The Best Hikes in Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

51 Triplog Reviews in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
Most recent of 24 deeper Triplog Reviews
489.7 mi • 91,103 ft aeg
Colorado Trail Thru Hike
From August 12 to September 5, I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail. :y:

The hike was split into five distinct phases, so I'll break this triplog into those sections then make additional comments afterwards

Waterton Canyon to Breckenridge
5 days, 104.1 miles, 17,612' AEG

(20.5 miles) I met a lot of people starting their thru-hike the first day. It was exciting to be starting my journey. The first six miles are along a service road and there were a lot of runners, cyclists, etc. on the trail. I saw and walked through a herd of bighorn sheep. I had dinner at the S. Platte river after a thunderstorm, then hiked a few more miles to camp. A couple I met earlier camped there too.

(22.4 miles) The second day started out finishing a section through a large burn area. Then I hiked a section of trail popular with the mountain bikers. It was a great section of trail but mostly in the forest.

(21.6 miles) The third day I ended up hiking with a couple people. First Larry from Texas, then Berno from Germany. Berno quit his job and has been hiking since February. He did Hayduke, Denali, GDT, etc. A big storm rolled in so we stopped a bit early to set up our shelters for the night.

(26.8 miles) Fourth day we hiked together until Jefferson Creek where the trail starts to climb to close to 12K' Berno is much stronger climbing than I. This climb was the first time the trail gets above tree line and the views were great!

(12.8 miles) Fifth day I had a short day into Breckenridge. First an uphill, then mostly down the rest of the way.

Breckenridge to Twin Lakes
4 days, 72.6 miles, ~15,000' AEG

(15.9 miles) Resupplied in the morning and was on trail 10. Very tough climb up and over the Ten Mile Range. That was the first time the trail exceeds 12K'. About 1/2 mile of trail was scorched from the Type 2 fire earlier this year. Breck Epic Mt. Bike race was on and I was following the cyclists and missed a turn. Went about a mile down the wrong trail before I figured that out.

(25.2 miles) Went over Searle Pass, then dropped down to Kokomo Pass, then a long descent to Camp Hale. There was a large herd of sheep past Searle Pass. Met David Fanning at camp. Last year he wrote, "Voices of the Colorado Trail." It's stories of CT hikers he interviewed on trail. It's a good read, check it out.

(22.5 miles) I felt tired today. Leapfrogged with David throughout the day. There was some tough climbs and part of the trail was flagged for the Leadville 100 race. At the top of one climb, people were setting up an aid station for the race. I passed by the trail up Mt. Massive. I was hoping to set myself up to climb Elbert tomorrow but didn't make it as far as I wanted.

(9.0 miles) I decided I was too tired to climb Elbert today so I just went into Twin Lakes. There was a trail crew working on the trail in one point. There was some nice views of Elbert and of Twin Lakes. I made it to Twin Lakes before noon, then hung out all day.

Twin Lakes to Monarch Pass (Salida)
4 days + zero day in Salida, 84.6 miles, ~20,000 AEG

(23.3 miles) First I walked around Twin Lakes. People suggested skipping that, that it would be hot and boring. I really liked that stretch of trail though. I got in the lake two different times. It was refreshing. The eclipse was today. I didn't have glasses to watch it with. I don't even know when it occurred; I couldn't tell. Everything was quiet for a bit, perhaps it was then. I took the Collegiate West alternate. The climb up Hope Pass was steep and hard. The Leadville 100 contestants raced up it yesterday. I can't imagine. It was nice to get beyond hope. :sl:

(16.0 miles) The day started out climbing Lake Ann Pass. It's another tough climb. I saw two people I met at Twin Lakes. They skipped going around the lake. I was tired today and never really got going. I took a 40 minute nap this afternoon. I had an early dinner, and then I called it a day early too. It actually was a good place to stop as there probably isn't a good place to camp for another 7 miles or so. I camped by a pond a couple miles below Cottonwood Pass.

(26.1 miles) Today was the best yet. It followed the divide for miles, most of it above tree line. The views were great. The trail is amazing. Miles of it through talus but the tread is made of crushed rock so it isn't too bad to walk on. I can't imagine the labor that went into creating this trail. I would have liked to stop earlier, but there was no place to camp and I finished in the dark. It sets me up for tomorrow though.

(19.2 miles) I had a sucky camp and my shelter was soaking wet this morning. It was damp for the first few miles. I had a few up and downs in the morning, then a good climb up onto the divide. It started hailing on my way up, and really started coming down hard once I was on the divide. The umbrella worked perfectly. It blocked the hail/ran and the wind. Once the sweat from the climb dried, I was comfortable. The trail was a bit confusing once I reached the ski area but I made it through without any wrong turns. I got ice cream at the Monarch Pass store and found a ride into Salida.

Monarch Pass to Spring Creek Pass (Lake City)
5 days, 101.2 miles, ~16,000 AEG

(23.4 miles) I found a ride to Monarch Pass in the motel parking lot and made it on trail by nine. I was worried I wouldn't get on trail until much later. There were a lot of Mt. bikers and some dirt bikers on the trail today as it was Saturday and is a favorite trail to ride. The terrain was fairly easy and I made good time.

