Colorado Trail – Collegiate West day 3

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

Texas Creek to Mineral Basin

Wet morning.

DSCN1534I finished my book – Dances with Marmots – a Kiwi’s memoir of hiking the PCT – and left it on the trail for anyone craving an amusing read.

DSCN1541This was the toughest creek crossing. Not bad. DSCN1544 DSCN1546Volunteers are working on this section of the Colorado Trail. I expect there will be a wood bridge here soon.

Despite the wet conditions, I was impressed with my Merrill shoes. No blisters.

DSCN1548This guy goes barefoot in the rain. DSCN1568Water was running high for July. It’s been a wet year.

I was worried, again, about lightning. Happily I’d see no more for the week.DSCN1558The weather improved as I climbed to Cottonwood Pass, a popular tourist stop that I’d visited my only other time in Colorado. DSCN1572I took the high trail approach. And the California couple passed me once again. I saw them climb into a car and drive away. They’d told me they didn’t have enough food to reach their next resupply. So needed to side trip to town for grub.

Cottonwood Pass

Cottonwood Pass

An Austrian couple (I learned later) left the trail here too – their tent and sleeping bags too soaked to continue. It’s a good escape route as many tourists are happy to rescue someone from the continental divide.

On the other side the trail was blocked by snow. Hikers were still detouring to bypass. DSCN1583Here begins my favourite section of the Collegiate West. DSCN1588Miles of continental divide ridge walk. DSCN1592 DSCN1597 DSCN1599 DSCN1600The weather continued to improve. One happy hiker.DSCN1602 DSCN1605 DSCN1608 DSCN1613 DSCN1624It had been a long, tough day, however. And I was happy to finally drop down to find a protected campsite.

DSCN1626I set up in a spot as out-of-the-wind as possible. DSCN1628No water. But good protection.

my dinner vista

my dinner vista

more full resolution photos

Colorado Trail – Collegiate West day 2

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

Clear Creek to Texas Creek

I carried my food in an Ursack. Very convenient. The trees here are not ideal for hanging a bear bag.

DSCN1443After a pot of coffee , it was time to do my doodie. A job well done this day. You’d never guess what’s under that flat rock. :-)

DSCN1442There are no formal campgrounds on Collegiate West. No pit toilets. It’s dispersed camping only.

DSCN1446As so often in the Rockies, you start in the trees and climb to another high pass.

DSCN1448Seems the Collegiate Wilderness has a welcome dog. :-) If you want to hike with your dog, Colorado is a great place. I saw many hiking dogs over the week.

DSCN1462These were the only pack lamas I saw. The guys told me they were very helpful. Very good natured.
DSCN1466Mud is a concern in the Colorado Rockies. The Sierras in California are a far dryer alternative.
DSCN1470But I was loving the high altitude scenery.
DSCN1455 DSCN1482 DSCN1473It’s heaven up here when the sun shines.
DSCN1479DSCN1483 DSCN1484Crossing the pass. Again a little snow.


DSCN1493 DSCN1505It’s difficult to capture the splendor in a photo.

I dropped down to Texas Creek.

DSCN1507Nice weather. If you are a beaver.

DSCN1525I probably should have stopped in a de facto campground when you first reach the creek. It’s an open field with road access.

Instead I pushed on ending up … here.

DSCN1528It was wet.

DSCN1529Yet … a glorious hiking day, all in all. :-)

DSCN1449more full resolution photos

Colorado Trail – Collegiate West day 1

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

Twin Lakes to Clear Creek

Absurdly unprepared. But a superb day anyway. :-)

I had trouble deciding where to hike in Colorado. There are simply too many great options.

The new Collegiate Loop sounded like an excellent and challenging possibility:

… In 2012 the Colorado Trail added an 80 mile stretch of trail that serves as an alternate route around the Collegiate Peaks. The new route, called the Collegiate West, follows the continental divide at much higher elevations. The Collegiate West is above tree line much of the time, which makes for rugged hiking and incredible views. …

The Collegiate East is part of the traditional Colorado Trail that stretches 500 miles from Denver to Durango. The 160-mile Collegiate Peaks backpacking loop is formed by hiking both the Eastern and Western routes of this section.

Clever Hiker

Collegiate LoopWe dropped my friend Betsy at a mountain running race near Aspen. Husband Brion drove me on to Twin Lakes, recommended as one of the best places to start the Collegiate Loop. I was hoping to get information at the General Store.

DSCN1385They sold me a new map covering the entire Collegiate Loop, but the shop-keep had not heard of the new dedicated guidebook.

Historically they’ve considered Collegiate West the Continental Divide Trail, Collegiate East the Colorado Trail.  It’s going to take some years before locals start considering the western side part of the Colorado Trail.

