• Alyssa Clark

A Quick & Dirty Overview of the Colorado Trail with Dave Braunlich

Updated: Aug 18

A Quick & Dirty Overview of the Colorado Trail with Dave Braunlich

In the trail running community, Courtney Dauwalter holds a legendary status across genders and distances. From taking the women’s win at UTMB to the overall title at Moab 240, her racing resume speaks for itself. But, in a year with no races, professional athletes have been asked to look outside the race courses and find some homemade adventures. Courtney has done just that, stepping up to take on the challenge of setting an overall Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the 486 mile Colorado Trail.

Most hikers and runners travel South bound, beginning in Denver and ending in Durango. Courtney has opted to take a North bound route, tackling the more challenging terrain at the beginning. She will begin at a higher altitude, but as she heads north, the trail will drop down to lower altitudes and easier terrain. With 89,354ft of climbing, according to the Colorado Trail Guidebook, and elevations peaking at over 13,000ft, Courtney has taken on a stout challenge. While she is on course, we had the chance to take an insider look at the Colorado Trail, by speaking with David Braunlich, who has twice completed CT and is an experienced thru-hiker and ultra runner.

**Since this article was written, Courtney sadly had to retire from her attempt due to acute bronchitis and low oxygen saturation levels. She made 310 miles maintaining a record breaking pace the entire way. We wish Courtney the best and hope for a speedy recovery.**

Can you give us a bit of a view of what Courtney is seeing on the trail?

DAVE: She will see the full beauty of Colorado in high summer: jagged mountain peaks, endless fields of wildflowers, alpine lakes, crystal clear streams just to name a few. It's likely she will see moose and large herds of elk. One of my favorite sights is seeing the trail stretching far into the distance when above the treeline. She'll also have to contend with some of the less desirable stretches of trail. There is hot, exposed cattle country, dusty forest roads, burned areas, and mosquitoes.

What are the most challenging parts of the trail?

The trail itself is pretty well graded. The western long trails like the Pacific Crest and Colorado Trail, are graded for equestrians so nothing is too steep or too technical. The San Juan mountain range, which will be at the beginning of the hike, is a challenging section. She will also hit a section above 12,000ft after the climb out of the Animas River and it runs 30 miles to Spring Creek Pass (the road into Lake City) without access to crew. When the trail goes up high, it's easy for bad weather to come in, especially in the San Juans. After Silverton, it drops down to 9,000ft at the Animas river which then leads to a very long climb over 12,000ft and joins the Continental Divide Trail. After that climb, you’re above tree line for 30 miles, with changing weather conditions and wild herds of elk and alpine lakes. The way Courtney is going starts around 7,000ft of elevation, climbs to over 13,000ft, and then drops to 9,000ft of elevation after the San Juans. The total average elevation for the trail is 10,300ft. There isn’t too much concern for wild animals or lack of water. Most of the challenge is weather and making sure to have the proper gear. It can get very cold and rainy quickly which can lead to hypothermia.

What would change running vs hiking?

I would imagine Courtney will be power hiking climbs and running the downhills if she has legs. The second part of the trail is pretty cruisy and well defined so she should be able to run a lot of it.

Courtney is fully supported, what do you see as the pros/cons of being crewed?

FKTs on longer trails are often set self-supported or unsupported. Just recently, the Long Trail record was set by Stringbean (Joe McConaughy) and he was unsupported. There are advantages in not relying on crew stops and taking the time to stop and sleep in a van. Supported, you have to stop with road crossings and take the time with the crew.

With a crew though, they can make food, quickly replenish supplies, massage sore muscles, they allow her to carry a much lighter pack. She also has pacers and people looking after her throughout the run.

Along that note, are there many places to support?

It depends on where you are, San Juan will be the toughest to crew. There are few roads in that area, and it is very hard to get around. The spots are 20-30 miles apart from possible crew ability. The Silverton and Lake City area are the only paved roads. The first is Highway 550 at mile 73.9 in Silverton. The second is Highway 149 at mile 127.2 in Lake City. Then there is the Eddiesville TH, at mie 154.7, which marks the end of the San Juans for North Bound runners.

What tips do you have for future hikers or runners of the CT?

The most important tip is to get your weight down as much as possible. Make sure to have gear that you know and like. Dialing in your gear is very important before starting out on the hike. My strategy for food was to eat when I was hungry and I carried pretty standard hiker food.

To check out Dave’s gear videos on what to bring for the CT, click on the link below:


You can also check out more of Dave’s videos here:


And his instagram here to see pics of his journeys:


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