by Wendy Turrell
Friends and Revere High School ’16 alums Ben Berry and Mark Oleson shared an adventure of a lifetime last summer when they hiked 500 miles of the Colorado Trail. They began at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead near Denver on Aug. 13, 2022, and completed their hike on Sept. 9, when they arrived at the Southern Terminus, according to Oleson.
Prior to the adventure, the longest hike either man had completed was a four-day hike near Lake Superior.
Berry chose the Colorado Trail route and set the compact timeframe. He had often heard the Colorado Trail was the most beautiful in the U.S. “I believe it after seeing it,” he said, adding, “It also was a proper length for me to complete with all my vacation days from work lumped together.” Berry is an engineer with Johnson & Johnson Company in Cleveland. Oleson recently started a new position as a data management specialist with the Center for Human Resource Research at The Ohio State University.
Oleson and Berry flew from Cleveland to Denver, where one of Berry’s friends picked them up at a train station and drove them to the beginning of the trailhead.
The Colorado Trail covers 567 miles altogether, but Berry explained the trail splits in the middle, and they had to choose one of two routes. He said the elevation on the trail varied widely, depending on the segment they were covering, and the total trail elevation gain during their trek was 89,000 feet. “Divided by 27 days is averaging 3,300 feet elevation gain a day,” he said. The two covered about 20 miles a day, more toward the end of the trip.
Most nights they slept in a tent on the trail. In addition to the usual hiking and camping paraphernalia, they needed to take lightweight water filters and rain gear, and they purchased new hiking boots and down sleeping bags for the trip. Oleson carried a “base weight” pack weighing approximately 17 pounds, while Berry’s base weight pack was around 23 pounds. In addition to their base weights, Berry said they also carried about two pounds of water and eight to twelve pounds of food, depending on how long they had to go before their next food resupply.
They resupplied food and water every three to seven days. Oleson said they would hike or hitch a ride from the trail to a town they were passing. “Riding in the beds of pickup trucks into and out of towns was unique, watching the woods fly by after walking for so long is a special feeling,” Oleson said.
They were able to sleep in hostels only twice – when they went through the towns of Breckenridge and Lake City. “Other times, we just resupplied at a grocery store, then returned to the trail,” Oleson said.
Berry added, “Hostels were especially nice for the showers.”
The hardest part of the trek for Oleson was getting his “hikers legs” in the first few days. He also mentioned sudden, frequent rainstorms that would blow in and drench the hikers, only to disappear suddenly within about twenty minutes, as another hazard of the trail. Eating enough calories to maintain their health and pace was also a constant concern.
Berry said, “The toughest part for me was nagging physical injuries that come from working a sedentary job and then jumping in full speed to walking 20 miles a day.”
Oleson also experienced the physical toll of such a long hike, completed in such a short time. “We definitely pushed through some bad days and pain, with lingering aches sticking around even after we finished. However, after the first eight or so days, it was a lot easier to hike the necessary twenty plus miles a day,” he concluded.
Neither of them saw any bears or mountain lions along the way. They did see lots of marmots and deer, according to Oleson.
“I was never worried about bears or mountain lions,” Berry said. “Interactions with humans are extremely rare, especially with precautions taken with proper food storage.”
The most uncomfortable experience for the two hikers occurred when they missed a regular food resupply at the town of Leadville. Oleson said the jeep trail into town showed no signs of use, so they had to hike another 15 miles to the town of Twin Lakes Village. “We had under-packed food for that segment … and had to go another night and day on top of that,” Oleson said. There was another through-hiker who gave us one of his last packs of tuna to put in our Ramen. He was very kind.”
Berry agreed, saying, “My most memorable experience was running out of food and hiking 26 miles one day on three spoonful’s of peanut butter and a small tuna pack.” He joked, “The only other hardship for me was my pack making a squeaking noise every other step, and Mark making squeaking noises when my pack wasn’t.”
Although less than a month seems a daunting pace to cover 500 miles at steep elevations, Oleson said they didn’t come close to setting a record. He said others had done it “in ridiculous times by sleeping three hours a night or not carrying extra food”.
The terrain was so majestic along the way, and the pace so unrelenting, Oleson could not name any particular area as outstanding, but both said the Colorado Trail lived up to its reputation for awe-inspiring beauty.
Oleson said he would like to some day hike The Long Trail in Vermont, which runs 273 miles through the length of the state and is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States, having been constructed by The Green Mountain Club from 1910-1930.
Berry remarked about possible hikes, “I have no plans at the moment, but wouldn’t be surprised if I undertake another long trail, since it was so enjoyable.” ∞
Featured Photo: Mark Oleson (l) and Ben Berry pose at the beginning of their journey along the Colorado Trail. Photo by Connor Lynch.