wind protection. Comments welcome.
Wide brim hat (Barmah)
Hiking shirt (Railriders Adventure)
Pants (REI Sahara convertible)
Socks (Smartwool Hiking)
Footwear (Montrail Hardrocks with Custom Superfeet)
Other Items Worn or Carried:
Trekking poles (Black Diamond)
Watch (Hamilton automatic with Zulu band)
Camera w/ case
Extra underwear (1)
Extra socks (2)
Cap (OR nylon)
Warm hat (MH Dome Perignon)
Wind shirt (GoLite Ether)
Insulation (Montbell Thermawrap)
Base layer top Merino (Icebreaker 200)
Base layer bottom (Patagonia Cap2)
Rain jacket (DriDucks)
Rain pants (DriDucks)
Tent (TT Contrail)
Sleeping pad (Montbell UL 90 with montbell pillow and GG thinlight pad)
Sleeping bag (WM Alpinlite)
Backpack liners (2)
Aloksaks and ziplocs
Sitting pad (Z-Rest)
Cooking and Water:
Stove (Caldera Cone)
Fuel canisters (5.5 and 8 oz Nalgenes)
Cooking pot with lid (MSR titan kettle)
Pot lifter (MSR)
Coffee mug and mug mate
Spoon (long-handle Ti)
Water treatment: aqua mira, Frontier Pro with 2+L “dirty” platy
Water containers: nalgene bottles (2)
Firestarting: mini firesteel and 2 mini bics
First Aid/Emergency: breathable tape, gauze pads, gauze roll, bandaids, ace bandage moleskin, benzalkonium chloride, Neosporin, Deet
Pills: Aleve, Hydrocodone, Zyrtec, antacid
Tools: Squirt S4, signal mirror, thermometer, compass, needle/thread, Nylon tape, Montbell repair kit, aircord, Skeeter headnet
Headlamp (Petzl Zipka) with spare AAA batteries
Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, floss, toilet paper (blue paper towels) with ziplocs, lip balm, sunscreen
Eye glasses with case, spare contacts, contact case, contact solution
ID, CC, cash, car key, phone card
Waterproof Notebook and Pen