Yesterday I finally hiked the trail everyone kept telling me to hike. For security purposes I shall refer to the mountain as Mountain X and the trail as the Zen Trail.
(Fair warning: I took 99 photos so the Gallery is long, as is this post.)
Depending on how you approach the trail it can take anywhere from 1.5 hours to upwards of 4 hours. Variables:
- Leisurely hike while taking photos
- Hardcore exercise like running or power hiking
- Alone or with a group
- How many side trails you wish to explore
- How many dead ends you run into
I used this hike as an opportunity to test out the Bushnell BackTrack handheld GPS. The device I purchased is the original version. If you poke around on their website they do offer improved models. Overall I give it 4 out of 5 stars and do recommend it.
- You can set three way-points
- GPS goes into power save mode after a few seconds
- Easy to use and it gives a directional bearing to your way-points
- Sometimes it takes several seconds for the device to pick up the satellite
Back to the Zen trail. The trail is a 4.5 mile loop that rises about 800 ft. over a canyon. Given the steep inclines I would call this trail moderate in difficulty. Once you factor in the dead ends, steep inclines, rough surfaces, and rising switchbacks you can start to understand why 4.5 miles takes about two hours to complete.
I saw probably 20 or so people on the main trail and maybe another dozen on various side trails. A few of these folks were the hardcore athletes who like to run the trail. Given that the surface is rough and that there are sheer drops, well, lets just say that I’ll stick to hiking!
So at about 2 hours into the hike I was high up and seeing no end. Given that I had other irons in the fire I faced a decision: Forge on and hope I do not run into too many dead ends or just turn around and backtrack.
That’s when I met “Vietnam Mike.”
Headed my way I see a fast-moving and smiling hippy — maybe 50-years-old. He’s wearing ratty jeans and backpack. So I decided to take a risk and ask the fellow how far to the end. “Oh you’re almost done — only an hour to go! If you want you can follow me out.”
Okay, I’ll bite.
Let’s just say that it was a very fast hour. Mike served in Vietnam, is in his mid-60′s, and can still hump like a 30-year-old. About 20 minutes into Mike’s “hour” and I was winded and barely keeping up. The above photo was fairly typical of the trek down: Me viewing the South end of Mike headed North.
On the way down Mike regaled me with lore:
- Has two degrees and worked all over the West.
- Retired near Mountain X and hikes it four times each week to stay fit
- Best time he ever did was 1.5 hours but his legs were sore for a week
- Says our country is going to hell in a hand basket
- Thinks Obama is a “fucker”
- Thinks the Republicans are “corrupt bastards”
- Told me that when he was in high school he and other kids used to have keggers and smoke pot on Mountain X. (When he told me this story he looked at me suspiciously and said: “You ain’t a cop are you?”)
- Thinks that all the “rich fuckers” are ruining the mountain
- Did one tour of duty in Vietnam during the end of the war
- “We’re all dying” but his weekly hikes helps to delay the process
- Told me that plenty of people hike Zen Trail in the winter (“Just get yourself some cold weather gear and you’ll be fine!”)
- Immediately noticed and approved of my re-purposed CLS bag
Given the speed of the hike down I was only able to snap maybe six photos.
I half considered asking Mike if I could take a front facing photo of him. However, that’s just weird and I did not want him going all Vietnam flashback on me!
The iPhone photo does not do the steep incline justice. Mike clipped down this trail like he was power walking at the mall. I slid several times and were it not for my hiking stick I would have fallen at least once.
So by the time I reached the end my legs were burning. I kid you not: Vietnam Mike kicked my ass and he barely broke a sweat. At first I thought he was purposely trying to bury the “city guy” but I honestly think the pace he kept is his normal clip. At the end of the trail we shook hands, I thanked him, and I then watched as Vietnam Mike drove away in his primer-coated truck.
The Zen Trail is now officially part of my weekly workout. I suspect that in the months and years to come I’ll hike other parts of the West, however, I am only 5 miles from the trail head and plan to make this part of my normal routine. Given how sore my legs and knees are today I can tell that a weekly hike on the trail will be great for martial arts conditioning!
My hiking kit is 99% complete. Sometime later this week expect a photo post and inventory. Before fall I also need to visit military surplus for some cold weather gear. Sorry folks but I can’t bring myself to dress up in the douchy Colorado hipster winter gear. The fact that I carry an iPhone with me is douchy enough!
Oh, and yes. I do plan to hike the Zen Trail in the winter. Vietnam Mike said that enough regular hikers keep the snow beat down that it’s usually not a problem. You just have to be careful around the draws where the snow can get more than 12′ deep.