Colorado Trail Segment 27 of 28
Start: Hotel Draw Road
End: Kennebec TH
Distance: 20.6 miles
It is not the last segment, but 27 felt as if it was the last hoorah on the Colorado Trail. Whereas 28 is the last segment, it is not necessarily a "big finish" so to speak in terms of big and bold views. Segment 27 on the other hand is full of dramatic mountain views, ridge walks, climbs, descents and a great finish at an alpine lake. Segment 28, well, a canyon walk and a return to lower terrain. The big attraction there is, well, the finish! We are not being completely fair, it is just that we love the higher terrain. The canyon walk to the finish is quite beautiful with plenty of water, vegetation and easy travel. It is not the wide open expanse we love to hike in, but it is a place to explore, relax in and enjoy. Much larger in scale than the northern terminus in Denver where you hike through Waterton Canyon or from the Indian Creek alternate, the canyon here is very large and expansive towering a good 1,000 plus feet. Trust us on that, we climbed it the day before we would get to the finish.
It was late in the day when we began segment 27, walking in a mixed wooded area. We had been pushing the miles all day to try and put ourselves in a good logistical place for the next few days. Indian Trail Ridge was coming up and we did not want to cross it in the afternoon hours as it is a storm magnet. We would go as far as we could for the day and find a place to camp when possible. Certainly not a great spot, but it would do for the night. We found an open area along a forest service road with big views for the next morning sunrise. Unfortunately, we must have taken residence up in a favorite spot for weekend campers / hunters, as a few 4X4s and OHVs pulled into our camp overnight. It was very dark, so each time we would turn on our headlamps and illuminate the tent to let them know we were there, each time they would leave. Granted that was not our intention, we just didn't want to have someone drive over us in the middle of the night! We had another visitor as well. We heard sticks breaking and thought, "that sounds big" to which we grabbed the headlamps, pointed the light outside the tent and saw two large eyes glowing 20 feet away. Bear? Cow? What the…it's a deer. Apparently we had quite the campsite that night, everyone wanted to pay us a visit.
The next morning, groggy from lack of sleep, we packed up, began climbing, waiting for the sun to make a grand entrance to warm us and had our normal Snickers and cold coffee breakfast. We would be walking the edge of a ridge for a while and enjoyed beautiful views of the valley on our left all morning. The flowers themselves were anxiously awaiting the sun, as they were leaning left in anticipation of the warmth coming. It would not be shocking if we, too, were leaning to the left as well. It was a cloudless blue sky day in the making, the darkness of night was exiting and being replaced by reds, oranges and yellows that lit up the sky like a martian landscape. We walked, enjoyed the changing colors in the sky and enjoyed our coffee, well, we drank it anyway. Cold coffee is merely caffeine intake, nothing more, though tolerable. The Snickers, wonderful. A treat we would never allow ourselves off trail. We found a a great log to rest on that had phone service. We caught up on messages, told everyone we were alive and using sticks left a "hiker text" on the ground for one of our tramily members letting them know this was a great spot to relax.
The afternoon would prove to be quite warm as we hiked through a small open area that resembled an old burn scar. Now well into the regrowth stage, but lacking tall trees for shade. The next shady spot we would come to would be for lunch and a nice break. Still in a dry stretch we conserved water but not so much to remain thirsty. We had heard of a spring ahead that was still flowing and allowed ourselves a few extra sips. If our shoes were not proof of the hot and dry then nothing could be. After our break, we put our shoes back on only to see dust plumes come off of them! We pushed on and finally made it it to the seasonal spring, flowing away, we filtered water and did not have any more plans to conserve again. The sky had clouded up and was now rumbling in the direction of Indian Trail Ridge. We would not be traversing it today. This did not come as a shock. We hiked on a little more, gaining altitude to a trail junction for a scenic overlook where camping was good and another seasonal spring was flowing. Our water issues had gone away, the heat of the day replaced by cool winds and a rumbling sky. We made camp, allowed ourselves to relax and decided to stay the night. After exploring the overlook, talking with other hikers in the same boat as we were, we called it a night and had a great night sleep.
We woke to darkness the next morning, quietly packed up and were off in the dark, headlamps illuminating the way. We were leaning left again, awaiting the morning sun and warmth. Again, the sky put on a spectacular show of alien world like colors. No clouds, just solid reds, yellows and oranges burning the sky from top to bottom. Soon enough it would be a pure Colorado blue sky. It would be a spectacular morning on trail. We were excited to be climbing to the Indian Trail Ridge, especially in the early hours with no threat of storms. We had been wanting to see this portion of trail from the beginning of our Colorado Trail journey. Today was the day. We crossed through treeline and across the open tundra where we were greeted by a spectacular array of mountain peaks and ridgelines. Back in the alpine we were. We came upon the ridge walk we had been so eagerly awaiting and were just blown away. What a spectacular site. It had danger and beauty written all over it. We slowly made our way across the loose rock and scree. Carefully choosing each step and trying not to lose our balance as we were mesmerized by the surrounding landscape. This would not be a place you would want to be in a storm, there is no escape, no place to run or hide, nowhere to go, period.
We could now see the upcoming ridgeline that houses the Taylor Lake basin. Another climb and we would be dropping in. Just like Indian Trail Ridge, Taylor lake was also a big landmark that we had so eagerly anticipated from the onset of our hike. We came over the ridge and began our descent, it was perfect. An alpine lake bordered by ridgelines and fed by snow. We had made plans to camp here if we would have gone northbound from Durango to Denver. A big wide open expanse of an alpine bowl, lush and green all around the surrounding area. If there were a negative, there was nearly no place to sit and relax as it was thick in vegetation. Where there was flat ground, it was bare of shade trees. Alas, it was the alpine. We filtered water at an outlet stream and talked with other hikers who were getting water as well. Water sources tend to be social spots on trail where hikers trade trail conditions and stories. We soon got back on trail and were heading off to the end of the segment. Upon arrival at the Kennebec Trailhead, we couldn't help but read the sign, Durango 26 miles (to town). It was coming, the finish would be the next day. We would be crossing the finish line and embrace an emotional exit to a dream that had been in the works for years. A deep breath, a grin that wouldn't go away and we would step forth off of segment 27 and onto 28.