Beyond Bananas – Colorado Trail – Avalanche Trailhead

18 July 2022

6 miles on foot – elevation gain >3000 ft – end elevation a bit under 12,000 ft

I’d like to say we dove straight in the deep end, but that would suggest that we went down. And we definitely didn’t go down. At least not at first.

The trail went up, not down. In fact, it was a whole lot of up. Like 3000 ft of climbing in 3 miles. And my dad and I had not done much hiking at elevation prior to the hike. It will end up being the hardest hike in elevation change we’ll do together in my time in Colorado – and it was our first hike!

We get to the trailhead up Cottonwood Canyon outside of Buena Vista early. I down a protein banana mix while my dad readies his gear. Then we head UP. The trail switchbacks up the side of a hill in scrub oak and low shrubby vegetation.

Starting up the switchbacks and gaining elevation quickly.

Then the trail continues up through pine forest with the steep bits interspersed with flatter sections that provide a bit of relief for legs and lungs. We meet 5 or 6 groups of Colorado Trail thru-hikers but only one day hiker. The Colorado Trail runs from Denver to Durango and is a super-popular long distance trail. My parents live pretty close to a whole bunch of different trailheads and have day-hiked lots of different segments over the years.

On the way up; that’s going to be really slippery coming back down.

My dad needs a few rest breaks in the top part of the trail, but I’m feeling really, really good. All of the work on my gut is paying off. I have so much energy now, and my hayfever and asthma are just non-existent. I can breathe better than I’ve ever breathed in my life. My nutritionist told me that as I healed my gut, I would notice that my hayfever and asthma would start to diminish. She said it would probably take 12 months though. I was a bit skeptical, but holy shit, she was right. And for this to occur only 6 months into treatment is just amazing. Who knew gut health was connected to… pretty much everything!

We finally reach the saddle. Mt Yale towers off to the left, and a small hump of rocks off to the right must be climbed. My parents did this trail back in 2011, but my dad has not made it back here since, as the trail has become too difficult for my mom on subsequent attempts. So we have to go up and get pics in the same spot as they did in 2011.

We have lunch at the saddle and the guys find a tree that’s on their scale.

The wildflowers are outstanding – a smear of colours across the slope. We don’t linger too long, though, as there are storms off to the northwest. We can hear the thunder.

Luckily that storm is not coming this way.
The guys practicing their Lewis and Clark pose looking way down to the Arkansas Valley down below. We are just a teeny bit below 12,000 ft here.

The good news is that I am feeling so good, I feel like I could scamper up part of the faint trail to Mt Yale (a fourteener, typically climbed from a trailhead in the next drainage). I am well on the road to recovery.

That’s Mt Yale in the background – it’s one of Colorado’s 54 peaks taller than 14,000 ft (fourteener). My energy is so good, I feel like I could make it partway up that today!
I think that’s Mt Princeton over there – another 14er in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Of course, we are doing this trail as an out-and-back, so now we have to go DOWN all that we came up. My dad’s legs need some breaks on the way down. His strength and balance are not what they once were.

The steep bits require a lot of careful placement of footing and is quite rocky in places. In one section along a gulch, the trail is just slippery gravel and a big drop-off to the right. There is nowhere to get any purchase, no rocks sticking up to break up what feels like walking on ball bearings. My dad is very cautious, and I can only hope he stays upright on those tired legs because I have no idea how I’m going to get him back up if he falls.

Heading back down.
Down, down, down.
That bit is super slippery and steeper than it looks. Don’t fall down, Dad!
Rainbow Lake down below in Cottonwood Canyon. We needed a knee/leg break here.

We eventually make it back down all the switchbacks. It’s been a great hike. Even my knees are happy to be done by the time we get to the flat bits of trail at the bottom. My poor Dad’s legs are really done and he has shaky leg as he crosses the final two creeks.

The guys still want a float though, so I stop and oblige while my dad keeps moving back to the truck. Once he stops, he’s not going to get going again.

It has been excellent to complete this hike. It’s right on the edge of my dad’s capacity, and this will be his last call for this hike in his lifetime. I’m glad we could do it together, even if we did choose the really hard one to start our 2 months of day hikes together!

Almost back to the trailhead. You can see why it’s called the Avalanche Trailhead! (I rode down that canyon in 2010 after riding up Cottonwood Pass -12,000+ ft – from Taylor Park in 2010).

4 thoughts on “Beyond Bananas – Colorado Trail – Avalanche Trailhead

  • This is from the Amazing Coincidence Department: You mentioned Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners in your post, which I read at approximately 8:00 a.m. On the local news at noon, there was a story of a Minnesotan who just officially set a new record for climbing all 54 of them in the shortest period of time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention at first so I didn’t catch what that time was. It’s an impressive feat, but I can’t imagine he enjoyed the beauty as much as you and your dad did on that single hike.

    • Haha! That is funny. The Amazing Coincidence Dept should give cash payouts when that happens. It’s interesting somebody can shave the time record now. Trails to 14ers are so popular, it seems like you’d lose a lot of time behind slower hikers and stepping off the trail to let someone by. Even back in 1995, I did an ‘unpopular’ 14er in a fairly remote part of CO and there were at least 4 other groups there, even though my group had seen no one on the trails we used for a base camp. There are over 300 13ers I think – I’d probably lean more towards those these days. A good 12,000 ft peak has pretty awesome views, too, and you can have a lot of those to yourself.

  • Great to hear that all your work to sort out your gut has paid off. Interesting that fixing that fixed your asthma too. Your nutritionist must be in high demand.

    • Hi Tony, The nutritionist is expensive but worth every bit – my health has improved leaps and bounds. She has clinical experience with numerous patients who see their hayfever reduce once the gut permeability is addressed. The science is expanding all the time, but the link between the gut-lung microbiomes is well-established and there have been quite a few studies already linking gut dysbiosis and respiratory illness, as well as many autoimmune diseases. This article is a good introduction but there is a lot out there.

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