Colorado Trail – Collegiate West day 1

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

day 1 | day 2 | day 3 | day 4 | day 5 | day 6 | info page

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.

DSCN1393Just 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.

They’d hiked Collegiate East the previous summer and told me it was much less spectacular. Right then and there I decided NOT to do the entire 160 miles, but rather just the most spectacular half.

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.

more full resolution photos

day 1 | day 2 | day 3 | day 4 | day 5 | day 6 | info page

5 Replies to “Colorado Trail – Collegiate West day 1”

  1. Hi. Great pics and well done journal. Very much enjoyed it.

    It turns out I was headed south on the Collegiate East a few days after you started south on the Collegiate West. My plan was to do the loop, but my buddy decided to leave early, and he had the car we left at Twin Lakes trailhead. He decided to stop at Monarch Pass. A bummer for me.

    I thought the East Loop was grand. Being from PA the high Mtns were awesome. The East Loop was just fine for me, beauty-wise. I did experience shortness of breath in spite of staying in Leadville 36 hours before we started. I just hiked slower..

    I’m planning on returning this year about the same time and doing the entire 160 miles. I really want to experience the West Loop. I’ll leave the rental at Twin Lakes and head south again on the East Loop. I’ll have to wait to do the CT after I retire in a year or so.

  2. Your trip looked awesome! A buddy of mine and I are planning on doing the loop in the beginning of July. We want to leave the tents behind and hammock camp during our trip. Would you recommend? Are there ample areas to hang a hammock or should we bring the tent along?

      1. We have rainflys for our hammocks and everything, so we were hoping we would be able to get away with it. Thanks for the input!

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