We wake up in our trailside camp at 5 am. We only have eleven miles to go today, but it’s Saturday and we want to break camp before the weekenders start coming through. Even though it is still dark, it feels much warmer this morning than we are used to, so we decide to start out the day hiking in shorts. It seems a little risky, but we are getting more tolerant of the cold after three weeks of being on the trail.
We are relatively expedient this morning with breaking camp, and we run into Deep Dish just a few hundred feet down the trail from us. Matt compliments him on not over-walking last night in the rain and finding a “campsite” so close by. He is still packing up, so we move on, knowing he will catch up to us shortly.
Just after that, the temperature suddenly drops, and we are freezing. We seem to have walked into the bottom of a natural bowl into which all the cold air has funneled overnight. We walk with a pace just to try to generate some heat. There is a trail register that we are required to sign. We can see that Juli and Eden and Skeeter and Mr. Colorado made it this far yesterday as expected. I sign the book, but my handwriting is terrible because my fingers don’t seem to be working properly from the cold.
As we dip down to the Hancock Trailhead, the temperature continues to drop, and, before long, we can’t take it anymore. Out come the warm gloves, hats and jackets. So much for our shorts day!
We follow an old Jeep road up towards Hancock Lake. This section of trail has fewer “confidence markers,” and we double-check our Guthook app a few times to make sure we are headed in the correct direction. We pass an old mine that looks like it hasn’t been used in years. When we finally hike up into the sunlight, it feels oh, so good.
Along the way, we run into young, handsome Jake from Texas who is sprawled out alongside the trail in a warm patch of sunlight eating his oatmeal breakfast. He tells us that he hiked 30 miles yesterday and cowboy camped (just a sleeping pad and mat—no tent) beside the trail once he finally decided to turn it in for the day. Of course, he woke up freezing, and now he is trying to warm up for the day before he moves along. He is playing music aloud from his phone, so we figure that he was one of the people who passed by our tent last night just before we went to sleep. He was still out hiking well past 9. Oh, to have that kind of youthful energy!
When we finally reach the end of the road, a pair of ATVs comes roaring up behind us. This is the end of the line for them, and one of the woman jumps off her vehicle and asks if we want our photo taken. She is impressed when she learns that we have come from Denver and are hiking all the way to Durango. It doesn’t seem like hiking is her thing, but we appreciate her enthusiasm for our adventure.
We know that we are very close to the halfway point of our trip, and we want to make sure that we don’t pass it. As we are checking the data book and Guthook app, both Deep Dish and a Northbounder on the Collegiate Loop from Minnesota converge on us at the same time, and we end up having an extended snack break and trail chat with everyone. We don’t have too far to go today, so we have the time, but eventually the others feel the pressure of making their miles and head on their way. Deep Dish is hiking at a faster pace than us, so this is the last time that we will likely see him on the CT, but perhaps our paths will cross in Chicago sometime in the future.
Once we get back on the trail in earnest, we see that the ATV crowd is looking through their binoculars at something in the mountainside of Sewanee Peak. If it is wildlife, we want to know about it, so we ask what they are seeing. It turns out that there are a few old mines in the mountainside. An older gentleman named Bruce comes over to point them out to us. He is from Danville, Illinois, of all places, but he runs a few mines here and is happy to chat with us a bit about the history of mining in the area.
We thank Bruce for the history lesson and head on our way being careful to note the halfway point between Denver and Durango that is just around the corner. As it so happens, there aren’t a lot of raw materials around on this stretch of trail, but we do our best with some cut willow branches that we find to honor the milestone. Matt and I have creative differences on this one, so you will have to let us know which of our artisitic interpretations you prefer!
Suddenly, we are aware that we have not gotten anywhere particularly fast this morning, so we decide to make tracks up to the top of Chalk Creek Pass. This one is only 400 feet up, so it’s not too bad, and the views of the two alpine lakes stretched out behind us keep getting better the higher we go.
Once we reach the pass, the views on the other side draw us down. We stop for a quick snack break and continue on. A small pond shimmers like a jewel right in the middle of the valley below, and the trail is leading us directly to it. All we have to do is negotiate a boulder field, and we can get an amazing morning reflection. Matt gets there first and balances precariously on the rocks by the water’s edge to get the perfect shot.
