You drive out of the Interlocken parking lot after meeting with a business partner at 5:35pm on Thursday. And you take two more work calls while driving on Hwy 36. This is not the early start for Buena Vista you were hoping for, but you get lucky with traffic and find yourself driving once again on Hwy 285. You recall what a milestone it was to cross Georgia Pass on segment 6 and leave behind Hwy 285 for I70 and Hwy 9 and highways 91 and 24. But now that the CT trail heads are down by Buena Vista it makes sense to take 285 out of Denver again. It really is a scenic drive, certainly beats the tunnel. Plus, Salida/Buena Vista has Colorado’s most badass classic rock station ever and as you reach South Park you tune to 93.7 KSBV. You reach the North Cottonwood Creek/Silver Creek Trail Head around 8:35, just as darkness is setting in. You believe the Guidebook is incorrect in that this is the Silver Creek Trail Head, while the North Cottonwood Creek TH is another 1.5 miles up the road. A good reference for Chaffee County trail heads to access the Collegiate Wilderness Area is at this web site. Regardless of trail heads, Chaffee CR 365 borders on the need for 4WD. Fortunately you see Tumbleweed parked at the Silver Creek TH and pull up alongside his car. He chuckles when he sees you in business dress. You are taking Friday off to squeeze in a massive 3-day, 61 mile hike through the Collegiates, but it sort of sucks to have to work so late and show up like this. Not a biggie though. There’s just enough time to setup your tent before total nightfall.
Your late arrival isn’t critical because you won’t shuffle cars tonight. Instead, you plan to take breakfast at an early open diner in BV (you learn the locals refer to Buena Vista as BV). You do have time to chat and drink a beer before going to sleep. Tumbleweed tells you some of his AT and PCT hiking stories. Surprisingly you have yet to hear them all. In the morning you drive into BV on Crossman Street and turn right onto Main Street. You stop at the first open diner that appears good based on the parking lot being full. You enter Jans Restaurant and discover mostly only old people eat breakfast this early. No matter. You order a short stack of blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon and coffee. They’re fantastic and too big to finish. You drive off for the Clear Creek Trail Head north of BV near Granite feeling like it will take today’s 18 miles to put a dent in that breakfast. Having finished segment 11 at this trail head, you knew it would not make a decent spot to camp. There’s parking for only 3 cars, although countless cars can park alongside the road. There are no trees and the ground looks very uninviting. That’s Tumbleweed pictured next to a cairn at the Clear Creek TH waiting on you to gear up.
You start off today with a little running but very soon, after you cross a new footbridge, the slope increases dramatically. The guidebook states you’ll climb for 1.5 miles, drop, then repeat a slightly higher climb. These two climbs make up the first half of today’s hike with the remainder a low drop into your camp site. You think of this in runner’s math of two quarters followed by a half. You note how strong and refreshed you feel starting out. The only injuries nagging you this year have been in your feet, plantar fasciitus in your left foot and some sore toes on your right. You don’t feel any of this now. The first slope is sufficiently steep enough to make your lower buttocks burn. But you maintain a decent pace throughout the hills. Nearly halfway though the CT you’ve developed your trail legs and can maintain cadence despite terrain.
After running out of water on segment 11, you determine to only drink from your 2 liter camelbak on this hike. When that’s empty, you’ll have your two water bottles. This way if you do in fact empty your camelbak, you’ll have a measured amount of water left that you will be able to control based on the remaining distance. No surprises. It’s a mistake to drink from the water bottles first and end with the camelbak. This hike goes well though and although you do deplete your camelbak’s 2 liters, you don’t finish all your bottled water. Perhaps because you’re shaded much of the hike. You rise above treeline for a short spell on the highpoint at around 9 miles, but then you duck back under the branches for the remaining 9 mile downhill. The second half does throw in some surprise hills, but you average a 4 mile an hour pace the final 10K, which is pretty decent for mountain hiking. This is because you run most of the second half of today’s hike. And you planned to run it, but had it not been for Tumbleweed taking charge after the trail top you might have continued walking. Your legs were stuck in their walking cadence and you completely forgot about running. You might have also been thinking about pacing yourself for the 3 days. A little preventative pain management. You have no idea how your legs, and especially your feet will fair over the course of 3 days and 61 miles. You finish today with tender feet and soak them in the icy cold creek for relief.
This is applied pain management. The water is cold to the point of nearly stopping your heart as you enter the creek. It even continues to burn a bit after you exit the natural ice bath. This should stop the swelling. And if that’s not enough, after shuffling the second car, you stop off at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for some hot bath treatment. This is brilliant and you soak in those hot springs for a good hour. This should prepare you for tomorrow’s longer 22 mile hike. You consider adding this to your routine tomorrow as well since you’ll finish near here. Refreshed, you head to Quincys for dinner, based on the recommendation of some locals you met on the trail. Ironically, the same old people you ate breakfast with at Jans are dining here as well. You really do keep early hours on these hikes. The menu is simple at Quincys – prime rib or roast sirloin. Since the menu says “roast” sirloin, you opt for the prime rib. This is a satisfying dinner and you sleep really well afterward. Two more days of hiking the Collegiates await you if your body sufficiently recovers. You’ll see how you feel in the morning.