On August 28, 2020 at 6:25 am, Jeff ‘Legend’ Garmire started his unsupported record attempt on the 485-mile Colorado Trail at the Durango trailhead. On Sunday, September 6 at 2:43 pm, he arrived at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead outside Denver to complete his journey of 9 days, 8 hours, and 18 minutes. With this time, Jeff broke the previous unsupported Colorado Trail FKT of 9 days, 12 hours, and 32 minutes, set by John Zahorian in 2016.
Jeff hiked an average of more than 51 miles per day, with over 80,000 feet of elevation gain. For reference, most people take more than a full month to hike the Colorado Trail, averaging 11 to 15 miles per day, and resupplying at least every five to seven days. As this was an unsupported record, Jeff had no resupply, which meant carrying all of the food and supplies he’d need for a near 500-mile push.
The Colorado Trail is epic from start to finish. The trail touches eight different mountain ranges, and has an average elevation of over 10,000 feet. The terrain varies wildly from epic, open summits to miles of sagebrush to high alpine terrain and high desert ecosystems.
With all of these points of interest, the trail is extremely challenging. The lowest points still hover around 5,000 feet, and much of the trail is in the high alpine zone, including climbs that stretch for miles and reach over 12,000 feet. The highest point of the trail is 13,271 feet. It’s difficult to even breathe at that altitude — forget carrying a massive pack and hiking more than 50 miles per day.
Jeff hiked northbound with the idea that he would get the challenging San Juan section out of the way while he was still fresh. This meant he had to complete the hardest 100 miles of trail when his pack was the heaviest, including a climb from Durango to Kennebec Pass that stretched over 20 miles.
Tackling the harder terrain immediately has pros and cons. For this unsupported attempt, Jeff started with more energy for the hardest terrain, but was carrying 18 pounds of food in an absurdly heavy pack.
For this record, Jeff carried just over two pounds of food per day, and shorted himself a half day’s worth of food to save weight, along with the thought that maybe he could finish in under nine days. In the end though, he had to hike for over 24 hours with no food.
Each section presented unique challenges and terrain. Right out of Durango, the San Juans added difficulty to their extended climbs and exposed terrain with uncharacteristic weather. Pouring rain at 7,000 feet meant freezing rain and blowing winds at 12,000 feet — with no protection. Jeff was carrying nothing more than an ultralight rain jacket and a lightweight synthetic jacket, and ended up putting plastic bags over his hands to try and retain some warmth. Multiple mornings he got snowed on, and woke up with ice on his quilt.
“Cow Country” was 100 miles through sage and ranchland with some lower elevation sections but not without grueling climbs. Jeff was so wrecked from the San Juans with a 32-pound pack that he had trouble making bigger miles through this section, where he was hoping to make up time and pull ahead of the previous FKT.
The Collegiate East section (chosen over Collegiate West for the shorter distance, as well as being the same route as the 2016 record) still had a grueling amount of climbs and descents, along with less engaging terrain.
This was also the point where Jeff was hiking longer hours each day. He started the trail sleeping about four hours a night, and for the final few hundred miles was down to two or three one-hour sleep stints. With the cumulative miles comes a slower pace, while still needing to keep up a certain number of miles per day. Sleep becomes almost an unaffordable luxury.
From Collegiate East he crossed into the ski areas. The towns below got bigger and the road crossings more frequent.
The final section into Waterton Canyon was the proving ground, where he had a few hard nights with his knees locking up and frequent hallucinations. He had to pull out all the stops, ignoring his body’s agonizing cues for rest.
Jeff rallied for the final day, hiking into Waterton Canyon in 100-degree midafternoon heat to a feast of beer, burritos, Gatorade, and fried chicken, breaking the record by just over four hours.
When he’s not hiking, Jeff is currently based in Montana. He is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Garage Grown Gear. You can follow his adventures on Instagram.