HIKING DISTANCE: 74 Miles
VERTICAL: +15,600' / -11,710'
TIME: 34 Hours 8 Minutes
Normally I tackle challenge hikes like this on my own, but a few friends expressed interest in this little venture. Truth is, I was excited to bring 'em along. Haven't known too many folks who are into this kinda struggle fest. Spent yesterday getting them outfitted with food and gear as well as going over tips 'n tricks. Dropped Tom's car at Molas Pass this morning, then came back to meet Alex at the trailhead. Finally hit the trail around 940a. Not exactly an alpine start, as a few trailwork volunteers jokingly pointed out. We'd originally hoped to get going a little earlier, but it really didn't make any difference. We knew we were gonna be doing an overnight regardless. Timing was irrelevant.
The Colorado Trail is popular down toward Durango, especially with mountain bikers. And there were loads of them out there this morning. We were hiking uphill, and naturally, they were shredding downhill. A few times, a rider came screaming around a blind corner and we were ducking and diving to get out of the way. (If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a mountain bike.) The bike traffic thinned out significantly as we neared the end of our 6,500-foot climb to Kennebec Pass. We were about a mile below the pass when Alex told me and Tom that he was struggling with an injury. We all wanted him to continue, and the reality was that if he was pushing through pain at mile 20 that it would only get exponentially worse for the next 54 miles. And the trail was only going to get more remote moving forward, which would make evacuation longer and more difficult. We all knew that he couldn't continue and no one wanted to say it. In the end, he made the decision to call a friend for a pickup. Takes a lot of courage to do what we know we need to when it's at odds with what we want. Good call, Alex. Nothing but love and respect for you, brother. Missed you up there.
Kennebec Pass is where it really started to get good. Indian Trail Ridge was stunning, just miles and miles on the crest above the trees looking out over Sharkstooth and neighboring peaks. And all of this as the sun was setting. What a gorgeous alpine sunset which gave way to a wonderful overnight hike. The new moon and relatively clear skies allowed us to see what felt like every single star in the sky. Spent much of the overnight section in the trees, which was probably ten degrees warmer than the open ridge would've been. Really lucky timing overall. Just before the sun came up, Venus rose over a nearby ridge. It was so big and bright, I couldn't believe it was a celestial body. I was sure it was some kind of tower light. Sure enough, though, it continued to rise as we climbed to Blackhawk Pass. Couldn't have planned it any better.
Descending the backside of Blackhawk and the mile or two after was the sketchiest section of the whole hike. Up until then, we hadn't hit any significant snow. The snow there wasn't too bad, but the grade was steep and it was solid, icy. Would've appreciated traction, but we survived. Didn't seem to bother Tom at all- nerves of steel by comparison. I wasn't concerned about being seriously injured, but it would've been easy to sprain an ankle or break a leg in a fall. Not really my idea of fun, but worth the risk. Didn't hit the real snow until our last major descent from Rolling Mountain Pass. That same trail crew that teased us about our "alpine start" also assured us that we'd never make it with all of the snow and the dangerous swift water crossings. The snow was challenging in a few places, but the water crossings were all totally manageable. Those folks were so sure we'd never make it, that it wasn't safe. In reality, it was totally fine. Funny how everyone is an expert. When folks offer their perspective and guidance, it's important to remember that we all have different experiences and ultimately different risk tolerances. We took their warnings seriously, but we weren't willing to scrap our entire trip because they told us we couldn't do it. If it turned out to be too dangerous, we'd just turn around. No biggie.
The sun finally crested the ridge when we were topping out on Blackhawk Pass. We had something like 25 miles still to go. And from there on, we routinely overestimated our progress. Multiple times we came to a high point and were sure we'd hit Bolam Pass. In reality, we were looking for Bolam Pass Road at Centennial Lake, not a high point at all. Pretty demoralizing when we finally hit it and realized our miscalculation. We'd had 21 miles left for a long time before we actually had 21 miles left. Ugh, I was so annoyed. Just wanted to be done. My feet hurt and my back was sore. Took lots of breaks during the last dozen miles. Pretty slow progress for both of us, though it worked out well. When I got a second wind, Tom was struggling and vice versa. We were able to support each other really well through to the end. Finally finished around 745p, and we couldn't have been happier. All smiles. Met Alex for a celebratory dinner in Durango, and now- bed.