The Colorado Trail (CT) runs 500 miles from Denver to Durango. It travels through some of the most spectacular country in Colorado, through 6 wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges. The CT was first conceived in 1974, but was not completed until the late 1980's.
Summary of supported FKT progression for the full Colorado Trail:
||Dale Garland, Dave LaFranboise, John McAward, John Wolgamott
||about 17d (W-E, Collegiate East)
||11d16h13m (E-W, Collegiate East)
||9d10h52m (E-W, Collegiate East)
||9d10h19m (E-W, Collegiate East)
||8d13h28m (E-W, Collegiate East)
||8d12h14m5s (W-E, Collegiate East)
||8d7h40m (W-E, Collegiate East)
||8d0h30m (W-E, Collegiate West)
Summary of unsupported FKT progression for the full Colorado Trail:
||Demetri "Coup" Coupounas
The first speed record on the Colorado Trail happened in 1988, almost immediately after the trail was completed -- so soon that the route was hard to follow in many spots. Dale Garland, Dave LaFranboise, John McAward and John Wolgamott ran from Durango to Denver in about 17 days.
Buzz Burrell & Peter Bakwin hit the CT back in 1999. They started the eastern end (Waterton Canyon) because it meant they could sleep at home in Boulder the night before the start, and because most backpackers go east to west. Bakwin got injured after 7 days and had to stop. Burrell went on to lower the record to 11d16h13m.
In 2003, Betsy Kalmeyer smashed Burrell's record, running 9d10h52m. Betsy's time was beaten just 3 days later and by only a few minutes by Hal Koerner, 9d10h19m (shows the advantage of knowing the existing record!) Both Kalmeyer and Koerner ran east to west.
Jonathan Basham ran 8d13h28m (east to west) in July 14-22, 2006, supported by AT-record-holder Andrew Thompson. Basham's daily splits are here.
The La Sportiva Adventure Running blog has some great information about Paul Pomeroy's CT record, which I'll quote extensively here:
"Paul Pomeroy of Lyons, Colorado just broke Jonathan Basham’s Colorado Trail Record. Paul went 'under the radar' by choice; almost no one knew he was even on the Trail. 'I did it entirely for personal reasons', he notes. 'I didn’t want to talk it up. I wanted to do it'. Paul is well-known in local running circles as an outstanding athlete, with a great wit and sense of honor. Fortunately he is also gracious and articulate, and generously shared a few words with me about his recent trip:
It was definitely arduous. That’s an understatement. It just about finished me off. Let me just say I’m not looking to repeat this anytime soon. Getting toward Denver the heat became a problem. My feet were swollen and my shin hurt, but decided to go for broke and pay the price after. I taped it up, took some Advil, and did 74 miles the last day. I left at 1 AM and reached Waterton (the northern terminous) at 12:15 AM the next night. That was on about 1 hour of sleep to begin with. I basically made a last desperate burst to Waterton, looking at my watch the whole way.
Paul clocked 8 days, 12 hrs, 14 mins, 5 seconds, bettering the previous mark by about one and a quarter hours. The record is tight! Paul shared more interesting thoughts:
I could only move so fast. So its how long can you keep moving? It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. A sleep deprivation thing. Sometimes I couldn’t walk a straight line, sometimes my eyes couldn’t focus. 18-20 hours a day ... it’s hard to believe a person can keep it going ... not real high on the fun factor, that’s for sure. My crew was great; obviously it was a team effort. It was my wife Suzanne, my mother, and my son Ethan was along too. We only had a couple of missteps; cost maybe 2 hours total. We had a pop-up camper which was essential.
Towards the end of his CT run, in a very unusual twist, Paul met Sam Thompson running the other direction with the same intention:
I was surprised to meet Sam on the Trail, going the other way. There’s only a one month period when you can do these things, so I thought I’d do it now and maybe have the Record for one year. While I’m not exactly going to root for him to break my record, I’m not against him either ... he’s a nice guy, and I set out to do a certain thing, and I did it, so I’m happy. Someone will always be faster … I thought it was possible to do this in 8 days flat, and I couldn’t do that ... someone else probably can, if they can run more. When Jonathan did it he was 29; that’s a good age ... I’m 47, and I don’t know if I have another one of these left in me. I emailed him my time, so he would know. That’s only fair; I knew Basham’s time, and went for it, so he should know mine."