(25.6 miles) Lots of forest and meadows today, cows too. Also had longer water carries but all under ten miles. I met three CT hikers at one water source and we hiked to the next source together, nine miles. I stopped and had dinner there, then hiked several more miles before stopping. Light rain setting up camp then for the next few hours.

(26.5 miles) If I wanted a 30 mile day, today would have been the day to do it. There was a lot of roads today and the walking was easy. There was more water than yesterday, so my pack was lighter. The day ended with several miles along the Cochetopa Creek. I had dinner near a stream but cows were slowly nearing me so I yelled at them. I found a collapsible lantern on the trail and was able to return it to the owners when I reached them later. they were happy to get the lantern back.

(20.2 miles) I saw a moose early on. It was in a pond just off the trail. I saw Heather "Anish" Anderson on her CT FKT attempt. We said our good mornings when we passed each other. I wish I got my picture with her. There were some hard climbs today. If I was going to do a 14er, today would have been the day as San Luis Peak is very accessible from the trail. One climb was really steep and I was short on water. It was nice not carrying the weight, but I really could have used it. I finished the day camping on Snow Mesa near a pond. This was my first night camping above 12K'.

(5.5 miles) I got a late start since I didn't have far to hike today. It got cold last night and my tarp was covered with frost. I enjoyed the walk across Snow Mesa.

Spring Creek Pass to Durango
6 days, 127.2 miles, 22,528' AEG

(18.5 miles) I hiked with Eric today. He stayed at the hostel and we both got a ride to the trailhead together. We made it much farther than I had hoped too. There was lots of spectacular views today and we passed the CT high point, 13,271'.

(21.8 miles) I went to put a shoe on to go pee last night and my foot wouldn't go in the shoe. I thought the sock was bunched so I straightened it and tried again. That didn't work so I figured the insole was out of whack. I stuck my hand in the shoe and felt something furry. I pulled my hand out and dropped the shoe. I think it was a pika. :o It rained last night and my tarp was all wet this morning. Today there was a lot of up and down, all of it above 12K', so it was a tough one. It was worth it though, so much eye candy today, the views were amazing! A big hailstorm blew in near the end of the day and the temperatures dropped a lot. I put my fleece hoody on so I could put my hands in the pocket to keep them warm.

(21.0 miles) The day started with a big descent to the Animas River. Eric took the train to Silverton for resupply. I waited for the train at the tracks but got impatient and continued. there was a climb up to Molas Pass but it wasn't too bad. I'm not sure if it was because the altitude was low enough I could breath instead of gasp or it wasn't so steep. I stopped at the Molas Lake campground to get some more food and ice cream. Yum. There was some more rain this afternoon but not too bad. It was raining when I set up camp and then it stormed for awhile.

(25.8 miles) A doe hung out at camp all last night. Wherever I'd pee, it would lick it up. I peed farther from my tarp than I normally would. Unlucky for me, but lucky for it, I had to get up and pee a lot. The storm stopped early enough during the night that everything was dry this morning. There were some good views on trail today along with a lot of forest. The forest seems to be much healthier since Molas Pass. I thought I was going slow this morning but I made really good time this afternoon. There was a hailstorm along the way. The hail stones were marble sized and made a lot of noise on my umbrella. I was able to stay dry, even with all the water on the trail. I'm really liking this umbrella. Supposedly there's a 22 mile dry section so I drank as much as I could at the last water source and filled up 3 liters (the most I can carry).

(26.6 miles) I slept good last night. It wasn't cold so that probably helped. Archery elk is in season and I saw several hunters out. The trail passed near a road and there was two trucks parked and two bucks by the trucks. One had a really nice rack. I laughed because the hunters probably have a deer tag too. I stopped to take a picture and just up the trail, I heard a crack, smash, and a snag fell right on the trail. I'm glad I stopped. :scared: The trail passed over the last ridges above 12K' today then dropped thousands of feet into a lush and deep canyon. I caught a hiker I met yesterday and we finished the day together about a mile up from the bottom of the canyon. There were two people finishing their hike camped at the bottom and then there are five of us finishing our hike camping together. It's funny how suddenly we all converge together.

(13.5 miles) I finished the trail today! :y: There was a short climb, maybe 600', then the rest of the day was pretty much descending. The trail went by a creek so I stopped and rinsed my shirt and wiped my face and body off. I don't want to be too stinky at the end. There was a part where the trail started looking a lot like Arizona with Ponderosa Pine and scrub Oak. I was a bit nostalgic finishing the hike. I was excited to be finishing but was a bit sad knowing that I'll be off trail too. I met a couple that used to live in Arizona. The man had a Show Low t-shirt on. After I reached the trailhead and had my mini celebration, I started walking/hitching to Durango. A few cars had passed me by but then a truck stopped for me and it was that couple. I'm glad I talked to them while on trail. They dropped me off right in front of Carvers Brewing Co. Carvers gives a pint of their Colorado Nut Brown Trail Ale to all CT finishers. Yum!

