Take a Trek

Day 14: Between Hope and Anne

CT/CDT Junction to Lake Anne
Day: 19.2 Miles
Trip: 205.7 Miles

Traditionally, The Colorado Trail (CT) follows an eastern route through the Collegiate Wilderness. Over the past few years, The Colorado Foundation (CTF) has adopted a higher elevation route, known as The Collegiate West, which stays close to the Continental Divide. Since I didn’t fly halfway across the country to sissy around at a mere 10,000 feet, I don’t really have a choice. I’ll be trekking the high road, for the next ninety miles.

20140731-190731.jpg

Taking the high road, The Collegiate West

My first impression of the Collegiate West is a good one. I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

20140731-191118.jpg

Twin Lakes

The Trail leading towards Hope Pass (12,600 ft) crosses a series of old, dilapidated cabins. The remains of these structures are a lasting testament to what this land once was, turf for rugged-ass, gold-hungry hillbillies. I wonder who lived in these buildings? Were they friends, lovers, neighbors, or maybe just coworkers, snooping through the mountains, looking for treasure? Perhaps, they sipped whiskey and played cards, until a smelly drunk cowboy lost his cool and shot his neighbor in the face? What stories would these hills tell, if they could talk? I wish the Golden Girls were here to give me another history lesson.

20140731-192508.jpg

Old Cabins

I climb above tree-line, and a breathtaking view of Hope Pass is revealed. Collegiate West, you are one sexy beast.

20140731-193013.jpg

Approaching Hope Pass

From the saddle of Hope Pass, it’s flattering to look back at what I’ve walked through.

20140731-193355.jpg

Looking north, from Hope Pass

And looking forward sends a twinge of excitement down my spine.

20140731-193742.jpg

Looking South, from Hope Pass

Sitting here, with an assortment of flies buzzing around my face, I experience an immeasurable sense of satisfaction. Hope Pass, however, is a two-faced jerk. The moment I begin my descent down the southern ridge, The Grouch rears his ugly head. Rain quickly turns to sleet, then pea-sized hail. My infatuation with this bizarre weather is brief, as my exposed face, hands, and legs are tenderized by the falling balls of ice.

While stopped in the middle of the trail, digging through my pack for rain gear, a chatty day hiker approaches me from behind. Tim was in the process of bagging the two peaks that rest on each side of Hope Pass, when the madness began. “I’m glad I didn’t go for the second one,” he confesses. Like myself, Tim has completed all 211 miles of the John Muir Trail (JMT). We share stories of our glory days in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, for a couple miles, before a fork in the trail leads us in different directions.

20140731-232417.jpg

Tim, getting smacked with hail

I spend the remainder of my day hiking through a schizophrenic weather pattern that swings from rain, to sleet, to hail, to sunshine. The cycle repeats itself continuously, while lightning slices the sky to pieces and thunder moans through distant mountain passes. Anyone who’s done a considerable amount of long-distance hiking can attest that it’s not only a recreation of stamina and endurance, but one of immense concentration. As the afternoon comes to an end, my nerves are rattled so hard that my fingers are twitching.

I’ve only a mile to go, before I reach my informal destination for the day, Lake Anne. I’m tired, irritated, done with this shit show, as I make my final 500-foot ascent for the afternoon. I approach the third stream crossing that I’ve come to in the past ten minutes. It’s the same stream crossing that I’ve done hundreds of times before, a rock-hop here, a log-walk there, and I’m on the other side. Mental fatigue has a funny way of making muscle memory fail horribly. Before I realize what’s happening, it’s too late, and I’m standing shin-deep in the river.

I can smell the smoke pouring out of my ears.

My feet are numb, when I arrive at Lake Anne, which doesn’t concern me much. I have more important things to worry about right now. To my dismay, the area around Lake Anne is completely exposed, above tree line, and directly under a mountain pass. I should have known better, I should have looked at the topography of this area. I fucked up big time, and now there’s no time to go anywhere else. A dark cloud is smothering the ridge above me. I need to get my shelter set up, before it’s too late.

20140801-002410.jpg

Lake Anne

As I hammer my last stake into the ground, the rain begins. Urgently, I toss my pack into the shelter, jump inside after it, and zip the vestibule up tight.

And wait.

I didn’t know anything about monsoons, before I planned this trip. I still don’t know much about them, to be honest. What I do know is that I don’t want to be above tree line if one hits. Like I said, I fucked up big time.

I’ve never heard or felt wind hit so hard, so fast. With my back holding up one wall and my knees holding up the other, I reach for the cuban fiber poles that give my tent structure. I try not to think about the fact that thirty ounces of silicon treated nylon are the only thing separating me from an unspeakable force of nature. I drop a lot of F bombs, I laugh at the insanity of my situation, I hope that I get to tell this story.

When the howling wind ceases and the barrage of rain tappers off, I slowly unzip the vestibule of my tent. And what do I see?

20140801-005920.jpg

Calm after the storm

A rainbow.

Nice one, Grouch. I’ll think you’re funny, when the space between Hope Pass and Lake Anne is a distant memory.