The last bit of “easy” before the Collegiate West
CT Day 7: 19 miles. Leadville to Hagerman Rd - mi 158.4 (elev: 10,375 ft)
We got a leisurely late start this morning and were on trail at 9:45 am. We took advantage of the hostel by taking a morning shower which was just divine. Getting my muscles warm in the shower felt so good. While sleeping in a warm bed was super nice, my legs were still quite achy at night.
My hips have been really bugging me and have been super tender to the touch, but this was the first day they didn’t really bother me (even with a heavier and freshly resupplied pack).
Just after Tennessee Pass (the place most people get off for Leadville and about 4 miles into our day), we ran into a first time thru-hiker, Emma, and her dog Nala. We had met her at the hostel in Leadville and she joined us hiking for the rest of the day. She thought she was way older than us because she just turned 30. People out here guess we are about 24 years old. Red Stripe is 32 and I’m 33, so it was fun to have a group of us ladies in our 30's. Emma just recently graduated from her PhD program in computer science and is taking the time before work to hike the CT.
The afternoon was overcast and drizzly and very mosquito-y. We never got actual rain pouring on us, but everything was wet enough that taking breaks was almost worse than walking. The mosquitos were the worst they have been thus far and they were biting me through my clothing. Incense helped deter them, but they are vicious. The ground and rocks were all super wet as well so sitting wasn’t super great.
The day had ups and downs but no huge climbs that lasted more than 2 or 3 miles. We had some decent descents and they were quite rocky and the pounding of my feet going down hurt the bottom of my feet so much. I think I will switch out shoes halfway and get some with more cushion because I can feel every rock in my Hoka Torrents.
The last few miles dragged on and my feet and legs were done. We finally made it to a camping area where the three of us set up our tents and made dinner around an imaginary campfire. There was a moment of jokingly wishing a dude (or anyone) were there with excess energy to build a fire for us to help with the mosquitoes and warmth, but none of us actually had the energy to make a fire. I lit some incense and we covered ourselves in warm clothing and the mosquitoes made their presence very known all evening. When we sat down to eat the sun came out and the view was pretty nice from our camping spot.
As we finished up dinner Nala started barking at a car and a person parked down on the road just 100 ft from where we were camped. Eventually Emma went over to see what was going on and I heard her say “Sprout and Red Stripe?” I stood up and my dad was there! What an awesome surprise! He found us using the GPS tracker and just came by to say hi! What an awesome morale booster! It was so great to see a familiar face and know that he will be nearby if we need something. He is planning to help us out with our resupply in Buena Vista and then pick us up at Monarch Pass and drive us to Denver so we can take a few days off trail before continuing south to Durango!
CT Day 8: 19 miles. Hagerman Rd to Twin Lakes (elev: 9,265 ft)
We slept in a little today as we’ve decided to back off of our aggressive pace and we will now try to average around 20 miles/day instead.
We left camp at 7:00 am and had a very steep climb right off the bat. For a while. Emma was still in her tent when we left, but we had said our goodbyes last night as she was planning to do a side trail to summit Mt. Elbert (the tallest CO 14er and second tallest peak in the lower contiguous 48 states) and she wasn’t sure if she was going to hike the collegiate east or west.
The Colorado trail splits at Twin Lakes and you have the option to take a much more mountainous route (the collegiate west route) that is so scenic, beautiful and high elevation, or the east, which is flatter, buggier, and meh (but the original route). Most people recommend the collegiate west (CW) but if there is too much snow it could be impassable. From the start we had always planned on going west. It is more difficult and slightly longer, but we were excited! Sections were on the verge of passable due to the insane snow year Colorado had, but an AT hiking friend “Bean” had just finished the CW and said we would be able to manage.
We planned to meet my dad at Twin Lakes in the early afternoon to get dinner together before hiking out a little to set up camp to head out to the CW. We would also be able to drop some gear we decided we didn’t feel like carrying anymore at that point also.
Today was up and down but nothing too major. There were some steep sections that slowed us down a little bit, but overall we made pretty good timing. The mosquitoes were still horrendous every time we stopped for water or to take a break, so I lit incense all day long.
We took our lunch break at the base of Mt Elbert, where tons of people who attempted to summit were coming down. After we left lunch the thunder rolled in and we saw ominous dark clouds right over Mt Elbert and Mt Massive. Somehow, we only hit about 20 drops of rain as we were descending and again we outran the storm and completely missed it. Had we been an hour behind we would have for sure gotten caught in a downpour.
We finally arrived at Twin Lakes village and took a short side trail, leaving the original CT for the CW alternate route, which consisted of long switchbacks for about 2 miles. Right at the bottom my dad was there with the Prius! We hopped in and enjoyed the quarter mile ride to the general store to get some Gatorade. I had descended too quickly and was definitely feeling the effects of the altitude from such a fast descent. Not to mention the cumulative miles on my body and feet had me totally blasted.
Once we drank some Gatorade we went to a food truck and got veggie burgers and onion rings for dinner. We then did a little pack shake out and I left some of my food in the car with my dad as we plan to see him at Cottonwood Pass only 35 miles away. It is nice being able to carry a lighter load for the first two days of the CW, because I think Day 1 of CW (tomorrow) could be the crux of this whole hike. We will climb 3,300 ft in less than 5 miles over Hope Pass right off the bat, and if the weather is good, the timing feels right and our bodies are doing ok we will attempt Lake Ann Pass in the afternoon. If not, we will camp at the base of Lake Ann Pass and do it the next morning. We’ve heard reports that there are some technical snow challenges on both passes, but specifically Lake Ann as it is very steep and could be dangerous especially depending on the time of day. We are hoping that the snow has melted some since the last reports and we will be fine!
After we shook out our packs and used the restrooms at the inn, we hopped in the car to head back to the side trail parking lot (Willis Gulch).
On our short drive out there we saw a hiker we had met a few times named “Take it Easy” walking. We scooped him up and he joined us at the campsite. He is a 22 year old student in nursing school in my dad’s hometown of Eau Claire, WI! He was excited to meet people his age (or so he thought) bc he thought Red Stripe and I were 21! We had a good laugh and agreed that someone couldn’t pay us to go back and be in our 20's again. We love that we are breaking the stereotypes of women in their 30's on trail. We are showing that it’s ok to take a break from the hustle and bustle of careers and domestic life and be in the woods. And on top of that crush huge days. Most people think we are able to throw down big days because we are in our early 20's, but that is just not the case. Our bodies definitely feel it, but women in their 30's are wicked strong and it’s cool showing everyone out here that.