Collegiate East or West | Backpacking the Colorado Trail | Segments 11-13

Collegiate Wilderness

Backpacking the Colorado Trail is unlike anything we have ever done before. The trail is nearly 500 miles long and goes from the outskirts of Denver to Durango. We’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado, but spending 40 days out in the backcountry and hitchhiking into the small Colorado mountain towns along the way is, in our opinion, the best way to experience the state.

We started the Colorado Trail on June 26th, 2022 going south and finished on August 4th. It was an experience we will never forget and one we want to share with you.

The trail is split into 28 segments, each of which are completely different. These were our experiences from segments eleven through thirteen of the Colorado Trail.

If you missed segments 1-11 of the Colorado Trail make sure to checkout our blogs below before continuing on!

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Twin Lakes: Segment 11

As we made our way to segment eleven we began thinking about what it would feel like to be back in town. Twin lakes was around nine miles away and we heard they had a couple of good food trucks in town. We also had our resupply box there which we were really looking forward to! New snacks are always exciting!

The hiking was fairly easy and the weather continued to be really nice. We hit a burn area with very little shade and it made me thankful for the tree cover!

We made it down the hill to the road and began to stick out our thumbs. It was only one and a half miles into town and we thought we could easily get a ride.

Needless to say, it wasn’t easy. It was a weekend and most of the people were tourists (not a good hitch hiking percentage there). I suppose it also doesn’t help that we had a group of three people and two dogs.

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We had just about given up on holding up our thumbs when a woman stopped on the side of the road. We sprinted up to her and thought she was about to offer us a ride. As we approached her she said “I can give one of you a ride into town to get your car.” We told her that we were hiking the CT so we actually didn’t have a car in town. She looked at us and we instantly knew she wasn’t going to be able to help us. As we looked into her packed car she apologized that she didn’t have room. Dang it!

Twin Lakes cop
Watch out for the city cop 😉

We enjoyed some food at the food trucks and went to the General Store to get our resupply boxes. A large group of hikers were sitting outside and an older guy was walking around handing out beer. There wasn’t much room for sitting with everyone else so Hugs, Grace and I sat and observed as we enjoyed some cold beverages.

We love sharing our adventures with everyone at home! If you want to see our whole Colorado Trail experience from a cameras perspective we saved all of our experiences to our Instagram page.

There were cumulonimbus clouds in the sky so we knew something was brewing. We made sure to get all of our bags organized and waited for it to start raining. Sure enough, the clouds got rowdy and it started to rain and we found a small sheltered spot to sit under. The only rain cover was outside of this lodge/restaurant next door. Several more hikers came over and I felt a bit stressed that we were blocking the way. The worker at the lodge was very understanding and didn’t make a fuss about it, but he also didn’t seem thrilled.

The sky didn’t look like it was going to stop raining anytime soon. We still had ground to cover so we rain geared up and went to stand on the side of the road. “Everybody ready? Thumbs up!” We know we didn’t get a ride into town but we still felt confident that someone was going to help us out!

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Not even a minute went by when a van pulled over. “Hop on in!” A big shoutout to all the trail angels out there. In this case, thank you Andy!

Hitchhiking the colorado trail
Piling into Andy’s van.

We made it back to the trailhead and found some cover in the tunnel that went under the road. The rain was still coming down and since we only planned to hike another couple of miles we decided to hang out for a bit. No sense in getting everything wet!

Twin Lakes sunset

The rain stopped for the most part and we decided to keep heading down the trail. You hike close to the roadway for a bit so we didn’t want to camp in plain-sight. We ended up hiking a bit more than we wanted before deciding to throw up the tents in a day use area. It says no camping in a couple places but it looked like a spot where it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. In this case we went with “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” philosophy.

We set up our tents and the sun began to go down. We laid there and waited for it to get dark.

Nemo alert to coyotes howling in the distance

The following morning we woke up and got everything packed. The plan was to get into segment twelve but Fecteau seemed a bit tired and ran down. Hugs told us he needed to give Fecteau a day off and we decided the best option would be to hitchhike into Leadville.

We played around with the idea of staying at one of the hostels but after calling them we found out they were all booked. We then tried setting up a ride with the hostel but that ultimately didn’t workout. We found a dog friendly motel that was available and booked it for the next two nights.

To get to Leadville we needed to hike another two miles on the trail and then get to the main road for a hitchhike into town. We could definitely tell that Fecteau was struggling a bit and felt good about the decision.

Again, just moments later, another trail angel! This time it was Matthew who, was taking a couple week break from the CDT (Continental Divide Trail), who offered to take us into Leadville for our off day! He had a pretty sweet Jeep (truck) rental so we decided to sit with the dogs in the truck bed to avoid being too messy on the inside. Half an hour later we made it town and began another game plan. Where should we eat first?

