July 28, 2019 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
What a beautiful hike in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This is a pretty easy trail for coming out to 12 miles roundtrip. The first two miles are shared with the trail to the 14er - Mt. Harvard, so the trail is very well-worn and basically flat. After the split to Mt. Harvard the trail is less worn but still pretty flat, though there a couple of moderate inclines all the way up to Kroenke Lake. The trail does get steep if you go up behind Kroenke Lake and onto Brown's Pass. And Kroenke Lake is spectacular from the shoreline and from high above.
The lake has a small island in the middle and viewing the lake from above gives a very different perspective of the lake and the island in it. I believe the island in the lake is the result of one or more rockslides from millions of years ago during the last ice-age melt; about 2.6 million years ago...give or take a million years. The Spring runoff is finally beginning to subside and while the rivers are still very full and fast moving, they don't sound like freight trains, and are clear and you can see the copper color riverbeds now. They are beautiful to look and soothing to listen to on this gentle hike.
Since the trail to Kroenke Lake is shared with the trail to 14er Mt. Harvard, parking at the small trailhead is complicated and fills up very fast. A 4WD vehicle is strongly recommended to get to the trailhead. While the road is not a crazy over-the-top 4WD road it will do damage to an in-city vehicle. Driving this road in the Jeep was a lot of fun.
It was a beautiful sunny day for the entire hike with a light gentle breeze for most of the hike. The wind did pick up a little once above treeline and above Kroenke Lake. With the late snows and the late Spring thaw everything is so very green along the trail. I can't remember a hiking season with everything being so lush and green. Granted mid-to-late July and all of August usually have the most "Wow! Look at the view!" factor, but this is amazing.
The snow has finally thinned out enough that you won't be on snow once get above 11,300 feet, which is great. It makes it feel like Summer hiking when you don't get snow in your hiking boots in July. However, there were a few patches of snow along the side of the trail above treeline and it just didn't seem right to not step on some snow for this Summer hiking season.
Hopefully that is the last of being on snow until October. That's just 60 days away. It feels like the Summer hiking season has been compressed and now that the trails look like Summer trails I'm reminded of a line from a great movie, Never Cry Wolf ~ "...As the time grows short, I'm reluctant to even sleep, for fear of missing something." At best, only 15 more Summer hikes this season. It doesn't seem like there is enough time to get to everything I had hoped for this Summer hiking season.
However, I remind myself of something I heard from a local on this trail at the split to Mt. Harvard. It was pretty early in the day and he was on his way back down from Kroenke Lake. I had asked him how long he had been out. And his response was classic, "...When I got to this part of the trail, I left my mind here and went up that trail." Pointing to Kroenke Lake. "But I was supposed to go up that trail." Pointing to Mt. Harvard. "But it's okay, Mt. Harvard will still be there." ...Yes, it will still be there. But I have a lot of trail I want to see this Summer.
I didn't see many people on the way to Kroenke Lake, but I did encounter a lot of people coming down in the morning from camping the previous night. Unfortunately, many of them did not have a "We had a great time!" look on their faces. It had rained heavy the night before; you could tell by the texture of the trail; they must have been mini rivers the night before.
Just before reaching Kroenke Lake I thought to myself, this would be an excellent place to camp. However, the mosquitoes are super thick, even on the windward side of the lake. I can't image how bad they are on the leeward side of the lake. They are so thick in places it looks like cotton in the breeze. Even though I thought I did a pretty good job of covering myself with insect repellent, they managed to find the three spots I missed - my left wrist and just behind my left ear. However, the worst bug bite was just above my lip on the left side of my face. It swelled up and felt like a nonvaccine shot from the dentist.
Aside from the famous 14ers in the area, including Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Yale, one of the best named peaks overlooks Kroenke Lake, it is called Birthday Peak. So, if you have a Summer birthday, you should go to Birthday Peak and have...a power bar. I suspect anything sweeter would attract unwelcomed four-legged visitors.
It was a beautiful 12-mile hike with perfect weather, and even though the first part of the trail is shared with a trail to a 14er, it was a very peaceful hike. The only reason why I would not call this hike easy is that 12 miles roundtrip can be a bit challenging for some and the push above Kroenke Lake will wake you up.