I look forward to this time every year, and now that I’ve spent the last 5 years taking this trip, it has become a part of my calendar each year that I focus on from the day I return until the day I leave. This trip is more than just a vacation from work. It is cherished time with family, it is a personal challenge, it’s a physical accomplishment, and it’s motivation every day to work towards being better, stronger and more focused on what matters in life.
To recap what this hike is, I did not come up with this or start this, my older brother and sister started this adventure before I was able to join in. Some things changed in my life making it so I was able to participate, and I began that journey in 2017. Because I didn’t start when they did, I had to play catch-up each year, and make up the missed segments at the beginning, but I finished catching up in 2020 and am now on the same schedule with everyone. This annual hike is for us to complete The Colorado Trail, which runs approximately 485 miles from Denver to Durango, Colorado. And we are tackling all of this on foot, with everything we need on our backs. This hike through the Rocky Mountains may be on a set path, but it definitely isn’t an afternoon hike through the woods. It covers all sorts of terrain from flat dirt paths through the trees, to loose and rocky climbs up and over ridges at high elevations. There have been days and nights were we are well above 10,000 feet in elevation and have climbed up and hiked a number of times at 12,000 feet, with some higher elevations coming over the next few years. This trail has some easy sections that most people could do. But it also has some very difficult sections that test your physical fitness, your lung capacity and even your mental strength to get through them. As a group, we have fought through illness, injury, mental weakness and pain of all sorts to get as far as we have so far. And we can proudly say that after our most recent trip we have completed over half of the trail! It hasn’t been easy, and it will only get harder from here on out. Between the lengthy drives and shuttling cars back and forth just to get to the start and finish of the sections and the upcoming higher elevations that we’ll be climbing and sleeping at. Every year is a test of our personal strength and determination, that we have passed one way or another, and thankfully with no accidents or injuries that can’t be healed.
I personally have used this hike as a reason to get myself back into good physical shape. Prior to joining this adventure with my siblings I was exercising sporadically and had no specific goals for focusing on my health. But around the time I began this hike we also had our son Riley. Realizing I needed to have the strength, speed and endurance to keep up with my kids as they grow and play, and also having this hike to train for, I began focusing on my health. This helped me get back to regular workouts 5 days a week, and truly focusing on making myself stronger and faster, which has in-turn made me much healthier as well. I have a ways to go before I have to worry about my kids actually out-running me, so for now, my motivation when I go for a long run I remind myself that if I push hard now it will make those climbs high up in the mountains a little less painful.
The photographs you’ll see here are just a small sampling of what I took on this hike, but I feel they are some of the more beautiful views or shots that show what it’s really like being on this trail for 4-5 days. Although some of these shots may look great, I can promise you they don’t do the real thing justice at all. I struggle capturing some of these shots because I know as soon as I take them that they won’t look as good as the real thing. So if you like what you see, I encourage you to find a way to see some of these sights with your own eyes, you won’t be disappointed. I try to include a little bit of everything from our trip, not just the grand views of the mountains. But it does change every year, and really even changes every hour. Some days we spend hours hiking through areas covered in trees that look identical to the day before or hours before. But some days, we step into some amazing areas that are very unique and beautiful beyond what a picture can possibly show.
Don’t take these pictures for granted, a lot of work and effort goes into capturing any of these pictures. When you spend time backpacking at any elevation, your focus is to reduce the weight you carry to conserve your energy and strength. We spend money on some of the craziest things to help us get our weights lower and lower for that reason. So my personal decision to bring a full-frame camera with me on every step of this hike, is a pretty big decision. My backpack automatically weighs 6-7 pounds more than everyone else with the addition of my camera and case. 6-7 pounds doesn’t sound like much. But add that weight to approximately 32 pounds of gear that you’re already carrying on your back for 4-5 days and all of a sudden a 20% increase is something you really have to be committed to. The unfortunate thing about being a photographer, I can’t settle for less than the best quality of such beautiful sights. Sure I could take a lesser camera that shaves a pound, or I could use a GoPro instead of an SLR altogether. But then I would regret missing those great shots with the best possible camera I can bring. A couple things have changed over the years, especially after the first year. But since then it has been pretty consistent and simple. I carry a Nikon D850 SLR camera with 1 extra battery, which allows me to run the GPS tagging through my phone the entire time, and I leave a 50mm fixed focal length lens attached the entire time. That first year I brought 2 lenses, which added about 5 more pounds! So I quickly realized I couldn’t do that and I needed to simplify. Although I can’t get any zoomed in shots from far away, I learned early on that those opportunities don’t happen very often if at all anyways. So a 50mm lens is close enough to get good shots of our group, but wide enough that I can create panoramic shots of the more grand views of the mountains. And those panoramic shots aren’t using a tripod… I actually take multiple shots and stitch them together on my computer once I get back home! Part of that 5-6 pound weight is the camera bag I use. It’s a necessity for having a camera with me. When you backpack long distances it is a lot of effort and eats up a lot of time to remove your pack and take breaks, which means if I stored my camera in my pack I would rarely be able to stop and take pictures. So I researched and found a suitable option that I mount to my chest straps, where I can very easily grab my camera at any time while hiking and snap pics, and quickly return it to the case without even having to slow down. My camera bag also offers rain/snow protection so when the weather turns wet I can keep everything covered and protected from the elements. The last addition which I added this year is a miniature tripod. I have struggled every year to get good shots when we get to waterfalls or water crossings, where I want to take long-exposure shots. It was always a struggle to balance my camera on something or support it so that I could take 5-10 second long exposure shots. So an extra half pound of weight to have a solid tripod to set my camera on for these types of shots, and group shots, is well worth the addition. I’m sure I’ll make some more changes along the way, or have new cameras over the years as we complete this trail, but I’ve found a pretty good balance of quality to weight which allows me to capture some great shots and not be too heavy to manage. Some of these shots get printed larger than poster-sizes, you can’t get that from a cell phone picture, so it’s worth it to carry the extra weight!
This following are just a sampling of some of the great images I can capture along this hike. Again, nothing compares to the real thing, but I at least try to get some shots that reflect the experience as a whole.