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A Helpful Guide to Start Planning Your First Thru-Hike

After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by <a href="http://www.drop-n-roll.com/">Kate Hoch.</a>
After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by Kate Hoch.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain

Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.

Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?

Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.

Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.

Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.

  1. Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
  2. If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
  3. Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
  4. Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
  5. Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
  6. Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
  7. Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
  8. Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
  9. Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.

 

If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today

Thru-hike in a Weekend: Denver urban hiking the Highline Canal Trail

 

Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> (instagram: @thejcarr)
Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr (instagram: @thejcarr)

Despite my declarations that the Selma to Montgomery Hike took me over my Pavement Walking Quota for the year, this past weekend, I headed off again on another hardpacked adventure. This time, I completed my first significant urban hike in the town where I live, Denver. I’ve done a fair amount of walking in Denver before, but nothing to this scale and magnitude.

Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.
Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.

My long distance hiker friends Steven “Twinkle” Shattuck, John “Cactus” McKinney, Johnny “Bigfoot” Carr, Samantaha “Aroo,” and Nathan “Cookie” Harry, Swami and I started off on a two day, 66-71 mile long hike from Waterton Canyon—the start of the Colorado Trail—to near Denver International Airport.

The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck
The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck

The Highline Canal was created more than a century ago to bring water from the South Platte River to settlers and farmers. Now owned and operated by Denver Water (who even puts out the guidebook for the trail), it is now open to hikers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians. Because the irrigation ditch was leaky, an entire ecosystem sprung up around it.

On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.
On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.

Until 40 years ago, there was no public access to the canal—even as it remained a skinny natural park in the middle of the city. With the hard work of residents who lived anywhere near the 71 miles of trail, the canal opened to the public and is now listed as a National Landmark Trail. Now the trail is protected by the Highline Canal Trail Preservation Association.

Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> instagram: @thejcarr
Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr instagram: @thejcarr

Although this is an urban hike, the Highline Canal Trail ecosystem boasts 199 species of birds, 28 mammals, and 15 reptiles. I was expecting the trail to be mostly paved or gravel, but a majority of the miles were on dirt or had a dirt path next to it.

Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr. </a>instagram: @thejcarr
Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

Our wildlife highlights included seeing a bobcat (a first for me and many of the other serial hikers with us!), great horned owls, two types of snakes, numerous deer, squirrels, praririe dogs, and rabbits. The HCLT underscored that though humans have claimed significant land from animals, that we don’t own it completely. Our habitats coexist.

Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!
Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!

The HCLT was such a cool way to see the city and general metro area of the place that I’ve called home for the past few years. We ventured through neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed, and places I had never been before. The route finding was not as straightforward as one would think for a bike path in the city.

Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr
Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

There were intersections that required navigating, and we were happy to have our map and guidebook. Additionally, certain sections went through private property, and we had to navigate—sometimes even cross country through fords and swamps—in order to keep the route on open land.

Fording a creek during the cross country part.
Fording a creek during the cross country part.

The HCLT ended up being not just educational, but a lot of fun, providing some clear bonuses, especially compared to most other thru-hikes. We had pizza delivered on trail and actually had to pass up many restaurants and convenience stores because we were too full.

On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck
On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck

It was easy for friends to join in for a few miles and Twinkle even met a friend randomly who was going for his morning run right on our trail. Because we could take advantage of the limited amount of gear required for an urban hike, we packed heavy food and beverages and ridiculous luxuries like Frisbees. Traditional trail towns rarely have ethnic food, but on the HLCT, Cactus and I had Pho for lunch—a first for both of us on a long distance trail.

Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.
Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.

Much like my Selma to Montgomery hike last weekend, I was struck by the level of economic inequality the trail highlights. In the Cherry Creek Village area, we woke to houses that I didn’t even know existed in Denver—Hollywood-esque mansions, castles, villas. By the end of the day, we were walking through immigrant neighborhoods in Aurora and Section 8 housing in Green Valley Ranch.

Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr
Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr

 

In my everyday life, I would never visit either of those neighborhoods, and yet the HLCT brought me through both. No matter how much our modern society tries to insulate social classes from one another, that such disparate places are close enough to walk from one to the other underlined for me that Denver is one community and not just a collection of rich and poor neighborhoods.

Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr
Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr

The best part of the Highline Canal Trail was the opportunity to have 48 hours to talk with, laugh, joke, and accomplish something cool with friends. For two days, we set aside the distractions of the modern world and just lived. I’ve enjoyed urban hiking for a couple years now, and it was so cool to expose the idea to some of my thru-hiker friends. I was so touched that they not only took it seriously, but had a great time. At a time of the year when long mile days and thrus aren’t as possible, we got to feel like we were back on the PCT again—if only for a weekend. On Monday, we all woke up and went back to our spreadsheets, but even as we squirmed in our desk chairs, relished the memories of a weekend well spent.

