• Brandon A. Kelone

The Colorado Trail: Day 15

There are parts of the human experience that are completely and utterly beyond words or description. These are the parts that have to be felt firsthand to be understood, and even after they’ve been experienced in person, it’s hard to go back and understand them even though we were there. These have to be the most important parts of being human. I do not have children, but I have to believe that seeing your child for the first time and realizing that you are a father or a mother now has to be something that cannot be reduced into the simplicity of language. That has to be a defining moment in one’s life. 

I feel silly now even trying to use that as an analogy, but I don’t even know how else to put it. I realized today that what I’m doing out here in trying to capture this experience in photographs and words is utterly pointless. At best I’m sure that I’m only getting 1% of it on the page. The experience of this hike is so much more than what I’ve been able to see through the lens of my camera, and it’s more than I’ll ever be able to condense onto the page. It’s an experience that has to be felt to be understood. 

I’ve been thru hiking before, and in a way I had to have known what to expect from the Colorado Trail, but as I walked along today, I realized that thru hiking is more than something you can say that you did and now you understand what it’s like. It’s something that I think you can only understand when you’re there in the midst of it. I think that you have to feel the pain and discomfort to appreciate the peaks and joy that come in their due time. It’s like I mentioned a few days ago when I was finishing that dry stretch before heading into Salida—I had been laying in the dirt, eating rehydrated curry and potatoes that I cooked with water that I’d collected from a culvert, and I realized that there were few moments in life that could feel so good as that right there. It wasn’t that the food was good or that the scenery was breathtaking. It’s just that after the struggle and turmoil that I'd been through that day, to lay down and refuel my body felt better than I ever could have imagined it would feel. 

Anyways, I don’t mean to be all poetic and what not, but I really just don’t know what to say about today and this section of trail. I am absolutely and fully enveloped in this experience of thru hiking this path, and the Collegiates have been nothing short of the magic that I was promised that I’d find here. The miles in some ways are challenging in that there is a lot of elevation change over the course of the day as the trail drops down below tree line, and then back up to alpine mountain passes, and then back down, and up, and down, and up, but by this point I’m pretty well adjusted to the climbs and the elevation doesn’t seem to bother me much. If anything, I kind of like the contrast over the course of the day. 

I awoke this morning to a squirrel chirping right outside of my tent, but I rather appreciate the alarm because it allowed me to catch a truly spectacular sunrise from my tent as I ate breakfast. I was wide awake as soon as the sun broke the horizon, having slept very soundly, and it didn’t take long before I was on trail. The trail climbed from the very get go, but the views were so stunning that I barely even noticed the gain in elevation. The views were reminiscent of the scenery that I found in the Tetons of Wyoming last year when I traveled to Grand Teton National Park to watch the solar eclipse... It’s hard for me to believe that was almost exactly a year ago now. I found myself taking picture after picture, but realizing that no photos will do justice to the beauty. You have to be here enveloped in these mountains to really understand, and I genuinely hope that you do get out here and experience it for yourself if you haven’t already. Let this journal be a catalyst to your coming and seeing it in person, because I promise you that no words can do justice to the grandeur of it all. 

The trail climbed a couple of mountain passes, and the weather this morning was ideal, but around 1 or 2 there were thunderstorms that started to build off to the north (exactly the direction that I was headed) and it left me a bit torn. Some of you know, and maybe some of you do not, but in four days from now it will mark exactly four weeks since I was struck by lightning in Sedona, Arizona right before leaving for the Colorado Trail. That’s a story unto itself, but I don’t have the page space nor the time to retell it again here. What I will say is that since that experience, I have been extremely weary of the danger of lightning. I was not too worried about the rain that I’d likely encounter as I hiked north, but I didn’t like that the trail was headed up to a mountain pass that was right in the center of what looked like a potentially dangerous storm cloud. 

At first it was just rain off in the distance, but as I got closer it started to produce thunder, and then eventually lightning. The lightning didn’t strike often, but there was about a thirty minute stretch where the thunder was echoing around the mountains every ten to twenty seconds. I gave some consideration to waiting it out before going up over the mountain pass, but ultimately decided that considering the time of day, it could just build more and more, and my best bet might very well be to just get over the mountain pass before it became too bad and then rush down the other side. This approach ended up working out for me, and with some luck, the storm began moving off to the west as I made it up to the pass itself. I did end up having to take out my umbrella for awhile as it began to rain for an hour or so, but the rain was not so heavy that I needed to dawn rain gear (once again--that damn umbrella is a lifesaver!). 

I dropped down from that mountain pass to a river where I ran into three hikers heading southbound who I could tell were tired of one another’s company. It was quite strange that they chose the moment of our meeting to basically fight back and forth about where they were going to end up camping tonight. It made me wonder how they’d made it this far together, but even moreover, how they were going to make the next 250 miles if they had already tired of one another’s company. It made me even more appreciative of the fact that I’m hiking this trial solo and NOBO. It’s been easy to embrace the “hike your own hike” philosophy when it’s just me out here. 

After I left the fighting three, the trail climbed up in elevation again (I told you it was a lot of up and down!) into some amazing panoramic views of the mountains in every direction. I met an old man hiking northbound (he’s just hiking the Collegiate portion of the trail) who remarked that it looked like it was going to be a rainy afternoon and would probably rain through the night, but I told him that considering the time of day I actually expected that the storms would clear. “Don’t see no blue sky anywhere,” he said, and I told him that maybe he was right. I passed him and went on my way, and as soon as I broke over the next mountain pass, the sky was almost completely blue, and it stayed that way for the rest of the afternoon. There were clouds off in the distance that made for a really pretty sunset, but I don’t think that there is much chance for rain tonight. 

I set up camp on this windy mountain ridge, and I know that it’ll be a lot colder here tonight than the temperatures that I found yesterday evening, but I’m not too worried about it. I have the gear to make it through cold nights, and after the miles that I put in today I think that I’ll sleep well. 

There is actually a lot more that I wanted to say about today, but it’s become late and I need to get some rest. I should also mention, as if it’s not obvious unto itself, that writing this in my tent is quite uncomfortable and it’s starting to make my neck ache, so I think that I'm going to call it a night and an end to what has certainly been amongst my favorite days on the trail so far. I look forward to what tomorrow has to offer next.


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