Just got back from what is informally know as a “shakedown hike,” and boy did it shake me down!
First off, what is a “shakedown hike?” The details can vary a lot, but at its core it’s just a couple day backpacking trip where you try out your gear and associated process to find out if there are things you can improve (in either) before your thru-hike. And hopefully it will also confirm that you are prepared for what is to come! My hope was the Colorado Trail would provide a long hike, cold temperates (cooler but not too cold) enough to help finalize my gear and setup. I had heard many AT thru-hikers dealing with below freezing temps in the Smokies these days, so I wanted to make sure I was comfortable in my gear, just in case I have the same luck!
Although most do a shakedown solo, I’m trying to soak in as much Nick time as possible, plus he isn’t one to turn down any chance to be on a mountain either. We set out to backpack through the Colorado Trail’s first segment which is approximately 16.8 miles one way starting outside of Denver through Pike National Forest. So as the tale usually goes, I had done my research and we had prepared for colder temperatures of high twenties and read through trail logs to familiarize ourselves, but the weather turned out to be once again unpredictable.
We set on Saturday morning with the intention of hiking 16.8 miles, camping for the night and then hiking back the following day. Within the first mile, we knew are pace might be slower than expected after dealing with some ice patches. But then more ice appeared, and more ice, and soon I’m sliding down the trail on my butt because it was now just one giant luge course!
Nick and I made it about 8 miles down the trail before throwing in the towel, it was getting just too dangerous and with another 1000 ft to climb before the end, who knows what that trail would have been. Luckily there were some great ridge sections where we saw some sun and warmed up, before heading back to find a campsite off the trail.
We set up camp and cooked dinner just before dark, a routine I will find all too familiar every night on the trail. Although it was only 6pm, we could tell the temperature was dropping so we decided to bundle up and get in our tent. Let’s just say throughout the next few hours, that temperature dropped to much lower than expected and we think we slept in about 15 degrees! Brrrrrrrrr!
Rough, cold night! But as much as this insane trip made me run home, take a hot shower and curl up on the couch, it was just as valuable as I had hoped.
- I now know what my smartwool PJs and 20 degree sleeping quilt can handle.
- I know the little nuances that while fun when car camping, after a long backpacking day all you want to do is eat and sleep.
- I know that when the temperatures are in the teens, your hands get so cold it’s hard unlatch parts of your tent.
- I know that in the morning, when all you want to do is hit the trail to get warm, you might have to pack up a tent literally covered in ice!
While some of these things I’ve dealt with before, when in the mindset of being on a thru-hike you really start to think about the things that will change when you have to do this routine day in and day out. And most of all, although some may overreact after a cold night and buy more clothes, I know that with the proper gear that I have, I am prepared for such AT temperatures and feel comfortable with my gear decisions.