Camaraderie built high in the mountains

From left, Amy Harmsen, Qualene Coddington, Laura Bashor Ickes, Donna Marie Schutzius, Colleen Burke, Tammy Kulpa. Dana Hustad-Gleason, Lori Lambeth, Krista Bush. Photo by Lori Lambeth

This is a Western Colorado event that wouldn’t surprise anyone who lived here: nine women, ages 26 to 62, and four dogs gathering in mid-July for a 35 mile hike on the Colorado Trail, a 500 mile single track that goes from Denver to Durango.

Her third hike on the trail, Montrose native Colleen Burke organized the details. “We just chose two sections near where we were camping for the 4th of July.” A segment is anywhere from 15 and 40 miles long. In many places it connects with the Continental Divide.

“We did the first two segments from Spring Creek Pass to Maggie’s Gulch, which is just above Silverton,” she said. “We went from Molas Lake to Purgatory”.

This is where the trip veers away from the image of Reese Witherspoon hiking alone, in the movie “Wild.” The group left Wednesday and came back on Sunday. They left the trail Thursday and Billy Aller, Wil Harmsen and Rusty Ickes, came up Bolan Pass in their 4-wheel drives, met the group and made them steak fajitas and margaritas. Then they took their backpacks from them and gave them their daypacks which we had prepacked. “We hiked the last day with the day packs”, Burke reported.

“It’s gnarly,” said Burke, “it’s very hard. Our packs weigh anywhere from 35 to 45 pounds. We did 35 miles this year, but the last 11 were with daypacks. But that’s a luxury; you usually don’t get that luxury.”

This was the second time Amy Harmsen did the hike. Last year it rained, hailed, sleeted and snowed, she said. This year, fortunately, was better. Not everyone in the group had known the others prior to the trip. “We all shared stories every night about how we met our spouses or boyfriends and about our jobs. It was an empowering trip for us girls. We stopped and smelled the flowers and encouraged  each other—no lady got left behind,” said Harmsen.

This is not a trip that is thrown together at the last minute. The group meets a couple of times to plan it advance.  “Most people are in pretty good hiking condition and they’ve hiked before,” Burke explained. “There’s usually a smaller group of folks that are trail runners and are more elite athletes. But you’re only as fast as your slowest person, as a group. So we tend to divide into two groups.”

It’s hardest on the slowest people because they tend to get the least rest; as soon as they catch up, everyone’s gone again.

There are so many good reasons to spend this kind of time in the mountains. “It’s good to get away from the guys too,” Burke said. “Guys do guy trips all the time—they go on fishing trips, they go hunting and things with the guys. And how often do women do that? No nearly as much. We’re really fortunate, those of us who go, to have the support of our families.

So what is the best thing about participating in an event like this? Colleen Burke answered, “The camaraderie and the friendships that you make. We’re all so busy in our daily lives it’s hard to get to know people beyond the surface level—what do you do, who’s your husband, who are your kids, what church do you go to. But when can get away from your cell phones and your schedules, you can really get to know someone, where they grew up, what they enjoy, why they do what they do. The whys instead of the whats.”

For information about planning your own trip, visit

About the author

Mavis Bennett

Mavis Bennett

A western Colorado resident for most of her life, Mavis Bennett is the publisher of the Montrose Monitor. She has written for newspapers and magazines more than three decades and founded the popular Monitor Magazine in 2003. This web site is the logical progression for the Monitor.