As mentioned in the previous post, I (Beardoh) headed out on the Collegiate West section of the CT alone while SweetPea took some time off in Salida to give her hip a chance to rest.
The west side of the Collegiates was very different from the East. While both were challenging with plenty of elevation gain and loss, the west side was quite rewarding with outstanding views and a varied landscape. The passes felt like big mountain passes, similar to the John Muir Trail and offered similar grandiose views of mountains, lakes and sweeping valleys below.
The trail varied throughout – some sections were smooth and well groomed, other sections were wrought with blow downs (over the course of roughly 10 miles in Segment 2, I counted over 144 blowing downs). Some sections of the trail were built across rock slides and some short snowfields still existed above 12,000 feet.
I had been warned about Lake Ann Pass, especially hiking north bound. This pass had a snow/ice cornice that was a bit precarious depending on the time of day that a hiker finds themselves traversing it. I had hoped to make it over at the end of my second day, but as the evening came and I was faced with decision to push another 3 miles to the pass, and then likely a couple more miles beyond to find camping, I decided to stop before the pass and try my luck in the AM. Right at 8am, I found myself looking at the cornice and the footholds that hikers had created to cross the cornice . The foot holds were fairly iced over as the sun hadn’t hit that part of the snow field yet. Ultimately, I went for it – kicking really hard into each step. I have to admit that my heart was pounding pretty hard and for once on a big hike, I was wishing I had some ice traction like Microspikes. I made it over successfully and two day hikers who were watching me from a couple hundred feet away gave a cheer, and I was on my way… Whew.
Giving myself only 2 full days and the better part of a third day (I had a trail angel scheduled to pick me up at 4:30 on the third day), I had to maintain a fairly fast pace. The section was 78.5 miles of the Collegiate West + another 2 miles to the parking area to meet my ride. That 80 miles kicked my butt. Doing high 20 mile days hasn’t been too difficult for me on other trails, but the elevation gain/loss in this section made for some tiring days. I was hiking pretty rapidly most of the time.
For this section, I dropped a bit of weight out of my pack to try a different shelter system. In May, we had made me a poncho/tarp – a dual use piece of gear that works as a poncho to hike in and a tarp as a shelter at night. There is no bug netting and for a ground cloth, I used a lightweight polycro clear sheet. This system worked pretty decent. I stayed dry even through substantial rain the first night and used the poncho mode a couple times as well (once during hail). I don’t sleep great on the ground, however and missed the comfort of the hammock that I typically use. That being said, having a base weight of just a bit over 7 pounds was nice to carry.
It was fun to hike against the current of most of the CT hikers as I saw folks that we had met earlier in the trail – Hambone, Suzy, Heart, Gone Fishing, Whiskers and Flowers to name a few. Each day, I passed by about 15 CT hikers traveling in the opposite direction. Particularly fun was seeing Leslie on my last day. We had met in 2012 at the Trout Lake Grocery on the Pacific Crest Trail. She was hiking the CDT this year.
For wildlife, I was fortunate to see a moose, a pika, a tiny fawn, and a herd of elk (30-40).