Colorado Trail, Day 27: Earning Our Hiking Legs

Over the last three days, we have been averaging 15 miles/day, which is getting us to Creede a little faster than we had planned. Our motel reservation is for Monday night, and we only have 41.2 miles to go over the next four days, which means that we need to slow down. The only problem is that the scenery in this leg of the CT isn’t the most inspiring, and it is relatively easy terrain. So, if there is any place that we want to speed up, this is it.

On paper, we decided that we would give ourselves an easy day today and only cover about 9 miles. But thinking about that last night, it seemed that we would get to camp too early and that it would be best to push on. If we are feeling good and the weather cooperates, maybe we could crank out some more miles?

So that is the mentality we both have as we start out on the trail today around 6:30. We know the terrain will be easy, water will be an issue and that there is a lot of exposure as we make our way, mile after mile, through the cattle country of this middle section of the Colorado Trail. Along our path today are a number of dry and sketchy water sources. The only guaranteed water we have ahead of us is at Cochetopa Creek, some 22 miles away.

We are still on a high from the trail magic we received yesterday, and we kill the last mile of Segment 17 discussing how much fun it would be to do something like that when we are no longer backpacking ourselves. What types of food would we serve? Where would we do it? Would we stay in one spot or move around? It’s all so fun to think about, and we enjoy having a brand new topic of discussion after 26 days in the trail.

When we get to the end of the road, we spot the three Germans camped in a bowl down below. We can see Phillip and Tom moving around, but there is no sign of Vera. We decide not to yell down to them, just in case Vera is still sleeping. No doubt, they will catch up to us in a matter of time.

We have to follow the highway for a short while. At this hour, there are very few cars to speak of, so it’s not so bad. We nearly miss the left turn we are supposed to take, but, luckily, Matt catches our mistake before long. We backtrack a bit to a parking lot across the road where the CT picks up again.

Within minutes, we come across three backpackers cowboy camping in the meadow just a stone’s throw from the highway. They are sound asleep, and don’t even seem to notice us as we pass. I know it’s a fast and light approach to backpacking, but I don’t think we would sleep nearly as well outside of our cozy little tent.

As we approach the forest, we hear the unmistakable screech of a red-tail hawk that happens to be flying right towards us. He lands in a tree just across the highway after giving us a nice view of his flight skills.

We turn away from the highway and begin following Pine Creek. There does not appear to be a lot of water flowing at the moment, but there is a line of thick green vegetation benefiting from the moist environment.

We gain elevation gradually as we wind our way through private cattle land along logging roads. We don’t see any cows as we walk, but we do pass through several gates that we have to open and close to keep the cattle in. There are plenty of trees providing shade and a place to retreat to should the weather turn bad this morning. And there are some interesting butterflies that we have never seen before.

For the most part the day continues in this fashion. We walk along various roads through rolling hills, and the miles pass by quickly enough. The scenery is pleasant, but there’s nothing to knock our socks off. We do spot our first pair of yellow and black Evening Grosbeaks, another beautiful bird that we have only seen in Minnesota in the winter prior to this.

Water is definitely an issue on this section of the trail. We left camp in the morning each carrying two liters thanks to our trail angels last night. All of the little creeks mentioned in the Data Book are too dry or muddy to consider using, so we conserve our water until we get to Los Creek, which is about 11 miles into our day. There clearly have been a lot of cows and perhaps even moose in the area, but there is a little flow. The water appears clear, and it is our only option, so we filter and hope for the best.

In the early afternoon, we descend a long dirt road following a fence line that extends far into the valley below. After a long, sunny stretch on the valley floor, we find a spot beneath a shaded tree to break for lunch.

We haven’t seen any other people all day (except the Germans breaking camp and the sleeping cowboy campers), when, all of a sudden, a parade of seven hikers comes walking down the road toward us. They are all young, walking solo with earbuds in, each about 3-5 minutes apart, and completely new to us on this trail. They appear to be on a mission and don’t care to chat much beyond simple pleasantries. That‘s definitely not the norm for most of the fellow CT hikers we meet. To each his own, I guess…

After lunch, the sky darkens, but this time it is much earlier in the day than we are used to. Unfortunately, the trail is taking us directly to the storm, and we are much more exposed now than we were earlier in the day. There are little islands of trees that we can run to when the storm breaks, so we keep an eye on the sky as we move along.

This sky looks different than what we have seen before. The wind picks up, too, making the immediate threat seem even worse. Once the rain starts, we break for one of our tree islands and huddle underneath the branches of a thick evergreen until the worst of the storm passes.

We have to keep our rain gear on for most of the rest of the day, as it continues to spit rain. The wind keeps the temperatures on the cooler side. With the bad weather, the lack of great campsites to stay in and no particularly inspiring scenery to see, we decide to just keep on walking. There’s not really anything else better to do.

Cochetopa Creek, some 22 miles from where we started this morning, becomes our end goal. There is both water and camping there—all we have to do is to keep walking, and we will get there.

The sun finally breaks through in the late afternoon, and we excitedly take off the rain gear. We walk through an impressive aspen grove and stop to admire these beautiful trees despite how tired we are.

Almost all of the roads we walked today are open to ATVs, and we have had a few pass us over the course of the day. To a hiker, these golf carts on steroids are loud and obnoxious, of course. We assume that they must be carrying coolers of beer around with them, or why would they bother to drive around in one, right? As we take our last break at nearly 6:30, an ATV comes whizzing past us and doesn’t even stop to offer us one. Where is the sense of humanity?!?

We pass through another gorgeous stand of Aspen. It is late in the day now, so the light is getting more beautiful. Getting to camp is nice, but we do love it when we are still out walking at this time of day.

By 7:00, we finally crest the hill overlooking Cochetopa Creek. The creek meanders through a flat valley. We can see a group of four tents clustered together off in the distance and another further on beyond that. There is also a huge herd of cows grazing in the meadow where we had hoped to sleep. After 22 miles, that’s not exactly what we were hoping to see!

The trail skirts the meadow, and we follow that to an area beyond the cows who seem eager to head up into the hills with nightfall coming. We scout out a small dirt mound close to the creek that looks less used by the cows and pitch our tent there.

We are exhausted after our longest day of backpacking ever. As we lay down in the tent for our well-deserved night of rest, we hear a pack of coyotes howling close by and wonder if the cows made it to a safer spot for the night. Sleep comes easy to us both after this extra long day where we feel like we have finally earned our hiker legs.

Day 27 Stats

Starting Point: Trailside campsite, mile 301.8
End Point: Cochetopa Creek, mile 323.8
Mileage: 22
Segments: 17, 18, 19
Date on Trail: July 27, 2018

4 thoughts on “Colorado Trail, Day 27: Earning Our Hiking Legs

  1. Agree that it sucks to share a trail with anything motorized when you are hiking, but ATVs are really a lot of fun on the right terrain. We ATV’d on some challenging ATV trails when we were vacationing near Lake Granby, CO and had a blast. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!

    ATV adventurers are not usually carrying coolers of beer, but if they were…. agree that not offering a cold brewski to trailblazers is rude! 🙂 These 22 miles may not have been as scenic as you would like, but they still look pretty amazing to us flatlanders here in the Midwest! Congratulations on 22 miles… rest and stay safe!

    1. So true! I am sure it is a fun way to experience the outdoors, but it would be nice if it were a little more quiet. We will have to check it out sometime in the future when we get another opportunity!

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