Collegiate West

Day 15 | July 9, 2018

This morning we hiked up a dirt road which led to the base of Monarch Pass. Along the climb up to the pass we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery. Flowing rivers, green pine trees, and fields of tall grasses sprinkled with colorful bouquets of wildflowers lined both sides of the trail.

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At the top of the pass panoramic views showed mountain peaks in all directions. We reached the Continential Divide, thus completing the east side of the Collegiate Peaks Loop.

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The trail followed a mountain ridge leading to Monarch Pass. At the Monarch Crest Store we picked up our resupply packages and sat with a couple from Ohio who are planning a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike.

 Day 16 | July 10, 2018

We left Monarch Crest late in the morning and started a climb up to the top of the Continential Divide.

Today’s hike was challenging and visually rewarding with panoramic views exposing mountains upon mountains.

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The top of the climb revealed turquoise-colored mountain lakes and peaks in all directions.

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Amidst the dramatic scenery, I’ve been surprised by the proximity of towns to the wilderness areas in Colorado. A lot of this hike has felt close to civilization. Not a day has gone by without crossing paths with a day hiker, mountain biker, or the sight of a road interuppting the wild beauty of a canyon. I look forward to more solitude and desolation in this next section.

The saying on the Continential Divide Trail is “embrace the brutality”, a motto I will try to strive for. I notice that when I embrace challenge, when I don’t resist or fight back, I feel stronger, happier, and more capable. I know the Collegiate West will be a physically challenging section with more exposed trail, steeper climbs, and a consistently higher elevation. When I choose to accept these characteristics I find myself stepping away from the habit of obsessing on what’s difficult and paying more attention to the beauty around me.

 

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As to be expected, by late afternoon the blue skies started to fill in with darker clouds and thunder resounded through the valleys below. We were just under a mile from Chalk Creek Pass (our next high point) when we found the perfect camp spot in a meadow by a creek. We decided to set up camp a little early, and it’s a good thing we did...as soon as the tent went up, the rain fell down.

We stayed dry while waiting for the storm to blow over. Once the storm passed we came outside for dinner and watched the last of the sunlight turn the clouds into glowing displays of orange and pink.

 Day 17 | July 11, 2018

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.

- Edward Abbey

The landscape of the Collegiate West keeps getting better and better. The wildflowers grow tall amongst the green grasses in bouquets of various colors.

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The mountains are tall, steep, and rocky.  And the passes are challenging, yet rewarding.

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This morning we climbed Chalk Creek Pass and at first it felt like we were finally “out there” - unfortunately it didn’t take long before signs of civilization crept into the wilderness.

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On the other side of Chalk Creek Pass, cars zoomed by as the trail shared two miles of a fairly busy dirt road. In the sky, a rumbling sound nearly shook us as four military planes flew overhead. The explosive sound scared me enough to jump and scream before realizing what it was. I can only imagine how this noise pollution affects the animals!

Leaving the road, we continued north towards Tincup Pass. Along this portion of our hike we saw several familiar faces and made some new friends. Several hikers we met in the first week of trail were going south on the Collegiate West, while we were going north... Eric and Cathy, Gilly B, Pete, Juliette, Ferocious Soup and Pumpkin Patch, all stopped to say hello at various times throughout the day. We saw Frank, a hiker we met at Mount Princeton Hot Springs, and we met Gringo, an ultra light hiker in a Batman backpack, who greeted us with enthusiasm on our way up to one of the many passes this evening. Shortly after we were stopped by Star Dancer, an older women who was excited to see folks and to have her picture taken. And lastly, Dante, a great Newfoundland who impressively made it over 13,000ft, but was very excited to be on his way down.

We were lucky to have great weather all day and no rain for our high elevation mountain passes. As 7pm rolled around darker clouds floated in and we knew it was time to set up camp. Before finding the perfect spot, I encountered two porcupines (the most wildlife I’d seen all day, with the exception of th abundant marmots). 

We decided on a spot overlooking the canyon below. Just like the night before, as soon as the tent was set up the rain (and hail) began to fall. We have been lucky that so far the storms are rolling in at night and not interfering with our hike. 

