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In Colorado, it’s not uncommon for a company retreat to include skiing trips or a group hike. But Big Agnes, a Steamboat Springs-based gear company, took the camaraderie of the outdoors even farther—740 miles farther, to be exact—when more than 70 of its employees hiked the entirety of the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) this summer.
The adventurous group included employees from Big Agnes, as well as its sister companies, snack brand Honey Stinger and fleece apparel-maker and retailer BAP Inc., each of which are owned by founder Bill Gamber and based in Steamboat. When Gamber presented the idea, his employees took on the challenge not only to celebrate the CDT’s 40th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the National Scenic Trails Act, but also to raise awareness for the trail’s completion, maintenance, and cleanup.
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Last year, Big Agnes adopted 75 miles of the CDT, along with launching its 1101 line of sleeping bags—named for the section of the trail that runs through Steamboat. A portion of the proceeds from this collection benefits the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC), an organization that helps to protect and maintain the trail.
So far, Big Agnes has pledged more than $25,000 to the CDTC. The money will help complete of a portion of the CDT near the brand’s headquarters, and help replace a 14-mile section of the trail—which currently traverses Highways 14 and 40, near Rabbit Ears Pass—with singletrack, making that segment safer and more enjoyable for hikers. The CDTC estimates that about 75 miles of Colorado’s CDT segment has yet to be completed.
The group began its journey, dubbed the Big Agnes Border to Backyard Rally, on June 11 at Colorado’s Southern border, and completed the hike on September 13 at the Wyoming border. “We were breathing fresh air and working together on the mission,” says Garrett Mariano, marketing director for Big Agnes, who completed three sections of the hike. “As you can imagine, this wasn’t an easy walk in the park. The CDT is hard.”
The team took a relay approach to conquering the trek, breaking the journey up into 24 segments ranging from 9 to 84 miles (the equivalent of 10 days on trail). Teammates chose sections based off their preferred mode of travel and the area’s trail regulations. Those who didn’t hike the trail instead rode motorcycles, horseback, mountain bikes, or e-bikes.
The CDT stretches 3,100 miles from the Canadian Border in Glacier National Park to the Big Hatchets Wilderness Study Area on the Mexican Border. The Colorado portion ascends more than 145,000 vertical feet—the equivalent of more than five Everest summits from sea level—and includes three fourteeners, Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, and Mt. Elbert.
The CDT is not like other well-known thru-hikes, like the Pacific Crest Trail (which author Cheryl Strayed wrote about in her popular book, Wild) or the Appalachian Trail, which saw about 3,735 thru-hikers in 2017. Traditionally, the CDT has less foot traffic; fewer than 100 people attempted to complete the journey in 2017. (The CDTC keeps an official list of 3,000 milers, those who have completed the entire trek, but the organization maintains that it’s not comprehensive.)
As with any endurance endeavor, the Big Agnes team faced some hiccups along the way: Dried-up water sources, forest closures due to wildfires, flat tires, broken trowels, and keys locked in the car. One group of bikepackers had to carry their bikes up 13,000-foot peaks and counted more than 160 down trees that they climbed over.
But for Mariano and the rest of the adventurers, the pains were well worth the experience.
“None of us really understood the value of spending time together beyond these four walls for an extended period,” says Mariano. “But sharing conversations on the trail for multiple days gave us an opportunity to learn about our co-workers, and what that person really likes to do outside of work. There’s a new respect and energy in our office because of this experience.”