July 1, 2017
Colorado Trail Segment 1, Waterton Canyon to Bear Creek – 8.7 miles
Pack weight – like 500 pounds (actually, around 35)
I woke up excited, nervous, and tired on day one of my very first backpacking trip ever. And oh damn, my pack was heavy! Did someone slip bricks into it while I slept? I had gone on practice hikes with 20ish pounds, so what’s an extra 15 more? And my ankle was bothering me. But I was so sure it would all be fine. After weeks of planning, it was just time to dive in with what I had and what I knew. I didn’t want to wait one more minute. The Colorado Trail is at the top of my bucket list.
My parents drove me to the Waterton Canyon trailhead where I met my friend, Bonnie. She joined me for the first two days and nights of the hike. Bonnie is a major inspiration for me doing the CT. She did her own backpacking walkabout across New Zealand and Europe. AND she gave me a super cool lava rock bracelet with a charm that says “Wanderlust.” Exactly!
The first six miles from the Waterton Canyon trailhead were relatively flat and exposed. The trail was a gravel road that followed the South Platte River. Bonnie and I were both getting our “hiking feet” on, adjusting our backpacks to find the best fit. I was struggling with the weight of my pack during this first 6 miles, but thought to myself, “Suck it up, you can’t give up 6 miles from the trailhead.”
We stopped for lunch and some shade at Strontia Springs Reservoir Dam, where there was a picnic pavilion and a pit toilet. Taking off my backpack was such a relief, and felt so weird, as though my body had to readjust to my own weight again. Chatting with other Colorado Trail hikers, I had my first sense of trail camaraderie, running into the same people throughout the day as you leapfrog each other.
Leaving Waterton Canyon Road for the trail toward Bear Creek renewed my excitement. It felt more like a real hike then, when we came off of the gravel road and onto a trail through the forest. Hummingbirds followed us and one even flew right up to me, almost touching me. We stopped to take pictures of flowers and plants.
Around mile 7.5, the trail opened up to a meadow and a view of a valley. I wondered if that was where the trail lead. What adventures awaited me there? And other random thoughts: Had anyone considered opening beer huts along the trail? Was it possible to invent a self-propelled backpack that could just follow you, like hover craft?
The trail lead us back into the forest and soon we were at Bear Creek, our stop for the night, mile 8.7 of the Colorado Trail, halfway through segment 1. Many other hikers were already there refilling their water or wading in the creek. Some were making camp, others were taking a break before heading on down the trail. The next reliable water source was not until the end of segment 1 (another 8 miles) at the South Platte River Trailhead.
Bonnie and I changed into our camp shoes (she in her Tevas, me in my Crocs) and dunked our tired feet into the creek. We hung out by the creek for a good half hour, resting and refilling our water. Picking a camp spot was easy as there were several pre-existing sites. Bear Creek looped around and snugged up next to our spot. It felt cozy to know that other people were camping nearby. I was curious about the camp gear other people had and saw everything from larger 2-3 person tents to a tarp held up with hiking poles to a hammock.
Pitching our tents and decompressing, we wandered around our campsite checking out the forest, probably subconsciously cataloging potential cat hole spots. We joked that we’d be known by the other campers as “The Yoga Girls” because we both stretched in the clearing near our camp site.
My ankle was sore so I took some ibuprofen plus about a third of Bonnie’s cannabis-infused gummy bears. It was my first venture into edibles! I might have felt the effects of the gummy bear a little, but I was mostly just tired. After boiling water for our dehydrated dinners, we hung our food bags in a tree and hauled our tired bodies into our sleeping bags before sunset.
See my Colorado Trail Planning Guide for complete details about planning your own trip!