872 miles. 11 granola bars. A budget car. Colorado to Utah. A true test of a new pair of Danner Mountain 600's & myself, of course. A whole sh*t ton of time in the wilderness; alone. Alllll the makings of an epic adventure.
It was the first week in October, between summer & winter activities in Colorado. There would be less people, and lingering autumn colors.
Day 1: Mt. Elbert
9 Mi RT Hike
Not so FUN FACT: Car camping in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla dubbed Travis (by yours truly), jet-lagged at a random creek side with intense thunderstorms, the night before undertaking the tallest peak in Colorado? NOT MY MOST BRILLIANT DECISION.
I was, however, rewarded with a glorious sunrise in exchange for a sleepless night. Coming out of the gate hard, my boot’s pioneer trek would involve the highest summit in Colorado. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
At a strapping 14,400 feet, Elbert is a savage beast. One that I'd be tackling sans ample altitude acclimation time, with boots I had yet to break in. Those red laces though; swoon.
Elbert was known for being windy AF since most of the trail was exposed to the elements and this day was expected to throw in an extra dose. Wind schmind, I could handle it…right?
There were exactly zero other vehicles or hikers. It was eerie, and the kind of cold that you feel in your bones. The trees creaked and I felt like I was starring down an unwelcoming scene of a horror movie. My adrenaline surged with every new noise as I was positive I'd have to employ the bear spray at some point on this trip.
"Put on your big girl pants," I scolded myself.
My breath came out in puffs. I was taken aback by just how winded I was. This altitude stuff was no joke.
Eventually, I emerged above the tree-line and the trail was indeed, very exposed. The wind slapped my face offensively. Random spurts of hail were happening. Birds of prey the size of small dogs circled above, cawing their heads off and I took my 98,347,928,734th break thus far.
The clouds moved so briskly I mistook it for a live time-lapse video. Still, I kept pushing. I couldn't shake the determination to make it to the top. I had come this far. That’s when the snow storm appeared like magic.
At 13,000 feet I called it. The snow was coming in hot. As disappointing as it is, sometimes you have to make the smart decision about your safety and turn around.
So, maybe I hadn't summited Mt. Elbert like I had planned. But I did make it to 13,000 feet and I made it back down without getting stranded in a white-out snowstorm. That day, I felt as wild as my surroundings.
I wound Travis (my beloved Toyota Corolla) along Independence Pass stopping at THE spot for sensational sunsets. I was exhausted. My legs screamed at me. It was frigid, and my nose was running in a highly attractive fashion. But still, a perfect end to a challenging day.
Day 2: Maroon Bells & Crater Lake
3.9 miles RT Hike
From Maroon Lake I planned to hike to Crater Lake. I had a thing for Alpine Lakes, clearly. I feasted my eyes on the scene I had viewed in so many photos.
On the trail to Crater Lake, I was high on the Beauty of the Bells. The trail was peppered with plenty of other hikers and I was loads more comfortable than the previous day’s jaunt.
The hike was no sweat in comparison to Elbert, and I was more than ready to reach the second half of my alpine lake sandwich. Then I did. And I was in love.
Day 3: Blue Lakes Trail
8.6 miles RT Hike
The allure of hiking to a purely dazzling turquoise-y-blue lake was all the incentive I needed. The previous night had been the most arctic night thus far, and the effects of the chill were holding strong.
The trees creaked disturbingly as I stepped over a ginormous dead bird in the middle of the trail. The day was off to an interesting start.
Ominous bird aside, this hike was an everything bagel. It had a little bit of, well, everything: forest areas, wide open spaces, streams and waterfalls, skirted by dramatic mountain backdrops at every turn that swept my breath away in an instant. And, a lake waiting for me at the end.
The suspense of reaching lower Blue Lake was boiling over. Rounding the corner, there she was in all her glory. The sun bounced sparkles off the jolting blue water and the mountains cradled the lake like it's beautiful baby.
I don't know if you can wish on things like lakes. But, this one was just so magical, being electric spark blue and all, so yes, I made a wish on a lake. It was just me, a lofty lake, and if my wish came true, an alpine unicorn would come prancing by any second now.
Day 4: Park Avenue + The Windows
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
2 miles + 1 mile RT Hike
I was far from ready to leave Colorado. I had fallen hard for the CO. Arches National Park and my day 4 itinerary awaited.
I greeted the park like an old friend.
The first stop: Park Avenue. It was as late in the afternoon as you could get, and I was pretty much the only one on the trail. The sun peeked out from behind the giant red rock formations and the contrast was just as arresting as the first time I'd witnessed it.
I made it to the Windows just as the sun was starting to tuck itself in. Settling in a nook of the North Window I watched dusk fall.
Day 5: Landscape Arch at Sunrise
1.6 Mile RT Hike
I'll be honest, by day 5 I was tired; but there's just something about the sunrise. So, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I set on the trail to Landscape Arch.
What I did know: It's the largest natural arch on. The. Planet. Cool, huh?
What I didn't know: I was about to make some new friends.
I was alone on the trail and unintentionally found myself as part of a mama deer and her two babies' morning routine. And they were totally cool with it.
Landscape Arch was just around the corner, and it was, in fact, profound. Slow clap for Mother Nature.
My journey was ending and I was oddly somber in saying farewell to Travis. We had been through a lot in the 5 day venture. The final tally:
1 pair of Danner boots.
7 granola bars consumed.
3 new deer friends.
5 days. 5 hikes.
1 e p i c adventure.
LAUREN BREEDLOVE is a freelance writer, travel photographer, and the girl behind girlwanderlist; a blog where she travels the world, checking off her list, one adventure at a time. She shares the raw, real stories of her endeavors, which always include pushing outside of her comfort zone and a fair amount of ridiculousness.