The Colorado Trail is an awesome thru-hike route! But I noticed while hiking the CT, that much of the time that the best parts of an area you hike through just aren’t really showcased. The trail just weaves itself along a contour line below treeline, and you miss out on seeing most of the high country just outside your grasp.
Are you an advanced hiker?
If so, spice up your thru-hike by summiting a 14er or two (or all of them!) you can find right off the main trail! Below, I’ll describe all the 14er routes I’ve taken off the Colorado Trail, and some high 13er peaks that are also easily accessible. Most of the routes of the CT are in the Sawatch Range, between Leadville and just outside Salida. One is located in the San Juans outside of Creede, CO (San Luis).
For most of these routes, I would suggest dropping your main packs, and taking only what you realistically need from the out-and-back summit bid (hang your food, etc – of course). I describe the route mileage as one way, rather than RT, unless otherwise noted.
For some of these peaks, I do suggest an alternative loop which will ascend one route, and descend another, if you don’t mind missing a small portion of the Colorado Trail. For those options, bring everything, but realize that this makes the hike to the summit much harder. Make sure to time your hikes to miss the seasonal monsoon/thunderstorm weather (start early), and be mindful you’ve brought enough food for these CT alts. – they’ll take longer than the main trail.
My time in Salida on tour soon came to an end, after a little time at the hostel with an honest to goodness shower. Time for me to travel north! Out of Salida, there’s some pretty awful highway riding to get directly to the next town, Buena Vista, and the day I set off saw me face a stiff headwind, that only got worse as I got closer and as a storm cell was moving from west to east. Frustrating!
I made it to Buena Vista, which I was going to only use as a top-off spot for food, etc – but my Brother was in town for Paddlefest, so I decided to linger a bit. After another partial day of rest, the weather turned much nicer, and I continued my ride to Chaffee County 390. The road out of BV North is dirt, and follows an old railroad line complete with tunneled out sections of the hillside, making things quite fun. TONS of people were out for Paddlefest – or just the good weather – I’ve honestly never seen it so packed.
I took a ride out from Salida to Poncha Springs then onto Chaffee County 210 to the rarely visited (by 14er standards) Little Cochetopa Trailhead, which gives you access to Mt. Ouray, a Centennial peak @ 13,971′. The last few miles of the well-maintained road turned into a legitimate 4WD track, and it was a nice challenge trying to get my over-burdened Surly ECR up this steep track.
I’m presently in the Salida area, enjoying the incredible weather, tough training, and reconning potential routes. Salida and its people are incredibly friendly, bike shops and bike people are everywhere, and the mountains are crazy-accessible.
I rode here from Colorado Springs, having taken the bus from Boulder -> Denver -> Colorado Springs to save some time. It snowed about 3 feet last week, so some of the more interesting routes out of Boulder are currently under water.
The summit of La Plata, my third fourteen thousand foot mountain for the day, still seemed impossibly far away. The storm system that had surprisingly reappeared just over my shoulder was now again not so quietly building up force. Thunder boomed. On any other day I would have called it.
I crawled upward, rather than descend downward. What I needed desperately to do was to text the only person I knew who was in the area: my girlfriend. The only way to do that was to top the summit and chance getting cell coverage. Finally there, I typed furiously with cold fingers, wind and snow burning my cheeks: HELP. I AM NOT OK. Too weak to keep going and stuck in another storm. Going to walk back to the La Plata Trailhead. I should be able to make it.
Are you there?
If my SPOT Tracker stops moving, I may have just passed out for a bit. If you get this, please meet me... meet me wherever I'm found.
If the text got out, and if she herself had service (who knows where she was camped?) she may then be there to help me with my extraction. A gamble, but it was my best idea to avoid calling Search and Rescue. It was going to be a cold night waiting out whatever was about to come down without her help. I just had an ultralight bivvy – a plastic bag essentially, to nestle in. I brought no sleeping bag.
Sending the message, I turned around, and immediately felt lost on the descent. My Unsupported Nolans 14 attempt was over, but my night was only beginning.
Took a little spin on the Colorado Trail – admittedly, the first “mountain” bike ride I’ve taken since around April – not that I haven’t been riding bikes, or riding bikes in mountains, but somehow it’s all completely different to some that it’s bikes on dirt, rather than pavement. To me: not so much. That happens when your primary mode of transportation is your bike.
Plan was to start from Downtown Denver, to Waterton Canyon (the start of the CO trail, proper), all the way to Camp Hale, then N. onto HW 24, left on Tigwon Road, all the way to the trailhead for Mount of the Holy Cross, where I’d meet up with H., who would have gear to do the snowclimb right up the Cross Couloir. In two days. Well, less.
I’m not saying I’m always on the verge of feeling sick, but today – Monday, I’m there.
And I’m not ready, anyways. This surprisingly happens quite a bit: underestimating the time it takes to get gear together to make a trip happen. Even with my style of cobbling things together that, if you would talk to someone with bike know-how would raise an eyebrow, and let out an audible, “eeeehh…?”, I think I got things straight:
Summer totally flew by for me, but I was able to take a few little trips out and about to check out the, “backyard”. I’m moving soon, so it seemed like a good idea to see what’s out there. Here’s a small 4-day trip to Leadville and back, with a little side-step hiking.
First, here’s where we’re going:
Starting in Denver, we’re going South East on 285 to Leadville, CO, where we’re gonna climb Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. I’ve been scheming to do this for a while and finally found time to do it.