For more info on the High Line Canal Trail, check out these links:

Twinkle (Steven Shattuck)’s write-up about our hike

Denver Water’s High Line Canal page

Highline Canal Trail mapped in Googlemaps

Walkride Colorado Interactive Map of the Highline Canal Trail

Highline Canal Trail Guidebook (this is available at multiple locations of the independent Tattered Cover Book in Denver Metro)

Highly informative Wikipedia Page

Greenwood Village’s Trails Map

Douglas County’s Highline Canal Map

 

How to Train your Feet for Hiking Season

Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.
Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.

If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.

Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by <a title="Rocky Mountain Ruck" href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake Morrison.</a>
Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.

Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.

Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at <a href="www.thehikinglife.com">the Hiking Life.</a>
Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at the Hiking Life.

Pre-hike training schedule:

Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day. Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.

Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the <a href="http://therealhikingviking.com/">Tom Gathman.</a>
Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the Tom Gathman.

Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.

Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by<a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake</a>
Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo byBarefoot Jake

Barefoot Jake. Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.

Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail.     (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).

Rocky Mountain Ruck

ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO
ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO

Get to the hills! The Colorado hikers are in Ruck! This past weekend, ALDHA-W and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) completed their first Rocky Mountain Ruck attracting 85 people from as far away as Salida, Vail, Portland, and even LA! This all-day event attracted hikers in all stages of experience—from dayhikers to seasoned veterans to the long trails. No matter what level of expertise, everyone walked away having learned a trick or two, and the fellowship, fun, and beer made the event the closest Colorado has gotten to a Gathering yet (besides maybe Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Felicia “POD” Hermosillo’s wedding).

Outside demo
Outside demo

Held at the historic American Mountaineering Center in historic downtown Golden, CO, the event kicked off with speeches by CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez and ALDHA-W President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa. To acquaint everyone to the terms, quirks, and nuts and bolts mechanics of a thru-hike, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva and ALDHA-W Secretary April “Bearclaw” Sylva presented a funny and lighthearted intro to What is a Thru-Hike.

Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie
Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie

After a break with food and snacks provided by Great Harvest Bakery and Whole Foods Golden, the event jumped into the ever-important ‘Everything that Can Go Wrong on the CDT’—with applications for the Colorado Trail, PCT, and pretty much every other trail. Disco and POD used their humor and wide breadth of hiking experience to present a spectrum of safety techniques for various tribulations of the trail—from grizzlies to giardia.

Outdoor fording demo
Outdoor fording demo

From here, it transitioned to winter hiking teacher Pete “Czech” Sustr’s hands-on (read: powerpointless) clinic on fords and snow travel. The troop of hikers traveled outside to a park outside to enjoy the four surrounding mountains of Golden, the 70 degree temps, and a little lightning safety position practice.

Czech demonstrated walking on a not-snow-covered hill and then gathered everyone to Clear Creek where he and a lone brave volunteer forded the creek. Passerbys from downtown Golden stopped to witness the crazy.

The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.
The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.

The morning concluded with backpacking gear presentation by expert and ultralight guru Glen van Peski. Throughout the day, hikers had the opportunity to explore manned booths and touch, try on, and otherwise drool over gear from Montbell, Gossamer Gear, Katabatic Quilts, and the CDTC. Lunch outside transitioned into pack shakedowns with experienced hikers and trail Q&A in breakout groups. Those who brought their backpacking gear for one-on-one consultations were stoked at the level of attention, helpfulness, and insight the hour of gearheading provided.

Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!
Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!

Corralling people back to the classroom on such a sunny day was a chore, but well worth it. Paul “Mags” Magnanti gave a highly informative presentation on navigation on the CDT with a robust Q&A. Mags proved a hard act to follow, but Allgood and I came on stage to discuss serious business: pooping in the woods. We discussed Leave No Trace trail ethics and Trail Town Etiquette—two very important topics that to-be hikers need to know before stepping foot on trail. The session concluded with a cathole digging competition with participants using their shoe, hiking poles, sticks, tent stakes, rocks and potty trowel to dig the best hole they could in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the trowel got the job done.

