Why I'm Hiking the Colorado Trail

Colorado, United States

Explorer

Jason Hatfield

Find more meaning in the experiences that fulfill you.

This isn't a story to convince you to quit your job and spend all your days on the trail. Backpacking isn't for everyone, let alone spending weeks on the trail. Thru-hiking is a long, tiring, and dirty affair, that likely suffers from a little too much romanticization.  This is more a small amount of inspiration to pursue a connection with what motivates you and to take opportunities when they arise.

I'm planning a thru-hike attempt of the Colorado Trail this summer, with my dog, Koda. When I say attempt though, I'm not anticipating a high chance of failure, more just the ever realist in me knowing that "shit happens".  The Colorado Trail is around 490 miles long, starts in Waterton Canyon near Denver, and ends in Durango. Throughout its distance, it travels through arid juniper canyons, montane grasslands, enormous stands of quaking aspens, towering forests of spruce, douglas, and lodgepole, and innumerable views of soaring peaks. As if that isn't enough, for a few weeks of summer you'll be strolling through fields of alpine flowers! Are you sold yet?

The reality is that I've experienced all these aspects of Colorado over the past 8 years, so why would I want to leave the comforts of my home or 4runner for a month? It's always been a life interest of mine to thru-hike a trail, but it's been one of those things that I've always said I'll do someday. When you get over 30 and start to contemplate mortality a little more, you realize some of those "someday" plans might never happen if you don't take chances when they come. 

At 32, those combinations of motivation and opportunity have finally aligned, and I feel it's ultimately time to tackle an experience of this magnitude. I've never attempted anything like this but I've spent a lot of time backpacking. My work as nature and adventure photographer has taken me on numerous solo and group treks. I've gone on quick overnighters, multi-day adventures, and even a 10-day hike in the "wilderness" of Philmont. I've carried my pack through canyon filled deserts, over snow-filled passes, on rain-drenched beaches, and even during dangerous encounters with grizzlies.  

With each of those trips, though, I've always felt something missing, something I could only get a glimmer of after a few days on the trail. It's a combination of a more intimate connection to the landscape I'm living in and a more sincere connection to myself. When you start to put in mile after mile, not only does your body change, your mind changes. Your awareness shifts as you reflect on the surroundings, some thoughts lingering and repeating throughout the day, others flicking from branch to branch. Nature and its daily cycles take on more meaning, the flow of wildlife to food and water, the struggles of flora to succeed in rugged conditions. 

There's a lot of material to ponder on a hike of any size, it's the daily repeating that gives time for those thoughts to mature and flourish. This thru-hike isn't about setting a speed record or overcoming a hardship, but it is about retelling myself the story of my time in Colorado. Hiking the Colorado Trail is a continuation of the journey I started when moving to Colorado, and an affirmation of my will to connect more meaningfully with the natural world. 

With all that said, I still know there will be days I question "why am I doing this?""maybe I should just stop?".  Maybe one of those voices will win, but there's only one way to find out.

Published: April 1, 2017

Jason HatfieldExplorer

Adventure and travel photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. I teach photography workshops and offer private guiding around the west. More at jasonjhatfield.com

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