Colorado Trail Retry: The Lead Up
After leaving the Colorado Trail 220 miles on my 2022 attempt and deciding to return in August 2023, I realized I needed to make some changes. I needed to adjust my training, change some equipment, better prepare for the altitude, and most importantly, figure out how to get enough calories. Even if I didn’t want to eat.
I trained harder than I thought possible during my journey in 2022. However, after leaving the track, I was able to identify some gaps. Although I was doing a lot of hiking and stair climbing each week, I wasn’t doing any targeted cardio training. To better prepare for the hike, I knew I needed more cardio preparation. I also knew I needed to do more strength training. Climbing stairs and some basic strength exercises were part of my training before the first half of the Colorado Trail, but the more I could build my muscle, the easier consistent elevation gains and losses became.
I followed a specific 8-week training program during the spring semester. It included 3 days a week of strength training, regular cardio, and 1 walk a week that increased difficulty and distance. I added in climbing stairs every week. One of the great benefits of living in Seattle is the number of outdoor public stairs. I live a few minutes from a set of public stairs that have 367 steps/175 feet per ascent—perfect for this type of training.
Once I completed the eight-week program in early May, I changed it up. I focused on longer/harder walks, more cardio, and targeted anything else that I felt was still weak. I added weight to climbing stairs, started running, and did a couple of mini backpacking trips. Unfortunately, my training took a hit when I left the country (planned) and came back with a cold (unplanned). The cold took another week of my training and forced me to miss a big shakedown trip I had planned. All of these factors combined made me a little nervous when I reached the trailhead.
I had carefully invested in a lot of new gear ahead of my 2022 attempt. However, I wanted to try to go lighter to reduce the load on my feet. My plantar fasciitis was severe and painful and I knew it could derail my second attempt. I made three major changes:
- tent -I chose not to travel for an expensive new tent in 2022. Instead, I carried the Big Agnes Copper Spur 2P. I love this tent! Easy to set up, can be set up by flying first, and durable. But for my 2023 attempt, I chose a much lighter option: the Durston X-Mid Pro 2P.
- Backpack -I actually had a pretty good light pack before in the REI Flash 55, but upgraded to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. (And what’s even better is that it came in a special purple edition this time!)
- shoes – I thought I had the right shoes the year before, when I wore the Hoka One One Stinson. But they lost their tread at 200 miles and were not supportive enough to prevent plantar fasciitis. I spent all spring searching for the right shoes. I’ve tried a few Topo options, and liked them, but my first longer ride proved they weren’t the right shoe. At the last minute, I bought a pair of Altra Olympus 5 – and they worked! I tried the Lone Peaks and immediately failed, but the Olympus proved comfortable enough for my needs with all the toe room I knew I wanted.
I made a few other minor gear changes, but these had the biggest impact on both my base weight and my trail experience. Overall, I’ve cut 3 pounds from my starting weight.
Last year, I left the track for several health reasons but the most important reason was that I couldn’t eat enough. The altitude alleviates hunger, but for many of the hikers I met, their hunger was still strong enough to prevail. This simply was not the case for me. I needed a better plan.
I did some research and joined Backcountry Foodie, a nutrition, recipe, and meal planning resource for backcountry adventurers. Quite a few recipes from there have built up my supply, and I’ve particularly focused on liquid options. Breakfast is the hardest meal for me, and drinking my calories seems to be the best and easiest way to get a good start to the day. I also set an alarm on my Garmin watch that went off every time I burned 500 calories, reminding me to stop and eat. I wasn’t expecting to replenish calories 1 to 1 – that’s not realistic. But the reminder to stop and eat was very effective during my training.
In addition to all the cardio and food prep, I tried a few other things to cope better. First, I got a prescription for Diamox or acetazolamide. This medication is often prescribed to high-altitude adventurers to prevent altitude sickness. I started taking it about half a day before I traveled to a higher altitude to acclimatize.
My husband, Alex, and I flew to Colorado 6 days before our start date. We spent a couple of days in the Boulder/Denver area to see friends and family (and ease into the hike). We then traveled to Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States. Somehow, despite growing up in Colorado, I had never been to Leadville before. We really enjoyed it! We happened to be there just two days before the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, so the power was electric. I love mountain towns that understand those seeking the outdoors. We stayed on the second floor of a hotel that didn’t have an elevator, which was a good test for our lungs in a downward spiral. I can definitely say that we are not at sea level anymore.
The day before the official start day, we drove to Monarch at the Crest store to drop off my first resupply package and get exposure to higher altitudes. The new owners have done a lot here! This store is very convenient for hikers now, with great resupply options and a delicious food truck. As we sat enjoying lunch, I started to feel excited. I could imagine hiking there in a few days, and hoped I’d be hungry enough for a burger and a giant basket of fries. I wondered who I would meet, how I would feel, and imagined the sense of accomplishment upon arriving at my first resupply stop. But as we started to head back onto Highway 50 to Salida (where we stayed the final night), the nerves started to set in. There’s nothing like the night before something you’ve been preparing for months (or years!). I barely slept, but the morning came bright and early anyway. It’s time to find out if all these preparations really worked.
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