Sam Thompson's trip began July 25, 2008, at Waterton Canyon, and was recorded daily in a blog. The blog reports the decision to quit as follows:
It was a heartbreaking decision, but Sam and Kirsten very wisely decided to pull out with 70 miles to go. Essentially, logistics and the inaccessibility of the trail is what mattered in the end, not Sam's ability to keep going. Here's what happened: Earlier in day 8, Kirsten and one of the photographers tried to forge a creek, but the engine flooded, rendering the Jeep inoperable (it had to be towed away). Because the crew couldn't reach Sam's checkpoint, he kept going while drinking water from the creek / river and eating the food he had left. Meanwhile, Kirsten and the photographer hitchhiked into Silverton, met up with Kirsten's parents, and somehow made it to the next checkpoint. When Sam arrived at the checkpoint, a decision had to be made. The crew couldn't find a local marathoner on such short notice to accompany Sam on the nighttime leg of day 8 (there are actually quite a few ultramarathoners in Silverton), so the two options were:
a) For Sam to tackle the trail at night by himself
b) To call it.
Although nobody doubted that Sam could physically keep going until the end, safety had to be the biggest concern. Badly fatigued (yet still determined, persistent, and able), Sam would have taken a huge risk to keep going without some assurance that the crew could make it to the next checkpoint. Further, without a running partner to help Sam navigate, staying on the trail in complete darkness would have been just too much of a risk to take.
David Horton also made a failed attempt to break Paul Pomeroy's supported record for the Colorado Trail, starting on July 4, 2009, at Waterton Canyon. Horton was supported by former CT record holder, Jonathan Basham. As indicated on this website, Horton had metabolic problems and had to stop after completing 330 miles in 6 days. Here are some exerpts from Horton's report on the blog of his trip:
Going after the CT record might have been my most difficult multi-day attempt so far. The CT record is very TOUGH. The trail itself was tougher than I thought it would be. I averaged 40 miles per day on the PCT and AT and 45 miles per day running across America. Averaging over 54 miles per day on the CT was VERY tough. I started every day before daylight, usually around 4:00 AM and finished every day after dark. My average time on the trail was around 17 hours per day. This left very little time for anything. I was usually in bed 30 to 45 minutes after finishing each day. Each day, the last section ATE my lunch. It took everything that I had to finish each day. I never knew at night if I would be able to go again the next day... Could I have run the next day? Yes. Could I have caused myself or others some serious problems? Yes... I hope that God blesses all of you as he has blessed me. Seek your dreams and goals. -- David Horton
Scott Jamie did the CT fully supported in 11d12h46m, September 2-13, 2009. This is a fast time, but still 3 days over the record.
Matt Hart went after the CT record (supported) in July 2010, but only managed 9d7h48m. This is still the 3rd fastest time, and it speaks to the difficulty of the current record. Matt's blog is here.
After 3 days I had run 180.6 miles to the dam road by Twin Lakes. I was now 10 miles ahead of the record pace. But I paid for it the following day where I only logged 38 miles and couldn't stay awake. And so it goes, I made a lot of mistakes, didn't plan well enough for some sections, was stranded a few times and hypothermic once. None of that matters or tarnishes the experience because that is the experience. All of these things are expected when the goal is something this huge. -- Matt Hart
Scott Jamie returned to the CT and broke the supported record, running west to east in 8d7h40, August 16-24, 2013. More info and photos on irunfar.com.
Jamie's supported FKT was broken by Bryan Williams, who ran the CT in 8d0h30m, August 26 - September 3, 2017. Williams went west to east and took the Collegiate West option, which appears to be a little (83 vs. 78 miles) longer than the standard Collegiate East route, with a more vertical and overall higher elevation. He started with Eric Truhe, who suffered a stress fracture after 3.5 days (200 miles) and had to stop. Williams' tracker data was archived by trackleaders.com.
