I love drawing lines on maps and dreaming of sufferfests to do. I seem to squeeze out the most enjoyment from long ridge runs. I love being up high, teetering on top of a knife edge between two drainages, without the need of a trail to follow, yet having an obvious route in front of me. I revel in the exposure the position gives me to wind, weather, and of course: gravity.
The Continental Divide makes an obvious target for my doodles, and many of my past fastpacks have used segments of it already – either in whole or in part. Last year, I traversed the CD between Milner Pass and Berthoud Pass – located just outside my back door and earlier in that same year I traveled from Loveland Pass to Guanella Pass with a bike lashed to my back. Previously, I took on the Mosquito/Tenmile Range in total, where the CD makes an appearance for a few peaks (McNamee, Clinton, Wheeler), before bowing out. And of course, I’ve even ridden the Tour Divide Race on a mountain bike, which crosses the Continental Divide some three dozen times or so. All these trips had their unique aspects, and each one I believe is an ultra classic. What to do, next?
The Milner to Berthoud Pass Continental Divide Ridge Traverse Fastpack was one of my biggest and proudest projects of 2020. Like the L.A. Freeway route, I think we’re going to see a lot of interest from people wanting to take it on in 2021 and beyond.
Nutrition is a difficult subject for me to broach, as I don’t feel as if I’m an expert on the subject to give advice to others. But, I can share the strategies that I personally take when doing my projects, and invite you to use it as a model for your own experiments. What I cover in this article is for unsupported, take no prisoners, as fast you can fastpacks on difficult mountainous terrain. Pack space is at a premium and the total weight is something you try to keep at a minimum. This will not be advice for an ultralight backpacking trip, which is a different beast altogether. No stopping to prepare a meal, no stove.
The Sportiva Mutant is my personal Greatest Of All Time trail runner – and it’s a good chance, it’s yours too. Sock-like upper, tons of cush., knobby outsole, and sticky as all get out rubber. They’re my go-to shoe for any on or off trail adventure, be it a run, a fastpack, or a backpack. This is the shoe I used for my Tour of the Highest Hundred, and Sangres Range Ridge Traverse, as well as many other mountain adventures.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t like modifying and customizing them, just like I do most of my gear. Here are some of the things I do:
The mountains along the Continental Divide provide the backdrop to the city I live in: Boulder, CO. From town, nothing can be seen beyond their sheer, rocky, glacier-choked east faces and the ridgeline itself invites one to come explore their craggy features, beacoup exposure, and long expanses of carpeted-in-tundra plateaus.
From Milner Pass located in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Berthoud Pass closer to I-70, one will find over 50 named points and peaks. These passes are about 45 miles apart as the crow flies. No other paved roads are found between these two passes and no other roads – paved or otherwise, can be crossed via motor vehicles. The rest is mostly National Park and Designated Wilderness. The wandering ridge, if followed exactly at its apex, is around 75-80 miles long.
I was surprised to find in my research that there hasn’t been a recorded report of anyone traversing this section of ridge proper by foot. This seems extremely hard to believe, as the concentration of runners, backpackers, mountaineers, and world-class climbers in the area is very high, and the line itself is obvious. It takes a special blend of ultra-running fitness and technical climbing skill to be able to safely traverse the ridge.
I’m currently writing some notes about my 2017 Tour of the Highest Hundred, where I bikepacked to the trailheads of all 105 Colorado Centennials, and then summited them by foot. This is a work in progress and the notes are currently spread in the post archives of this site:
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.