Colorado Trail Segments 22-24 Trip Report By: Mickey Aka The Virtual sherpa
Jackie and I had been chomping at the bit to get back on the Colorado Trail after a successful year segment hiking it in 2021. With just about 100 miles and 7 segments left we were nearing the end but also knew that the remaining miles presented a number of logistical problems including TH access. We decided to split it up into two trips 22-24 and 25-28. With the tragic passing of our husky Juno earlier in 2022, we wanted to finish the CT in her honor while also bringing our new husky, Aria, along. Aria had never been backpacking before which just added to the logistics mess we faced. However, we had picked up so many lessons from our previous trips and were excited to tackle this trip!
The drive to the end TH at Molas Pass started off with some car trouble from Jackie’s subie but luckily it didn’t put an end to the weekend but did leave a massive hole in our bank accounts. We spent the night camping near Molas Pass and an iffy weather weekend forced a 3AM wakeup call the next day. We made the nearly 3 hour drive back to Spring Creek Pass and started hiking around 7AM the next day. The weather was perfect, Aria was doing great and the views were…stunning, even for my jaded ass.
Summer in Colorado is beautiful but the weather can be very…annoying. Plan A was to hike about 22 miles, finish the segment and camp at the start of Segment 23. Reality hit early as the clouds rolled in very quickly and the weather turned sour fast. We were right around mile 6 and knew that our window to hike was closing fast. We created plan B and popped up our tent right around mile 10. Our hope was to dodge the round of storms and continue hiking later in the evening. By the time the weather stopped, it was too late to make a big push so we called it a night and rested for the next day. The night (and entire trip) was spent in our new Six Moon Designs Haven tent which turned out to be an absolute game changer for backpacking. Even with a broken corner thanks to our furry friend who was throwing a husky temper tantrum on the first night in it, the shelter was A+.
“Why are we in a tent right now Dad?”
The next morning was another early start and we knew we had no option but to finish Segment 22 of the Colorado Trail today. We hiked along the high alpine and watched the beautiful sunrise behind us. With popular 14ers Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak visible to the North, we continued hiking along this beautiful trail. When we reached the high point of the CT after so many false “summits” Jackie and I were both very emotional. We missed Juno so much and were so sad she couldn’t share this moment with us. Hours of hiking and driving, thousands of feet climbed and so many beautiful memories created to get to this point. We took some time to memorialize Juno in a spot we could return to. Aria, in the most fitting husky way, was hunting marmots while we were crying on the side of this slope just off the trail.
Almost done with the segment!
Eventually, we knew we had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and with the end of Segment 22 in sight, we kept on hiking. After the high point, there was a fairly large descent to reach Carson Saddle and the end of the segment. It was the 4th of July weekend and after miles of seclusion, we were greeted with a number of OTVs with tourists driving up and down the old mining roads that surrounded the area. The end of Colorado Trail Segment 22 was somewhat anticlimactic – no sign, no trailhead – just the all too familiar CT logo directing us towards the next portion of hiking.
After finishing segment 22 and with 9 miles on our legs on the day already, our hope was to get 10 more in before the afternoon storms once again foiled our day. As we started segment 23, clouds were already starting to build, not the best sign. We started down the trail and finally pumped some water after a long dry spell from the segment before. Jackie, Aria and I were all very thirsty and super relieved to be drinking from the cold mountain spring. The hiking continued and as we were working up to one of many unnamed passes on the day, I spotted a cow moose and her two very young calves.
Weather was not necessarily on our side.
As we kept hiking higher and higher, the clouds had reached their limit and the skies started to open. Cold rain at first but slowly transitioning to hail and some thunder and lightning. Instead of putting ourselves in danger, we hunkered down under some willows until the wave of energy passed. Not even close to our mileage goal, we pressed on. Up a handful of other saddles and passes with the San Juan Mountains around us draped with low hanging clouds and fog. Even with the partially blocked views, it was stunning. It truly felt like we were in Ireland, Scotland or even New Zealand with how green the land around us was. Colorful wildflowers covered the ground in all directions so whatever views we were missing above, were more than made up on the ground.
On Colorado Trail Segment 23 we did something we typically never do – stopped and ate lunch. Both Jackie and I made a tuna wrap with some pickles while Aria begged for whatever scraps we managed to throw her way. Jackie even took a nap! For the first time in over 350 miles we were just trying to enjoy the hiking instead of pushing for miles and end points. The weather, which had held up for several hours, started to turn south again and we were forced to camp on a little saddle around mile 10 or so. The storms that night were fierce – heavy rains, whipping winds and loud cracking of thunder and lightning. The next morning brought a lot of the same and with extra time not on our side – we got up, stuffed the tent into a stuff sack and started hiking in the pouring rain. It was flat out miserable.
23 in the books!
We kept on hiking through the gloomy morning and eventually the rain let up. While the weather improved, the visibility did not and the views we had were of clouds and fog. Morally a little defeated, we eventually finished Colorado Trail Segment 23 with a small dirt road hike to the top of Stony Pass.
With a gloomy and rainy start at Stony Pass, spirits weren’t necessarily high. We knew that this segment was supposed to be insanely beautiful and it was – but much of what we were supposed to be seeing was covered in clouds. The first few miles rolled along some nice hills with bits of elevation loss and regain, but nothing very hard.
As we continued hiking – we reached a pretty significant moment of the Colorado Trail, we finally split from the Continental Divide Trail which we had been following for hundreds of miles. Then another odd moment, for the first time in nearly 400 miles – the Colorado Trail had…no trail. For some reason there is a few hundred yard stretch that has no singletrack path which felt very odd.
Our morale was still low because we knew that we were surrounded by mountains in all directions but just couldn’t see them. As we were about to start the massive descent to the Animas River, suddenly the clouds quite literally parted revealing jaw dropping views. Jackie and I thought it was a gift from Juno. She knew how hard we had all worked to get to this point of the CT and thought we deserved to see the segment’s true beauty.
With the sun out for a bit – we stopped to eat lunch and dry out the shelter. It was still soaking wet from the night before and the sun’s strong rays at 11,000ft made quick work of the water droplets coating the tent. We now had a dry place to sleep which was a massive pick me up. We worked our way down into the valley following Elk Creek and finally settling on camping at the Beaver Ponds around mile 12. The views of Arrow Peak and Vestal Peak were insane and I made a mental note to come back to climb both of the rugged looking peaks.
The next morning was a bit of a leisurely start hitting the trail around 7AM. We only had 6-7 miles left in Colorado Trail Segment 24 and after some really rough days/nights soaked in the extra few hours of sleep. The trail had a few interesting sections working around/through Elk Creek and the views were just stunning. It felt like we were in the Pacific Northwest, not Colorado. Everything was so alive and green which was great to see given the area’s struggle with wildfires each year. When we reached the Animas, I popped up the drone for some insane shots. Have I mentioned it was stunningly beautiful?
As we climbed back up to Molas Pass, we started encountering a lot of day hikers which was an odd sight after so much seclusion for the previous 3 days. The climb was tough but also rewarding with views of Mount Garfield and eventually a cool little waterfall located about 50 yards off the main trail. We reached our car around 10AM and cracked open a beer to reward our hard work over the past several days. Between Colorado Trail Segments 22-24, we had hiked 54 miles and climbed 10,000ft. Aria was such a good girl and Jackie killed it for her first big backpacking trip in over a year. We drove up to the top of Molas Pass to take our usual end of the segment picture. Colorado Trail Segment 24 was in the books which left only 70 miles of hiking left and we would be done with the entire CT! To watch full video recaps of each segment, you can check out my YouTube channel.