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Seventy-five miles down. Four-hundred and twenty-five to go.

The Colorado Trail is our state’s premier long-distance trail. It wanders 500 miles from Denver to Durango. Trekkers experience eight mountain ranges, seven national forests, six wilderness areas, and five river systems while on their journey. There are 28 segments with a total elevation gain of 77,690 feet. Yes, you read that right. Seventy-seven-thousand. That’s a lot of traipsing uphill. There’s also 76,210 feet of descent, so it’s an up and down journey, to say the least.

There are 54 “official” peaks in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet in altitude and almost two-thirds of them are within a 20-mile radius somewhere along the CT. That makes for some awe-inspiring vistas while pounding out the miles. Much of the trail is at or above 10,000 feet, with two-hundred miles of it skirting the Continental Divide. The trail highpoint is above 13,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, where we’re likely to find snow well into August this year. We got dumped on this past winter and the snow lingers long into summer in many places.

On July 12th my son and I started our hike of the CT at the Waterton Canyon trailhead, southwest of Denver. We emerged 5 segments later at Kenosha Pass. It took us 6 days to travel 75 miles. I’ve always wanted to thru-hike the CT, but family commitments and personal responsibilities take priority to wandering the wilderness. We plan to piece together as many segments as we can this summer. In a perfect world, we’ll get all 28 in by mid-September.

Oh? There is no perfect world?

Well, we’ll do what we can and be grateful for the opportunity. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s a brief rundown of our adventure so far, complete with our own version of “Backpacker’s Pantry” foods. We prepared and dehydrated our own nutritious gluten-free dinners, skipping all the additives, preservatives, and gluten fillers that often accompany prepackaged backpacking food. I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful my GF bison chile mac was after a long day of hiking with a backpack that somehow managed to gain weight with each mile.

Day 1 (segment #1)
Waterton Canyon trailhead to South Platte River
17 miles, 2160 feet of elevation gain (most of it within a 5 mile section)
Dinner: Brown rice with dehydrated pinto beans and green chilies

Day 2 (segment #2)
South Platte River to Colorado Trailhead (FS-550)
11.5 miles, 2200 feet of elevation gain (most of it in the first 5 to 6 miles)
This segment of the CT wanders through an area that was part of a 1996 human-induced wildfire that burned nearly 12,000 acres of the Pike National Forest. The small mountain town of Buffalo Creek was partially destroyed and the natural landscape was changed forever. Twelve years later this once-lush pine forest is home to only a few surviving trees. But life goes on and the emergence of new grasses, small plants, and wildflowers is taking shape in a magical way. It’s actually quite beautiful.
Dinner: Bison chili mac and cheese (YUM!)

Day 3 (part of segment #3)
Colorado Trailhead (FS-550) to FS-560
10 miles, 1520 feet of elevation gain
Dinner: Garlic mashed potatoes with spicy chile verde

Day 4 (the last 3 miles of segment #3 and 9 miles into segment #4)
Segment 3 to Lost Park
12 miles, 2800 feet of elevation gain
At about mile 4 we joined an old logging road that was originally built by W.H. Hooper in 1885. He owned a sawmill out in the middle of nowhere. This old rugged logging road went uphill through the forest, making me wonder how the heck these guys were able to manage things like this back in the early days. I found it a grind just hiking up the old rocky dirt road. I can’t imagine actually building the thing. It must have taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And a s**t-load of dynamite!
We entered the Lost Creek Wilderness area and camped along the North Fork of Lost Creek. Beautiful country!
Dinner: Corn chowder, brown rice and red beans

Day 5 (finished last of segment #4, which is about 17 miles total)
Segment 4 to Long Gulch
8-9 miles, some up and down, not sure about the total elevation gain
Since we were only planning to hike around 9 miles on day 5, we decided to take the time to make gluten-free pancakes for breakfast. Plus, we had such a lazy and serene campsite, it felt like the right time to treat ourselves to a nice start to the day. I even made maple syrup out of water and maple sugar crystals. I know, these photos aren’t exactly Gourmet Magazine quality and please just ignore the fact that the small Nalgene bottle holding the maple syrup is filthy.
Dinner: Spaghetti and meat sauce with CSA onions and garlic

Day 6 (Segment #5)
Long Gulch to Kenosha Pass
14.4 miles, 1600 feet of elevation gain
It rained most of the day, which didn’t bother us at all. It made for nice hiking as it was much cooler and the rain kept the bugs away. Our final descent down into South Park (yes, that South Park — the one on TV) and the Kenosha Pass trailhead was wonderful. We were ready for a shower, a beer (not me), and a glass of nice red wine (me). We ended up making chicken noodle soup at the Kenosha Pass Campground while waiting for our ride back to Golden. It was a nice start to our journey.
Dinner: Chicken noodle soup with all kinds of CSA veggies

Onward . . .

Go forth and explore,
Melissa

9 Responses to “The Colorado Trail – part 1”

  1. Janine says:

    That is so great Melissa! My husband will be impressed. We always choose Kenosha pass to see the fall colors. How wonderful that you can do this with your son. Good luck on the next leg of your journey!

    Janine

  2. Kay says:

    I’m envious and impressed! Thanks for sharing the beautiful scenery.

    I’ve been thinking that one of those little lemon drop campers might be my key to safe gf travel. Got a kitchen and a bed. Every time I’ve pitched a tent, it has rained for HOURS AND HOURS. So I’ve given up the tent as a courtesy to other campers.

    I hope you’re loving every minute of this breathtaking trek!

  3. That is so cool that you two are doing that! I don’t know if that’s my cup of tea, but I envy people who are up for that type of hiking. And your photos are great. :D

  4. Melissa says:

    Janine! I wondered what happened to you. Hopefully you guys are getting out for some fun times in the Colorado high country. It’s a bit cooler the higher you go. :-)

    Kay – yes, those little vintage campers are so cool. Makes eating and sleeping a little easier, that’s for sure. But I like being outside – most of the time, anyway.

    Sally – thanks for the comments. Speaking of great photos, the new one of you on your “About” page is wonderful!

    Take care,
    Melissa

  5. happyathome says:

    Wow, I am impressed! My father-in-law just did the Grand Canyon trail last summer, I may do this when my daughter is older. Great post, and nice blog! Thanks for stopping by my blog too!

  6. Tiffany says:

    Wow, great job, Melissa!! Not all Coloradans are hardcore like that (i.e. ME!) :) LOL You are so cool!!

  7. Kelly says:

    Hi! Great post! I’ve always wanted to do rugged camping like that. I had a hard time just finding friends that will go to a decent campground! Anyhow…I’ve never done the dehydrated food thing, but I bought a dehydrater. You really just make normal food, dehydrate it, and then reheat with water? For some reason it is unbelievable to me.

  8. Kelly says:

    p.s. What did you eat for protien…was the rice and beans enough? I seem to be a protein hog or I get cranky.

  9. Melissa says:

    “happyathome” — I’m happy at home too, but I also LOVE being out in the backcountry! It restores the spirit.

    Hey Tiffany,
    Wish you’d get your bakery going so I could fill up on GF bagels and tortillas for the trail! :-)

    Kelly,
    We need to spend some time together! I am dehydrating the most amazing GF meals. Nutritious too! I’ve been mixing the perfect amount of carbs, protein, and fat (balancing backcountry nutrition). This is going to be a trail book. As soon as I come up for air, let’s reconnect. In the meantime, I love the direction your blog is going. Nice work, Kelly.

    Take care all,
    Melissa

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