Cathole digging competition
Cathole digging competition

The evening ended with a killer presentation by Junaid Dawud, who thru-hiked all the Colorado 14ers as a continuous hike. A minor Front Range celebrity, as well as a seasoned thru-hiked himself, Junaid’s photos were jaw dropping and his description of pioneering a trail and the suffering that actually doing it entailed somehow just made me want to hike it even more. Junaid told us during Happy Hour that it was the first time he had given a talk about the 14ers Thru-Hike. Everyone who heard that could not believe it—his talk was so well-polished that we had all assumed he had given it to numerous clubs around the Front Range. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Junaid has an opportunity to give his talk again sometime soon.

Cathole competitors put on their game face.
Cathole competitors put on their game face.

The night ended with a raffle of gear valuing thousands of dollars including backpacks from Gossamer Gear and others, numerous pairs of Altra Zero Drop shoes, DVDs of the Walkumentary and Embrace the Brutality, downloads of Guthook’s trail guide apps, Sawyer filter, a Montbell jacket, Katabatic gear bivy, a Hennessey Hammock, and much more. Nearly everyone walked away with some schwag (and everyone who came to the event walked away loaded down with giveaways from Probar, Whole Foods, Tecnu, and Dr. Bronner’s). We all gathered for a Social Hour and Q&A with beer provided by Colorado Native Lager.

The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.
The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.

It’s the end of Ruckin’ Season. Soon, hikers will hit the trail. But with the help of the Rocky Mountain Ruck, we hope that everyone will set foot on trail—whatever that trail may be—feeling more prepared for the journey ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Hiking Denver with Walk2Connect

<a href="www.walk2connect.com">Walk2Connect </a>hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.
Walk2Connect hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.

Since urban hiking Los Angeles last year was, I hadn’t ever really gotten around to urban hiking back at home in Denver. Sure, I did a lot of in town walking, but I ambled for transportation and not as part of a hiking group. This weekend, that viewpoint changed when I met with Jonathan Stalls from Denver’s Walk2Connect, an organization geared towards changing how people think about pedestrianism. In 2010, Jonathan walked for 8.5 months from Delaware to San Francisco with his dog as part of KivaWalk. He took the lessons he learned from that journey to create Walk2Connect, a Denver-based group that leads urban walking adventures. Despite extreme weather over this “long distance” urban walk, I learned a bit about how walking in the city can be used to connect people to self, place, and others.

We’re ready to set off on this adventure!
We’re ready to set off on this adventure!

Although originally 17 people signed up for the excursion, temperatures in the 20s kept all but the bravest warm at home. Our trip started at a Denver-landmark, the independent bookstore Tattered Cover. After meandering through downtown and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River, we caught a few more hikers who met us at the bikeshare station in front of Denver’s enormous flagship REI. From here, we headed on a 13 mile Platte River trail to the historic town of Littleton.

When construction closes down roads, planners always designate well-signed reroutes for cars to get back on track. When bike paths or sidewalks get closed down, though, these closures can be especially inconvenient. A break in the route around 6th avenue led us into residential and industrial parts of the city. We wandered for more than a mile to get back on route. At one time, we realized the path continued on the other side of the river with no pedestrian-accessible bridge in sight.

Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.
Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.

This detour may have been a bummer if we were in a car, but at 3 miles per hour, we had time to appreciate how the city transitioned away from the commercial and residential parts of downtown. We could afford to notice the colorful murals vivifying industrial buildings. We were treated to the aromas of large scale bakeries.

Back on the path, we spotted riparian wildlife of the South Platte unfazed by the weather.  Using birding guides, we identified great blue herons, buffleheads, and the ever present Canada goose. Soon, snow started coming down hard on us, but we were warm from the walking. It was invigorating to explore the city in such weather and to have the path to ourselves.

Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.
Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.

The best part of the Walk2Connect experience was getting to meet new people and talk in a relaxed, low pressure atmosphere while enjoying the beauty of the city. As we finished our walk at the famous Littleton breakfast café, Toast, I felt a bit like we were all on a team that went on a long, snow-filled adventure. Our waitress had noticed us walking earlier that day and it was neat to share our adventure with her.

Before this hike, somehow, the distance between Denver and Littleton had seemed vastly larger in my mind because I had only ever taken that trip by car. Indeed, I would have guessed the distance between the start and end point as 25 miles. Walk2Connect allowed me to realize with others how small and linked the city actually is. I look forward to exploring new places in Denver with them soon.