 Day 18 | July 12, 2018

This morning was chilly, making it difficult to get out of bed. I decided to keep my layers on for the first part of the day. We climbed two miles up and over a mountain pass. On that climb I warmed up and soaked in some sun and the views before heading onward toward Cottonwood Pass.

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Cottonwood Pass was a shocking reminder (once again) that we are invading wild spaces with industry.  On one side I was amidst mountain peaks, meadows, and a shockingly beautiful turquoise mountain lake. Within a couple minutes, however, on the other side of the mountain, the noise from construction machines resounded throughout the canyon. A crew was working to pave a former dirt road leading through this fragile alpine environment. The dichotomy of such a pristine world and the roar of skid loaders is shocking to say the least.

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Leaving the pass we were relieved to re-enter the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. In the wilderness area it was peaceful and the sounds of our steps on trail, the repetitive bird songs, the trickling water of fresh mountain streams were all we could hear.

We hiked down into the valley and cautiously watched the sky as dark clouds quickly came in, seemingly surrounding us from all directions. We put on our rain gear and down poured the rain. We took shelter underneath two pine trees. Cosmo closed his eyes to nap and I prepared to filter water. We stayed under the tree for almost an hour waiting for the rain to lighten up. Once it did, we got up and hurried to make more miles. The next few miles were all downhill and as we hiked the rain suddenly came back stronger than before. Even with my rain gear I was soaking wet and tried to hike even faster, mostly to stay warm.

We were 3 miles away from the bottom of the climb when we encountered an unexpected water crossing.

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Feeling cold, wet, and tired we decided to post up and wait out the storm. We got in a tent, put dry clothes on, and relaxed to the sound of rain pattering on the fly.

The rain finally stopped and the sun peaked through the clouds enough for us to dry our wet clothes and gear. The sun inspired us to pack up and try to make more miles.

We forded the creek and continued our hike down the mountain as the dark clouds came back.

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The rain came on quick but we were already on the move so I wanted to keep going. With drenched clothes and cold extremities we decided to stop and camp in an open area at the bottom of the climb.  We would be sharing the site with fellow hikers and a giant herd of cows. As we approached, the cows would all stop and lift their white faces, staring blankly and stoically in the downpour.

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We set up camp once again, ate second dinner, and fell asleep to the soothing “mooooos” all around us.

Day 19 | July 13, 2018

I woke up to the “mooooing” of our neighbors. When I peered out of the tent, I saw a herd of big-faced cows staring in my direction.

The sky was finally clear this morning so we spent some time drying out our wet gear.

After a leisurely morning we headed up the climb over Lake Ann Pass. After the rain the forest glistens and the air smells of fresh pine and balsam, like your favorite Christmas candle.

This morning I don’t mind the moist muddy trail. In fact, I don’t mind much of anything so long as the sky is clear and the sun is shining, my spirits are high.

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We made it over Lake Ann Pass by late afternoon and headed towards our next challenge for the day, Hope Pass.

The hike towards Hope was all downhill and through a corridor of towering Collegiate Peaks.

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The next part of the day would not be so easy. We got to the base of Hope Pass at 5:30pm. Little did I realize the 2.5 mile climb up to the top included 2,500 feet of elevation gain with a 20% grade...the trail went straight up!

We chugged some water at the bottom and embarked on our slow and steady ascent.

Both Cosmo and I were feeling good and strong, the climb was tough, but it didn’t break us. We marveled at the views from the top.

And then continued to hike a few miles down to find a place to camp.

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Day 20 | July 14, 2018

Both Cosmo and I woke up feeling the effects of last night’s climb. We were ready for rest, and real food.

We hike five miles down the trail and finished our Collegiate Loop!

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From there we hitched to Twin Lakes, gathered our resupply, and stuck our thumbs out once more for Leadville, CO.

Once in town, we gorged ourselves on Chinese food and then made our way to The Colorado Trail House (hostel). I showered for the first time in 10 days and felt like a new woman! 

That evening we headed back into town for more food. We ate dinner at a local favorite, The Tennessee Pass Cafe, and then made our way back to the hostel to satisfy my craving for a pint of vegan ice cream.  

Rest can be oh, so rewarding.  

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