It was Monday morning and I needed to cover the next 70 miles of the Collegiates West up to Monarch by Friday morning, where I had arranged to meet my son with a resupply. That meant averaging at least 15 miles a day for the next four days to have a reasonably short hike Friday morning. I overslept this morning – working my overnight shift job in Steamboat Saturday night then hiking over Hope Pass Sunday had left me exhausted. I was lucky with weather Sunday but knew to expect thunderstorms about every afternoon during monsoon season in the Collegiates. I hurried out of camp feeling way behind on the day already.
I adjusted my pack a few times as I hiked down the trail, and within just a few minutes I broke my hip belt buckle. It took me too long to dig out my spare buckle and get it attached, but despite the lost time I was grateful that I had packed an extra. I was finally on my way again, and as I patted myself on the back for being prepared with that spare buckle, I saw a chubby cinnamon-colored bear dance across the trail not far ahead. In my laziness the night before I had skipped hanging my food, telling myself that bears probably didn’t come up to 11,500 feet looking for food. This bear seemed to want to let me know otherwise. A few days later I talked to another hiker who had seen a similar, or maybe the same, bear in this area. I think I learned something new from the trail about every day.
I descended to the the Sheep Gulch trailhead then started the climb back up through the woods. This was another long climb, and as I reached timberline the trail over Lake Ann Pass revealed itself just a little bit at a time. I could see the lake across a tundra meadow with few campers nearby. It just seemed to pristine to camp at, I thought, as I stayed on the trail an continued towards towards the saddle. I still couldn’t make out how I could get over that steep ridge but could eventually see a faint trail along the rim. It didn’t seem quite as exposed or steep as it looked from below, until I the trail turned to talus. This was my first hike up a talus slope; the trail was established but it wasn’t easy going or easy to follow. I made a couple wrong turns going up the wrong boulders, and it was usually harder going back down than it had been going up. The last of the ascent was back on a dirt trail, then I could take a minute look back at Lake Ann and the vast mountains behind it. I crossed paths with another hiker who responded with an odd grin when I warned him of the sketchy trail. As it turned out this had been a much smaller version of many, many sections of the Colorado Trail built through the talus in the Collegiates and later in the San Juans.
The hillsides along the trail were green and really pretty as I descended into the next drainage. I could see rain coming down in the valley below but thankfully saw no sign of lightening today. There was a final set up switchbacks on the way down, and I saw an established campsite alongside the creek below. The campsite was on the less traveled Gunnison Spur trail, right off the main trail. I thought I was all alone as I walked back to the creek crossing to get water for the night, until I was startled by the biggest white furry animal I had ever seen trotting down the trail. I was relieved to see the dog’s friendly owner emerge through the brush. I laughed at myself, wondering what other animal I thought this massive bright white dog could be. That was a fun ending to a 15-mile day with my second big climb through the Collegiates.