About ten miles before reaching Highway 50, I came to a trail junction that splits into two footpaths around the Collegiate Mountains—Collegiate East and Collegiate West. Both are about 80 miles long and both are equally acknowledged as part of a Colorado Trail thru-hike.
Collegiate East is the traditional path of the Colorado Trail and stays below timberline and near towns. While it is the conventional route, it had been described by some as mundane, dusty, and even a little boring but is nonetheless a challenge to hike.
Collegiate West, on the other hand, is an alternate path that goes way above timberline into tundra and has huge but rewarding climbs. Apart from Monarch Ski Resort there are no nearby towns. It is known for sweeping views and is a popular choice for hikers.
When I first planned this hike I was adamant on going the western route since it had the commanding views that all hikers dream about; however, I ended up taking Collegiate East for a couple of reasons. First, at the time I arrived at the junction, I was getting blasted with major wind gusts. Second, if I decided to hike the CDT one of these years I’ll hike Collegiate West by default. Third, I live in Colorado so I could always go back and do the alternate western route. So, without reservation, I decided to go east.
The eastern route was more beautiful than I had imagined and certainly more than had been described. I feel this route doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The endless groves of aspen were shimmering their brilliant gold leaves. This below-timberline path did have a few tough climbs and some exposed stretches but it had one particular quality that made it all worth it—solitude. For the entire 80-mile section of Collegiate East, I did not encounter a single thru-hiker (northbound or southbound). I had the entire trail to myself! It was though it were, if only for a brief time, my trail.
The two 80-mile footpaths eventually rejoined at the other end of the Collegiates at Twin Lakes. When I arrived at Twin Lakes on the evening of Day 17, I found a perfect lakeside camp spot to pitch my tent just as the sun was setting over this huge body of water—a perfect ending to a long day of hiking. I had the company of some tree squirrels squawking away in the trees above.
I made it to Twin Lakes Village, resupplied at the General Store, met some amazing hikers, and checked into the Inn where I had a chance to re-energize for my last long stretch to Waterton Canyon in Denver. My hike of the Colorado Trail, which had a very rough beginning, has turned into a delightful autumn walk—I think you’d have to drag me off at this point!
This little journey has taught me more about myself and reminded me of what life is all about.
I have now hiked 307.6 miles. 177.4 miles to go.