Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

My Book is Finally Out! Best Dayhikes and Overnighters on the Continental Divide Trail

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages
The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages

After 1.5 years of work, my book, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado by Colorado Mountain Press is out!

This book highlights 20 dayhikes and overnight trips on the CDT in Colorado. Hikes range from 2 miles to 30 miles with family friendly strolls to Colorado-style extreme trips.

Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.

To decide what hikes to include, I interviewed dozens of former CDT thru-hikers and asked them what were the most memorable and scenic spots on the CDT–the type if spots you would want to take your friends or family on a dayhike to show them what the CDT is all about. These are the spots where hikers felt alive, where wildflowers were out of control, where elk viewing is primo–the exact image of what you expect to see when you’re on the CDT.

Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.

While thru-hikers may be big on remembering the big, scenic spots, they aren’t always great on details like “where is the turn?” or “is there any water on this stretch?” and most importantly, “how do I drive a car to get here?” Detailed route descriptions, water and trailhead camping info, and driving and parking directions are included. For hikes over 10 miles, I include camping info for those who want to turn the trip into a overnighter, or even a 3 day adventure.

Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.

The book also features great photography by CDT thru-hikers. Collecting so many photos, stories, and route descriptions from current hikers makes this book a shared work of many hikers’ ideas, brought together b a love of the trail.

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado goal is to open the CDT to a whole set of people who haven’t before had a chance to explore it. Until now, data for the CDT has been very thru-hiker focused. With this book, the CDT is meant for everyone to explore and experience–from the Boy Scout Troop (check out hike #20, Cumbres Pass to Blue Lake), to the family visiting from out of state (Herman Gulch or Stanley Mountain), to the extreme Colorodan looking for a new test piece (#18, the Knife Edge).

Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.
Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.

As many of you know, I thru-hiked the CDT in 2010 from Canada to Mexico. In the process of writing this book, I was able to re-visit the CDT in bite-size chunks as a dayhiker. For anyone who has thru-hiked, I can not recommend revisiting the trail as dayhiker enough. There are things you miss as a thru-hiker because you are busy thinking about food or the next shower. Even the grandest scenery can lose a little spark after you’ve seen it day after day. When you revisit the CDT as a dayhiker, you come to it with new eyes, fresh legs, and an open mind.

Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver
Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver

Whether you’re just getting into hiking, looking for a new place to explore, or dreaming of the day you can thru-hike, there is something for everyone in the book. I encourage you to tackle hikes way beyond your ability (worse case scenario: turn around very early) and to explore hikes that may seem too easy for you (worse case scenario: you’ve got extra time to hang out at the restaurant afterwards). All the hikes in this will inspire you and give you something to dream about.

I will giving a presentation and signing books on Tuesday, May 24th at 7 Pm at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO. The event is free. More info here: https://www.cmc.org/Calendar/EventDetails.aspx?ID=33084

You can buy Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado on Amazon here.

 

2015 Year In Review

 

From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.

January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of <a href="http://qiwiz.net/">QiWhiz</a>
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of QiWhiz
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.

 

September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.
September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.

 

October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.

Book Review: I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking

<a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985241500/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0985241500&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">I Hike</a> by Lawton “Disco” Grinter, Grand Mesa Press, 192 pgs. Available in <a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985241500/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0985241500&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">paperback</a> and <a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AEFDBHU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00AEFDBHU&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">e-book format.</a>
I Hike by Lawton “Disco” Grinter, Grand Mesa Press, 192 pgs. Available in paperback and e-book format.

After an awesome week hiking in Moab with Lawton “Disco” Grinter (from the Trail Show, the Walkumentary), it seemed like the next best way to continue my Disco fix was to read his book I Hike (Grand Mesa Press, 192 pages, paperback and Kindle).  I Hike immediately differentiated itself from other adventure tales on my bookshelf because Disco picks and chooses stories across many trails, sparing the reader the termini-to-termini focus. The result is a rich set of vignettes that document the wisdom and maturity that hiking can bring to a young person.  Each chapter has a different locale, but the stories are tied together well with a theme of living a simple fulfilling life with friends (on a trail).

Based on Disco’s work on the Trail Show, I had assumed I Hike would be a funny book filled with triumphant tales of trail shenanigans. It certainly has plenty of that, but although the same joyous humor that Disco shares on his podcast comes through in I Hike, I was surprised by the depth and wisdom of many of the chapters. I Hike is thick with insight only gained from walking. In the least serious example of this, readers learn alongside Disco that eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is a poor decision. In the most serious case, Disco reflects on the dangers of hiking and the fragility of the simple hiking life.

