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Colorado Trail – Waterton | Average Hiker

Waterton Canyon sign on Colorado Trail

This morning was bright and clear as I jumped in my Uber to begin my hike at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead.

I could see a hint of distant clouds as we headed towards the mountains. The evening before I had watched thick black clouds settle over the mountain tops as lightning strikes popped the peaks and ridges. I hated getting caught in lightning storms on those exposed ridges.

Waterton Canyon

Road walk in Waterton Canyon average hiker

There was nobody to take my picture, so I took the obligatory sign photo, shifted my backpack up on my hips and took off down the six mile dirt road walk.

Waterton Canyon was silent and still at 6:30 in the morning. My only human contact was an older woman about thirty yards away on the other side of the road motioning for me to pull my mask all the way up. I respectfully obliged and waved, remembering she could not see my friendly smile.

Waterton is a beautiful Canyon, and I bounced along admiring the red rock canyon walls and really cool damn. It was at the Dam that the road began to noticeably climb up towards the hills.

Bear Territory

Bear warning near Waterton Canyon average hiker

Leaving the Waterton Road I started up single track trail. I was excited and now considered myself officially on the trail. It was a moderate incline and I quickly reached a sign noting Bear activity. I had seen a video about the Bear on FB. Later I spotted campsites with trash and understood why he was aggressive. It was sad that because of careless humans he would have to probably be removed.

South Platte River

Vista on trail hiking average hiker

The first climb up to about 6,500 feet was not too bad, and I passed some mountain bikers also headed up. They remarked on my pace, and I grinned and said “Pure adrenaline does not last long.” Another group of bikers were convening at the bench at Lenny’s rest, and we chatted about the busy trail. Honestly, I saw few other hikers that day.

Dropping down to Bear Creek I frowned at the trashy campsites and began my climb from about 6,100 feet to 7,500 at the peak. Scenery was beautiful, But it seemed pretty dry for this time of year. I stopped for a break before beginning the drop back down to the South Platte River.

Colorado Trail Hikers

South Platte River backpacking average hiker

A man approached me from his car in the parking area as I crossed the dirt road to the South Platte River. He was fairly talkative and wanted to know what I was doing, and how much further I was going. I just said til dark. Surprisingly, he had never heard of the Colorado Trail.

Later as I was getting water he walked up again and asked me if I wanted some fresh, cleaned fish filets. I thanked him and passed. He seemed nice enough, but my intuition was nudging me to move on so I quickly packed up and began hiking.

Crossing over the river bridge, I glanced back to see what was obviously a hiker stretched out on his Z-rest pad next to the water. I knew the lean, young hiker would probably catch me shortly.

Polar Opposites

The two hikers I met that day were both young, with vastly different experience. Steven had hiked the PCT, and Tyler’s first night backpacking overnight was his first night on the Colorado Trail!

Camping with Tyler

The next few miles after the South Platte were open, exposed and hot. There was nowhere for water between the South Platte River and the Fire Station about ten miles away. I loaded up to dry camp and have enough to drink and make dinner, with enough left for the next day.

Steven and I chatted trail for a while, and I took off again. As is the trail, that was the last time I saw Steven – a nice guy.

I saw several campsites as it became later in the day. Tents were set up and people were settling in for the night. As I came around a bend Tyler motioned me over to see a young buck grazing off to the side of the trail.

The buck was beautiful and as I watched him a doe poked her head up over the hill. With a sharp snort he took off after her as she raced off through the trees! I felt like I was on a Disney set.

Tyler and I began talking. He was very forthcoming and frustrated, and I immediately wanted to help. He said he did not have enough water to cook and was hungry. He had not cooked the night before but I did not ask why.

Looking up the trail I said I was going up on the tree covered ridge to find a camp spot. “I might do the same,” he said. “Yeah, lets go find some spots,” I said and began the climb up.

There was a large grass covered bench down off the trail. You could probably have set up 20 tents. There was an old fire ring, but otherwise the area did not look to have been used in quite some time. I don’t like over used campsites. They always seem to attract four legged visitors that know where to find food.

Tyler showed up about 45 minutes later and came down to began setting up camp. I had already set up and eaten dinner, and asked if I could help with his food. “Sure,” he said. There was no pretense about Tyler. He was open and likable.

“Do you really think you don’t have enough water for dinner?” He raised a half full Smart Water bottle and pointed at two large full water sacks. It would have lasted me two days. “I think it might be enough. Let’s give it a try,” I said.

To shorten the story, I learned much of his gear had come from Amazon, like his stove. He had not used it yet, so we used my faithful Pocket Rocket. His was an interesting stove, similar to mine but with three times the legs, like a little spider. His pot was tall and narrow, made for the spider, and we barely balanced it on my stove.

We used a freezer bag for his Knorr rise side after I convinced him the hot water would not melt the bag, and I suggested he add a pouch of the Tuna he did not care for, because the protein would make him feel better. He later came over and accepted my offer of my extra pouch of tuna. He said it was actually very good in the rice. He ate a lot of food!

End of Day

Colorado Trail Campsite the first night

Tyler said he was going into town at the Fire Station, and that was the last I saw of him. I don’t know if he continued his hike but I hope he did. Backpacking has a learning curve, but he appeared to have gear that with a few tweaks would have been good for the trail, and he appeared to be in good shape.

Unfortunately though, his trail name would have of course been Amazon! 😉

There were thunderstorms overnight, but I was nestled up near a small spruce. I never camp near the tallest lightning rod or a dead tree with the potential to fall.

One of my favorite sounds is the pattern of rain on my shelter. It lulls me to sleep quickly. I laid on my thick Neoair watching the storm light up the translucent fabric around me as the rumbles grew louder. Mother Nature was grumbling but I felt safe and comfortable under my featherlight quilt.

Amidst all the craziness, sometimes the simple things bring the most peace.

For those interested, there are a few stats below.

  • Miles hiked – 21.6
  • Day temp – overcast and low 80’s
  • Night temps – low 60’s
  • Hiking – easy to moderate
  • Challenges – Longer area through old exposed burn, aggressive bear potential
  • Dinner – Stowaway Gourmet Boar and Bean Stew 4/5 stars. Good flavor but ham did not rehydrate quite as well as it should have. I would definitely take it again.
  • Snacks – crackers since I had a really big breakfast
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