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.
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.