The Colorado Rockies are packed with natural beauty, huge vistas, pretty flowers and adorable critters.
But when I backpacked the 160-mile Collegiate Loop on the Colorado Trail last month, I discovered a great little community of strangers out on the trail. Here are just a few of the notables I met on the trail.
Mark Holland, trail name Gringo
Gringo is a hiker with style. He's a minimalist who says his “base weight” — his pack and all the regular stuff he carries, minus food, camp stove fuel and water — is only 7 pounds. His Batman backpack looks like something a second grader would carry. There’s a lot he doesn't take on the trail.
“Cold weather gear for one. I don’t have comfort items. There’s a lot people out here who might have a flask, or a pipe to smoke out of, or just a lot of safety items, too. I’ve got a medical kit that’s really condensed, but I don’t really have a lot of capacity for water. I’m just going off the basic necessities, really.”
Molly McGrath, trail name Wendy
When I encountered Wendy on a rainy night between Hope Pass and Lake Anne Pass, she was hiking with Gringo. Being a less experienced backpacker, she was hauling a lot more stuff, including a brand new trail name.
“…I find that this is part of trail culture is getting a trail name. I'm Wendy because I like to think of myself as kind of a trail mom. As you heard, you know, Gringo doesn't have a lot with him and I live in Colorado and so I've been a little wary of ... for him, I have more in my pack and so I have some of the things. There's another guy cut his toe up and the other day and he didn't have any medical stuff with him either, so I patched him up. And so. Oh, Wendy refers to Peter Pan's oldest sister.”
Joe Holland, no known trail name
Joe Holland (no relation to Gringo) was hanging out at a tiny pond that happens to be the last place to get water for eight miles between there and Monarch Pass heading south. Holland is also a teacher, and he comes from New Hampshire. He’s an experienced long-distance backpacker who says it takes three weeks living on the trail before a change comes over him.
“And you really get into the mindset of, I live here and this is a continuous thing that I'm going to do for a long time. And occasionally I go down into town and get some food and then come back up. And that's really the thing that is the most pleasant. And at the same time, the hardest is to get from that, “Well, I usually live in town, but I'm going to go visit the mountains,” to “I live in the mountains, but I'm going to go visit the town.” So, it's a distinct change in your outlook on life. And that's really what I come here for.”
Before we go
I don’t want to give the idea that it’s a big party out on the Colorado Trail. The solitude can be profound. Camping in this spot just below Cottonwood Pass, vast as the field of view is here, I didn’t see another human being from the afternoon I stopped until the following morning.
Frank Morris is an NPR correspondent and senior editor based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. He spent two weeks hiking on the Colorado Trail during his vacation in July. Follow him on Twitter: @frank newsman.