Hiked 35.7 Miles of Collegiate West

I have completed hiking the first 35.7 miles of The Colorado Trail’s Collegiate West from Twin Lakes to Cottonwood Pass. This is part of a hike that I posted about previously. My friend Dustin joined me on this hike, and this was his first long hike. We started out intending to hike the entire Collegiate West as I had originally planned; however, we realized by the second day that our pace would make that very difficult with the supplies we were carrying. Therefore, we decided to stop at Cottonwood Pass. I’ll be returning later by myself to finish Collegiate West.

We got a late start on the first day of hiking because we had to drive 7 hours or so from Nebraska to reach Twin Lakes, and when we reached Twin Lakes, we discovered that all of the parking areas near the start of Collegiate West are “Day Use Only” fee areas. Not exactly ideal parking since I was planning on leaving my pickup for up to a week. We eventually settled on parking at the Mount Elbert trailhead which is on the northwest side of the lakes.

Unfortunately, Collegiate West starts on the south side of the lakes which means that we would have had to hike several extra miles around the lakes to reach the start of Collegiate West. I’ve already hiked around the lakes when I was thru hiking The Colorado Trail and it’s exposed, hot, and pretty boring. So after looking at our maps we decided to take a “shortcut” to the west of the lakes where an old trail used to be located. We could tell by looking at the map that we would probably have to cross a few streams/rivers but we went for it anyway. We ended up fording probably a dozen streams and a thigh deep, fast moving river, but we made it to Collegiate West at about 4:30 pm. Technically we started Collegiate West at mile 3.6, but distance-wise the hike from my pickup made up for some of that. And I had already hiked the beginning of Collegiate West last year because I detoured down to visit Interlaken when I was thru hiking The Colorado Trail.

The beginning of Collegiate West was a long, steep 3,300 foot climb up to 12,500 feet at Hope Pass. I was definitely feeling the effects of the quick altitude change, especially coming from Nebraska, because I was suffering from a fairly constant headache. Thankfully I brought plenty of Excedrin which made it manageable.

It felt very good to be back on the trail and back in nature, surrounded by mountains, trees, and streams. So far, Collegiate West seems like a great trail. Lake Ann Pass was definitely the highlight of the first 36 miles with great views in every direction. There was a bit of snow left on the trail when approaching Lake Ann Pass. Before leaving Nebraska, I had read a report from the Colorado Trail Foundation that Lake Ann Pass might still have some snow, but the remaining snow was easily passable. Most of these 36 miles were below treeline so even though there were plenty of great views, there were only a few areas with the panoramic mountain top views that I really enjoy. Those type of views become fairly common starting at Cottonwood Pass (where we stopped) because the trail starts to closely follow the Continental Divide.

Being early in the season, there was plenty of water available due to the snow melt. There were also a lot of wild flowers. I’m no flower expert but there seemed to be a lot of different varieties and colors of flowers which was neat. I saw quite a few deer, but no elk, moose, or bears. And of course, the mosquitoes were in full force.

When we finally reached Cottonwood Pass, we started trying to hitchhike back to my pickup in Twin Lakes or at a minimum, to Buena Vista. There were a lot of people at Cottonwood Pass. A surprising amount actually. I thought this gave us pretty good odds to get a hitch quickly, but we ended up trying for nearly an hour. After trying for probably 15 minutes, a couple who had just arrived told us that if we were still there when they got back they would give us a ride, but they would be gone for about an hour.

After trying to hitch for nearly an hour, a girl named Camille stopped. Camille, aka “Honey Hoopsy” :-D, a hula hoop performer, offered to give us a ride to Buena Vista. After driving for a while, I offered to fill up Camille’s gas tank, which was almost empty, if she would take us all the way back to my pickup at Twin Lakes. She was on her way to Denver so Twin Lakes was about a 50 mile round trip detour for her, but with my bribe of a full tank of gas she accepted. I was very glad because I would have probably spent several more hours trying to get another 2 or 3 hitches to get all the way back to my pickup. Camille dropped us off right at my pickup. It was good to see my pickup hadn’t been towed or stolen.

The plan after getting back to my pickup was to get a motel for the night, and then the next day Dustin’s parents would pick him up on their way through and I would restart hiking Collegiate West at Cottonwood Pass. So after driving to Salida to get a motel, I went to Walmart to resupply with about 4 to 5 days worth of food that I would need to finish Collegiate West. A concern I had was my phone. On the trail, I was unable to get my solar charger to charge my phone which I assumed was just an issue with the solar charger. However, I left my phone on the charger all night at the motel and it barely got above 3% before dying again. I went to the Verizon store in Salida early the next morning hoping to buy a new battery for my phone, but I was told the nearest place to get a battery would be Denver… ugh. The Colorado Trail databook hasn’t been updated for the new addition to Collegiate West so I need to use an app on my phone to keep track of my progress and find water sources. Since my phone is pretty essential for hiking, I decided I would just have to wait to restart Collegiate West.

Overall I’m very pleased with how my new gear performed, and it’s very encouraging that I didn’t get any blisters or have too much soreness. Although, when I return to complete Collegiate West by myself I’m sure I’ll push myself too hard and experience all that soreness that I became accustomed to on The Colorado Trail last year.

For now, I am back in Nebraska waiting on my Amazon shipment to arrive with a new battery for my phone. I’ll be returning to Collegiate West after driving down to Oklahoma to visit my parents since I’m a bad son and haven’t seen them in about 7 months.

While driving home from Colorado I did start having a crazy thought… I think I might thru hike the Appalachian Trail next year. Hmm…

Below are some pictures I took during this hike.

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