Overall Impressions
Going into this hike, I had two big personal questions: Would I be able to handle the altitude and hike the miles day to day and recover or would I become exhausted? Would I enjoy being on the trail for an extended period of time or would I get tired of it all and want to get off trail? Well, I didn't become exhausted and felt I was getting stronger the longer I was on trail and I never wanted to get off trail. Yes, I would be anxious to have a town day, but I was always happy to get back to the trail. On my one zero day, it seemed wrong that I wasn't hiking. I did need the break, but it just seemed wrong.

The people you meet on trail are the best! I met a fair number of other CT thru-hikers. Maybe more than most since I was covering more miles than most of the others. Whatever, the case, it was always a pleasure to talk to the other hikers and maybe walk a few miles together. The day hikers and cyclists seemed to especially want to see how I was doing and hear about my hike. It was fun to meet up with the other thrus at the town stops too. Dinners with groups of hikers was a lot of fun.

The forests are decimated. It's really sad to see. Large swaths of trees were dead from the beetle kill. This was especially prominent from Breckenridge to Molas Pass. There are a lot of young healthy trees growing amongst the dead trees so hopefully in time the forests will recover. In the meantime, all the dead trees are sure to be a tinder box and I worry that there will be some devastating fires.

Planning
For planning, I first used both DallinW's triplog and friendofThundergod's triplog from 2016.

I also used the Colorado Trail Foundation's website, along with PMags' Colorado Trail End to End Guide, of which I saved as a PDF on my phone so I would have access to it during the hike.

I bought both The Colorado Trail Guidebook, 9th ed. and, The Colorado Trail Databook, 6th ed. The databook is compact and is for on trail reference, so I took it with me for navigation/reference and my wife followed me using the guidebook.

Also, for navigation, I bought and installed the Atlas Guides (Guthook) CT App on my phone. This is the official CT App promoted by the Colorado Trail Foundation and distances, etc., match what's in the databook.

I decided to buy my resupply as I went and not send any resupply packages. My plan was to resupply in Breckenridge, Twin Lakes, Salida, Lake City, and Silverton. During the hike, I was a bit worried about meeting my schedule, so I decided to resupply for six days in Lake City and skip the Silverton resupply.

Logistics
Originally, I wanted to only use 3 weeks of vacation but decided it would be difficult to travel to/from the trail and be able to complete the whole hike, so I decided to bracket Labor Day and use 17 days of vacation. That gave me three more days to complete the trail. I knew it would be difficult but doable and I also knew if I was behind schedule I could bail out around Silverton if necessary.

I ended up booking a Friday evening flight to Denver on August 11, and an afternoon flight out of Durango back to Phoenix (via Denver) on September 6, the Wednesday after Labor Day. I booked my flights June 13, about two months before my departure and got what I think is a really good price of $180. I added the $20 flight insurance just in case something came up and I wouldn't be able to use them.

I got lucky when a friend of mine offered to be my, "Denver logistics support for Friday and Saturday." He picked me up at the airport Friday, let me stay at his place, picked up a canister of stove fuel for me, and took me to the trailhead Saturday morning. It worked out perfectly, I can't thank him enough!

TSA doesn't allow trekking poles as carry on and my plane ticket only allowed one "personal item," not a carry on (it's smaller dimensions) so I packed my poles, umbrella, shelter, knife, food, etc. in a box and checked the box as luggage. That made my pack small enough to carry on the plane. For my return, I stopped at a UPS store in Durango and just shipped that stuff back home.

Resupply/Town Stops
My first town stop was in Breckenridge. It's really easy getting around Breckenridge as the bus system is free and convenient. I stayed at The Bivvy Hostel. It's a bit more than some other hostels, but it's nice, clean, serves breakfast, and there's a nearby bus stop. I resupplied at the City Market. It had a good selection of food and reasonable prices.

My second town stop was in Twin Lakes. I got into town around noon and hung out at the Pass Gas general store all afternoon with other hikers. The resupply was expensive. I dropped $70 for resupply, including $10 for a small canister of stove fuel. On the bright side, the beverages were reasonably priced. I got a a 20oz Gatorade and a 16oz IPA for $5. I had lunch at the Twin Lakes Lodge and then had dinner there with three other hikers. My plan was to stay at the hostel there, but it had "issues" and was shut down for the season. The lodge had no vacancies, so I just headed back to the trail for the night.

I stayed in Salida for my third town stop. I didn't feel like sharing a room at a hostel, so I stayed at the Super 8. I had a nice room and the motel was pretty nice for a Super 8. I took a zero (rest day) in Salida. Salida is sort of spread out, but the motel had bikes guests could use so it made it easy getting around town. I resupplied at a Walmart so the prices were good.