 

Misfits on Mt. Evans

Mt. Evans is affectionately known as Denver’s mountain, and since I’ve been here for five months, it was due time that I gave it a visit. The promise of 64 degree weather in the city and sunny skies made this past weekend a prime day for jaunting up the snow covered mountain. My friend Pi, who I met on the Pacific Crest Trail (and also joined me on the Incline), invited along two his friends—Frederik from Sweden and Sam, a professional juggler who literally ran away to be part of the circus. Nothing can be much more fun than a group of misfits out in the woods, and we certainly had a shenanigan filled day.

Sam balances an ice axe on his nose above treeline
Sam balances an ice axe on his nose above treeline

There was snow, but not a lot of it. We started the walk from the car across a snow-covered frozen lake at 10,617 feet with only our trail runners (and luckily in my case, my Sole Insulated footbeds), but I quickly switched to microspikes to get a bit more traction. The path was well trod at first, but then split into many smaller social paths to nowhere. We were the first people out that morning and didn’t see anyone until our descent later that afternoon. Either way, I’ve been warned the crowds on Evans are intense during the summer and that the dozen people we saw today is nothing compared to an August day.

The wind kept messing up my hair
The wind kept messing up my hair

The path we took went along a few steeper drifts, although the snow was soft and powdery—ideal for postholing through instead of sliding off. I was thankful for my Mountain Laurel Designs LightSnow eVent gaiters that kept the snow out of my shoes as I postholed my way down a steep snowbank to retrieve a windblown hat. As we climbed higher, evidence of foot prints and ski tracks from days before dwindled to nothing.

Pi blown away in the wind
Pi blown away in the wind

Despite the perfect weather, above treeline, the wind sped past our faces at 30 miles per hour, making some of the narrower walks on steeper edges a bit exciting. The highlight of the trip was watching Sam from the Circus juggle five Probars above treeline in the wind.

My new favorite training spot

The line straight up the Incline is visible from the parking lot
The line straight up the Incline is visible from the parking lot

 

Famous among Olympians, ultra runners, and other hardcore athletes, the Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs based Incline Trail is among the hardest miles one can hike anywhere. The Incline trail follows an old cog railway route up Pikes Peak, gaining 2000 vertical feet in one mile. I’m always up for a challenge, so went out to the Incline this past weekend with my friend Pi, an accomplished long distance hiker and ultra runner and his friend Frederick from Sweden.

When we got there at 11 AM, the parking lot was full. From the base of the Incline, you can see the steep cut in the mountainside where the trail goes straight up covered in brightly colored outdoor attire-wearing people. Although some people on the trail are clearly in shape, few people are running or even jogging up the Incline. I’m most impressed by the diversity of people: far from my impression of the Incline as being a extremists’ training ground only, the path also is visited by families, couples, people in jeans and t-shirts, and dogs.

 

The rail lines on the Incline keep going and going and going
The rail lines on the Incline keep going and going and going

The Incline features more than 2,000 “steps” made of old wooden railway lines and the occasional rusted pipe. The steps are far from even—some are only a few inches higher than the last and some beg for me to use my hands on the way up (at least when my legs are too tired to do it all themselves).

My friend Pi finishes the Incline
My friend Pi finishes the Incline

For almost the entire hike, the top—and all the uphill to it—is visible. The hardest part about the Incline is mental; by seeing how much more is left, it can feel a bit like the end will never come. I love hiking the Appalachian Trail because the trees and twistiness of the path keep the future a mystery. With the Incline, the future is uphill and everyone there knows it. A false summit was a bit disheartening—nothing like pushing hard to come up over the bend only to realize there is more to come. But the reason it looked like a summit was because the trail flattened out at this point, a reprieve to keep pace while lowering my heart rate.

Chow time on the Incline
Chow time on the Incline

When I finally reached the top, I was exhilarated. I loved watching all the people come over the top with big smiles. The thirty people on top made it feel like a party of people overwhelmed by their accomplishment.  Far better than a gym, we all shared the camaraderie of taking on the same challenge. The stunning view of Pikes Peak in the background and the Garden of the Gods below us made the finish feel all the more festive.

 

The trail down from the Incline goes through cool rock formations and has a great view of Pikes Peak
The trail down from the Incline goes through cool rock formations and has a great view of Pikes Peak

Although the Incline is about 2 hours from where I live, I’m already planning a second trip. It was inspiring to watch old timers and Incline regulars go up and down the path. I can’t wait to have the Incline down pat—to study and know every step and where to place my feet and relish pushing myself just as hard, but watching my time go down. The incredible toughness of the terrain, the community, and the support of strangers I felt going up the wooden railbeds was not unlike the feeling I get while thru-hiking. Yet the easy access, diversity of people, and promise of BBQ when the day is over made it unlike any other place I’ve been before.