Our third day in the Collegiate West is similar in many ways to yesterday. We woke up and immediately crossed a beautiful high mountain pass as our first challenge of the day. We spent much of the day descending and hiking flat only to end it with another 1000 foot climb into camp. And, just like yesterday, we spied another moose along the way, this one a lone female grazing in the shallows of a beaver pond only 50 feet away! Lightning, so to speak, really does strike twice.
We awake this morning to a pink sunrise as we emerge from our tent on a rocky promontory overlooking Lake Ann, still pinching ourselves that we have this magnificent site all to ourselves. We take a few extra moments to appreciate the scene and enjoy coffee on the big rock overlooking the lake.
The lake is perfectly still this morning, and we are able to get some nice reflection shots on our way back to the main trail. It’s almost impossible to tell where the mountain ends and the water begins!
Then it’s off to tackle Lake Ann Pass, a short but steep climb above the lake. As we ascend we are treated to ever more impressive views of Lake Ann and the valley below. Day 18 is off to a great start!
Along the way we spy a female ptarmigan and her three adorable little chicks. She even tries to fake an injured wing to draw attention to herself, so we assure her we mean no harm and move on. Her camouflage amongst the rocks is incredible. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” out in the woods. Can you spot her?
This pass reminds us of many we crossed in the Cordilleras in Peru, in which the last several hundred feet involve switchbacks up loose scree on a barely discernible trail to a fairly narrow ridge line, this one still draped with the last apron of snow.
We drop our packs to admire the view and rest before descending steeply for several miles back into treeline. The pictures tell the story of how stunning Lake Ann Pass was this morning.
There are lots of interesting plants to distract us along the way, and we even spot a cute pica that seems to be begging to have his picture taken.
The mid-part of the day has us traversing a mountain on the Timberline Trail through pine forest. We are lucky that the trail is largely shaded and that a delightful breeze keeps us relatively cool as we pound out the miles. This afternoon feels more like a travel day in which the scenery is not the big story. It’s the human story holds our attention throughout the midday.
First, we get a text from Juli telling us that Paul from the Orchestra is not feeling well, so much so that they have called for Search and Rescue to extract him. Turns out he woke up at 4:30 am with intense abdominal pain that would not go away. They think he may have a kidney stone. At any rate, the 6-person rescue crew has already hiked in several miles from the nearest road and retrieved Paul with plans to take him to the hospital in Gunnison before we ever get to them. We hope he’s alright and can rejoin us in Salida in a few days, but we’ll have to wait and see.
It’s close to lunch time when we get passed by a fellow thru-hiker. We chat on the trail and quickly discover that Kevin, aka Deep Dish, is practically our neighbor. He lived in Rogers Park, only a few blocks from us until recently. He’s hiking the CT, like so many we meet out here, as a transitional experience before heading back to graduate school. We keep chatting about travel and hiking over lunch and then part ways, as he is a much faster hiker and intent on getting to Buena Vista for a resupply tonight or tomorrow.
As we descend toward the junction with the Texas Creek Trail we hear approaching the sound of motorbikes. We jump off trail and allow three bikers to pass. It seems strange to share the trail with these loud machines that tear up the trail and leave behind the smell of fuel. Luckily, this is not a weekend and soon enough we reenter the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness where the only traffic allowed is on two feet or four hooves.
We hike for a while alongside a wetlands that seems to have been created by some very active beavers. Deja Vu! Alison notices moose prints in the mud, and not a second later says, “Shh, there’s a female moose cow grazing in the shallow water nearby!” We stop to quietly observe before moving on our way. A moose sighting two days in a row! What luck!
We hike for a while through a valley that is cattle grazing land. There are several streams and creeks to cross, but nothing proves to be too challenging, except for the heat this afternoon.
The last several miles finds us ascending another 1000 feet, but this time through what can only be described as a messy forest. The trail here in the CW is clearly newer or far less used, so we have to choose our steps carefully as we negotiate rocks and roots. In addition, this section has more downed trees blocking the trail than any we’ve seen so far, many of which are big and difficult to simply step over. It makes for slower going at the tired end of the day.
Eventually, we emerge onto a ridge and a lookout over the valley. Here we see three Pine grosbeaks, two red males and one yellow female, at fairly close range. Deja Vu! For the second day in a row. Very auspicious we think!
When we finally reach the pond where we intend to camp tonight, we see familiar friends on the other side—Eden and Juli are here, slowed by the events surrounding Paul’s rescue earlier today. We set up our camp quickly and then go for a visit to hear the details of the last few days. We are all still waiting to hear if Paul is alright. It’s getting dark, and we still have water to filter and dinner to make, so we bid goodnight and head back to our camp.
As we are waiting for dinner to rehydrate, the strangest thing happens. We are sitting quietly on the trail by the lake waiting for our dinner to rehydrate. I am sipping my coffee and composing my notes when, out of the blue, a small unidentifiable dark rodent comes running down the trail at high speed aimed directly at us. He runs right past Alison but takes a 90 degree turn right at me. Rather than veering around me, he climbs up in my lap and up my chest, almost touching my chin!
All of this happens so quickly all I can do is jump and throw everything including this kamikaze rodent off of me! In a black blur, he jumps up on a dead log and runs the length of it away from us before scampering into the forest. I am left to pick up the pieces and wonder what I did to deserve this. Let’s hope this is not a deja vu that repeats itself tomorrow! We quietly, but observantly, eat dinner in the dark before calling it quits on Day 18.
Day 18 Stats
Starting Point: Lake Ann, mile 202.1
End Point: Small pond near trail, mile 216.6
Segment: CW 02
Date on Trail: July 18, 2018