My last town stop was in Lake City. It took awhile to hitch from the trail into town; the road is lightly travelled. Lake City was providing a shuttle service from the trail into town and back which is really nice (leaves Lake City at noon, arrives at trail ~12:30), especially if you don't get a hitch. I stayed at the Raven's Rest hostel. It's run by a triple crown hiker (hiked AT, CDT, and PCT) that liked the town when he did the CDT and decided to move there. He was out of town so I never met him. It's a pretty laid back place. Only me and two others were staying there so I had a room to myself. It's a nice town. Resupply was pricey but not too bad. I had to resupply for six days so that might be why it seemed a bit pricey.

I decided I was a bit short on food on my last stretch, so I also walked to the Lake Molas Campground, where there is a small store. It's maybe a half mile off the trail. It actually had a nice choice of items and I could have easily resupplied for a few days. I got cookies and a bar each for the next three days and a Klondike Bar and Gatorade for there. I was also able to dump my trash. The store will accept resupply packages too, so it's a convenient place to resupply, more so than Silverton as you wouldn't need to hitch into town from Molas Pass.
9.85 mi • 4,466 ft aeg
Second hike in Colorado was La Plata Peak. I got the to trailhead around 4:15am, and it was already full, so I parked along the highway. The first half of the hike was relatively easy, with some long, flat stretches interrupted by some steep gains. Again, the first hour or so was by headlamp, and I didn't realize how steeply the side of the trail dropped to the river below in a lot of places until my hike back out in daylight. I took a snack break just at the beginning of the never ending ascent to the summit, and stashed my headlamp. The climb uphill was very steep, with a lot of other hikers, but I took my time and eventually reached the first saddle. It was cloudy, cold, and windy from that point to the top. From there, it's a ridge walk up to the summit. There was still snow along the trail in places, so everyone was forced to the right, into the boulders. They were loose, but there was a cairned route through them. Just below the summit, a very enthusiastic group of guys carrying a keg caught up to me, they owned a brewery in Boulder--Upslope Brewing. They had way too much energy for the conditions, but I followed them to the summit, and even though I don't like beer, took a few sips. It was cold at the summit, so I didn't stick around as long--just long enough to chat for a few minutes, eat, and add a few more layers. The hike down through the boulders was tedious but uneventful, and after that was pretty easy going. Once back down in the valley, it felt warm without the breeze, so I was stopping to shed the layers which were needed at the summit. Lots of people on this trail, and I finished up around noon. The trailhead was packed, there were people parked everywhere. Next time I'm in Colorado to hike 14ers, I'll be starting even earlier than I did on this trip.
15 mi • 6,100 ft aeg
Harvard/Columbia
This was a bigger day than I had bargained for, but it was a success. Based on the stats (13.7 mi, 5813' AEG) and relatively nonchalant description in the Roach guide, I expected a little bit tougher version of Oxford/Belford. It was considerably tougher. The stats above are from 14ers.com, which seem more correct to me after the hike. In addition to the bigger numbers, the terrain and level of commitment on this hike are more serious than Oxford/Belford and all of the other combos I've done.

The trail into Horn Fork Basin and subsequent ascent of Harvard is the highlight of this hike, and IMO is ideally done as a backpack. There are lots of nice camping spots below tree line in the basin by the Columbia turnoff, and the trail is very gradual up to that point. Harvard is a BIG mountain and you feel all of those 420 feet over 14,000, but it's nice and straightforward.

The traverse to Columbia ranges from lovely to maddening. Some of it is a clear trail, some of it is talus, some of it is an eroded mess (at least if you're like me and didn't spend enough time looking at the 14ers.com pictures), and a good amount of it is over snowfields this time of year. It took me about 2:45 to complete; I'd avoid starting it after 9:00 or if there's any sign of unfavorable weather.

blog.rei.com/hike/m ... 4er/

The above article is a good description of the situation on Columbia. I ended up on the crappy slopes, though I saw another party that had found their way to one of the newer sections of trail which looked really nice as I was skiing down the dirt. My advice is to wait on this combo until the trail is completed, or to do the peaks as two separate outings: Harvard via the standard route, and Columbia via one of the alternate routes from the East. Of course, if you're an insatiable peak bagger or an unprepared moron or a combination of the two :oops:, then this combo is here for the taking...
7.66 mi • 1,393 ft aeg
This was our last hike after two and a half days in the Collegiate West area. We spotted Lake Ann from Huron the day before and it seemed like a nice morning hike before we picked up camp and continued on with our car camping adventure.

I could not find the trail that at one time appeared to go directly to the lake. It was on my G.P.S and someone traced the same line on the description page, however, I do not think that trail exists anymore, as I could not find the intersection, or any real signs of it. I even left the friendly confines of the Colorado Trail to look for it as we neared the lake, but nothing. No problem though, as the CT is in immaculate condition along there and it offers what appears to be the best trail to the Lake Ann anyways.

