Colorado Trail Day 20: Getting What You Need from the Trail

Daily Neet Beat
“I might not make it all the way to Durango but I got what I needed from the trail” said Matt. We have met a number of Matts but this is the Matt who has the dog Lucy, a cute Australian Shepherd that we met on Searle Pass on Day 10.

It is about 7am in the morning and we started our hike south again around 6am from Mt Princeton Hot Springs. Our plan for today is to hike about 18 miles and make it to the North Fork of the South Arkansas River.

Beautiful lighting on the Chalk Cliffs. The Chalk Cliffs are not made of chalk like you use on a chalk board. They are composed of quartz monzonite which is like granite with slightly less quartz minerals.

We have hiked along the road for about 2.5 miles and had just turned onto the South Chalk cliff trail and crossed the Chalk Creek when we ran into Matt and Warren who had camped there last night and were breaking down camp. Matt’s “I got what I needed from the trail” was his nonchalant answer to whether he going to hike all the way to Durango.

Chalk Creek Trailhead

I thought about his answer all morning as Ray and I hiked through beautiful meadows, forests, incredible views of the Collegiate Peaks.

A Painted Lady butterfly. The scientific name for the Painted Lady butterfly is Vanessa cardiu which means “butterfly of the thistle”.
Ray crossing bridge in Segment 14, Chalk Creek Trailhead to US50.

The forest is beautiful against the mountains but here and there are tinges of brown. It looks like the spruce beetle is taking hold here and along with the mountain pine beetle, it is just a matter of time before the forest in this area will be brown. I have read that one in every 14 standing trees in Colorado are dead and that the number has gone up 30 percent in the past seven years. You really notice it hiking the Colorado Trail. Wood peckers are doing ok but I wonder about the long term effects of the beetle kill. And, frankly, I like seeing green forests. Simple but real.

Spruce Beetle kill starting to take hold.

But why am I hiking the Colorado Trail? I am kind of envious that Matt has gotten what he needed from the trail. I really wish I had asked him what it was he got from the trail. Maybe then, I too, would understand why I am here. Why I am traveling this path. Is it about completing a goal, an achievement? Maybe… Is it about connecting to the land, a sense of place? Maybe….I really don’t know. I reminisce about when we hiked the John Muir Trail last summer and everything seemed to make sense. We reached the top of Mount Whitney on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and I emotionally unraveled feeling like I suddenly understood. I felt so connected to the land and so appreciative of visionaries like John Muir who pushed for setting public land so that all could enjoy.

Ray and I stop for a lunch break. Just as we are finishing up and putting on our packs here comes Matt and Lucy.

“Can I ask you a question?” I ask. “what did you get from the trail, I’ve been thinking about it all morning.” “That’s a good question”, Matt says. He then explains that he is a full time caregiver and a clinical psychologist. His job is to connect with people and he is afraid he has lost his sense of compassion. He feels he has regained it on the trail by connecting with people like us and being out in nature.

North Fork of the South Arkansas River

“What do you want from the trail?” he asks. I mutter about just being out and that I am open to anything the trail gives but am not searching for anything specifically. I almost blurt out that my Dad passed away from cancer in April and I am processing the grief. But, you know what? I would be processing the grief no matter where or what I am doing. I don’t think my grief has anything to do with hiking the Colorado Trail. I do know my Dad loved being outdoors in nature. It is enough for now.


Just the Facts

Total Miles: 17.8
Cumulative Miles: 247.4
Trail Segments: 13 and 14
Camp Elevation: 9194 feet, at the North Fork of the South Arkansas River near the Angel of Shavano Campground
Elevation Gain:  2394 feet
Elevation Loss:  1455 feet
Weather: partly cloudy, raining in the afternoon

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