Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, day 1

Day one served up three mountains: Belford (14,197), Oxford (14,153), and Missouri (14,067).

Total elevation gain and loss: 10,800ft
Total mileage: 17.5miles

On this trip, I took fewer pictures but made a couple videos. LMK what you think of this format!

We got an early-ish start. Ultimately, I was up later than planned packing and writing route directions out and I didn’t want to start this on no sleep, so I set the alarm a little later than originally intended. Then we got stuck in the blasting traffic near Idaho Springs. Belford went off without a hitch. There were storms forecasted for noonish, about 60% chance I think, so I was watching the sky pretty fervently and it was going back and forth between sunny and ominous all morning. A group that summited right after I did had been planning the Belford/Oxford double and called it due to the foreboding weather in the distance. Not enough for me to give it up on a day like this though! Lu and I headed down from Belford to the Southeast, on a low saddle that would provide a lot of cover should the weather turn quickly. Otherwise, both of these mountains were relatively barren. It was so windy, but the weather was holding.

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

We nearly got blown off of Oxford, and headed back down immediately to cross the saddle and head for Elkhard Pass. We would be taking a south ridge off of Belford to head towards the pass and to Missouri. The whole thing was very straightforward, and when we reached the pass there was a faint trail up a shoulder towards Missouri. Assuming this was the standard route that I was headed for, we took it.

Doesn't look so bad just yet

Doesn’t look so bad just yet

It turned class 3 very quickly, but I was undeterred, thinking it was just misclassified and Luna was fine. Then, just as we were approaching the final ascent to the summit ridge, it turned very much class 4. I was having a good time navigating this and still in good spirits, but Lu was getting stuck a lot, to the point that helping her was getting dangerous, and the last pitch was going to be impossible for her. I really wanted to give it a go, and even though she was right at the bottom I didn’t want to risk anything by not being able to get to her if something happened. So we descended the crazy ridge to look for the real route up Missouri. We lost a lot of elevation, but found the route and it was much simpler. It really didn’t take very long to get up all the switchbacks. As we approached the summit ridge (from the other direction) the storm clouds were coming in hot and we ran to the summit, tapped it, and headed back down as quick as possible.

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it.  The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it. The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

It didn’t start raining until our last 4ish miles, which was pretty miraculous. By the time we set up camp near the Huron Peak trailhead, it had mostly stopped raining. I even got a fire started on damp wood, which I was pretty proud of. Realized I didn’t have a can opener and haven’t replaced my lost multi tool yet so we were SOL with the baked beans I brought. More PB&J. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and fell right asleep around 7:30pm.

Up next: three more fourteeners and much more mileage is on my plate for day 2!

We wandered (but we skipped Wanderlust)

So Kristina and I had it all settled to go to Wanderlust Festival in Aspen this past week. It was epically difficult to sub all of my classes, so I haven’t taken a vacation in ages, plus I had to find someone to watch Lu (the amazing mountain dog). All of it done, the car packed, all of our responsibilities and worries at bay, we headed to Aspen on Wednesday.

Aspen, Colorado is fancy upper class mountain town (this is on the list of things I didn’t understand before I went to Aspen). It is terribly crowded, and traffic and mountain towns do not mix (they are NOT set up with flow, just sayin). The festival didn’t allow camping on site (of course-because the fancy people who pay to go to such things are going to stay in hotels anyway) and the National Forest employee would not even allow us to drive down the road to the campgrounds to look around-he never actually answered our questions (you’re saying everything is full?) just that we could come back in the morning and they’d “definitely hook us up” (when posed with the “so not full?” he just repeated himself over again). Disappointed but not defeated, we headed towards Independence Pass where there was the promise of more camping. Now, every campground that takes “reservations” (these mythical computer related things that I don’t understand-because camping is camping and you shouldn’t need to worry about such things) was fully “reserved” meaning the sites were totally empty, because it was Wednesday, but no one was allowed to camp in them because someone on the internet said they “got there first”.

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

On the other side of Independence Pass we finally found a campsite (really, many campsites, because at this point we were so far south of Aspen that nobody cared apparently) at Twin Peaks Campground. After setting up the tent, we went into “town” for beer (by town, I mean a single building that served as a general store (read: ice cream, grocery store, liquor store, gas station, pharmacy).

Game time.

Game time.

We realized then that neither of us had any interest in going back to Aspen, trying again to find camping, or going to the festival in general. After a rad night around the fire at Twin Peaks, we woke up to sunshine and the rushing Arkansas River. Exploring the river, we found it lead to a canyon where it rushed and fell and winded through steep turns. So epic. Phones were dead, so there are no pictures from this morning. Back at the campsite, we practice yoga by ourselves for hours. Then packed up and headed to Leadville.

