CT Day 9: 21.6 miles. Twin Lakes (Willis Gulch Trailhead) to camping at stream just past Illinois Creek (elev: 11,103 ft). We had about 8,000 ft of elevation gain.
We got a very early start this morning because we knew we wanted to get over two big passes today: Hope Pass & Lake Ann Pass. I woke up at 4:45 am and started getting ready. I noticed right away that the tent was filled with condensation when I went out to pee. This was the first time to have it totally wet due to condensation on this trip. I had a chamois and I put on my Gortex mitten liners and wiped off the excess droplets, wringing out the chamois after a few wipes. The tent was soaked and these efforts might have helped slightly, so I shifted gears to getting ready. I remembered that camping in an open area next to a stream always causes tent condensation. Pine tree groves are the best spots.
I prepped my morning Soylent, got out all my food for during the day to put in my side easy access pouch of my pack, took my morning CBD and other vitamins, and packed everything up. “Take it Easy” was running a wee bit behind so he told us to get started and he would catch us.
Red Stripe and I began walking up a VERY steep approach trail to join up with the collegiate west alternate route. It was 5:30 am and it was just light enough to see without headlamps. We gained about 2,000 ft of elevation in those first two miles heading up to the trail junction. This was to avoid a lengthy, flat and boring walk all the way around Twin Lakes and branch off from the eastern/flatter route onto the CW route which would keep us at pretty high elevation and involve more technical and challenging miles.
When we got to the trail junction there was a creek with a bridge so we took a small break and filled up with water. Take It Easy joined us there and the three of us set off at our own paces up the huge climb (equivalent in grade and length *ish* to climbing the south side of Mt. Moosilauke in the White Mountains on the Appalachian Trail). We took a few breaks on our way up to let our bodies get more oxygen, catch our breath and drink and eat. We were working. It is so hard to drink water while at such high altitude because I feel like it makes me even more out of breath, so we have to stop and let our heart rates chill out for a minute just to drink water.
Eventually we got above tree line and hiking above tree line is my absolute favorite. You can see the trail for a long time ahead of you and the views are so vast and dramatic.
We had one tiny inconsequential snow patch that we walked over at the very top of Hope Pass and there were prayer flags blowing in the wind at a cairn to greet us. It was super windy up there, so we snacked, took a few pictures and then began descending. The descent down Hope Pass was steep and at times rocky and treacherous. We had a lot of very rocky path today, which was hard on our feet.
At the bottom of Hope Pass we chilled for a while and ate some more. Take It Easy said he would catch us as he wasn’t exactly ready to leave when we were, so we bid him temporary farewell. He’s a strong hiker who has been keeping up with our pace for a few days now, so we figured we would see him again.
We then had about 7.5 miles of a false flat through a valley in between passes which comprised mostly of open meadows. It was beautiful but it was very sunny, hot, and extremely buggy if we were to stop.
We took our lunch break at the end of this segment at a stream right at the base of the second big climb (and maybe the crux of the whole trail), Lake Ann Pass. We knew the snow covered the trail for the last mile at the top and it was still classified as “impassible”, but as we were eating lunch a woman came down as said it would be fine - that there was nothing too challenging.
We began our climb slowly, taking frequent breaks again, and when we got near the top there was definitely some rock scrambling around the snowy area where the switchbacks for the trail lay hidden underneath. It was definitely an adventure and was challenging, but it didn’t feel beyond our comfort zone.
At the very top there was a section of steep snow for about 10 feet that was probably the toughest part, but we could see the cairn and view marking the top of the Pass. It was absolutely incredible up there! It wasn’t even too windy. We hung out and waited for a few other hikers to summit (including Take It Easy) and then it started to get a little chilly so we began the descent. Red Stripe and I descended quickly and by the time we got to Illinois Creek we decided against camping there because it was too marshy and buggy. We continued up a quarter of a mile and found a great campsite where we met section hiker Brent, who had a fire built to keep the mosquitoes away. We are always way too tired to put any work into a fire, so it was much appreciated!
We were thrilled to be at camp by 5:30 pm (an early finish for us!) and eating dinner at 6:00 by a fire. We turned in early in hopes of catching up on some sleep. I slept super poorly last night due to achy legs and not being able to regulate my body temperature super well. It’s hard to move my legs around in my mummy sleeping bag to stretch them and get them in a comfortable position. They just get so throbby and achy at night. Tonight I brought my entire pack in to put under my knees in hopes that elevating my whole legs might help. I also doubled my dose of melatonin and took two Aleve to help with inflammation and nighttime pains. My right arm was also hurting in my tricep area. I took a fall today when I was waking across a wet and slippery log across a water crossing. I had my poles in my hand and wasn’t using them for the crossing and when I took my last step I slipped and fell onto the bank of the creek. It hurt and shook me up a bit. Falling with a pack on is hard because you go all the way down due to the extra weight. Luckily I fell on dry ground and not in the water and at that point I was wearing pants which prevented me from getting scraped up. But the impact kind of tweaked my arm muscles and my right arm was a little extra sore that night.
We were proud we made it through two tough passes with perfect weather and no major mishaps. Unsure of what the rest of the Collegiate West had in store for us, we were just grateful we could get through that first day so well.