Collegiate West Part 2 - The Much Anticipated Lake Ann Pass

July 7, 2020

Destination: Texas Creek Today's Miles: 12.70

Start Location: Clear Creek Trip Miles: 201.80

We slept well tucked in a cluster of pine and spruce, a bit slow to get going I hit the snooze twice but we were still on the trail by 6:30 - eager to start the much anticipated climb to Lake Ann Pass.

It was a beautiful morning with spectacular views as we made our way towards the ‘Three Apostles’ now bathed in the golden glow of dawn. These 14’ers' commanding presence dominate the valley.

We knew it was about 3 miles to Lake Ann plus a bit to the top of the pass. Approaching the first climb out of the meadow we passed other campers breaking camp and preparing for the day. We saw the same people yesterday. The first was a couple of high school boys and just beyond was a man and woman with a red heeler mix dog.

I forgot to mention yesterday coming down from Hope Pass we went through some dense undergrowth, came around a bend and startled this couple and their dog. The dog immediately charged towards Aaron with the woman yelling and chasing after it. Aaron was preparing to defend himself with his hiking staff when the dog pulled up short. It was a tense moment or two as the pair quickly gathered their dog, slung their packs and headed down the trail leaving us a bit rattled by the abruptness of it all.

But that was yesterday and today’s focus was squarely on Lake Ann Pass. We passed without incident, beginning our ascent - first steadily terraced then steep and back to terraced again with a scenic waterfall or two.

Before reaching Lake Ann the 2 high school boys passed us followed by the dog people. No dog confrontation this time - we had moved well off the trail to take a break, I don't think they even saw us.

We didn't go far before finding ourselves approaching the intersecting trail to Lake Ann. This is where the day suddenly got busy. One minute we were hiking alone in the peace and quiet, next thing we know all things are converging along with us between Lake Ann and the pass above. I can't forget to mention that Lake Ann is a beautiful aquamarine glacial lake but mostly my eye and thoughts were drawn up to the snow cornice blocking the pass above.

Several people (5 total and a dog) must have camped here at the lake and were now beginning their ascent to the pass. The dog people from earlier had detoured to the lake and were now making their way back towards the fray. It reminded me of the notorious Hillary Step bottleneck on Everest as we all converged beginning the climb through a gigantic rock slide in our collective bid for the summit.

The dog people were faster and quickly gaining on us so at first I didn't notice the man who came seemingly out of nowhere, bee-bopping his way across the switchbacks high on the trail above us like he was on flat ground.

Upon noticing the movement above we stopped, mesmerized by his quick descent as the dog people caught up to us. About then the man reached us with a dramatic sliding stop in the scree, the four of us captivated by his approach and appearance. The round oversize brim of his hat was pushed up in the front reminiscent of Yosemite Sam's - complete with stampede string. His snow gaiters were pushed down around the tops of his hiking boots and his long-sleeved shirt looked like it could use a good wash. We instantly knew this guy was a character and ready for an audience.

We were taking all this in when the girl of the dog couple cleared her throat, asking in a timid voice "how was it going across the cornice?" In a deep, gruff voice he quickly answered "it was a f*@kin* piece of cake! But you can't really listen to me" he continued, "because my trail name is Insane-o-man". He looked down at our feet finishing with "but I have hiking boots on and you all have trail runners on so... walk with purpose, but take a picture because it's f*c#%ng cool!" He was heading northbound on the CDT and took off just as quick as he arrived.

Heading out in front of us the dog people reached the cornice when we were about half way up. The condition of the trail had deteriorated significantly from the CT we had become accustomed to, snow melting above coming down across the trail leaving several sections washed out - and it was steep. Very steep. Not the place you want to mess up on thinking back to how easily Insane-o-man made it look.

Soon enough the couple with the dog reached the cornice and we watched them go across with no problem. First the dog went then the girl and the guy went last. We were stopped a switchback or two below and we gave a whistle and a cheer when they made it safely across.

Next it was our turn and it sure felt a lot harder than the others made it look. The few steps needed to get onto the cornice were not on the trail. It was near vertical and on wet, loose scree to add a bit more drama.

Aaron went first but only after turning to ask me if I was ok with doing this. He wasn't going to cross it if I wasn't. I noticed the intensity in his voice and told him confidently that I was going to do it. With that he stepped onto the snow and began to slowly and carefully ‘walk with purpose’ across. The dog people, now waiting at the top, cheered as he reached the other side.

My turn next. Again it felt harder than it looked so I kept my focus on my feet and stepped onto the snow. There were steps kicked in and it wasn't like climbing up but rather across with a bit of a scary downhill section at the end. I jammed the fingers of my left hand like crampons in the bank on the uphill side and began making my way across.. The freaky part is that we were hanging off the side of a steep mountain and it was more like 15 steps rather than the 5 we had been told. No matter, we both made it and they all cheered for me when my feet hit dirt on the other side.

We may have had a rough start with the dog people but we somehow bonded over this exhilarating and somewhat dangerous experience. Why is it the closer you are to death the more alive you feel?

It was very windy at the top but the views were spectacular. Taylor Park Reservoir was off in the distance and we looked at it longingly knowing somebody down there had to be cooking up hamburgers. I glanced briefly below and saw the other five hikers approaching their first switchback on the face. It would still be a little bit before they made it to the top. We took off, our descent steep in the beginning with several switchbacks to get us down. Making it back to tree line we entered what I call the butterfly forest. Some were butterflies and some may have been moths but the real point is they were everywhere. I mean everywhere! It was enchanting and I took several pictures, I have never seen anything like it.

The rest of the day was just a stroll through the forest. The terrain was undulating with several small creek crossings and no people to speak of. The dog people were somewhere out in front and we ran into our first motorcyclists, two men on dirt bikes passed us by. Overall it was a mellow day after the big cornice crossing of Lake Ann Pass and in a few hours we had dropped into the Texas Creek drainage and entered the Collegiate Wilderness Area.

The terrain was mild and trail pleasant as we made our way up Texas Creek keeping an eye out for a place to camp. We wanted to get a decent ways up knowing that tomorrow would be a very big day for both mileage and elevation.

We still had to come up with a specific plan but stopped when we found a really nice spot along Texas Creek where it's flat and just the right distance to water. The mosquitos weren't bad at all and we had plenty of time after setting up camp to clean ourselves up little and cook up Ramen for dinner.

It was getting on in the evening when we saw people coming down the trail. It was the group of five who were behind us at Lake Ann Pass. A couple of them were moving very slow and kept going but two stopped to chat for a minute asking what kind of tent we had and telling us that a couple of the others had no backpacking experience.

No wonder it had taken them so long. I was a little shocked by hearing the news, who in their right mind would set out on such an endeavor without any experience? Oh well, maybe it's a case of ignorance is bliss. Either way I felt a little bad for the woman who was obviously struggling.

We settled in for the night after deciding to attempt the entire third section of the Collegiate West the next day. Perhaps a bit insane but there really is no good place to camp up high. We would spend the day making several big climbs and cover something like 19 miles.

Tomorrow will be a big day indeed.