City on a Hill coffee.  Epic.

City on a Hill coffee. Epic.

In Leadville there is an epic little coffee shop with all of the comforts of our Denver coffee shops, but a wonderful small-town everybody-knows-your-name feel. I’ve never been to such a place. It was wonderful. After regrouping over coffee, charging our phones, and asking the internets about things (camping/hiking) we took the National Forest access road to Turquoise Lake.

Seriously.  This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Seriously. This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Turquoise Lake is a gorgeous, huge lake that you would never be able to see from the highway, tucked in at the base of the mountains. There were almost no other people anywhere in the vicinity. We found a random campsite a ways off the road that provided us with the opportunity to spend the day on the “beach” (read: sand colored rocks) and the evening over a campfire with astonishing views.

Shit man, life is hard.

Shit man, life is hard.

The next morning I took a long hike around the lake, practiced on the “beach”, and drank my chai (I brought my tiny backpacking stove with the intention of heating water for morning tea and nothing else-and brought no coffee with the intention of breaking that habit…damn) reveling in the awesomeness.

In retrospect, it's funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

In retrospect, it’s funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

We headed back to Leadville (for coffee), and their adorable fourth of July parade, then to Buena Vista, because we heard there would be fireworks. Set up camp in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness amongst a grove of Aspens in another random, free, secluded site. One of the NF signs on the way in mentioned “Harvard Lakes” so we took the Cottonwood Creek trail in that direction, and it was gorgeous, but never did we see any lakes. We did, however, get rained on and totally soaked.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us.  But instead, here's a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us. But instead, here’s a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

Interesting thing about situations that *could* feel miserable: it’s a good time to think about how this is your life right now, and you are never going to feel exactly this way ever again. Back at the campsite, we changed into dry clothes and, since it was still raining, headed to town for dinner at the Eddyline Brewery. It never quite stopped raining, and definitely wasn’t going to clear up anyway, so we skipped the fireworks that probably never happened and went back to the forest where we slept soundly because the ground in the Aspen grove was wonderfully posh.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders.  Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders. Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

We got up and packed first thing to attempt to reach Hanging Lake on a Saturday morning before the parking lot was full. With only a small sense of urgency, we took our time, and even stopped at our favorite little coffee place in Leadville on the way. Reaching Hanging Lake at 9:30a it was already full, and the exit wasn’t officially closed yet but the police were sending us all back. Shortly thereafter, they officially closed the exit for the day. We attempted to find a way to hike in from the bike path, thinking we’d beat the system, but the bike path was closed on that end, so the only option would be from Bair which is an extra 5 miles each way.

Back in Glenwood Springs, K found mention on the internet of a secret hot springs near Carbondale that is both free and generally uncrowded. Only about a 30-minute drive, and the scenery left nothing to complain about, we found said hot springs. For being so small, the ten people or so that were there made it feel a little crowded, but definitely manageable. The river was still purely ice water, so the contract was cool, and the views spectacular. Another epic secret we stumbled across in our wandering.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains.  NBD.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains. NBD.

Back to Glenwood Springs again for lunch at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, which was fantastic. Excellent service, totally delicious food (veggie burger and fries to die for), really delicious beer. After lunch we decided to give Hanging Lake one last college try-the exit was still closed, which meant the parking lot was probably empty because all the morning people that had gotten there early would be done and gone…a car in front of us moved the cones and drove in, so we followed suit. While I don’t recommend it, it’s apparent that after they close the exit they ignore it for the day, and most of the parking was open. The hike was very short but reasonably challenging. Much less exposed than I expected, and featured a beautiful stream and constant views of the canyon. The lake itself was the highlight of course, but the whole experience was lovely (or would’ve been, if it weren’t for the cross section of rude Americans that littered the trail being loud and not even attempting to follow hiking etiquette).

Yep, that's Hanging Lake.  So gorgeous it doesn't really even look real.

Yep, that’s Hanging Lake. So gorgeous it doesn’t really even look real.

Above Hanging Lake is “Spouting Rock”- a totally breathtaking 3-part waterfall. By the time we got up here, it was raining pretty good, and the crowds were heading down quickly, so we took our time taking tons of silly pictures, climbing on the rocks, shimmying across fallen logs, etc.

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I'll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I’ll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

We were pretty cashed by this point, and headed home to Denver pretty late. Definitely four days of celebrating independence and Colorado. More adventures to come!