A MOMENT CAPTURED: ON THE COLORADO TRAIL
“Sleepless nights, long mileage, and afternoon storms. Some may wonder why I do it. I sometimes wonder myself.”
A Moment Captured
Beth Bankhead from ETB Photography shares her favourite photograph from her time on the Colorado Trail.
The Colorado Trail is a 486 mile trail that stretches from Denver to Durango, while reaching its highest point at 13,271 feet. It passes through beautiful stands of aspen, evergreen forest, and tundra. The trail features high peaks, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, streams, wildflowers, and a variety of wildlife.
I had wanted to backpack the Colorado Trail for some time when I met a guy with the same desires. He, in fact, organised trips for a group of individuals over four summers which ranged from day hikes to five-day backpacking adventures. The group included both northbound and southbound hikers, so we could drop cars at certain segment trailheads and key swap along the way.
Of course, sometimes life gets in the way, and I could not join the group for much of the journey, but I was bound and determined to finish the trail when they did. In order to do so, I had to hike multiple segments, which amounted to almost half the trail, during the summer of 2017. As a result, I organised trips with those who also needed to “make up” certain sections. One such adventure was to complete segments 23-25, totaling 57 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain.
Danelle, who I knew, and Nandi who I hadn’t met, joined me. We carpooled to Lake City, dropped off the cars, and began our hike at Carson Saddle. About six miles into our trek after ascending a nearly 13,000-foot pass, we took a break at a lake and Danelle promptly vomited. She had altitude sickness. We needed to hike her out.
Nandi and I dropped our packs at our would-be campsite far short of our original plans and hiked Danelle back six miles to the car where she went back to town and recovered. Then we retraced our steps another six miles to camp. We had just added 12 miles to our 4.5 day backpacking journey.
Let me just say, fifteen-mile days with a full pack while facing significant elevation changes at 12,000 feet with someone you’ve just met is challenging. Add to that, the summer of 2017 in Colorado was wrought with rain. Two groups, myself included, had already had to abort another backpacking trip on the Colorado Trail a month prior due to torrential downpours.
By mid-morning our second day into the trip, the rain fell again, for six hours straight. Being above treeline, we were lucky it was a constant drizzle rather than a threatening thunderstorm. We didn’t have to seek cover from lightning, however, being soaked to the bone through our rain gear at 12,500 feet introduced other challenges. We were not warm! In fact, we were so wet and cold, we didn’t even bother cooking dinner. We just cried “Uncle” after the minimum of eleven miles we needed to cover and crawled into our sleeping bags. If only I could have slept. My stomach, grumbling with unhappiness, awoke me at midnight.
The next three days continued to be a constant battle. Sleepless nights, long mileage, and afternoon storms. Some may wonder why I do it. I sometimes wonder myself. It’s the reward of accomplishment, earth’s beauty, lasting friendships, and amazing memories with the help of photography to keep them present!
The scenery of Segments 23-25 of the Colorado Trail is absolutely remarkable! In particular, Segments 24 and 25 were the highlight of the entire trail, despite the conditions. At times, the trail led us past by alpine lakes every half-mile to a mile. Who doesn’t love such a landscape?
We just cried “Uncle” after the minimum of eleven miles we needed to cover and crawled into our sleeping bags. If only I could have slept.
The wildflowers were the best I’ve seen! Kings crown, Indian paintbrush, daisies, aster, elephant head, fireweed, cow parsnip, wild geraniums, monks hood, blue columbine, buttercups and bistort lined the trail and blanketed the tundra. I suppose I have the rain to thank for this kaleidoscope of colours on the mountain slopes. A double edge sword!
The switchbacks down the open tundra which led into a canyon, complete with an old cabin and mineshaft, were a sight to behold. Anytime I’m in such surroundings, I can’t help but think of the Wild West. Imagining those prospectors cutting paths up the mountain and digging holes in this unforgiving terrain in hopes to strike it rich truly mind boggles me. I find just hiking the wilderness to be a struggle at times!
The expansive views of distant peaks were breathtaking. As we crested one pass, we both stopped in awe. Rendered speechless, all that escaped our mouths was “WOW”. My words and pictures cannot even describe the beauty we experienced on this trail. Not only are these natural wonders rewarding, but in the end, persevering through uninviting circumstances also provides a grand sense of achievement. Not only did we finish this segment, but by the end of the summer we accomplished our goal. Our group completed the Colorado Trail.
When I look back at my photos, which hardly do the Colorado Trail justice, I’m reminded of so much. I tested both my physical and mental strength. I made lasting friendships. I experienced majestic scenery that so many will never see in person. Inspiration, gratitude, and fulfilment are just a few words that come to mind through finding joy in nature.
Beth Bankhead is the owner of ETB Travel Photography. She is an award-winning photographer and blogger who enjoys sharing the earth’s beauty one story and image at a time. Her travel articles have been highlighted on platforms such as Dwellable, GPSMyCity, Darjeeling, Tripe Tribe and Hopper. Her photography has been featured in local exhibits around Colorado, including the Colorado Springs Airport and the Audubon Society of Denver. Additionally, her images have been featured in Southwest Airlines Magazine and the ABC Series “Rock the Park. Her travel articles and photography may be found at etbtravelphotography.com