After a very enjoyable zero day in the Twin Lakes/Leadville area, with our time split between watching the World Cup Final (France beat Croatia 4–2), taking care of laundry, lunch in Leadville and celebrating Alison’s birthday, it’s time to hit the trail again and begin the Collegiate West segment ending in Salida. Thru hikers on the CT have the option of taking the original Collegiate East route or the more rugged Collegiate West route shared by thru hikers on the CDT. Some folks even string the two together to form the Collegiate Loop. We don’t have time for that, so we’ve chosen to tackle the Collegiate West, as we hear it is more scenic, and we feel up for the challenge, especially after a pleasant rest day.We wake up at 6, pack up our bags, prepare a box of extra supplies which Bob (the friendly owner of the General Store) has graciously offered to mail home for us. After two weeks, we now know what we are really using and what we can safely send home. Plus we have a better sense of how much food we are consuming. It feels great to let go of extra weight; we feel unencumbered as we prepare for this next leg of our journey.
We head down for breakfast and enjoy coffee, yogurt, granola and fresh fruit as we chat with Margaret and Doug, the friendly owners of the Twin Lakes Inn, and gape at the dozens of hummingbirds that whiz around the feeders outside the windows to the breakfast room (yet again!).
We see our trail friends heading off to take a short cut route to the Collegiate West. Being trail purists, we’ve opted to take the long way around, which involves a 1.7 mile hike uphill back to the trail junction, and then about 8 miles of hiking around the Upper and Lower Twin Lakes before the junction to the CW. We bid fond farewells to Bob, Margaret, Doug and Andy and wish Yoli a pleasant end to her vacation, and then it’s off into a beautiful sunny morning. Such a difference from yesterday afternoon’s heavy rains!
We chat excitedly as we head back up to the junction about how satisfying our day plus off trail was. Once we turn back onto the CT the trail is relatively flat as we head east through aspen and then pine forest with the lakes well below us.
We see what appear to be fresh moose tracks in the mud. There are two sets—one adult set and one smaller set that must be from a young calf. We look around but see no sight of them. How great it would be to see a moose in the wild!?
We pass through Lakeview Campground and admire one older couple who are sitting reading in a screen tent enjoying the view from up in the hills above the lake. It gives us a glimpse of what our future might look like!
The trail gradually descends back to the road, which we cross by going through an underpass designed just for hikers and bikers.
Now we begin skirting the edge of the lake a few hundred yards from shore. The smell of sage bush is strong in the warm, summer air. The lake is very calm today and the air still, but the temperature is not too hot. It’s nice to walk relatively flat for a while. We see a red-tailed hawk being harassed by some sort of falcon, and we spot a turkey vulture riding the therms.
We stop for lunch along the shore in a small patch of shade. An osprey flies past looking for its lunch. All we can offer is potato chips.
Then we head east a few more miles before crossing south across a dam before turning back west. The dam is property of the government, and there are signs warning us not to mess around while we are walking across it.
On this side of the lake, the trail is more shaded as it passes through pine forest. We welcome the break from the direct sunlight. In a few miles we pass the junction to the Collegiate East and are now officially on the Collegiate West trail.
Soon we see a slight diversion to the Interlaken Resort and the Dexter home. It’s interesting to see this popular 1890’s resort and imagine what it would have been like to visit here then!
It’s mid afternoon, and we still have 5 miles to cover to get to our intended camp. The trail remains fairly flat for about 2.5 miles, but that’s where the fun ends. The last 2.5 miles or so climb over 1000 feet straight up a gulch with almost no switchbacks. We stop to filter water for the evening so we are back to full pack weight! Aarrggh!
It’s a slow slog, and we do everything to distract ourselves from thinking about the ascent. There are a few waterfalls on the creek to photograph, and they make a nice break in the long uphill.
As we get close to camp, we can see the skies turning dark grey and hear the distant sound of thunder. Luckily we find a camping site at the edge of an avalanche meadow and quickly get the tent up and prepare dinner just in time.
We jump in our tent as the rain starts to fall and wait out a thunderstorm that passes right over head. The rain at times is intense. The lightning is close and the thunder loud, but all is well.
We are in a bit of a dilemma. Dinner is ready, but the common advice is to not eat in or near your tent to avoid attracting bears. But to do so tonight means getting drenched, so we risk it and eat a very cozy meal in the vestibule of our tent, hoping the bears won’t smell the intense spices of our Kathmandu Curry. We are warm with full bellies, but we are exhausted and ready to call it a day. It’s good to be back on the trail!
Day 16 Stats
Starting Point: Twin Lakes Village, 1.7 back to trail junction, mile 175.6
End Point: Avalanche Meadow, CW mile 189Mileage: (+ 1.7) + 7.8 to Collegiate E/W junction + 5.6 = 13.4 (+ 1.7)
Segments: 11 & CW 01
Date on Trail: July 16, 2018