I was excited to get this adventure started. Ready or not.

DSCN1387Brion and Julius started up the trail with me around 11am. Thanks for the send off.


Just after posing for this shot, I knocked my pack into that creek. :-(
DSCN1395 DSCN1397Happily almost everything inside is kept in waterproof bags.
DSCN1398It’s a steep climb to reach the treeline en route to Hope Pass, the highest point on the Collegiate Loop 12,500ft (3810m).

I didn’t suffer much from altitude despite having only one acclimatization hike since flying in from sea level. Smarter hikers than myself would have finished crossing Hope Pass rather than starting here.

On the downside, it was raining.

DSCN1401I took shelter under those far trees with an older couple from California who were section hiking, year by year, Canada to Mexico on the Continental Divide Trail. Like me, this was their first day. They’d also started at Twin Lakes. The twosome and their dog planned to hike to the New Mexico border this summer.

DSCN1402I was embarrassed to admit to them I didn’t know whether I was hiking north or south. That’s how unprepared I was. I hadn’t yet opened my new map.

DSCN1404When the rain let up a little, I tried to get up and over Hope Pass as quickly as possible. Lightning is a real danger in the Colorado Rockies. The couple told me to go ahead and that they’d plod along behind. (The tortoise and the hare, I thought.)
DSCN1412End of July 2015 the remaining snow was not a problem. Earlier some seasons it would be a good idea to bring an ice axe.

DSCN1413 DSCN1419A couple of trail runners paused to chat. They were changing gears from uphill to downhill. This spot is where some of the Leadville Trail 100 mile racers come to grief. It’s  3,400ft of vertical on the front side, descending about 2,600ft.
DSCN1421 DSCN1420 The southern side  of the Pass was equally scenic. Plenty of wild flowers. It had been a very wet Spring and Summer here.
DSCN1423I saw all kinds of wildlife: a ptarmigan family, chipmunks, pica, marmot, weasel. The oddest was a group of snakes sunning on trailside rocks. I was so surprised I didn’t manage to get a good photo.

DSCN1425At another stop I carefully set down the pack. Then watched it roll downhill finally coming to rest in the bushes.
DSCN1432Quite quickly, dropping down to the valley, vegetation changes.  DSCN1433You pass a number of old mine shafts. DSCN1434The final few miles to Clear Creek near Winfield were exhausting though the trail was comparatively flat. I’d been running on enthusiastic adrenaline. It finally ran out.

About 6pm I grabbed the first campsite I saw.

Clear Creek CampGood night.

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2 hikers dead on the Kepler Track

Thinking of Étienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard today. :-(

Police in New Zealand believe two bodies found in avalanche debris are Louis-Vincent Lessard and Étienne Lemieux, two Quebec travellers who went missing during an outdoor adventure trip. …

The first body was found over the weekend in a field of avalanche debris about 350 metres below the Kepler track, where the two had planned to go hiking. A second body was discovered Monday at about 10:30 a.m. New Zealand time. …

“The majority of people who walk the Kepler track do it in summer and there’s seldom any snow. Totally different story in winter, when large volumes of snow can fall in that area. Not many people at all walk the Kepler track in winter.” …



climbing Mount Sopris, CO

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

I’m arrived Colorado. :-) Only my second hiking trip to this fantastic State.

As a warm-up leg stretcher, on Saturday I attempted Sopris, the imposing peak above Carbondale. Elevation 12,953 feet.


We were up at 6am. My host, Brion, owner of Independence Run and Hike, wished it had been 5am. The Colorado Rockies are famous for mid-day lightning storms.

At the trailhead Brion took off for a training run. I turned the opposite direction to start up Sopris.

DSCN1315Brion warned me of aggressive cows and possibly even bulls. They weren’t aggressive with us. But they were a bit of a pain.

DSCN1317I met Matt – recently moved to Colorado from the East coast – at the start. He and I walked together to the top.

DSCN1324We took no breaks up to the Thomas lakes. Happy with the speed of ascent, we decided to carry on and have our first break above the treeline.

DSCN1322Lunch  on the ridge was terrific. Big vistas down both sides.

DSCN1327Above the treeline the scramble up Sopris begins. The trail disappears at times up unstable boulders.

DSCN1330Our goal was the first summit. It looked an easy hour from our lunch vantage.

DSCN1331Up on the scree ridge footing gets easier leading to the false summit. Many stop here as the views are just about as good as on the summit. But Matt and I felt good. Wanted to go all the way.

DSCN1332And the weather was holding. Check this blue sky. :-)

DSCN1336Sadly, in the other direction big scary clouds were rushing up the valley. When we saw the first lightning bolts, we turned back. :-)

DSCN1338I planned to hurry down to the lakes. And cool my feet in cold alpine waters.

