Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Colorado Trail

My old college buddy Brenden Pitt came over here to Japan about the same time I did and currently resides in Iwate Ken. You can read all about him at his blog. Awhile back, he suggested that if neither of us discovers teaching jobs when we return to the United States, that we both take six months off and hike the entire 2,174 mile length of the Appalachian Trail. While I didn’t let on about it, I was intrigued but thought my budget would make things extremely difficult.

Without knowing much about it, I suggested that we instead hike the Pacific Crest Trail or the Colorado Trail. Brenden did some reading on the Pacific Crest Trail and thought it wasn’t as feasible as the Appalachian Trail. He thinks that between the blisteringly hot Mohave Desert, the rugged Sierra Nevada Range of California, and the just as rugged, precipitation drenched Cascades in the North-West, would prove too much. The milder slopes and more reasonable weather in Appalachia would be easier to deal with, especially as we have both had desk jobs for the past three years.

I then suggested the Colorado Trail, another trail I knew very little about at the time. He again told me to read up on the trail and do some research (and this time I actually did it). I discovered to my surprise, that for long distance trails, it might just be what the doctor ordered. Meandering 480 miles through eight high elevation mountain ranges, seven national forests and six wilderness areas, the Colorado Trail certainly commands respect from even the manliest of outdoorsman. The distance, formidable enough to set us apart from cubicle-bound weekend warriors, can also be conquered without risk of interminable lifetime consequences. Being able to complete the trail in 35 to 45 days (instead of four to six months) also ensures the endeavor won’t consume and affect our entire lives (not to mention life savings). And coincidentally, the trail actually starts in Southwest Denver at a place called Waterton Canyon, within walking distance of my parent’s house! But seriously, when you’re hiking 480 miles, what’s not within walking distance?

It wouldn’t be too much trouble for my parents (assuming they are still as cool as I remember) to provide a certain amount of logistical support during the first week or so of our hike. We could arrange to rendezvous for supplies at key points during the first leg of our journey at least (I wouldn’t want to inconvenience them too much). My father might even be interested in joining us for certain segments of the trail.

After reading the Colorado Trail Foundation’s website, most through hikers on the Colorado Trail take about 40 days to complete it. If we hiked twenty miles per day with no stops, we would complete it in 24 days. I imagine during the first week or so our muscles will be screaming for mercy, so for the first week, we’ll probably be lucky to hike at half that pace. That brings us to 28 days total, when factoring ten miles per day for the first week. I’ll bump it up to 32 days, to account for weather or other setbacks. And since we should observe the Sabbath, I think we should probably add 4 more days of rest during the month-long endeavor, bumping us up to 36 days. Also, there will be many large and imposing mountains along the way, begging us to scale their slopes. Side trips may only take half a day or less, and there is no reason we can’t make progress on those days as well. The flip side being, side trips may take considerably longer, requiring extra planning. But as the plans develop, (indeed if they develop) these details could coalesce into something more concrete and coherent. If we factor an extra 5 days for excursions and detours (we may decide on more), side trips and detours, that brings us to about 41 days of Colorado Rocky Mountain High.

One reason the Appalachian Trail might actually be more suited to this kind of thing is that it is far more developed for through-hikers doing its entire length. Lodges and huts exist, along with businesses selling appropriate supplies. Much less of this appears to exist on the Colorado Trail. Brenden and I would be forced to carry at least one tent and one stove (with fuel). This is all fine and dandy for people doing a 20-30 mile loop trail on Labor Day weekend or spring break, but 480 miles of hauling fuel containers, even if refueling regularly, is not a welcomed proposition. The prospect of hauling large quantities of water through the Mohave Desert triggered Brenden’s rejection of the Pacific Crest Trail. But through most sections of Colorado, water won’t be a problem.

But this is all still very early in the planning stages. We may both indeed get jobs and none of this may happen. I’m actually talking to a couple of potential employers right now.

I also discovered that there are several other long distance Scenic Trails that look very enticing. Along with others, the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trail all fall under the National Trails System Act of 1968. There are others, but those are the only long distance trails worth mentioning.

Here are a few others I found intriguing, in completely random order.

1. The Pacific Crest Trail- This completed trail stretches from Mexico, through California, Oregon, and Washington into Canada.

2. The Appalachian Trail- History, Scenery, and an intense comraderie and culture of BO smelling, trail hiking, granola-munching East Coast tree huggers reading Thoreau. What more could you ask for?

3. The Continental Divide Trail- From Mexico to Canada, through New Mexico Colorado, Montana, etc. 3100 miles of High elevations, rugged terraign, and sparse wilderness. BONUS: Connects to the Canadian Great Divide Trail which goes up through the Canadian Rockies, bringing us to…

4. The Great Divide Trail- Canada’s answer to the Continental Divide Trail. 1200 km of Canadian Rockies. Still not really finished. Bring your snowshoes, parka, and Molson!

5. John Muir Trail- A 211 mile month long jaunt from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney (Been there!). Feast your eyes on the blinding whiteness of Sierra Nevada granite while you trudge through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Widely regarded as the most beautiful mountain scenery in the USA.

6. Arizona Trail- 790 miles from Mexico to Utah! Extra gallons of water and snake bite kit not included.

7. Oregon Coast Trail- 362 miles of (what else?) Oregon Coastline. Probably spectacular. Bring... Gore-tex and an umbrella.

8. Tahoe Rim Trail- 165 miles in the Sierras around Cali’s Lake Tahoe. I should probably do this one instead! Yuppie dotcommers from the Bay Area: make certain its the off-season!

9. International Appalachian Trail- Follow the Appalachian up into Newfoundland! I can’t figure out how long it is though. (Insert Canadian inside-joke about Maritimes here).

10. Alpine Pass Route-220 miles through 16 mountain passes. Takes 20 days to complete. This would be fun too, but it just seems wrong to go all the way to Switzerland, and not spend time climbing the Matterhorn!

11. Te Araroa Trail (Scheduled completion 2008). Walk the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Gotta get on a boat between the North and South Island though.

12. GR Footpaths across Europe- Probably some great stuff here, but the Europeans just haven’t come up with any names that can be readily romanticized. They’re all just numbered. That’s fine for Interstate Highways, but for epic journeys? Come on!