Call of the CT

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Call of the CT

Image via Greg Peoples
Colorado Trail marker on Segment 2.

Image via Greg Peoples Colorado Trail marker on Segment 2.

Image via Greg Peoples Colorado Trail marker on Segment 2.

Image via Greg Peoples Colorado Trail marker on Segment 2.

Ashley Peoples, Reporter

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The countdown is down to three weeks now.

“In addition to the three-part final which contains a two page take-home essay portion, you will be giving a short 15 minute presentation on your 10 page paper,” stated the professor a few weeks before the end of the semester. Professor number two and three basically had the same agenda. At least the fourth professor is cool. Or so I thought. As I slid into my seat, she hit us with “So since this semester has been pretty easy so far, we’re going to end with a group project.”

Wham. Thumpity, thump, thump—my heart races. At that moment, something in me cracks and I know I have to get out of there. Racing to my car, I drive far, far away to the best place I know.

As I park the car, my heart fills with hope. I breathe in, and smell the refreshing scents of the forest. The air is clear, and the only sounds I hear are bird calls and the crunching sound of my feet on the dirt, not concrete. Buildings are gone, my cell phone is turned off, but I am still surrounded by chattering people trying to coral their kids out of their truck. As I venture deeper along the trail, their voices fade away until I find myself all alone. It is then that I find peace.

Image via Ashley Peoples
A freezing cold river rushes past our campsite on the trail to Mount Massive.

“… and today you will choose your partners. Any questions?” I jolted back to reality, my daydream cut short. This summer, though, nothing will stand in the way of making that dream into a reality.

It is sometimes tough to choose from the many trails and mountains Colorado has to offer when looking for a place to hike. Popular places such as Pikes Peak are the go-to places for tourists and therefore attract a lot of people. Summer is the peak season for these attractions as well as weekends whenever the weather is fair, but there are some that offer a reprieve for hikers who just want to have solitude and a brain break.

One such trail is the Colorado Trail (CT).

Image via Ashley Peoples The view of the sun rising halfway up Mount Elbert.

Spanning about 480 plus miles from Denver to Durango, the Colorado Trail is the only long distance trail that starts and ends entirely in Colorado. This trail’s 28 segments weave in and out of towns and forested areas, giving the hiker a variety of scenaries. Some like to start at the very beginning, in Denver, and some have started in Durango. The beginning segments, 1 and 2, are fairly simple to start with, are conveniently close to home, and are lower in elevation compared to the other segments.

Researchers have found that hiking does, in fact, influence our mental outlook. Even the Executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF) Bill Manning agrees, “Many people find hiking the Colorado Trail is restorative.”

“People love getting back to basics in a quieter environment,” Manning continues. The CT is well marked and well-known, but is not overly burdened by tourists at the cost of the hiker’s solitude. Carefully maintained, the trail saw 750 volunteers last year through the CTF to keep it in top shape. The goal of the CTF is to keep the trail in good working condition and oversee improvements.

In July of 2016, I had the opportunity to hike through segments 10 and 11 with my dad and a friend. Segment 10 starts near Leadville and runs through the Mount Massive Wilderness to the Mount Massive trailhead. We ended at Twin Lakes Village, which is about halfway through Segment 11.

Image via Ashley Peoples

Image via Ashley Peoples

The first time I set foot on the Colorado Trail, I knew it was a completely different experience than a mountain day hike. My dad, my friend, and I spent four days on the trail, deep in the woods. If one of us got seriously hurt, it would have meant grave danger: other hikers were scarce, emergency help was miles away, and cell coverage was very spotty, if non-existent. With 20-25 lb. packs on, we knew we were on our own as far as getting out of there on our own two feet.

Even with the risks, the view was spectacular. At high points, looking down at the valley below revealed a colorful display of greenery and glistening water. At one point, we walked under some power lines and heard the powerful surge of electricity coursing through the cables. That part was a bit nerve racking since it would be deadly if the cables suddenly fell on us, so we moved on quickly.

People who complete the CT in its entirety, which takes about 4-6 weeks, are called thru-hikers. Others, complete it segment by segment over several seasons. Thru-hiking requires not only a lot of determination and experience but also results in physical and mental changes to your body and mind. Outside article “This Is What Happens to Your Body On A Thru-Hike” illustrates how one hiker was able to change his body after thru-hiking the CT.

Regardless of how you complete it, there are three very important guides to have before attempting the CT: the official CT guidebook, databook, and maps. Without these resources, it is difficult to safely navigate the trail. The databook is little, and is intended to be tucked into the outside pocket of your pack to provide on trail directions. They can also be found on Amazon.

When you feel like you just cannot take the course load anymore, consider seeking refreshment from the Colorado Trail. If you plan on going through with completing one or more segments at once,—or hiking it through all the way—check out this gear list provided by CTF.

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