Author Lawton “Disco” Grinter
Author Lawton “Disco” Grinter

In writing I Hike, Disco doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of hiking, but reflects on them. Why is it that sometimes a long hike is hard and we feel like we want to quit? I Hike also explores what I find to be one of the most beautiful aspects of trail life: the seemingly miraculous transition from suffering to salvation. Yet Disco takes this idea further: it isn’t the transition itself that is incredible, but the irony of how quickly our fates change. This is because being on the trail, no matter how bad (with some exception), isn’t suffering (as the saying goes: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work”). Instead, what is incredible about hiking is that we learn how whimsical our fate can be. Our desire and delight in walking is impacted by our perspective as much as by the weather.

I tried to ration the chapters—forcing myself to do some chores and money-making ventures in between each story—but found myself powerless and read the whole thing in a sitting. Disco’s way of writing is funny and engaging, and because he explains technical hiker terms so well, I Hike may be a better introduction to long distance hiking than A Walk in the Woods (for one thing, Disco has end-to-ended several trails and Bill Bryson couldn’t make it past Gatlinburg). I am eager to share this vivid slice of thru-hiking life with my non-hiking friends. Moreover, I wish I could have read this book before I started thru-hiking so that I could have had a better idea of what I was getting into—the fantastic, the hilarious, the heartbreaking—and could have learned about the trail in a non-guidebook style medium.

Throughout I Hike, I was repeatedly reminded of the kindness and generosity of the hiking community. In numerous stories, Disco and his then hiking partner/fiancé now wife, POD, go through extremes to help those in need, even when they have nothing to gain and much to lose by doing so.  Reading I Hike on a lonely day was like a portkey into the magical hiking world that can seem so fantastical compared to humdrum cubicle life. I Hike is a reminder that no matter what life (or the trail) may present, the hiker family will provide redemption.

Disclaimer: I don’t usually read hiking books because I am worried my own trail experiences might get muddled up with someone else’s (or that reading about others’ trip may alter my expectations). This is one reason why I hadn’t read I Hike until now (it came out at the end of 2012). Disco graciously sent me this copy and forever changed the way I think about hiking books. Far from mixing with my own experiences or altering my expectations, I Hike helped me understand and digest my on-trail experiences better. I am very grateful that he was able to share his stories with me.

Evernew Pre-production Sleeping Pad

Peak break using the Evernew sleeping pad as a sit pad
Peak break using the Evernew sleeping pad as a sit pad

I was lucky enough to test out the Evernew sleeping pad in pre-production by taking it for a 486-mile thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. How does it compare to other sleeping pads on the market?

It didn’t seem like closed cell foam pads were an area for innovation, but Evernew is trailblazing with its new sleeping pad. The Japan-based company renowned for ultralight gear—lived up to its reputation by making a 5 foot 8 inch long full-length pad that weighs in at 4.8 oz on my scale.  On thru-hikes, I usually bring just a closed cell torso pad (typically the 4.5 oz Gossamer Gear Nightlight or half of the 14 oz Z-lite), but since the weight penalty of the Evernew full pad was fairly minimal, I brought the whole thing.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

The Evernew pad was quite stable at night, useful for my many nighttime rolls. It remained stable when used with a floored shelter and also in and outside of the Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight bivy. It was comfortable for sleeping on my side and stomach. The Evernew pad is 20 inches wide compared to the Nightlight’s 19 inches and the Z-lite’s 20 inches; I’m relatively small with my widest area at 16 inches, but Evernew may consider creating a wider version for bigger Americans.

Given that my hike was in September, often at elevations over 12,000 feet, the Evernew pad provided surprisingly good insulation. Since the pad was so long, at below freezing temperatures, I folded the pad for double coverage around my torso, and was able to sleep warmly in my 20 degree sleeping bag. When the Colorado Trail took me to lower elevations and temperatures, it felt more like normal summer hiking conditions.  At the lower elevations, the sleeping pad was definitely warm enough. Since I wasn’t given specs on the pad, I still remain curious about the pad’s r-factor.

I also used the Evernew pad as the frame in my ultralight pack (Mountain Laurel Design’s Prophet). I prefer folding a pad in the part of the pack against my back vs. the barrel/burrito/coiled roll method (Backpacking Light writes a nice review of the debate between the two techniques). Although the Evernew pad does not come with pre-cut ridges like the Z-lite, perhaps because of its thinness, it folded easily into the back of my pack. I’m not used to using a full pad as my frame, so the inside of my pack felt a bit cramped with all my gear and the full sleeping pad inside.  Although flimsier than the Gossamer Gear Nightlite or Z-lite, the Evernew pad folded over many times was sturdy enough to carry a grueling 7 day resupply of food—way more than I usually carry.

