Hiking the Colorado Trail

Last summer, David Fanning thru-hiked the nearly 500-mile Colorado Trail. The hike took him from Denver over multiple mountain ranges, through wildflowers, past high country lakes and all the way to Durango. David will be sharing his experience at the Sierra Trading Post retail stores in Fort Collins, Colo. (March 14, 2015) and Cheyenne, Wyo. (March 21, 2015). Leading up to these presentations, I asked David a few questions about his experience hiking the Colorado Trail.

Hiking the Colorado Trail Photos Courtesy of David Fanning


AH: What made you want to hike nearly 500 miles from Denver to Durango?

David: I hiked the length of Colorado in 1981 and swore to everyone that I would return to the San Juan Mountains and the Weminuche Wilderness "real soon." But, life gets lived and priorities shift. In mid-summer, 2014, my wife and I got some potentially bad news from the doctor, and we had four days while waiting for lab results to come back to think seriously about what we wanted to do with our one "wild and precious life," to use the poet Mary Oliver's phrase. My wife wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands and I wanted to hike The Colorado Trail. We both decided it was better to do these things now, rather than later. Fortunately, the lab results game back in our favor, so now we are planning what ELSE we want to do!

Thru-hiking the Colorado Trail Photos Courtesy of David Fanning


AH: What did you do to prepare for this hike?

David: Well, honestly, I didn't prepare at all. It all came together in about two weeks time. I am physically active. I play tennis 2-3 times a week, and on the days I don't play tennis I often manage to walk a four-mile loop around the open space by my house. I spend a lot of time patrolling mountain trails with the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, and I had gone on a short backpack trip with my son earlier in the summer. (In which I had gotten lost for the first time in 30 years!) So, I thought if I got the Colorado Trail Data Book and 4-5 days worth of food, I would just be able to walk myself into shape. My "plan," if you can call it such, was to just wing it and figure out how to get more food as I went. I do have some experience with long hikes, so I was fairly confident that I could pull this off without a great deal of preparation.

Trail Friends Devin, Lisa and David on the trail


AH: What was one thing that surprised you the most about your time on the trail?

David: I started off as a solo hiker, and I planned to finish the trail as a solo hiker. I am not what you might call a "social" hiker. I like to move at my own pace and I like to make my own decisions about where to camp and when to stop for the day. So, it came as a great surprise to find myself hiking most of the trail with two other solo hikers in an unbelievably compatible group. The really startling thing for me was the age of these two other hikers. Lisa was 34 and a Triple Crown hiker. Devin was 19 and is a backcountry skier and marathon runner. I'm 63 and my feet were sore all the time. There is just no way on Earth these three people, each from a different generation and background, can have that much fun hiking together. I barely believe it now. It must have been a dream!

Backpacking Photos Courtesy of David Fanning


AH: How many miles did you average per day? How did you stay motivated to get your miles in?

David: We did the entire 500 mile trail in 30 days. This included two rest days in which we didn't hike and five days in which we had a short walk into town and another short walk out of town the next day after we resupplied. On a typical trail day, we walked anywhere from 18-25 miles. We tried to camp, whenever possible, so big climbs happened in the morning rather than in the afternoon. You don't need a great deal of motivation to hike The Colorado Trail. It is one outstanding sight after the other. What else could you possibly want to be doing!?

Hiking the Colorado Trail Photos Courtesy of David Fanning


AH: Did you have any gear setbacks or gear that didn't perform when you needed it?

David: I read in a trail journal that you didn't need to buy expensive socks. That a particular brand at Target was just as good for hiking. That turned out not to be true, so I ended up buying better socks in Breckenridge and tossing the ones with holes in them away. Other than that, my gear worked perfectly. After a bit of rethinking in Breckenridge (my first resupply town), my pack weighed 14 pounds without food or water. I didn't carry a tent, but used a tarp the entire time. That worked extremely well.

Wildflowers Photos Courtesy of David Fanning


AH: Was there a piece of gear you carried and didn't use or something you chose not to bring that you wish you had?

David: The only piece of gear I carried but didn't use was a small blow-up pillow. It was more comfortable for me to just sleep with my extra clothes for a pillow. I also carried a small bottle of insect repellant that I didn't use, either. Mosquitoes were not a problem for me. I did purchase a small cell phone battery charger when I got home, which I would carry on any long trail from now on. I had to be very careful about conserving smart phone battery power on the trip. Having one extra charge would have made a difference in how much I was able to read on my Kindle app in the evenings. Even so, I read four novels on the trip.

Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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