DSCN1339It’s far more dangerous going down than climbing up. Be careful.

DSCN1345A real highlight this time of year is wild flowers.

DSCN1378 DSCN1376 DSCN1367

As the weather worsened, I increased my pace. But still got caught in a downpour the last 20 minutes to the parking lot.


I hid from the rain at the pit toilet, changing clothes for the long mountain bike ride back to Carbondale.


I always carry empty dry bags in my pack just for this kind of soaking rain.


It was a fun, muddy roll down the mountain. The best part of the day.

DSCN1384more photos

related – Hiking in Colorado – Mount Sopris

hiking glossary

mother nature – examples:

dirtbag — a subculture consisting of ski bums, vagabonds and climbers well practiced in the ways of avoiding work, while spending as much time as possible pursuing their outdoor passions. …

holloway — a sunken path worn down due to foot traffic, rain and erosion that has fallen significantly below the vegetative banks on each side. …

krummholz — bent, stunted trees found in mountainous and arctic regions, twisted by steady winds and short growing seasons. …

verglas — a thin coating of ice that forms on rocks overnight, or when snow melts and then refreezes. …

A beginner’s glossary to hiking and camping



trip report – Sunshine Coast Trail

by site editor Rick McCharles 


Eleven hikers from flat, dry central Canada – Saskatchewan – met up at Nancy’s bakery in remote Lund, B.C.


Our plan was to hike from Sarah Point to Powell River in 5 days, 4 nights. The first section of the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail.

We ended up exiting after 2 nights walking out from Manzanita hut right back … to the bakery. :-)

start of the Sunshine Coast Trail

We’d booked a water taxi from Lund to the trailhead at Sarah Point.

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Our skipper was excellent. The weather perfect. Yet the scramble up steep, slippery rock to the trailhead was challenging. I’d hate to do it in rough seas.


We were off. :-)


The trail is well flagged but requires frequent scrambles over, under or around fallen trees. Our packs felt very heavy at this point.

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Early July 2015 the Pacific N.W. was atypically hot and humid. Forest fire hazy clouded the sky.

Mosquitoes and wasps were a real pest. Four of our group were stung over 3 days.

It quickly became evident our large group, starting late in the day, would never make it to our intended destination – camping at Wednesday lake.

Instead we dropped down to a disused campsite at Cochrane Bay. It turned out to be a lovely spot. The pit toilet (which we found the next morning) still in working order.

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It was dark when we went to hang the food.

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Rodents quickly pounced on my  dinner pot (salmon) once I set it on the ground.

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The sea a glassy lake next morning.

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We suffered some foot and knee pain. And morning stiffness, of course.

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A steep, sweaty climb up from the sea  brought us to Wednesday lake where we refilled all our water bottles. You need at least 3 litres / person on this dry section of the Trail.

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We needed this refreshing break as the climb up to the Manzanita bluff was particularly gruelling.


Joan’s last hike?


It was with relief that we arrived at Manzanita hut early in the day.


It is a treat to have tables and fire pit after the wilderness camp of the previous night.


We split up some sleeping in their tents, some in their tents in the loft.


Running low on water, some of the keeners walked about 1.5km down hill to find a stagnant spring. Carried it back up. You need to treat all water on the SCT.


By morning it was decided. We were going to quit the SCT and exit to Lund. Our spiritual leader Bill Wallace and his doppelgänger consulted the guidebook, brochure map and some local day hikers to calculate the best route.


The manly men checked to see if they were strong enough for the escape … by trying to do a chin-up with full pack.



Bill leading the quitters to safety.



Civilization. :-)




We checked in at the Willingdon Beach campground in Powell River. It’s a good spot, walking distance from the ferry.

The sunset is gorgeous from here. Sandy descended the steep, slippery cliff to shore faster than anyone else. :-)

DSCN1142 DSCN1148

Willingdon Beach Trail was a fascinating history lesson. Much enjoyed.

DSCN1168 DSCN1169

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With the extra time we decided to kayak Desolation Sound. It turned out to be the best day of the week!

Back to Saskatoon. Back to reality. :-)


Lessons learned on the Sunshine Coast Trail:

  • it’s mostly inland
  • great vistas are infrequent. Many sections are tree-locked.
  • it’s rarely flat
  • much more challenging than expected

Two ladies who had done half the Pacific Crest Trail found the long day from Sarah Point to Manzanita hut a serious day. They went straight to bed after dinner and were gone by 6am next morning. Do not underestimate this trail. 

I’m hoping to get back in September / October when the bugs are less a problem. Cold doesn’t worry me.


Some of our high resolution photos on flickr. Most of those were taken by Warren Long.

besthike Sunshine Coast Trail information page