The lake was very nice and we had it to ourselves for an extended break. The wildflowers were great, as was the solitude, scenery and conditions. I would recommend this one for sure if in the area.
8.36 mi • 3,563 ft aeg
This was the second stop of a five day car camping trip I completed with Jackie and the pups following my Colorado Trail hike. I was looking for an "easier" 14er that I could get Jackie and the pups up and this one came highly recomended. We car camped along the road on the way in and enjoyed literally one of the most picturesque sites I have ever camped at. Located in a high mountain valley along the north fork of Clear Creek with snow capped mountains in every direction, it was simply amazing. The only drawback was the flies, never seen them so bad in my life. Almost maddening at times for us and the dogs!

We got a pretty early start, as I thought we would want every extra minute to beat any potential early afternoon storms and I wanted Jackie to be able to go up at her own pace. Jackie did just fine, she was slow and steady, but steady won the day and after some tough moments she was finally standing on the summit with me. Meanwhile, the dogs were literally in heaven. If you have an outdoorsy dog, do it a favor and take it to the tundra at least once in its life. Between squeaking Pikas and barking marmots there are enough sights and sounds to put any dog in sensory overload. I can say for certain that no rodent sized animals were harmed in this trip by the wolf pack, but there may have been some interesting chases.

The summit was absolutely spectacular and one could hardly tell we were standing on such a "diminutive" 14er. There were 360 degree blue bird views of the Collegiate Peaks and so much more. Likewise, we nearly had the summit to ourselves on this weekday morning and only crossed paths with four other hikers while atop the peak. Jackie was stunned by the views and amazed by the elevation. I kept reminding her that it was a small one and still stood a solid 1,500 feet higher than any point in AZ, something she was very proud to hear. Heck just a month ago she was hitting 11,000 feet for the first time and now her and the pups were taking in the views from a 14er!

It was just a great experience overall, being able to take someone up a 14er for the first time and watching my 11 year old Cup stand on one for the first time in her long eventful hiking life. After a very extended stay on the peak, we headed down the trail and enjoyed the nice quick grade all the way back to the TH. An awesome peak and despite its height one of the better ones in the area if you ask me.

Wildflowers
If you are a flower lover, get above the treeline and you will be blown away!
9.46 mi • 4,341 ft aeg
This side trip off the Colorado Trail was an example of nearly perfect timing and the HAZ network at its best. Linda and I had talked about maybe meeting up at Mt. Elbert when she was in the area, but I was running a little ahead of schedule and was about 45 minutes down the road in Buena Vista when Linda reached Leadville for a couple of days of hiking and 14ers.

Not to be deterred and needing a little trail support anyways, I suggested Mt. Yale to Linda. She had already did Elbert, so any additional 14er would just be bonus for her and she could also give me a hand getting to the TH and grabbing a few supplies before I hit the trail. Sounded like a "win" "win" to me! We did have to get an early start, so I could get back on the CT that day, but Linda did not mind. Although, it was not as early a wake-up for me, as I was camped very close to the TH.

We made pretty good time up to the main saddle guarding Yale. You still have another 200 feet or so of elevation to gain after this and a little ridgeline scramble, but at 13,900 feet, making it to the saddle pretty much means you are there. Linda kept apologizing for being a little slow, but I assured her that we were probably among the fastest on the mountain that day and that I was running on the advantage of having spent the last two weeks living around 11,000 feet.

The summit was very cool, with some tremendous 360 degree views and a fun little ridgeline and final approach to contend with. Despite a pretty strong cold wind, we enjoyed the summit for a several minutes. We chatted it up with a few locals, snapped a bunch of pictures, tested the 3G and headed back down.

As one could expect when gaining over 4000 feet in four miles, the return trip was quick! I bummed a Gatorade from Linda's cooler, enjoyed a few snacks and had her drop me back off at the same place I had exited the CT the day before. A very cool 14er and near the top of my short list of favorites. Huge HAZ appreciation Linda's way for helping me resupply and sneaking in a "must do" 14er in my opinion!
16.94 mi • 6,757 ft aeg
After Elbert, I immediately got back on the Colorado Trail with the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness on my mind. The stats reflect a six mile detour I had to made off the CT to reach the Missouri Gulch trailhead via a road walk along FR390.

Initially, I had planned to summit Belford and Oxford from a lesser used route via Pine Creek, however, a local assured me that the Missouri Gulch trail and TH was the way to go. He also assured me that someone would stop and pick me up along the way to the TH, but that did not happen and I ended up covering about 16 miles with the heavy pack including six along the road before I even reached the TH. Although, part of the problem may have been my hitchhiking skills, as I had never hitched before and probably looked a little out of my element to most passing motorists. After a few failed attempts, I was quick to give up and accepted my road walking fate. After all, I was thru-hiking the CT, what was six more miles along a road?

