CT Day 18/CDT: Hope in the Collegiates

July 18 had been locked into my calendar for months. I had somehow managed to section hike the first 185 miles of the Colorado Trail over most of my weekends since early May, and starting today I had 3 weeks to hike the last 300 miles of the trail to Durango. All those section hikes and vehicle shuttles had turned out to be an oddly fun logistical challenge and I hoped had left me in good enough hiking shape for the first big climb up Hope Pass as I started into the Collegiates West.

I worked my graveyard job as usual on Saturday night, then on Sunday morning I drove straight from work to my son’s house in Leadville. Erik drove me to Twin Lakes, and I think he read a bit of doubt behind my excitement. He confidently let me know, “you got this dad” as I unloaded my backpack, then I was on my way. A few weeks earlier I had hiked to the junction of the the Collegiates West & East routes on the scenic side of Twin Lakes, so at least the first 1.5 miles was familiar. I had decided to take the Collegiates West alternate that follows the CDT, with its reputation for sweeping views. It also gains about 2000 feet more in elevation than its East counterpart that features more hiking through the woods.

Collegiates West Segment 1 (CW1) starts out meandering though the woods past Twin Lakes reservoir for the first 3-4 miles. Then comes Hope Pass which gains 3600 feet over 4 miles and peaks out above 12,500 feet. I had read and watched lots of hikers’ commentary that Hope Pass is a beast of a climb, and it seemed a bit daunting leading up to today. Earlier in the trail I had done a pretty steep climb up the Tenmile Range from Miners Creek and a long climb up Searle Pass, but this would be both steep and long. I had also been worried about thunderstorms with my late Sunday morning start but thankfully today I got a break in the weather.

The climb was not easy and I only saw a handful of other hikers. I passed a family of fit-looking day hikers, and it was big boost for my confidence when I charged past them carrying my backpack loaded with 5 days’ provisions. When I approached treeline I could finally see the ridge of the pass. I still had some climbing ahead, but the CT Databook had let me know there was camping and water just a mile beyond the high point. I could hear some campers enjoying the scenic lake on the way up. A pair of hikers doing the Collegiate Loop passed as I approached the ridgeline. I wondered why they had slowed down, then I saw marmot along the trail that didn’t seem to be bothered by hikers. I noticed I had cell service so I made a quick video call with my wife Maria to share the scene and the nearby marmot with her.

It felt pretty cool the reach the saddle – I had climbed the infamous Hope Pass! The sign post was absent the prayer flags I had seen in other pictures, but the view of the mountains ahead was a far better alter. The climb down the other side was just as steep but I did find the expected campsite and water not far below. I had hiked 10 miles the first day, but that wasn’t bad with my late start and big climb. I was nearly through CW1 and had gained ton of confidence.

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