Day 1: Nero… (8 miles to Monarch in the morning + 16.5 past Monarch after resupply)
After Tom dropped us back at the Lodge, I dumped out all my food in the parking it and made quick work of sorting and packing and gave Baskets any overflow of snacks he wanted. Between that, what was leftover from Twisted’s resupply box he left over at the Lodge and the snacks purchased at the Gift shop, Baskets would be fine for the next three day stretch to Twin Lakes. We charged our phones ate some snack bar food and headed off back to the trail which took us directly over the ski area and over several large and exposed ridge lines. Then we dropped down to several beautiful alpine lakes, one after another until crossing a fork of the Arkansas river where I waited for baskets.
When he caught up we decided to hike over Chalk Creek Pass which took us up a steep road past some abandoned cabins and under an enormous southern rock face. We made it over the pass as the sun set and with headlamps, hiked down a boggy basin to another lake with actively feeding fish at the inlet. This lead us down a road where we saw Situpchuck and Burkhardt, two German hikers, who offered to us to pick our tent nearby but there was no flat spot leftover. We walked another mile and a half and camped – now late and growing weary at 10pm – at a sufficient spot nearby a creek which was the outflow of the earlier lake above.
On day two (26 miles), we got a bit of a later start than usual, and hiked back up the road and up Tunnel Gulch, a historic railroad grade where conductors would haul full cars of coal around some of the steepest and curviest terrain ever. As fate would have it on occasion a train would go too fast around a corner…
This day called for climbs of 1,300 and 1,800 feet and four additional climbs totaling over 6000 feet of climbing and the day was beautiful and full of huge vistas including views of Mirror Lake but full of hard work. Approaching Cottonwood pass might have the hardest as we’d gone over and around about five large basins at that point. Windy and a bit of snow to navigate at the end it was late and I was hoping for camping but we were greeted with a featureless, concrete parking lot and lots of wind. We kept going, officially entering the West Collegiate Peaks and hiking another three miles past several people camping already. I eyes a spot above a small steam and Baskets called it 5-star… it was two great flat spots tucked into the trees and we made quick work and set up camp for the night.
Day three (31+ miles), was a beautiful walk downhill toward Texas Creek, our first big water crossing. We hiked for several hours across a large valley and passed the junction to Mirror Lakes. Next was a seven mile traverse to the South Illinois trail then headed up towards Lake Ann pass. We stopped for a short break before the climb and Situpchuck passed me, hauling ass with his headphones on and making good time. I spun and took off toward him, attacking the 1800 feet or so we had left to climb. I passed another through hiker then a young local couple with a dog. With two switchbacks left I caught Situpchuck’s tail and surprised him when we reached the top. We then faced a very steep 100 foot section of snow that, had I kept my ice axe and not sent it to Salida, would have come in handy for a glissade. But I didn’t have it so I descended a set of steep, nerve racking steps left in the snow by previous hikers. I then watched Baskets descend while the couple who had the dog let the pooch run up and practically stand on his hind legs until finally corralling the mutt to give Baskets some room to concentrate.
At the bottom we met and chatted with Situpchuck who had stopped for a snack. We hiked down mile after mile into a steep valley behind 14’ers, Huron Peak and Browns Peak and made a turn past an old mining town. Several miles later we turned up some of the steepest climbing I’d ever done and headed towards Hope Pass. 3000 feet and a lot of internal coaxing later, we reached the top and looked down towards Twin Lakes. Pushing on with the sun going down we descended from the pass nine miles down Willis Gulch towards the lake and Lake Creek. Exhausted, a few miles short of town we found a big oak tree – you heard that right, and plopped down a quick and dirty camp for the night.
Day four (17.3 miles nero), was a short walk over the bridge and Lake Creek, down the road two miles and two more to twin. We met Baskets friend Nope, reunited for the dirt time since hiking some of the Appalachian Trail a year before. We’d sweet talked the owner of Twin Lakes Lodge into selling us a continental breakfast – normally for guests only – and gorged ourselves accordingly. I resupplied for three days out of the selections at the local general store, then hit the BBQ cart in front of a small art gallery. After calling home, mom and dad, I hit the trail again about 2pm and hiked past 14’er Mt. Elbert about 16 miles more and stopped at a nice creek with a flat spot 100 yards above.
8 Miles over windy and windy ridgeine Drop under gondola Egg sandwich ad coffee Tom picks up heet, us, and shuttles to Lodge and back More food, charging 16.4 more miles starting w big climb from pass to 12550. Drop to lakes Wait for Baskets at fork of Arkansas Six miles over chalk creek pass to windy lake and down road by headlamp to find camp
Day 2 Late start Railroad grade and tunnel 1300, 1800, plus four more climbs 6000 feet North side snow 25.7 mileswalkimg to dusk again collegiate wilderness boundary five star camp, near catawampus and iceman
Day 3: 31+miles Start at mi 1122 Descend to Texas Creek hike five miles to junction with Mirror Lakes alt break, see swede Up Prospector gulch then 7 miles traverse until int with Illinois Trail and Lake Ann trail break, meet Ben couple passes, Situpchuck passes, I take off Pass Ben and catch up to Situpchuck at top Snow descent on steps Descend to lake and down S Fork of Clear creek. Passing Huron Trail we stayed on dirt road past old townsite. Continue on road past Ervin Peak and Mt Hope rejoin cdt via bushwhacked Up next pass -1100 feet in .7 mile past camp Up another 1500 to Hope pass down pass Baskets wants 30+ Descend all the way down willis gulch 3.5 left at bermuda triangle tril and camp
Day 4: 17.3 mile Nero mile down trail and two down road to town. Breakfast at Twin Lakes Inn and Saloon Resupply and relax BBQ joint Hike out one mile on road to CDT junction Chat with day hiker for a mile until Lily Pond Pass lots of Mt Albert summiteers Beautiful trail down to Halfmoon Rd to enter Mt Massive Wilderness More beautiful trail to camp by small stream.