No worries about the little road walk though, as the TH re-energized me and after "loading up" on some water, I started making the climb to my campsite at 11,600 feet. I put loaded up on water in quotations, because a worried local had informed me to be careful, as there was about a two mile stretch to start the trail without water. The concerned local obviously did not know I was from Arizona, where we call three miles between water a blessing, needless to say, I filled up about a liter's worth. At this point in the day, I was willing to skimp a little on the H20, if it meant lessening the pack weigh a little, as with a TH elevation of 9,600 feet and 16 miles already under my belt, this would certainly not the easiest late afternoon climb that I had completed in recent history. The climb was a little bit of a smoker with a full pack, but I was rewarded with probably one of the better campsites above the treeline. After the usual camp chores, it was a struggle just to stay awake past daylight and I was completely out by about 19:30. Two long hard days, some warm temperatures, a lot of sun and a couple 14ers on the plate for breakfast, simply had me yearning for some much needed rest.

The tent and I survived a very windy night and early morning. It was so cold and windy that I made my morning coffee in the tent and opted for some powdered donuts that I had bought at a general store in Twin Lakes the day before rather than my usual oatmeal, as it would have required a quick trip to the stream for some water and that was not happening at 0400! Cold and wind aside, I finally got my butt out of the tent. The climb nearly started immediately for me and boy is it a climb up Belford! The trail literally stair-steps up what has to be a near vertical ridgeline in spots. I did see one other headlamp ahead of me as I started the climb. This served as a guide and a small source of sorrow, as the light just kept climbing and climbing, with no end for my tired legs seeming to be in sight. However, eventually I did meet up with the solo headlamp on the summit of Belford. We both agreed the wind might be a little dangerous to shoot for Oxford, but that was not enough to stop our morning there and we headed for the second summit together.

The hike to Oxford is probably one of the most pleasant stretches of hiking one could encounter while doing a 14er under "ideal" conditions. However, on this day the wind made it far less than ideal and maybe even a little dangerous. I found my hiking poles digging in very deep to the soil just to keep myself upright while dropping down the distinct ridgeline connecting Belford and Oxford. There were some brief breaks in the wind and even a few minutes of relief on the summit of Oxford. However, the conditions were generally frigid and not enjoyable, so we both left the summit after a few quick pictures.

After Oxford, my newly acquired hiking partner left me for a run at the trifecta and a trip up Missouri, but I still had to break camp and put some miles under me on the CT, so I opted for the less spectacular out and back, a return to camp and then TH.

It was a knee jarring, uneventful, quick hike down to the TH. I was successful in acquiring a ride back to the CT and picked up right where I had left off the day before after what seemed like a quick day and a half detour into perhaps one of my favorite new wilderness areas, the Collegiate Peaks.
11.96 mi • 5,200 ft aeg
Missouri Mountain Lollipop
I did Belford and Oxford the day before, and I was a bit cranky that I had to re-climb to treeline. Since I had some energy left, I wanted to make the hike a little more interesting by descending the other side of the mountain and returning to Missouri Gulch via Elkhead Pass.

I felt that this hike was considerably more committing than Belford - you spend more time above treeline before you begin climbing the peak in earnest, the northeast shoulder of Missouri is quite a bit more eroded and precarious that the staircase up Belford, and there is a (merely class 2) crux on the summit ridge that stressed me out as much as any class 3 climbing I've done. One should also be careful to avoid descending the east ridge in hopes of quickly reaching Elkhead Pass.

The trail down the southwest ridge of Missouri was actually quite nice. Once the trail reaches a saddle, it disappears and you need to carefully descend a steep (but safe) slope and cross .5 miles of tundra off-trail. It was a bit more impactful on the environment than I consider ideal, but it was a beautiful basin to hike in. Clouds were building quickly as I tried to get over Elkhead pass, but they proved benign. Elkhead Pass is only 4.5 miles from the TH, but it feels like a long way when clouds are getting bigger...

Great views of Huron and the Elk range to the east.
11.23 mi • 5,926 ft aeg
Belford/Oxford
Since I was alone, I figured it would be better to camp along the road to the TH than to backpack up to treeline. As I hiked brutal switchbacks the next morning and realized that I would have to hike them again to reach Missouri the following day, the implications of my decision sunk in. Going for Belford/Oxford/Missouri in a day occurred to me, but 7k+ AEG on my first day of this trip didn't seem wise. After I summited Belford and looked across the LONG ridge to Oxford, I decided to save Missouri for the next day (as I originally planned).

The toughest part of the hike for me was the descent (and reascent) of Belford on the way to Oxford. Oxford itself was pretty forgiving. The other major issue that day was wind. I was nearly blown over by several gusts on my return pass over Belford. A guy I talked to on the way down said that he needed to sit down to avoid a spill. Trekking poles were a big help.

Fantastic weather (this would be a theme for the trip) and great views (also a theme). To the south, Harvard was a peak I had never gotten a good look at before, and it's one I hope to see more closely in the future...
489.7 mi • 91,000 ft aeg
Colorado Trail Thru-Hike 2016
This July I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail. :y:

My cousin Bradley joined me for the thru, and @friendOfThundergod joined us from Denver to Breckenridge. We spent a total of 26 days on trail, with 4 zero days (days where you do zero miles on the Colorado Trail) in town. Our highest mileage day on the trail was 30 miles, lowest was around 6 miles.