While supported and unsupported records on the CT have been contested for years, only recently has a fast self-supported trip been reported. Brandon Stapanowich hiked the CT in 9d14h28m, July 6-15, 2016, using standard thru-hiker style, including 3 resupplies en route (as indicated below). Stapanowich hiked west to east, and took the somewhat harder Collegiate West option (longer, more vertical gain, higher elevation). More info is below.
The CT has also seen a few truly unsupported trips. Unsupported means you carry all your food from the start, basically getting nothing but water en route. The CT was first done this way in 2004 by Demetri (Coup) Coupounas, the founder of GoLite, in about 20 days. Coup carried a big pack full of food, but also lost 25 lbs body weight on the hike. Coup also did the JMT and the LT unsupported that year, completing the "Triple Gem" of backpacking. In another of his classic trips, Paul Pomeroy attacked the CT unsupported in 2006 -- with a vow of silence for the entire trip. Paul finished in 14d9h30m, dropping 16 lbs of body weight that he could ill-afford to lose. In August 2012, Shawn Forry crushed Pomeroy's unsupported time by hiking the trail (east to west) in a remarkable 10d19h5m. Forry carried a SPOT Tracker, and his track is archived on trackleaders.com. A very detailed report with daily splits is on Forry's blog. He reports doing a few things that could be considered (small) violations of unsupported and FKT efforts, including: taking food/calories from happenstance sources ("Trail Magic") on 4 occasions, totalling 3 sodas and some fruit slices; buying a repair kit for his sleeping pad; disposing of trash and un-needed food along the way; and walking off-route (but not fewer miles) on 4 occasions to obtain water. John Zahorian reports hiking the CT unsupported in a very fast 9d12h32m, July 11-20, 2016. While it took Zahorian 6 months to complete a trip report (his video, while long, is really worth watching!), we see no reason to dispute his claim of a new unsupported FKT. Bronson Hargreaves reports a remarkable unsupported time for the CT of 8d18h7m, August 14-23, 2016, less than 18 hours slower than the fully supported record! However, we look forward to seeing additional information and verification data Hargreaves' trip before acknowledging a new unsupported FKT (see discussion on our old website). Hargreaves made a second attempt in 2017, but stopped after 109 miles, a few hours behind FKT pace.
In an interesting innovation, a group of 5 men ran the CT relay style in 3d15h54m, Sept. 7-10, 2017, as reported by the Durango Herald. The runners were Brett Sublett, Kyle Curtin, Tate Lagasca, Holden Rennaker and Shaun Burke. Such relays have not been common for trail FKT attempts, but could add an interesting new element if standards can be created.
The CT also hosts an informal mountain bike race. Mountain bikers must deviate from the hiker route in several places to avoid wilderness areas. The guiding principles of the race are simply stated as follows: Solo, self-supported. This is a very pure style of racing with a strict code of ethics. The guiding principles are 'Do it yourself.' and 'Equal opportunity.' In 2007 Jefe Branham set the fastest time at 5d5h30m (followed just 20 minutes later by Stefan Griebel). In the 2008 race Ethan Passant lowered the mark to 5d2h26m. But, a week later Owen Murphy did the route as an "individual time trial" in a stunning time of 4d8h45m. Murphy's report includes the following lines that I think will resonnate with many who engage in these types of individual adventures:
I can only shake my head in disbelief at the good fortune I encountered along the Colorado Trail: perfect weather, interesting people, no major mechanicals, and no major physical or mental meltdowns. I cashed in some serious good karma along the way and I am very grateful to everybody who loaned me some of theirs (I’ll pay you back)! The stars may never align like that again, but I’m already hoping they do next summer.
Stefan Griebel combined biking and hiking, to cover the entire official CT in 7d20h from July 28 to August 5, 2006. His report is here.