Our tent site has the pleasant sound of a creek rushing nearby, and, with the long day of hiking yesterday and the crazy thunderstorm, we both have the best night of sleep so far on the trail. That’s probably a blessing because we have a challenging day in store starting with a big ascent over Hope Pass followed by a long descent and then a final climb to Lake Ann. It’s our first full day in the Collegiates, and we are anxious to see if they are any more challenging than what we have experienced so far.
Because everything is still pretty soaked from last night, it takes us a little longer than normal to get going this morning. Once we do, we only get a few minutes down the trail before we run into an old log cabin from back in the day that is in pretty sorry shape now.
From there, it’s only a few minutes further until we get above treeline, where we get our first glimpses of Mount Hope. It feels like it has been a while since we have had some big alpine views, and the sight of a picturesque mountain puts a little pep in our step.
As we are climbing up towards the pass, I say to Matt, “Wasn’t that so cool that we saw those moose prints on the trail yesterday?”
Before he even has time to answer my question, he points at the little lake below us and exclaims, “There’s a moose!”
Sure enough, there is a young male moose with velvety antlers feasting on the willow bushes on the far shore of the lake. Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to get very close to the moose, so we go off-trail to get to the best vantage point we can and enjoy watching him through our binoculars. We had heard that there was a chance of seeing moose here in Colorado, but this is our first time seeing one on the trail. How cool!
From there, we start making our way up to Hope Pass. We have 600 feet of elevation to gain over the next half-mile, but the views of the mountains all around us are so spectacular that we stop often to take photographs.
The trail up to the pass is made easier with plenty of switchbacks, but I still huff and puff as I try to make my way up to the 12,548 foot pass. A group of three twenty-somethings comes bounding up behind us and overtake me before I reach the top. It turns out that two of the three hiked the PCT the same year that we did the John Muir Trail, and we have fun reminiscing about the High Sierra before they race off. They are hiking the whole Colorado Trail in only four weeks, so this will definitely be the last time that we see them.
From the pass, it is a pretty steep 2400-foot plunge over 2.5 miles down to the end of the segment at the Sheep Gulch trailhead. Again, we break up the work by stopping often for photos of the magnificent scenes we pass. I am not a huge fan of steep downhills, but this one isn’t too bad. By the time it is done, we are ready to find a good spot for lunch.
At the trailhead sign, we find a note for us from the gang. They camped last night further up the trail from where we are now. They are at least a half day ahead of us, so chances are most likely that we will not see them again until Salida.
We pull off the trail to eat near a small creek. I go to filter water while Matt hangs out all of the tent pieces to dry in the sun. By the time we are done eating, everything is crisp dry, and we pack it all up again. It will be much more pleasant to set up the tent later when all is dry. We check the Data Book to make sure we know what to expect in the trail this afternoon. It sounds like we have another beautiful hike in store.
For the next few miles, the trail gently meanders up and down hovering around 10,500 feet in elevation. After yesterday’s long traverse around Twin Lakes, it feels like the scenery is changing often today, and that seems to make the miles go by a little faster.
The trail is pretty exposed as we pass through different drainages, and we are both feeling the heat. We breathe big sighs of relief whenever there is a nice breeze or when the sun ducks behind a cloud. Neither happens as often as we would like. Whenever there is water, we take advantage of the opportunity you cool ourselves down.
We cross a creek near a campsite, and we are lucky to see a dark brown mink run across the trail in front of us. He is slinky, quick and out of sight in no time, making us feel fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
We continue through the forest for several more miles, and the views of the mountains ahead of us—Granite Mountain, the Three Apostles and Huron Peak—keep getting better. We officially enter the Collegiate Wilderness and pass the 200-mile mark on our Colorado Trail adventure before taking our last pit stop to fuel up for the final climb up to Ann Lake.
We know we have 1000 feet of elevation gain over the next two miles, but it seems more gradual than we expect it to be, which is a nice treat at the end of a long day of hiking. The forest is beautiful, and we are treated to views of waterfalls in the creeks rushing beside us as well as another close-up encounter with a handsome male red Pine Grossbeak. Where is our long lens when we need it?!?!
Suddenly, we find ourselves above tree line, and the late afternoon light makes everything look so beautiful. It is almost 6 pm by the time we reach the spur trail to Lake Ann which sits just below the wall of stone ahead of us. The trail leads us past a few exposed campsites right to the shore of the lake.
At this time in the evening, all of the day-hikers are long gone, and we are the only ones here. There are a few dark clouds in the sky, and, after last night’s thunderstorm, we are a little nervous to take one of the exposed sites we find initially.
At the far end of the lake, we can see a trail that leads up to an outcropping of rocks and trees and hope that there is a more protected site there. Sure enough, we find a delightful little perch where we can pitch our tent and have a commanding 360-degree panoramic view over all the gorgeous high alpine scenery and mountains around us.
The still green waters of Lake Ann reflect the peaks on either side of Lake Ann Pass. The only sounds we can hear come from a babbling brook that descends from the last patch of snow above us. As we gaze down the valley from our rocky promontory, we see in the distant Blaurock and Ervin Peaks beginning to turn a deep purple as the sun fades.
We set about to do our camp chores and head to the beautiful little stream in the meadow behind us to filter some water and rinse off. It’s getting late in the day, so the water feels especially refreshing on our tired feet.
We make dinner and watch the clouds streaming across the sky first turn golden, then pink and finally purple before the light fades for the night. The peaks of Ice Mountain above Lake Ann turn orange with alpenglow as the mountains in front of us become dark silhouettes.
A crescent moon with a gauzy penumbra rises above the ridge to the right of the pass as the first stars of Sagittarius appear above the horizon. Matt aims his Starwalker app at the sky and thinks we can see Saturn, Jupiter and possibly Pluto in a line. This is an A+ campsite as far as we are concerned.
We have been in this idyllic spot for a few hours now and still have a hard time believing that we have it all to ourselves. Matt is in his happy place and runs around shooting photos until it is time to go to bed, and I love seeing him in such a state. We have another big day in store for tomorrow and can only hope that it wil be as good as today.
Day 17 Stats
Starting Point: Avalanche Meadow, CW mile 189
End Point: Lake Ann, mile 202.1
Segment: CW 01-02
Date on Trail: July 17, 2018