My Adventure Story
We planned this trip with the intent of doing 40 miles by combining segment 11 (22 miles) and segment 12 (18 miles) of the Colorado Trail. With a quick check of the map we parked our recovery vehicle at the end of what we thought was the trail head for the finish of segment 12. From there we drove our jeep up to the beginning of segment 11 at Half Moon Creek just south of Leadville Co.
With a late start on Friday evening we hiked in under the threat of thunderstorms using our headlamps until we found a site that would keep us for the night. Our intent was to make it to a dispersed site near a creek but it was already occupied when we got there. We continued on for a couple tenths of a mile and found another suitable site. We set up the tent in the dark and settled in just before the rain started.
At 5:35am we were awake and began breaking down our camp. Temperatures were mild at 46 degrees. The weather started out clear and we hiked until 8am where we found a stream to stop for breakfast. At 8:35 we were on the trail again. We stopped at noon for a snack. We hiked until mile 17.7 of the trail where we scrambled to find a place to put up tent due to the incoming storms. We came out on a jeep road where there were many dispersed camping sites with other "car campers" already occupying much of the area. We squeezed into a grassy field between one camper and another family which seemed to have the need to run a generator all night. Just as the rain hit, we got the rain fly on and bailed into the tent.
At 6:40am the next morning we were up and on the trail once more. We did not cover as much ground as the previous day but were able to cross the trail head for Mt Elbert (Tallest Colorado Peak) and navigate around the Twin Lakes. This was the flattest stretch of trail by far and the hottest. No tree cover and out in the open for approximately 7 miles. The next part of the trail was a long climb of 10 miles that brought us to the highest point of the trail (11,800ft). It was slow going and hot with little to no breeze. Once we peaked, we headed down the backside where we crossed into segment 12. Here was a nice river and a campground were we found a group of scouts waiting to resupply. They were heading in the opposite direction and their goal was to do 50 miles in 5 days.
SunMaid took the opportunity to soak a swollen ankle in the cold river before we headed up the next long climb.
The elevation gain was not as high as the previous climb but it did take us up to the 11.5 mark before we started our descent. At the bottom was a secluded valley which Pine Creek ran through. After crossing the bridge we found our last campsite of the trip where we would stay for the night. At this point we were 11 miles from our final destination. This was by far the best site as logs and a fire ring were already in place. We had some early T-storms hit but they passed on quickly and we were able to escape from the tent and make personal pizza's for dinner..
The last morning we broke camp and had breakfast and headed out by 7 am. We made another small accent where we stayed mainly above 11,000ft until we were within 2 miles of the end of hike. Within the last half mile there were some steep switchbacks down into the parking lot. Our moment of joy from completing the past 40 miles quickly came to an abrupt halt as we realized this trailhead was not the same trailhead we parked our recovery vehicle at. And this is how the trail nickname "Outback" was born.
It so happens that both trail heads have the same name; only one is 7 miles further to the South. We had a moment of slight panic, and then began thinking about a plan B to make it to our vehicle.
We decided it was better to use our cell and call the in-laws who were an hour away to pick us up and take us to where our vehicle was. We started waking toward Buena Vista (5.5 miles away) via a county road when a couple of day hikers we had met earlier offered us a ride into town.
The timing was perfect. As we pulled into town, so did the in-laws. We thanked our fellow hikers who gave us a ride and bought dinner for the in-laws as a thank you for coming to our rescue. After dinner we got to our truck, made the trip up north to pick up the jeep and endured the 3 hours back home.