The Colorado Trail wends its way through the Rocky Mountains of the Centennial State, traversing a landscape as changing and diverse as the swirling afternoon clouds presaging the daily summer thunderstorms.  Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color narrates Bill Cooke’s 2011 hike of this 486-mile trail, the length of which was a personal high for him in 35 years of backpacking.   

A common expression among long distance backpackers is “no pain equals no gain.”  In this book, you’ll read of the “pain” manifested in the struggle of acclimating to high elevations, of hiking long and steep ascents, of coping with a wide range of climatic conditions from freezing cold mornings to hot baking afternoons to near daily thunderstorms to long stretches of limited water.  And you’ll read of the “gains,” the triumphs as Bill and his hiking companion Keith “Northern Harrier” Bance savor the many rewards of this enchanting trail:  alpine meadows whose wildflowers covered every range of the spectrum, bewitching groves of aspen trees resplendent with the morning glow of the sun, the glistening of snowy peaks, stately conifers including the massive Douglas firs, high mountain passes, dry foothills, sparkling mountain streams, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets where both the skies and the rocks shine like beacons from the low sun alpenglow, and much more.

Along the way, you’ll read of the delight bestowed by such simple pleasures as a refreshing swig of Rocky Mountain water or a wildlife spotting.  You’ll hear of fascinating near-daily cloud formations with their myriad shades of gray and ever changing patterns.  You’ll meet “Trail Angels” who emerge at the right place and time, unplanned and unexpected, to assist hikers on the basic needs such as rides to towns for re-supplying or offers of water and snacks.  And you’ll visit communities along the trail corridor, meeting the people in them, and enjoying the amenities that we all take for granted such a hot shower, bed with linens, and meals of “real” food, all of which are appreciated especially by hot, dusty hikers.

While experienced hikers will enjoy this book, Bill explains much of the terminology and peculiar habits of long-distance backpackers such that even those whose experience is confined to short strolls in the park will sense the challenges and the rewards of a trek in the Rocky Mountains.

Cookerhiker's Background - the Long and Short of it


I've been backpacking for over 35 years, starting with a (very difficult at the time) 40 mile trek in Vermont's Green Mountains in 1977.  Since then, I've hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (in sections, not as a thru-hike) and thousands of miles on other trails including the parts of the John Muir Trail in California, the Allegheny Trail in West Virginia, several trails in their entirety in Pennsylvania, the Superior Trail in Minnesota, and many others.  In 2011, my longest backpacking trip occurred when along with my long-time friend and hiking partner "Northern Harrier,"  I hiked the 486-mile Colorado Trail.  My book Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color narrates the 38 days we spent on this trail.  I currently live in Lexington, Kentucky where I hike and perform trail work on KY's 307-mile Sheltowee Trace.