Since doing a day-by-day write up of the trip would be very unwieldy for me and the reader, I'm adopting the same format I did for my final AZT section trip report, with the addition of a "Info for future hikers" segment.

Highlights

Weather

I couldn't of asked for better weather on this trip. It was a strange July in Colorado, and that was often the small talk along the trail. "Can you believe how lucky we've been with this weather?" Last year, after hitting segment 4 I got rained on consistently every day. This year, we had about 2 weeks of no precipitation which is almost unheard of for Colorado in July. This made the mental game of the thru much easier this time around.

We had a single week of daily thunderstorms between US-50 and Lake City, but most of those segments are low and in the trees so it was never a serious issue. There was only one day where we were being chased off or blocked from ascending the passes/ridges by storms, which was just after the saddle at San Luis Peak.

Collegiate West

After you reach Twin Lakes, you are given the choice of taking either the Collegiate East or West route (both form the Collegiate Loop). East is the lower, "traditional" side of the loop which skirts the Collegiate Peaks along the Arkansas Valley. West is higher, generally considered to be more scenic, and it coincides with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

This was a hard stretch of trail. It's consistently high, and encountering climbing grades of 1000 ft per mile is not uncommon. It was my second favorite stretch of trail in terms of scenery.

After climbing over Hope Pass and Lake Ann Pass, you follow along the Continental Divide, rewarded with stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks, the Elks, Taylor Park, and the San Juans (in the far distance).

Our intention when we started the trail was to actually complete the loop and hitch back to Salida in order to continue the trail, but we decided to save the eastern side of the loop for a future Collegiate Loop + 14ers trip when we have more time.

Eddiesville to Silverton (Segment 20 - Segment 25)

This is the "cream of the crop" on the CT. It's rediculously scenic, consistently high, and feels much more remote and wild compared to the rest of the trail. Along this stretch you closely follow the Continental Divide, and any direction you look is rugged mountains for days.

Most of this stretch is above treeline, and 30 miles of it (between Lake City and Silverton) stays above 12,000 ft! We went an entire day without seeing any trees. Not a place you want to be stuck when a thunderstorm rolls in. We had very cloudy skies with occasional rain along this stretch, but no lightning or thunder. Still a little sketchy.

The morning after we climbed up past the CT highpoint, we woke up to a herd of 50+ Elk bugling on a mountain side. You could see a long line of Elk grazing and making their way across a contour on the mountain side, very cool!

Trail Family

After US-50, the number of thru-hikers we saw each day dropped dramatically. During the first 100 miles we were seeing probably 15+ people every day, in the next 150 miles that number dropped to around 5-10 people a day. After US-50, we would maybe see 2-3 people a day, and it was almost always someone we had already met. I think this is a combination of people dropping out and because the hiker bubbles were settling. This created a kind of "trail family" by the time we reached Lake City.

For the first half of the trip, it felt like most people we would see we might interact with for a day or two and then never see them again. Once we got into Lake City we had a group of people we were consistently interacting with out on the trail and in town, which meant we actually had a chance to get to know them and become friends.

I had heard of the concept of "trail families" before my trip, but never truly got to experience them on my section hikes of the AZT, or CT last year. We had all been through a lot up to this point, and we had a sense that these were the people we would be finishing with. A lot of great memories were made in Lake City, Silverton, and out on the trail with these people, and I expect we will all stay in touch.

Hitch Hiking

I was initially concerned about this when starting the CT. I had only hitched once before on the AZT from Snowbowl Rd into Flagstaff. We were able to avoid hitching on the first half of the trail, because you walk into Breckenridge after the first 104 miles, and I had secured a ride into Leadville from a connection on Facebook before starting the trail.

Once we hit US-50 we had to start thumbing it. We met some interesting individuals: a "punk rock pastor" and his "honky tonky" wife, a motel owner from Leadore, Idaho who frequently hosts CDT hikers, a speeding cowboy-blacksmith who showed us his big knife just as we got out of his truck in Silverton, among others... Everyone was nice and courteous!

Health

Over the first half of the year while I was finishing up my section hike of the AZT, I was plagued with blisters and IT Band Syndrome. None of that surfaced on this hike. I did the entire hike from Denver to Durango without a single blister! With the exception of some mild knee pain at the beginning, tweaking my left ankle a little on the descent from Snow Mesa near Lake City, and some dry toe skin, I was in perfect health for the entire trip!

Lowlights

Gear Issues

On the first night, it rained and my tent fly leaked. On the second night, I got a hole in my sleeping pad.

Had to acquire a new tent in Breckenridge because apparently the BA Copper Spur rain flys are made of a special kind of material (silicon based) which standard seam sealers don't stick to it. Reluctantly I went with a Copper Spur 2... enjoyed the extra space, hated the extra weight.

I tried to fix the hole in my NeoAir (sleeping pad) but I was unsuccessful and dealt with inflating the pad a couple of times each night before replacing it in Salida.

Losing my hat.

