Breckenridge to Aspen Hike Hiking & Backpacking

Reflecting on the Breck to Aspen Hike (Most difficult yet?)

In total, Carys and I hiked about 83 miles and 17,000′ of elevation gain on this trip (elevation loss was slightly greater as we realized that all of the bushwhacks we shuttled around were uphill…).  I’m including the day hikes we did at the beginning and end because I was carrying exactly the same weight on a day hike as on the hut-to-hut part of the trip.  Estimates are rough, especially for elevation gain, as it’s easy to tell net gain from a map but much harder to keep track of all the ups and downs over the course of the day.  The hike from Continental Divide cabin to Uncle Bud’s hut was only a net gain of 800′, but Tom’s GPS said we covered about 2,000′ over the course of the day!

I always put these trips in context of the Tour du Mont Blanc, where we covered about 75 miles and 28,000′ of climbing – turns out Colorado isn’t that hilly after all!

Skinner Pass

A monochromatic day at Skinner Pass

I realized a couple of things early on in this trip: firstly that it would have been a lot easier before Carys was walking.  (Although I subsequently corrected myself when I saw that the cabin floors – even when swept – were not the cleanest.  If she’s been crawling around on hands and knees the whole time and then putting stuff in her mouth, we might have been in trouble).  Secondly: the hike was not the hard part of this trip.

Overall, we were lucky to only get two sleepless nights; the first one the night before we started, due to teething, and the second on our third night out – due to a hard floor, I think.  If those two nights had come back to back, I would probably have bailed on the trip.  I did give Marian and Tom the option to bail on that fourth day (after the second sleepless night) but they were more of the mindset of ‘let’s just keep going and see how tonight is’.  I guess they must have actually gotten some sleep in their private room while I was pacing with Carys in my arms next door.  And the next night – and all the nights after it – were fine, so luckily night time sleep became a non-issue for the rest of the trip.  It was difficult for me to arrive at a hut tired and hungry and have to deal with her first before I could make time for myself.  I was lucky that I was able to nap when she napped in the afternoons, although I was usually ready for it before she was!  There was also one afternoon, at Jackal, where she refused to nap in the tent and I had to carry her around in the front pack for 45 minutes while she slept.  I was less than impressed as this was right after the second of our sleepless nights so I was pretty exhausted myself.

Carys has had a lot of ‘pack time’ in preparation for this trip, and she didn’t bat an eyelid at being in it for extended hours every day.  We would stop for a break if she got fussy and also after each morning nap so she could stretch her legs, although she was usually far more interested in playing with my poles than running around.  She was quite happy  signing to us when she heard birds or planes, singing to herself, chewing on my Camelbak bite valve, or just looking around.  She enjoyed exploring the huts each night, and the first thing I would do on arrival at a hut would be to check the shelves in the kitchen for cleaning chemicals that needed to be moved out of reach, and also for game pieces (jigsaw puzzles, etc.) in the living area.  Each hut always had a good variety of ‘toys’ – coffee maker parts, spatulas, paper towels, Jenga blocks, and the inevitable brooms.  Whenever she saw a broom she would stand stock still and point at it, saying her high-pitched “huh?” with increasing urgency until we ‘swept’ her feet with it.  We rarely had fires because it would have been too hard to block her access to them, but it wasn’t really cold enough to need one most nights anyway.


Exploring near Skinner Hut. The orange jacket draped over the back of the pack was to (try to) keep us from getting shot.

We carried far too much food; I had anticipated that M&T’s appetites would be much bigger than they are (they were amazed anew every day at how much I ate on the trip) so we had excess dinner every night, even accounting for Tom’s breakfast the next day (“Why eat oatmeal when you can have meat?”).  I think M&T appreciated the many  hours of preparation that had gone into a menu which featured a different meal and dessert every night, with variety within days (biscuit-topped dessert on rice entree days) and also between days (no two days in a row with rice entrees).  Carys usually kept me fully occupied in the evenings so I certainly appreciated Marian cooking for us every night, and I was glad I’d put comprehensive instructions in each meal bag so she could cook with minimal additional input from me.

I had also steamed, pureed, and dehydrated several of Carys’ favorite foods for rehydration and delivery in refillable puree pouches.  I tested them before I went and Carys ate the purees out of the pouches just fine, but on trail she repeatedly turned her nose up at them.  In fact, one of Marian’s favorite moments of the trip was my hooting with laughter at her attempted English accent when saying ‘banana’ – she thought maybe Carys didn’t understand what was in the pouch when it was said with an American accent.

We should have seen the raisins issue coming; it started out as a cute way to keep Carys entertained for the last half mile of each day, but it became such a big deal when she would demand them earlier and earlier in the day and ultimately wouldn’t hike 10 feet without one.  We cut her off cold-turkey while hiking (she’s still allowed to have them on breaks) and  she’s back to her usual methods of keeping herself amused.  Since we’ve been home she signs for them all the time; it’s often the first thing she signs when she wakes up from a nap.

Our gear performed admirably; we were adequately equipped for wet and cold, once we learned that Carys needed to be in four tops and three sets of pants if I was hiking in anything more than a t-shirt.  I’d had some trouble with the backpack sliding down on my hips during our trainig hikes, probably partly because there was so much weight in it.  I safety pinned some non-slip shelf liner to the inside of the hip belt – a trick I’d tried first on the Tour du Mont Blanc with a different pack – which worked nicely, and I didn’t feel the safety pins at all.  Carrying 40lbs for multiple days wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I’d thought – and it was actually less weight than I had carried in Ireland.  The tent was the perfect sleeping solution for Carys, and I think it made our lives much easier than if we’d tried to get her to sleep on a mattress, even a mattress on the floor.


Emerging from a nap in the tent

Overall we were very pleased with the outcome of the trip.  We had rain more days than not but each time we were able to adjust our plans so as to only rarely actually have to hike in it.  We saw everything we planned to see and everyone – including Carys – was in good spirits for the majority of the time.

I can’t really plan the next trip at the moment because I’ve no idea what Carys will be like by next summer.  If we can continue our most-days hikes over the winter then maybe she’ll still be happy to ride in the backpack, but I’m assuming a time will come when she’ll put her foot down and demand to walk.  (I’m just hoping she doesn’t put her foot down and refuse both the backpack and the walk.)  I’m tossing ideas around; one is the Engadine Valley in Switzerland, which would work well if she is still up for being carried as there are a lot of day hikes in the valley.  We could base ourselves out of a village and move on by train to the next village when we’re ready.  The other is Cinque Terre, which we would do at a one-village-per-day pace.  As the total distance between the five villages is only 14km it’s actually conceivable that Carys could hike the majority of this one herself if she’s strong walker by then.  This trip has lots of options as well as there is a station in every village and also higher level routes that bypass some of the cliff-hugging sections if she’s up for being carried.  If you have any other ideas for destinations, let me know…

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Throwback Thursday
Last Days on the Breck to Aspen trip: Hike Days 10 & 11; Margy's Hut, Aspen, and Travel Home

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