September 1st, 2019
Willow Creek mm 1841.8 to Hope Pass Lake mm 1865.3
Distance in miles: about 16 plus 8 RT on Mt. Massive…24
I’m awakened at 3 am in the morning by people walking by, on their way up the peak. It’s Sunday on a holiday weekend, so I expected this. The same thing happened when I camped at the base of Mt. Elbert on the Colorado Trail. We opted to climb that mountain because it’s the tallest peak in Colorado and the timing worked out better. I decided awhile ago that I would climb Mt. Massive this time around. Some tough CT/ CDT hikers do both, but I’m happy just doing one at a time.
Around 4:30 am, I decide to just start getting ready. So many people are coming by, I can’t sleep anymore. I take my time and do some packing before taking off. We still need our headlamps but it’s just getting light. I don’t care about getting up there for the sunrise. I know I can reach the top relatively quickly. I’m traveling light…no pack and just a few things in my pockets. Relentless takes his pack so he can carry water and offers to carry a bottle for me. He has his filter if we need more but one bottle should be fine.
We start passing many people once we reach timberline. I’m flying up the hill with just my trekking poles clacking, legs pumping up all the stone steps. One guy comments that I don’t have much water. “I don’t have any!” I exuberantly proclaim and continue on. I’m more concerned that I have forgotten my sunscreen, so I make sure to keep my buff pulled over my face. I can breathe just fine, even though the air is so thin.
A very fit couple manages to keep pace just behind me, which motivates me to move at a steady pace. I keep telling myself how easy this is without a pack…and it is, relatively. I make it to the saddle at 13,900′, where the trail then becomes faint among all the boulders. I enjoy the technicality of finding my way among the rocks, forgetting about the effort. I pass a big group of young guys who say they started at 2 am in the morning. They must be from outside Colorado since they are really struggling with the altitude.
In about 1.5 hours, I reach the 14,421′ summit. I managed almost a 3 mph pace all the way up and feel quite pleased with myself. Only a few others have already reached the top on this morning and I have it all to myself for a few minutes. The weather is so perfect. It’s warm and there’s hardly a breeze. I admire the views, similar to those I saw on the neighboring peak, Mt. Elbert. The Maroon Bells are to the west and the Collegiates beckon to the south. I will climb through them in the upcoming few days.
Relentless arrives about 20 minutes later. He doesn’t feel as well as I do, which is understandable since this is only his 2nd 14er and the highest he’s ever climbed. He still passed almost every person on the way up. We take some pictures and head down after not long. I’d like to hang out all day but we still have work to do. This is just a side trip and we need to make some miles on the actual trail.
Right as we head down, a trail runner goes by and I’m tempted to follow. Once I reach the saddle where the trail is more mellow, I begin to jog. Then I let me feet turnover faster and soon I feel like I am really running for the first time in months. It feels so good. I use my trekking poles to control my speed. I’ve never really run with them but I like how they help cushion the impact. I feel like I’m downhill skiing more than running. I think I may have found my calling running down mountains.
I reach my tent by 10 am and use the time I’ve gained on Relentless to pack. He’s already packed his stuff and left it inside my tent. We eat some early lunch when he arrives, then hit the trail. The trail through mostly aspens is very pleasant but we both feel pretty tired after our morning jaunt up the hill. We plod through the remaining 10 miles to Twin Lakes, each suffering a bit in different ways. His shoes have no tread left so he keeps slipping. My right knee is hurting a little since I think I over-extended it the day before. But as a reward for all our efforts, a BBQ food truck, Punkys, awaits us in town.
They have a special: 2 pulled pork sandwiches for $15. We each order one and the lady is confused, thinking we want to share one order. No, we both want to eat 2 sandwiches each…plus a side and a coke. Yes, we are hungry. We inhale the food while several CT hikers show up. Ironically, they all order the CDT burger, which costs $14 and is half the amount of 2 pulled-pork sandwiches. See, CDT hikers can spot the best value to satisfy their incredible hiker-hunger, ignoring gimmicky CDT-titled specials. Regardless, all the food is good and the ladies in the food truck are very supportive of hikers. I highly recommend a visit!
During my last visit to Twin Lakes, we stayed at a hiker hostel that had just sprung-up in town. It was such a fun night and Matt, the owner, made us pancakes with fresh strawberry-rhubarb compote for breakfast the next day. Unfortunately Matt’s vision was a bit short-sighted and short-lived. He didn’t secure the necessary permits and pissed off the other town merchants. I get the details when I inquire at the general store. It’s too bad, as this town could really use some cheap accommodation…perhaps someday I can pick up where Matt left off.
I buy a few items in the general store for the next 70 mile stretch, then depart with far too little food. We think we can hike the Collegiate West section in about 3 days, resuming our 30 mile/day pace. I hope we’re right. We short-cut the stretch around the lakes by crossing the river on the western side instead. I’ve walked the eastern side previously. Unfortunately that means we’re climbing up towards Hope Pass in the late afternoon. This hurts a lot after the 2 sandwiches, 2 cokes, and the thousand of feet of elevation gain we’ve already done for “fun” today. But our bodies mechanically oblige and by the time we’re ready for camp, we’re at a high alpine lake just below the pass. We share the site with just one other, a mom from Denver that’s out to conquer yet another section of the Colorado Trail. I so admire such independent women. It’s a great finish to another fantastic, action-packed day in Colorado.