Collegiate Peaks Weekend

Almost a full moon
Dawn near the Yale summit
Sunrise on Yale
This weekend was a change of pace. I had a plan to circumnavigate the collegiate peaks in Colorado in one grand push, but what looked good on paper didn't turn out to be very practical. I flew from Chicago to Denver Friday night.  the 9pm-12am flight is really cheap. I rented a car and drove directly to the Denny Creek Trailhead outside Buena Vista. I was on the trail by 3:30am. Things got off to a bad start when I realized I had forgotten something and had to backtrack. I got on my way again and made the summit of Yale around 6am. I had a plan that called for a long hike down Yale toward Buena Vista and then back out to Columbia, but I decided to attempt a shortcut to save several miles. Mistake. What looked passable from 3000 feet up was very difficult terrain once I got to it. I got back on-trail, but then took a wrong for that made for a steeper climb up Columbia. It was hot. I was tired. The possibility of afternoon storms loomed. I bailed and hiked back toward Buena Vista. Once the trail turned into a dirt road I was able to hitch a ride back to my car.

Demoralized and exhausted, I borrowed the library's internet to research my options (there is no cell signal anywhere out there, for Sprint at least). I decided to part at Missouri Gulch Trailhead on the north side of the collegiate peaks area. I drove up there and slept in the car until 3am. The climb up Belford was pretty straightforward. The moon was so bright I was able to kill my headlamp for part of the way. While it was on, I did look to my left and see a very large pair of eyes reflecting the LED light. I've no idea what it was, but it was big. I was first to make the summit of Belford that day. I sat out of the wind for a bit then headed across the saddle to Oxford. Coming back from Oxford, I was actually able to do some running. My body definitely handled the elevation better the second day. I ran most of the way down from Belford. I find the scree is actually easier to navigate at a jog than a walk. The braking required to maintain a walk just causes you to slip.
Looking back at Belford on the way to Oxford
The view from Oxford
I was done by 9 something. I went into Leadville and had a burrito. I felt pretty good. The first day was the really bad one. I wish I had carried even some minimal camping gear. It would have been worth the weight to have a hammock and bug net or a sleeping bag or something. I didn't think to pack bug spray and the mosquitos were pretty brutal if you weren't moving. For food I had clif bars and a sandwich. That part was fine. I had for 500mL bottles for water and iodine tablets to purify more. I think I would have been fine in that regard too had I persevered through the whole route (45 miles).

I ran out of gas at the base of Columbia but that could have been due to missing a night's sleep. The next day I felt much more energetic. To train, I ran the local trails, did hour stints on the stairclimber three days a week for 3 or 4 weeks, and the kettlebell swings described in an earlier post. I don't know that a 45 mile push was too ambitious had I had the camping gear.

The important thing is that this is totally doable. I live at 900 feet elevation. In this case, my flight and rental were covered, but the spend on those would have been $100 for plane ticket, $120 for 2 day rental, $20 for airport parking and $20 for gas. The only other money I spent was $20 for lunch in Leadville. I spent maybe $10 on Clif bars and $6 on water purification tablets. No hotels and few meals made it a ridiculously cheap adventure.


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