The Collegiate Peaks East to Tennessee Pass
Before leaving Salida, we decided to hike the next section on the east side of the Collegiate Peaks, on the Colorado Trail (CT), instead of on the west side, on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CT runs mostly at lower elevations in this area, which meant that we could have a few days of snow free hiking.
We set off full of expectations for easy hiking, big miles, and days filled with sunshine–and–that’s what we got, at least for a little while. We made our way to the Chalk Cliffs and the Mt Princeton Hot Springs. We ate at the restaurant, soaked in the hot springs, and had our fill of ice cream from the general store. Now THIS is hiking, we thought. We climbed the road up Mt Princeton, found water, and set up to cowboy camp for the first time in weeks.
It was the full moon night of Friday the thirteenth. I woke in a sweaty panic. “My face, I can’t breathe, how do I get this off? I have to take this off! I can’t, I can still hear their high pitch buzz swarming my face. Where am I? It’s so hot!”
I struggled with the cord lock on my mosquito net until it finally came loose. I tugged at the zipper on my jacket, pulled back the hood, and then the same on my wind shirt. I removed my wool hat, yanked my neck gaiter off over my head, unzipped my shirt, and wiggled out of my sleeping bag liner with a sigh of relief.
“The moon is so bright. I’m so tired. My feet are sweating. I can’t get my socks off. The moon is getting brighter. No, that doesn’t make sense, why is it flickering? Now it’s getting closer.” As I slowly and fully awoke in an overheated daze three bicyclists rode by wearing headlamps and sporting giant headlights on their bikes. “Damn, it’s hot”, I thought again. “When did it get so hot? It’s been cold every night since we started this trek.” As I fell back into a groggy slumber, I smiled, knowing that summer had finally come to say hello.
A warm breeze caressed the morning. We gathered our things and began our day. As we climbed high on the south side of a ridge the clouds rolled in, bringing wet snow with them. We reached the top of the ridge and began our descent through the snow drifts on the north side.
The night was cold, but the morning returned with the promise of a warm day. We climbed up and down ridges until our upper thighs were tingling with exhausted muscles. Another day and we finally reached the Twin Lakes General Store, had a glorious feeding fest, and then continued on the CDT.
We were back on “our trail” and crossing the flanks of Mt Elbert and Mt Massive. The terrain was rocky and beautiful and I wanted summer. I needed summer. I wanted the last of the snow to go away. I wanted these mosquitoes to go away. I was home: my trail, my sky, my mountains. We slept that night feeling comforted that summer was on its way.
The next day we had long conversations about the house we’re going to build, via ferratas in Italy, and hiking the Appalachian Trail. We were truly inspired. And then, there was more snow. The mosquitoes got thick. The snow drifts got thicker. And the mosquitoes got obnoxious.
This was the last big climb before Tennessee Pass and the descent down the north side was steep. We made our way down on steep talus, avoiding most of the snow. We post-holed across the valley, up the other side, and then more snow. It was not steep, but our excitement for the snow had long since past. We descended in a heavy cloud of mosquitoes feeling discouraged by the cold, wet, white winter covering the ground.
We finally made it to Tennessee Pass, remembering fondly our interlude with summer…