Colorado’s Western Collegiates

After we finished up in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, Sara and I made our way out to nearby Bishop Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. While there I’ve come as close as I ever have to adopting a puppy. There was a pair of wild(?) dogs out there, although more likely ranch dogs with a gigantic range, that were so friendly and well behaved that I wanted to take them with me. A pair of dogs they make Disney movies about. In the end we figured we didn’t want to actually steal someone’s dogs in case they did actually belong to a ranch or farm out this way. From there we drove east across Utah and into Colorado stopping in Fort Collins and staying with BK and Prickly Pear for a few days where we paddle boarded on the reservoir, ate burritos, and played trains. We couldn’t convince BK but we talked Pear into playing a little hooky and joining us for a few days backpacking through Colorado’s Western Collegiate peaks and maybe summiting a mountain. Sara and I drove south from FoCo to Leadville and parked out in the foothills for the night with plans to start a trip the next day with Pear, and also friends Jabba and Badger who were joining us.

Day 1…..8 miles…..9/15/20

This morning at the Safeway in Leadville we met up with Prickly Pear and also Jabba and Badger who drove over from the Denver area. Our plan was to hike a 60 mile section of the Colorado Trail or the Continental Divide Trail as they overlap here and hopefully(maybe) climb a few of the fourteeners. An early season snow from last week might make matters difficult for climbing these peaks but without that snow the Colorado wildfires would keep us from hiking here at all. 
We dropped 2 cars at Missouri Gulch Trailhead then Badger drove us all down to the Boss Lake Trailhead just north of Monarch Pass. There was about a 1.5 mile access trail to the CT then we just cruised all afternoon until finding a place to camp. In places there was snow on the ground and we got up high topping out over 12,000 feet on Chalk Creek Pass. It may be a bit cold for the next few days but I like our plan and the hiking should be good. 
Day 2…..17 miles…..9/16/20
We rolled out of bed a little later than normal and waited until it got slightly warmer to start walking. Soon we fell in behind 3 hunters and between them and us we saw two bucks about 10 feet from the side of the trail. They either weren’t hunting for deer or are terrible hunters. We walked along the alpine tunnel trail and then up a long slow climb to the top of an unnamed pass. That was the theme of the day, drop down to a creek and then climb up another unnamed pass with excellent views. 
I hiked this trail southbound on the CT in ‘16 and then northbound on the CDT in ‘17. Lots of it seemed very familiar but nothing completely jogged my memory. We did pass through a section where QB, Prickly Pear and I remembered seeing what we thought was Barack Obama’s plane in 2016 and then diving into a bush to take cover from a hailstorm. 
Our pace was a little relaxed today which was nice with some long breaks. Camping looked to be tricky in the next handful of miles so around 5 we found a spot that did the trick. Hiking was great today but there was some snow fields here and there in particular on the north sides of the passes so we walked with rather wet feet all day. This was never really an issue until we got to camp and everyone seemed to have super cold feet. 
Day 3…..19 miles…..9/17/20
It was a cold one this morning, we camped close to 12,000 feet and Badger’s thermometer said something like 33 degrees. The air was also much smokier than before, a local fire was ruled out so we’re guessing it’s smoke that drifted over from California. Because of the smoke we’re probably ruling out climbing any of the fourteeners we loosely planned for at the end of the hike. Other than that the hiking has been great. 
Most of the morning we were climbing before topping out just before Cottonwood Pass. Up at the pass we crossed a road and a bunch of people taking pictures of the Continental Divide sign then started down towards Texas Creek. Jabba, the loudest person I know, was having some sort of ankle injury caused by the high top Altra Lone Peaks he was wearing. He almost hitched out at the pass but since I wear the low cut version of the same sneakers and same size QB suggested we try switching. No problem. It was kinda weird, I’ve never ever switched shoes with someone before, but it was the difference of him bailing or not and they didn’t bother my ankles. 
After walking a few miles in another man’s shoes we dropped down to Texas Creek. We ate lunch, walked along the creek playing the movie game then started a long slow climb up towards Lake Ann Pass before finding a flat spot to camp big enough to accommodate 4 tents. Oh yeah, I saw a moose. Pear, Jabba, and Badger claimed they saw another one but only just the one for me. 
Day 4…..13 miles…..9/18/20
It was significantly warmer at our campsite last night most likely since we were about a thousand feet lower. The 5 of us started strong up our last challenge of this hike, Lake Ann Pass. This is a long gradual climb that tops out around 12,500 feet and provides some awesome views. In 2017 while QB and I were hiking the CDT the north side of this pass was one of the trickier obstacles in Colorado. Thankfully we didn’t have to navigate down a gigantic cornice this time. There was a fair amount of snow on the north side but it wasn’t too difficult to descend. 
On the way down we crossed paths with a couple of ultra runners going for FKT attempts. In particular, Courtney Dawaulter, who might be the most b.a. person in the sport. Today she was out here pacing her friend on a training run. The rest of the day we spent descending, while passing the Huron Peak Trailhead, then the ghost town of Winfield and back to the cars. Prickly Pear and QB headed to Leadville for the afternoon and I drove Jabba and Badger back to Badger’s truck near Monarch Pass. 
I backtracked to Leadville met up with the girls. Over Pizza we changed our minds and decided to try Huron tomorrow. This meant driving back out to Missouri Gulch and setting up camp for the night. With lighter packs we’ll hopefully get up the peak tomorrow. 
Day 5…..11 miles…..9/19/20
The road out to Missouri Gulch isn’t great. It gets worse significantly worse for the 2 miles past the ghost town of Winfield to the Huron Peak trailhead. We camped on the side of the road shortly before Winfield giving us an extra 4 miles round trip of road walking but I’d rather that than destroy my car. 
QB, Prickly Pear, and I quickly covered the 2 miles of road to the Huron Peak Trailhead.  The trail climbs almost 3500 feet over 3.5 miles. It’s steep and it’s a challenge but it’s a walk-up. There aren’t any crazy moves necessary and the exposure level is low. For the first couple miles we were below treeline and just switchbacked upwards gaining significant elevation. Once above the trees we could look up at the behemoth were about to climb. As with all of Colorado’s Fourteeners, Huron was busy. Especially on a Saturday in September. I’m guessing the early season snow kept some people away, still busy though. 
Shortly above treeline we hit snow and spent the next hour climbing up towards the summit. Once we got close it got steeper and icier. We put on what we had for traction; QB and I shared a pair of trekking poles and a pair of spikes. Pear didn’t wear spikes but she had 2 poles. All 3 of us survived and summitted. At the top it was clear, sunny, and warm. Views were awesome and it was a truly beautiful summit. We quickly and easily descended the mountain then backtracked the road to the car. The three of us ate burgers in Leadville then Pear headed home to FoCo. QB and I showered and did laundry at the laundromat then started making our way northeast on the long drive to Minnesota to paddle the Boundary Waters. 
Feel free to checkout our instas for more pics of this adventure and others: @endlesspsummer and @sarahikes.
Our friends have been doing some awesome stuff, if you’d like to see @peardontcare @therealhikingviking @zrdavis

2 Comments on “Colorado’s Western Collegiates

  1. WOW! What an amazing trip! Great photos and I really enjoy the way you write. I grew up in Minnesota and so I’m anxious to read about your Boundary Waters adventure!!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: