Colorado Trail Segment 13 of 28
Start: Silver Creek TH
End: Chalk Creek TH
Distance: 22.8 Miles
The memories and experiences of the Colorado Trail are almost impossible to convey in a few blog posts, much less one conversation. The events of segment 13 as they unfolded are no less difficult to explain. If the climbs in segment 12 were not enough for us, we made up for it with the incline early on in segment 13. The term, short and sweet is close to describing this portion, but would have to be revised just a little to short and steep. The math says it all, 2,459 feet gained in 3.4 miles. That is a mere 723 feet per mile! We felt like we were going up on our toes, pushing ourselves forward and upward with each breath and step. Simply put, it was a daunting and aggressive grade. When we first looked at the profile for this trail in our early planning, we knew it would be one of the toughest parts of the trail. It was. The cumulative hiking prior only enhanced the level of exhaustion we felt afterwards. The Colorado Trail in and of itself is a worthy goal, one could say the same about Mt Yale.
We stopped a mile before the end of the climb that evening, granted we had enough light to continue on, we were just out of steam, that, and the valley we stopped in was very inviting. We had watched footage of the area we camped in before ever stepping foot on the CT, a mental note was made just in case we stopped here. Good thing, we knew exactly which spot we wanted to set up camp. There is a perfect level spot just large enough for a tent set in the middle of about a dozen healthy pine trees forming a natural barrier of sorts and making for quite the unique setting. With Silver Creek close by, a great mountainous backdrop and a valley teeming with life at hand, this made for an incredible stop for the night. Add in two very playful squirrels who were not the least bit interested in what we were doing, and entertainment was endless. They did make for a good distraction chasing each other round and round, up and down and all around the "tree fort" we had made camp in.
After an amazing sunset, we drifted off to the sound of the nearby creek. The next morning would be cold, but the continued mile climb to nearly 12,000' would warm us quickly. Once we made the top of the climb, a celebratory Snickers was at hand! There's just nothing like a Snickers and cold coffee in the morning on a thru-hike. We came to enjoy our silly morning ritual. Certainly not something we would normally do in everyday life, but something we found comfort in on the CT. A Snickers bar went a long way to giving us the energy we needed and putting that "hiker hunger" to rest. Of all the foods we had planned for and taken with us, nothing came close to the success of this simple candy bar. It has definitely become a trail favorite and will travel with us on future hikes. Word to the wise, when planning a long hike, make sure your food choices are varied and do not take a bunch of the same foods, those flavors and textures get old fast when you eat them day in and day out. When burning an average of 5,000 calories a day on a thru-hike, a Snickers bar here and there, or even for breakfast each day, is an affordable luxury, just saying.
After "breakfast" on the east ridge of Mt Yale, we found the downhill side to be as challenging as the uphill side. Still on our toes, we carefully made our way down the 2,500 foot drop on a rather slippery trail of sandy gravel and steep drop-offs. A reverse workout for our legs to say the least. Another climb in our future, small in comparison with only 1,000 feet and at a much more manageable grade, we looked at it as a hill and moved along with a more carefree attitude. Our nemesis was behind us. We would enjoy a much more relaxed day of gentle hiking and good weather as we moved on towards our next resupply at Mt Princeton Hot Springs. A shower, good meal and a clean bed would be nice.
It was a gamble, especially during the summer months in Colorado, but we never made any reservations at any of the places we stayed during our entire hike of the Colorado Trail. Small mountain towns are not like pulling into a large city with plenty of lodging options. We decided early on in our planning that being fluid with our plans would be the best course of action. That, and, it takes the pressure off of having to stick to a timeline. The gamble, there wasn't always a room available, a realty we experienced several times. Would we plan this way if we were to do it again? Absolutely.
We found a great spot for lunch that afternoon and enjoyed one of our favorite meals, at the time anyway. If you offered it to us today we'd opt for a Snickers bar instead! We also had the rare treat of phone service, and being only a long day's journey away from Mt Princeton Hot Springs we inquired about a room. Bad news, no vacancy. We sat and went over the miles, the logistics of resupply and what changes, if any, we needed to make. We really did need a shower! Outside of that, we could manage and keep moving. We planned a shorter day and decided to stop early later that day at a highly recommended camping spot near a wonderful cascading creek just before the road walk into Mt Princeton. The next morning we would get to Mt Princeton Hot Springs, pick up our resupply, get a few snacks at the country store, charge up our electronics and head on to the end of the segment. It would be a few more days before we would get to Salida and hopefully a hotel. A solid plan, or so we thought.
Anomalies exist in life, things you just cannot foresee and plan for. So goes life on the Colorado Trail. We arrived at the camping area only to find, like Mt Princeton, no availability. A large group of high school students had come to call this home for the night. It was the last camping before the road walk and we sure didn't want to backtrack. Oh well, we'll just keep moving forward and make it up as we go along. We needed our resupply, so passing up Mt Princeton was not an option. No sooner than we had started to leave the area, a fellow YouTube friend, J Hikesalot, showed up on trail and shocked us. OMG! What, how, where in the world did you come from? J just happened to be visiting Colorado and was exploring the area. We had shared info before heading out on the CT and he was following our progress through our Garmin InReach MapShare page. Well, after the shock began to subside, we all walked an talked. He was heading back home but made a quick stop to find us. We were out of luck and winging it. It made for a great distraction to say the least. We enjoyed the company and continued to walk. After a good meeting, we parted ways, not before he gave us a bag of potato chips, and we soon found ourselves more confused than when we first found the campsites full. It was one of those, "what just happened" moments. Appreciative of J's hospitality and taking the time to find us, we were still left with a quandary, what to do. But our luck was about to change, more like, had changed already.
Camp alongside the road? No thank you, that would just feel weird. We kept walking, our minds racing with thoughts of what to do now. Strangely enough, after seeing J on the trail, we felt more at ease, as if the "now what" impact had been lifted. The energy had changed for the better. A small break along the road, we made a "what the heck" phone call to Mt Princeton to see if they might have had a last minute cancellation. It certainly couldn't hurt, right? We inquired. They paused, giggled and said, "well...as a matter of fact, we just did have a cancellation." We'll take it, see you in an hour! With renewed energy, we almost sprinted the next few miles. What an amazing stroke of luck. We were nearly at the halfway point of the Colorado Trail and were beginning to realize that someone was watching over us. We recounted our "luck" thus far and would also experience it many more times on our journey. Being fluid and allowing events to unfold in their own way seemed to be working in mysterious ways for us.
We absolutely enjoyed our stay at Mt Princeton Hot Springs, though short, we stayed as long as possible, checkout was 11 am the next day. From the hospitality and professionalism the staff provided, the incredible hot showers we took, the amazing king-sized bed and comfortable sheets we slept in to the fresh made breakfast at the restaurant, we were definitely feeling a bit spoiled now. The country store only made it better by having exactly what we wanted in the comfort food department, needless to say, we relaxed in bed, ate our fill of calories, posted a few pictures of our latest CT adventure, made some phone calls back home and drifted off to a blissful nights sleep. There would be no alarm in the morning, no gear to put away or tent to climb out of. After checkout we made our way back to the trail, a road walk for a few miles, and to the end of segment 13. What an amazing and ever-changing string of events it was. We had built this section of the CT up in our minds as being the hardest, and it was that, but it was also one of the most blessed and eye-opening moments we had had thus far. Afterwards, it just seemed the Colorado Trail would provide and we would be the recipients of its generous offerings. We knew we were being watched over and were grateful.