I lost my hat on the pass between Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. It may seem like something silly to be upset about, but I got that hat for Christmas in 2014 and it has accompanied me on virtually every hike I've been on since. Just as I made the crest of the ridgeline on the pass, a large gust of wind whipped the hat straight off my head and carried it over a cliff... I went through all the stages of grief.

I picked up a new hat in Leadville, which I nearly lost on the hitch into Lake City. In this instance, I was seated in the back of a pickup after scoring a hitch into town, when the driver started going before I had time to take my hat off. Again I started to work through the stages of grief... This time however, a fellow hiker found the hat on the side of the road while thumbing for a ride and returned it to me in town.

I may be a little too sentimental about my hats...

US-50 to Eddiesville

After being dazzled by amazing views along the Collegiate West route, the trail hits a lull as you leave the Sawatch Range and transition into the San Juans. You are no longer mesmerized by grand alpine views above treeline, which carry you along.

The trail dips back down below 10,000 ft, it gets warmer, and there is less water. The landscape along this stretch isn't "ugly" by any means, but it is very average compared to what you've already been though. That coupled with the daily thunderstorms made this stretch a little less exciting compared to the beginning of the trail or Collegiate West. Once we made it to the Cochatopa Valley in Eddiesville it was back to fairy tale land.

Info For Future Hikers

Resupply

We didn't go into the hike knowing where every town stop was going to be. Our motto was to be as flexible as possible. We ended up doing Breckenridge, Leadville, Salida, Lake City, and Silverton. For those going Collegiate West, this seemed to be the standard resupply options.

We decided to buy everything in town as we went. It is the more expensive option, but we almost always got into town on weekends when the post office was closed and met people who had to wait an extra day in town to get their resupply boxes. This also allowed us to be flexible with what we ate. By the time I reached Lake City I never wanted to touch another Knorr Pasta Side, and in Lake City I didn't want to see another Ramen package. I was able to change what I was eating on the fly, while others were trying to give away food they were sick of out of their resupply boxes. Buy-as-you-go seems to be the most common method for resupply on the CT.

Breckenridge is a full service town with a fantastic bus system that can take you around Breck-Frisco-Dillon. There is a Walmart in Frisco, and several gear stores where you can buy supplies.

Leadville is a full service town with a limited selection of groceries and outdoor supplies. Leadville is compact and it is easy to get around by walking.

Salida is a full service town with a Walmart and an excellent selection of outdoor gear. However, the town is a little more spread out and has no public transportation system so getting around may be a little more difficult. The Super8 we stayed at (hostel was full) had bikes we were able to use to get around.

Lake City is a very small town with a very limited selection of groceries and gear supplies. It is small and compact enough to get around on foot. There is no 4G internet service in this town. Very slow 3G internet service is available but you're better off finding a Wifi connection somewhere in town.

Silverton is a very small town with a limited selection of groceries and gear supplies. The town is small and compact enough to get around on foot.

Hostels

If you want cheap lodging along the trail, stay at the hostels.

From most favorite to least favorite:

The Leadville Hostel - Very accommodating to hikers, they have bikes you can use to get around town, a pool table, 2 T.V.s, vending machines with reasonable prices, and comfortable beds. For $10 they will also shuttle you back to the trail so you don't have to hitch.

Raven's Rest (Lake City) - Very accommodating to hikers, they have a bike you can use to get around town, a very lax thru-hiker oriented atmosphere, and they are located in a part of town where you can get most places in less than 5 minutes. My only gripe with the Raven's Rest is their beds were like stiff boards. This place is run by a triple crown hiker, Lucky, who liked Lake City so much he came back to settle with his family and start the hostel.

The Bivvy (Breckenridge) - A cool atmosphere, free breakfast, and a hot tub. They are located far away from most services in Breck-Frisco-Dillon but the public transportation system makes up for it. They were the most expensive out of all the hostels we stayed at.

Blair Street Hostel (Silverton) - Your standard generic hostel, not "trashy" but definitely run down. Comfortable beds and for $10 they will shuttle you back to Molas Pass.

Best Sections

If I had to pick half of the trail to section hike, I would do US-50 to Durango. If I had to choose a smaller section of the trail to hike (~80-100 miles), I'd either do Collegiate West, or Eddiesville to Silverton (Segment 20 - 24). Both of these sections get high, stay high, and follow the Continental Divide for astounding views.

Final Thoughts

This will without a doubt be one of the most memorable hikes of my life. It was my first thru-hike, and it has me hooked. My section hike of the AZT may have been where I gained my wings, but my CT thru-hike is where I flew. I met some incredible, determined people a long the way, struggled at times, was hootin and hollerin, and witnessed awesome beauty. I also walked... a lot!

I thought this would be enough to satisfy my craving for thru-hiking long enough that I would be able to come home and focus hard on school, but I'm already looking at what is possible next. This breed of hiking can be a lifestyle, if you're willing to sacrifice some stability. It felt long in the middle, but near the end I realized just how short the experience really was. This is definitely only the beginning.
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