Leadville Homes

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then made our way to the laundromat. We still couldn’t check in and we wanted to get our “chores” out of the way.

To hear all about the great places in Leadville make sure to checkout the blog below! Leadville was one of our favorite towns on the trail! The food was a big reason for it!

As we were doing our laundry we had a guy stop to talk with us. He introduced himself and said he loves helping hikers and would give us a ride to our motel and also back to the trailhead the next day. What?! Another trail angel! Three trail angels in less than 24 hours baby! Thanks Matt!

The nearo was much needed and since we arrived to Leadville so early in the morning it really did feel like a day off. Matt came to pick us up and just like that we were heading back to the trail.

We were confused at first when he started driving the opposite way but he assured us he was going the right direction. Fifteen minutes later we asked him again “Are we headed the right direction? We came from over by Twin Lakes..” He still felt confident.

“We’ve arrived,” he said. “Tennessee Pass!” We all looked at each other and then told him that we had been at Tennessee Pass days ago. Just a little miscommunication, hah!

Leadville Laundry

He got the truck back out on the road and we were now headed in the right direction. We appreciate all your time Matt!

We got back to the trail and we were off again. There was no set plan for the day other then try to get in as much mileage as possible. The nearo day definitely helped Fecteau but he was still looking a bit slow and tired.

As we made our way around the lake we crossed the Collegiate East and Collegiate West sign and continued down the East side of the loop. If we didn’t have dogs we would have went West!

We passed a lady who seemed to be struggling a bit and she told us she was making her way back down the hill because she felt sick. Being acclimated is important!

backpacking the colorado trail

In total we only did about ten miles. We made it down to segment twelve where there was a creek and plenty of spots to set up the tents. We had another long uphill climb coming up and we wanted the dogs to be fresh in the days to come.

Segment twelve campspot
Nemo Hornet camp setup

Segment 11 Takeaways

From segment 11 to segment 12 you’ll pass the Mount Elbert trailhead and enter into your next trail town, Twin Lakes. If you want to try and bust out some 14’ers (14,000 feet or above) while you’re out, this will be a good opportunity to summit Mount Elbert. There are several opportunities on the Colorado Trail to summit a 14’er.

Twin Lakes has several lodging options, a few food choices, and a general store. You can ship your resupply box to the general store and they offer free coffee to hikers as well as a hiker discount. As far as hiker gear goes we were a bit underwhelmed with their selection. Great people though!

After you hike your way around the Twin Lakes area you will have to choose between the Collegiate East and the Collegiate West route. From what we gathered from other hikers, the West route is more scenic than the East, but the West is also much more exposed on the ridge line and has less of an actual dirt trail. We were also told that because of the more rocky terrain on the Collegiate West dogs would manage much better on the Collegiate East.

Collegiate Wilderness: Segment 12

From Clear Creek Road (segment twelve) to the Silver Creek Trailhead (segment thirteen) you’ll have nineteen miles of pretty continuous up and down climbing. We began to see why some people said the Collegiate East was “less pretty” than the Collegiate West. Compared to the days prior we also noticed less and less hikers. We think this is because most people go for the Collegiate West route.

Don’t worry about carrying a ton of water with you as there will continue to be a lot of water sources. You will get up to almost 12,000 feet several times as you continue up and down before finally descending down to segment thirteen.

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We all got a solid nights rest and after the nearo day into Leadville and then a short ten mile the previous day, we felt ready to go. Fecteau seemed to be doing a lot better and we all felt positive about the days to come.

Sarah (pictured below) camped next to us for the night prior and was running several segments of the trail! That’s right, running! She had a very light pack with the bare minimum of food and water that she needed.

segment tweleve of the colorado trail

Sarah started jogging up the hill and we followed slowly behind. The climb up wasn’t too bad (gradual climb for nine miles) and after making it a bit downhill we stopped for a snack break as well as to dry out our tents. Camping next to water sources always made it that much better of a chance we would end up with condensation on our tent.

The dogs still seemed to be doing fine after our break and with so much daylight left and little chance of rain we decided to try making it to segment thirteen. We entered the Collegiate Wilderness (picture three of the slide show above) and trekked another 4ish miles to the beginning of segment thirteen.

Once again we were the first ones to arrive to the area so we had the pick of the litter when it came to camp spots. We got a fire going and ate our dehydrated meals as we thought about the climb waiting for us in the morning.

Dehydrated meals
Using our handy dandy Jet Boil to heat up some water.

Segment thirteen is a long one and we had a lot of things come up that would end up changing the rest of our hike! If you want to see what happened, click here!

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