Cow Trough Water | Segments 15-18

The Colorado Trail is unlike anything we have ever done before. It’s the first adventure where we had to filter water, carry our gear in backpacks, and deal with adverse mountain weather. The trail is nearly 500 miles long and goes from the outskirts of Denver to Durango. We’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado, but spending 40 days out in the backcountry and hitchhiking into the small Colorado mountain towns along the way is, in our opinion, the best way to experience the state.

We started the Colorado Trail on June 26th, 2022 going south and finished on August 4th. It was an experience we will never forget and one we want to share with you.

The trail is split into 28 segments, each of which are completely different. These were our experiences from segments fifteen through eighteen of the Colorado Trail.

If you missed segments 1-15 of the Colorado Trail make sure to checkout our blogs below before continuing on!

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Marmot Attack: Segment 15

After getting dropped off at the trailhead on US Highway 50 we began our climb. The guy we had hitchhiked out with, trail-name one speed, began hiking and we did our best to keep up with him. Not even three miles later we realized why his trail-name was one speed and we said our goodbyes.

Whatever stomach bug we had caught the days prior was really slowing us down and we took a lot more breaks than on our previous days of hiking. The climb was pretty slow and gradual for the most part until we reached our last major climb of the day (mile 261.4) where we had a steep half a mile assent to the ridge line.

At the top of the climb we took another nice break and met up with some other hikers who had just come around the mountain from the Collegiate West. This is the point on the trail where the Collegiate West and Collegiate East meet back together.

Collegiate West and Collegiate East

We were only 8.5 miles into the day but I was struggling energy wise. We took a look at our FarOut app and saw that there was a shelter coming up in just two miles. Upon getting to the shelter we noticed there were already a couple of other hikers there so we decided to keep hiking. The hiking was fairly flat on the ridge so we aimed to make it another 2.5 miles to a spot to setup our tent.

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Up until this point we hadn’t seen very many marmots but that was about to change. We saw several of them running along the ridge and heard their high pitched screeches as we made our way down the trail. Moments later Nemo took off and cornered a marmot in one of their holes. We heard the Marmot get very upset and then a second later Nemo yelped.

Nemo ran over to us and we noticed her mouth was bleeding. There was a chunk of her lip missing but with nothing to clean it we had no choice but to keep an eye on it to make sure it didn’t get infected. Marmots 1, Nemo 0.

We made it to a nice flat spot overlooking the valley that was centrally located in between two water sources. We dropped our packs and made some lunch and enjoyed soaking in the sunshine as we said hello to hikers passing by. The rest of the afternoon we just sat around and waited for it to get dark. Energy levels were not extremely high and the next day was about to be a long one.

That night we woke up around midnight to the sound of lightning. From our view point we could see the storm coming towards us and with all of the dead trees around us we thought it would be better to wait for the storm to pass from outside the tent. We felt better being able to run from a falling tree than being trapped in the tent!

From our google research we learned that during a lighting storm it’s best to stay in a crouched position on the tips of your toes. This is supposed to give you a better chance of not getting struck by lightning. The less contact points the better! We also read that you should be about 25ft apart incase one got struck the other could help with CPR.

Thankfully the lightning storm passed just to the South of us and after an hour of waiting in a crouched position we stretched out our legs and went back to sleep.

The following morning we packed up and hiked .2 miles to a pipe water source to refill our waters before making it just one more mile to the beginning of segment sixteen.

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Cow Land: Segment 16

Start of Segment 16: Mile 267.6

As we arrived to the Marshall Pass Trailhead we noticed a restroom and decided to handle some morning business before continuing on. We said hello to some campers who were making some sausage and pancakes and started our climb.

The weather was incredible and we sat down for some morning snacks to soak in some sun as we looked at the surrounding mountain flowers. The hiking remained somewhat steady but our energy was still lacking.

There had been plenty of water sources up until this point but the infamous “Cow Land” was coming up which meant the water was about to be limited. We checked the FarOut app again and noticed a cattle trough up the hill just before the start of segment seventeen. According to the notes in the app there was still water in the trough but from the notes the previous year it looked like we were arriving right around the time when the trough drys out.

We stopped at mile 279 and took an hour to rest and eat lunch. Our options at this point were to either stay put for the night, which would allow us to ensure we had enough water the next morning, or test our luck and see what was up in the trough.

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After lunch we decided that if we could fill up our Nalgenes and bladder packs, even if there was no water at the trough, we should be okay. We filtered the fresh creek water with our Katadyn and kept on trekking towards Cow Land.

Three miles later we arrived to the trough. The trough still had a little water coming from the spout but there wasn’t much. We ended up getting about one Nalgene’s worth and then the spout was just a faint trickle.

We said hello to the cows and asked them if it was okay to setup our tent on their land. Upon permission, we threw down our bags, took off our boots, and relaxed as we looked out over all of the cows.

Empty Trough: Segment 17

The next morning we tried filling up from the trough but hardly any water was coming out. We had to replan where we were going to fill up on water as the stretch to segment eighteen was very limited. If you hike through these segments earlier in the season the water sources will be different.

Cow Water

We had heard from other hikers that there was a lake off the trail that was the only source of water. We did our best to avoid hiking down to the lake as it was a steep down and up climb, but ultimately it was our only option.

We said bye to our cow friends and hiked seven miles to the Baldy Lake Trailhead. My energy was getting worse and worse as the days went on and I was really dreading our steep rocky climb down to the lake.

We hid our backpacks behind some trees and carried our Nalgenes and bladder packs down the hill. (Users on the FarOut app said that Baldy Lake is nearly dried out by September. Just something to keep in mind!) This was the last spot with water until segment eighteen, which is fourteen miles away.

Over the next fourteen miles we did our best to stop for breaks and keep our energy up. Grace’s energy was getting better but I was still on the struggle bus. We hiked in and out of shade cover for the rest of the day as we continued toward segment eighteen. The climbing wasn’t necessarily difficult but it was definitely more up and down than we he had hiked up until this point.

Coming down the hill into the Gunnison National Forest we had just a couple of miles until the road, and segment eighteen, where we would need to hitchhike into Saguache, our longest hitch yet. We had another resupply box and this hitchhike had been the one we’d been most worried about since the start of the trail.

When we made it to the road it was getting later into the afternoon and we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to catch a ride. We looked around us and there weren’t a ton of camping options either.

After sitting down for a few minutes and weighing our options we looked at each other and thought, why not at least try to hitch into town?! The worst that happens is we don’t get a ride!

If you’ve read our past Colorado Trail blogs you’ll remember us saying how trail angels are always there when you need them. This time it was no different and just minutes into sticking out our thumbs we got the privilege of catching a 32 mile ride with Jim all the way to Saguache! It was an incredible drive, maybe our favorite of the trip, and we had an awesome time getting to know Jim.

When we made it to Saguache we grabbed some cold beverages from the gas station and then said goodbye to Jim. He gave us some handy dandy full body towelettes so we could clean up and we thanked him once again for being so helpful.

We walked into Saguache’s downtown area and grabbed whatever food we could find. It was around 6pm and the only place open was The Village Pub, Pizza and Spirits. We ended up getting some salads and pasta (they had gluten free!) and after not getting a whole lot of help for sleeping recommendations we decided to try our luck at the local high school down the road. Schools are a great camping place, especially in the summer!

We’ll leave our hidden gem breakfast spot in Saguache and our next few segments for the next blog! The views and scenery are about to go up to a whole other level…

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