The Route: Colorado Crest

As I mentioned, you will not find the “Colorado Crest” on any list of trails; in a way, it is my own creation.

https://caltopo.com/m/2Q09

As an engineer, I am a bit of a “data geek”: I love numbers, information, and analyzing statistics.

Early on in the planning process, I was researching areas of particular interest in the mountain West region. I used Andrew Skurka (a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year) as a resource, coming up with a few of his signature routes as a baseline:

Initially, I thought about doing each route as a separate experience, trying to “bag” each of them across the course of the summer. I came across a few issues with this idea, however:

(1) The routes are not geographically near one, another, which would require plane flights, an added expense.

(2) There would be logistical challenges with the start/stop of each route, i.e. transport to and from airport, resupplies, etc.

(3) The timing for each route varied: the stout snowpack in Wyoming and California would meant that I would have to wait until July or August to attempt the Sierra High or Wind River High routes, whereas the poorer snowpack in Colorado would allow me to attempt the Pfiffner in late June / early July.

Additionally, at the time I already had commitments for July through August to the beginning of my school year, so I was really looking at a late-May start through early July finish. Enter the “Colorado Crest.”

At the recommendation of Andrew Skurka, I began to research the Nolan’s 14 route. Known as a grueling ultramarathon route, tried by few and actually completed by even fewer, the Nolan’s 14 route bags 14 of the 15 Colorado “14ers” in the Wasatch Range. With mountaineering aspirations, in addition to my interests in backpacking, this “peakbagging” peaked my interest, and I decided to run with the idea. But I was still interested in the airy, alpine Pfiffner Traverse through the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park further north. Was there a way to connect Nolan’s 14 and the Pfiffner Traverse, I wondered. . .

Nolans and Pfiffner
Overview of Nolan’s 14 (shown in blue) and the Pfiffner Traverse (shown in red). Notice the large gap between them. . .

Enter the Continental Divide Trail. The longest of the “Trip Crown” trails in the United States, the Continental Divide Trail runs from Mexico to Canada through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. It is normally done as the final thru-hike of “Triple Crown” hikers, as it is often considered the “most difficult.”

continental divide image

Through research I noticed that the Nolan’s 14 route and the Pfiffner Traverse route matched up beautifully with a section of the Continental Divide Trail. . .

linked-up.png
Now isn’t that convenient. . . the Continental Divide Trail, shown in black, the Nolan’s 14 route, shown in blue, and the Pfiffner Traverse, shown in red. A beautiful match.

And thus, the “Colorado Crest” was born. I decided to add on the southern section of the CDT as well, as it passed through the San Juan mountains in the south of Colorado, as well as the Weminuche Wilderness, two remote and beautiful sections of the CDT.

PLEASE NOTE: Normally in late May and early June, the southern section of the CDT through the San Juans and the Weminuche is BURIED in deep snowpack. There is a reason that the CDT has never been thru-hiked in the winter. Normally, to traverse this southern section in May you would need skis or snowshoes, and you would be exposing yourself to significant avalanche risks.

When I attempted the route, however, there had been a pitiful snow year, which meant that, for the most part, the snowpack throughout Colorado had melted out.

Overall, you can count on the “Colorado Crest” to be your outdoor stair climber. Here are some screen grabs of elevation profiles for the different sections:

CDT 1
Elevation profile for the CDT section from Cumbres Pass to the start of Nolan’s 14, shown as the southernmost black section on the maps above.
Nolan's 14 profile
Elevation profile for Nolan’s 14, shown in blue. Notice the ups and downs of each of the 14ers.
Pfiffner Profile
Elevation profile for the Pfiffner Traverse, shown in red on the map.