My food bag was packed with six days of food and a new fuel canister. I was clean and rested. With clouds rolling in at 10am, and the nicest hosts at the Snowshoe Lodge offering another night's stay, I was a bit reluctant to leave the homey town of Creede. My shuttle to the trail, Phil the old town sheriff, arrived to pick me up. He dropped of Equity Mine (the closest you can get to the trail without a 4x4). I had three miles back to San Luis Pass where I exited the Colorado Trail and then 143.3 miles to Durango. It was going to be a long haul and the weather looked less than ideal. I had no choice but to continue on.
Going into this section I had about a 50 mile stretch above tree line which would inevitably leave me exposed to the elements for at least for one night. I had a big climb right off the bat and passed the last tree covered spot on the trail before making my way to a long mesa (a flat mountain top). By this time it was early afternoon and the clouds were getting closer and darker. I had better judgement of the afternoon storms and more confidence in my hiking ability. I continued on briskly. By 5pm I made it to Spring Creek Pass, two miles past my goal for the day. I set up my tent and cooked dinner. Thunder and lightning surrounded me as I curled up for bed. It would only be the precursor to the obstacles I had yet to come.
I covered 18 of the remaining miles of the trail on my first day out of Creede. There were 128 miles left and five days to cover it. I would need to average 25.6 miles each day for five days. Morning hiking, although extremely cold and wet with morning dew, was required to beat the weather. I also found stumbling upon deer and elk moving at first light comforting. The trail was always quiet as other hikers with less ambitious itineraries stayed in the warmth of their sleeping bags long after I laid down some ground. I quickly realized I was in for long haul when I took my lunch break.
On the second full day of the final push I reached the high point of the Colorado Trail at 13,271 feet. I hiked 15 miles up hill to reach it battling more storm clouds rolling in. There was no escape from the elevation so I kept pushing on. I stopped at the top, laid out my tent to dry, made a peanut butter tortilla roll up for lunch, snapped a selfie, and then packed up and headed down quickly. I finally made dropped back down to tree line just in time for an early afternoon storm to set in. It wasn't long before I made a climb back up above tree line. I made it to a low point near a lake in the late afternoon but decided to try for a few more miles. I went up a few hundred feet and then down and then back up. If it wasn't storm clouds rolling in it was something else. The Colorado Trail is unforgiving.
Dragging on a few more miles gaining elevation just to lose it and gain it again was both time consuming and physically taxing. I was trying to race the thunder on top of everything. I could see tents in the distance and decided I would stop there for the night. A lady named Gratitude and two of her friends were camped on a saddle below the next climb. They were out doing a section hike after several obstacles including family health problems, 2020, and cancer. You meet all kinds of people of the trail, but Gratitude was certainly one of the more inspiring ones to me.
I laid down two 28 mile days in a row and figured if I could do that two more times I would have less than 20 miles to do on my final day into Durango. On day three of the final push I finally made it back to tree line where I would stay for a while. It was certainly relieving to not think about getting struck by lightning at any time. The three thousand foot drop down to the trees from the Continental Divide was extremely steep and not as fast of walking as I had hoped. Shortly after I lost all that elevation I began climbing Molas Pass up another 2,000 feet. After climbing up I lost a few hundred feet just to gain it once again. The trail was taking me on a roller coaster and was leaving the safety belt unfastened. Storm clouds were rolling in (once again) and unleashed themselves on my like a bat out of hell as soon as my tent was set up. There was not one calm night in the final push.
While the afternoon and evening storms were stressful, I at least was able to enjoy beautiful sunrises. By the start of day four of the final push my food bag was significantly lighter than it was when I left Creede. I was ready to lay down another big day and with each step I told myself I was closer to Durango. I had made it through the driest stretch of the trail, I had made it over several climbs and passes, I had made it above the long stretch above tree line, what did the trail have in store for me next? I quickly wished I had not asked this question when I realized this would be the day of wet feet. There was a stream crossing at least every quarter mile and if I wasn't actually crossing a stream, the trail had pools of muddy water on it. I tried to avoid them at first but eventually just walked right through it. It was so frustrating to walk in water for twelve hours.
By 4pm the sky was filling with storm clouds. I was used to it by now and didn't pay much attention to them. I had miles to cover and wouldn't let anything stop me. The mountains didn't like my inflated ego. Just as I was ready to pound out five more miles making another 28 mile day I slipped on some mud and landed on my shin. The pain was so excruciating I contemplated using my S.O.S button for the first time. I was able to limp my way the remainder of the night another five miles to camp. Tears streamed down my face and the beauty before me blurred. It was the worst I had felt physically the entire trail and the first time I really questioned if I would be able to finish.
The next morning I was able to move my leg without pain until I started walking with my backpack on. I had to of been moving at a snail's pace for the first few hours of the day. My left achilles hurt going up hill and my right shin hurt to put any weight on. Mom and dad were on their way out to Durango which gave me some confidence that I could at least have them pick me up if I needed. The sun was out and trail was dry. As long as I kept moving the pain seemed to subside. Was the trail finally being kind to me, or was it just ramping up for the grand finale?
I had already put in the work to cover the miles I needed to. I set up camp on my final night on trail with only 14.5 miles to go the next day. After struggling mentally and pushing myself physically, I knew I could do it. As storms rolled in (a big surprise I know) I thought back to my first night on trail. I remembered how scared I was and unsure I could even do it. I had come a long way since then (literally).
My final morning was full of excitement. I had enjoyed the trail, but I was ready to see my family. I woke up at 4am, packed up, and hit the trail. The miles went quickly. I sent a text to my parents at 9am letting them know I was four miles out and that they should head to the trailhead soon. I put on a podcast, took a bathroom break, and continued on. Shortly after mom, dad, Willie, and Waylon were waiting for me. They hiked up and met me on the trail to finish the last few miles (see B.A.G). I told them about everything as quickly as I could remember it. We passed day hikers and shared hellos. Some people knew about the trail and congratulated me for making it so far. Suddenly the trail ended in a parking lot at a sign that said "Colorado Trail, Durango". After all the planning, after all the hiking, after the tears and pain, after everything I endured, I did it. I am a thru-hiker.