June 14, 2020 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
The hike to Lake Ann in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness was along a stretch of the Continental Divide Trail. The weather was perfect, a big blue sky and for the most part I had the trail to myself. The trail is not that difficult, except for a few spots with steep inclines. The Continental Divide Trail, of which the Colorado Trail covers, gets a lot of love in terms of maintenance. For the most part, this section of the Continental Divide Trail is flat, very well maintained and with a gentle incline. However, there are a few places along the trail, most notably, just below Lake Ann, where the trail picks up considerably in elevation gain in a short distance.
The trail to Lake Ann is a North facing drainage, and given that it was in the middle of June, I expected there to be a considerable amount of snow just before and at Lake Ann. Luckily, that was not the case, there were only a few patches of snow along the trail just before Lake Ann. The remaining snow on the faces of the mountains, however, give off a dramatic effect contrasting the change in seasons. Even with the First Day of Summer about a week away, Winter's presence could be both seen and felt.
The trail starts at an abandoned, yet well maintained mining camp called the Winfield Mining Camp. I did this trek on a Sunday and driving though San Isabel National Forest to get to the trailhead, there is a lot of car camping to be had along the way. It seemed as if every available nook and cranny that could be used as "just off the road" campsite was in use. The only other time I have seen camping that crowded has been in Rocky Mountain National Park at the Timber Creek Campground.
This area is also host to a fourteener - Huron Peak. Given the nearly non-existent traffic on the trail to Lake Ann, it appears that most people there to do any kind of hiking where there to do the fourteener - Huron Peak. So, it seems that I chose the better option, a nice quite trail with excellent weather, incredible views, just a few people and some marmots.
There are two ways to get to the last leg of the trail that leads up to Lake Ann. One is via the Continental Divide Trail, and the other is by a dirt road that people walk and drive along - to get to the trailhead for Huron Peak. The choice was easy - a short walk from the Winfield Mining Camp to the Continental Divide Trail junction. This short walk is interesting in-itself. There is a small cemetery there with about 20 graves, all from Winfield's early days. Some died in early childhood, others by avalanche and still others buy gunfights. I imagine most people who visit this area to summit Huron Peak don't know about this little secret of Winfield's early days.
The junction to get onto the Continental Divide Trail goes either South to Lake Ann or North up to Hope Pass. The first few miles of the trail towards Lake Ann are in tall stands of conifers, but are airy so you can see the sky, but panoramic views are obstructed. As such, this leg of the trail moves fast. Then the conifers give way to a large meadow. It is from this vantage point that you get your first glimpses of Huron Peak, Virginia Peak, and the Three Apostles. And behind you, to the North, Ervin Peak will continue to fill out the frame as you get closer to Lake Ann. From here on out, Ervin Peak and varying views of the Three Apostles are the constant, yet ever changing bookends of this section of the Continental Divide Trail.
The face of Ervin Peak faces South and does not have any snow on it and at times has an emerald color to it from the ground cover that is beginning to bloom. The Three Apostles are North facing and have snow on them, giving off contrasting shadows throughout the day. Looking down the valley towards the Three Apostles, you can clearly see a classic U-shaped glacial valley with a wide floor with the slopes along the slides gently rising. Lake Ann and The Three Apostles are part of a glacial cirque.
The original plan was to go up past Lake Ann to the saddle just above it. However, just before I made it up onto the tarn for Lake Ann, I talked with a guy that had just come over the saddle from the other side. I asked how the pass was, and in his words "It's sketchy. There is a cornice running the length of the pass." Once I got to Lake Ann, I could see what he was talking about. The small saddle that makes up the pass just above Lake Ann did have a cornice running the length of the pass, with three collapsed sections. Lake Ann with the Three Apostles off to the side would be fine for today. I stopped here for lunch and took in the sun and wind with the marmots.
Lake Ann is just above the treeline. Here you can look down the glacial valley and Huron Peak is massive off to the side and Ervin Peak completes the bookend of the glacial valley. The wind would pick up from time to time here and was so strong that you had to lean into it, but would dissipate as soon picked up, causing you to lose your balance. The wind caused the clouds to race by, giving dramatic textures to the surrounding peaks. This was a long trek, coming in at 14.9 miles roundtrip. However, given how easy the first part of the trail was, I never felt overly exerted. I wish I could have stayed the night here, just below treeline. It was perfect weather and to have the trail nearly all to yourself is always a great day.