From there, we head below treeline and hike through the forest down towards the Boss Lake Trailhead. Along the way, we pass more massive boulder fields that tire our feet as we negotiate them. So far, the Colorado Trai hasn’t been very technical at all. The Collegiate West is supposed to be one of the more difficult sections, so, if this is the worst we have to deal with, we will gladly take it.
There are also lots of wildflowers again along the trail. Most of these seem to be a little past their prime. Perhaps the summer wildflower season comes a little earlier to this area than some of the others we have passed? We certainly hope that the wildflower season isn’t done yet!
Speaking of wildflowers, we also see a couple of very cool moths (we think!) feeding on the tube-shaped blossoms of the Larkspur and Monkshood. The moths are striped yellow and black and are about the size of a hummingbird. It has a really long proboscis that it sticks into the flowers as it goes flitting about. It is super cool, and we wish we knew what it was. Please let us know if you know! (Our apologies for the sub-par photo, but it’s the best we can do with the cameras/lenses we have!)
The other thing that is notable about this forest is how damaged it looks. Along the forest trails there is an incredible amount of downed trees everywhere, sometimes so thick that is all you see. Ever since we passed Chalk Creek Pass, about 50% of the standing trees appear to be dead as well, apparently victims of the invasive Asian Pine Beetle. It is so beautiful here despite all of this, but it makes us wonder how lovely it would be to hike here in a pristine state. It must be an incredibly difficult job to have to manage a forest like this.
We have our lunch on a rock and a log beside the trail and then make our final push up to Hunt Lake where we plan to camp tonight. We finish the CW Segment 4 by dropping down to Boss Lake Trailhead, crossing a stream on a footbridge and then climbing steeply up to Boss Lake. After huffing and puffing up the trail, we are spit out onto the dam below the lake, where it is super windy. We breathe a big sigh of relief and take off our hats to cool ourselves down. Sometimes a good, strong breeze can come in handy.
We cross the outlet of the lake and keep climbing steeply. The terrain here looks different than what we have seen in the past few days—much rockier and drier with different species of pine trees.
We also pass another old mine shaft. This one looks like a huge crater in the ground with a danger sign warning people not to get too close.
As we slog our way up to Hunt Lake two mountain bikers come careening downhill and stop to confirm they are headed in the right direction. This trail is one of the steepest and most technical we have encountered on the entire Colorado Trail. Hiking it is tough enough. I can’t even imagine going down it on a mountain bike! Crazy!
We make it to Hunt Lake in the midafternoon and find a nice campsite on the low side of the lake. We are eager to see if there is anything better, so we leave our bags and follow tree trail around the lake. We find an open campsite with a commanding view of the lake and of Mount Aetna behind. What a view!
This is one of the best sites we have seen on the trail, and we don’t want to lose it. We decide that I will stay at the site, while Matt goes back to grab his bag. Then I can do the same when he gets back. Much to my surprise, Matt shows up with both bags. There’s no way he is letting this site slip through our fingers!
Like clockwork, the skies grow dark just as we arrive. We make a mad rush to get the tent set up before the rain comes. We still need water, and it isn’t raining yet, so we grab our filter supplies and make an attempt to get that chore done before the impending storm. After a few minutes, we see a flash of lightning closely followed by a clap of thunder, which forces us to flee back to the safety of the tent.
The storm hits, and it is impressive. The rain beats down on the tent, and the thunder cracks and rolls all around us. The closest strike is maybe a mile or two away at most, but in time it passes, leaving a dramatic sky in its wake. Matt takes advantage of the lighting and jumps out of the tent to take some photos of the incredibe scene.
We spend the rest of the evening relaxing and catching up on writing and blog work. A nice, young couple from Denver stops by on their way to filter water, and we enjoy the opportunity to be social before making our dinner.
There are a few other groups here camping for the evening, and, unfortunately, one of them seems clueless that their sound carries across the water. They are also ignoring the fire ban in effect across the entire state of Colorado and are making a fire. Where is a forest ranger when you need one? Still, we’ve lucked into a great spot, and we enjoy another dramatic sunset before we head to bed. Just before falling asleep, we hear the unmistakable hoot of an owl nearby. We are excited to complete this leg of our journey and head to Salida tomorrow!
Day 21 Stats
Starting Point: Trailside camp along railroad bed, mile 241.9
End Point: Hunt Lake, mile 253
Segment: CW 04-05
Date on Trail: July 21, 2018