My only concern with the Evernew pad is its durability. When I transported the Evernew pad is a duffel bag from the Outdoor Retailer show to my next hike, the pad became slightly indented. However, ultralight hikers should be familiar with caring for delicate gear to avoid damage. Like most closed cell foam pads, after some 500 miles of use, the Evernew pad was not as thick as when I started—but it still measures ½ inch thick after the hike compared to a new Nightlight pad’s 3/8 inch thickness.

Measuring the pad height after 500 miles of use
Measuring the pad height after 500 miles of use

The bottom line: If you want an even lighter closed cell foam torso pad, this is your ticket to cutting off an extra ounce.  For backpackers who seek the weight advantages of a closed cell foam torso pad, but also envy the comfort of a full length pad, Evernew has made a revolutionary piece of gear.

 

Coffee in the backcountry

Heating up some water for a mid-morning Cup O’ Joe on the Colorado Trail
Heating up some water for a mid-morning Cup O’ Joe on the Colorado Trail

On a three thousand mile backpacking trip, bringing a percolator or French press along isn’t always the easiest thing. Sure, there’s “lightweight” backpacking versions of both of these café essentials, but they typically weigh in the same ounces as my shelter—and keeping dry in a storm is a more pressing matter.

I’m all for on-trail luxuries, but getting in my morning bean can be easier than lugging around the kitchen.  Starbucks Via made headlines in the hiking world a few years back by providing a decent cup of caffeine for only a few grams weight penalty. It comes in a small pouch the size of Crystal Lite packages (another hiker favorite) and despite what the box says, is pretty good hot or cold. Starbucks’ less pricey counterpart Nescafe sells flavored versions in the same size packets for about half the cost. In the morning, I add a pouch to 6 oz of hot water and have instant morning comfort. During the day, I’ll pop a pack into a water bottle, shake, and enjoy it iced.

 

Just add coffee and you’ll feel back at home. Found on at Appalachian Trail in Virginia
Just add coffee and you’ll feel back at home. Found on at Appalachian Trail in Virginia

The penny pinching and potentially higher quality (not to mention environmentally and socially responsible) alternative is bringing your own ground beans out with you. As described by Mike Cleland in Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping, cowboy coffee requires nothing but your usual camping cup and some patience. Made similarly to Turkish coffee, where you let the ground beans sink to the bottom of your cup and drink the liquid on top, it’s a way to drink your beans from your favorite hometown roaster even when you’re in the backwoods. On a winter backpacking trip, I packed out my local coffee shop’s roast and got a cup of home in the woods. Just set your home grinder for the finest grind it can handle. Or tell your bean supplier to make it Turkish.

If only I could bring this along with me on the trail…Yurt on the Continental Divide Trail
If only I could bring this along with me on the trail…Yurt on the Continental Divide Trail

The only drawback with the cowboy camping style is packing the grounds out. Leave No Trace Ethics tell us that dumping the spent beans in the backwoods is not cool—we don’t want any hyper caffeinated squirrels out there. At home, I usually slap my cup against the compost bin and get out the bulk of the goop at the bottom, and then rinse with faucet water to get the rest out. Similarly, in the woods, I can dump out the bulk of the beans into a trash ziplock, but something is always left at the bottom of the cup. One method is adding some water to the cup, swishing, and drinking the rest. It goes down rough, but I tell myself it’s the same as eating chocolate covered espresso beans… sans chocolate.

 

 

 

Casual stormy day on the Colorado Trail

As the last trail in my Little Triple Crown in a Year, I had the pleasure of hitting the 486-mile long Colorado Trail late this season—the end of August— and was perhaps the last thru-hiker to walk the trail end-to-end this year. I started in Durango instead of Denver, where most end-to-end hikers start, so that I would hit the higher altitude mountains first. While I was packing up at the trailhead, worrying about the cold was the last thing on my mind. It was hot! Today is also among my biggest days of elevation gain—starting at 6980 feet and going up to 10,000 feet.

 

The clouds rolled in and thunder hit the surrounding hills at 12:30. By 1, it was hailing…hard…and I took refuge under my umbrella and under large pine tree. It’s always a surprise hitting the trail and getting this kind of weather on the first day. Luckily, the eery black clouds turned to blue skies, several hours later. The elevation gain happened at a moderate grade, so was barely noticeable.  I found several springs not listed in the book.

The day ended at a beautiful bridge and campsite with blue sky above me. Not bad for a first day.

Day 1 was in the trees all day–pretty ideal for a stormy day
Day 1 was in the trees all day–pretty ideal for a stormy day