The hike to Brown's Pass and Hartenstein Lake in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, for me started in the San Isabel National Forest along Cottonwood Pass. It's a beautiful hike to Brown's Pass which is along The Continental Divide and overlooks the northern ridge of the Sawatch Range. This hike came in at 16.8 miles roundtrip, though I had to add 6 miles to the trek because Cottonwood Pass was closed to vehicles, so I had to park at the Avalanche trailhead and walk along the empty road to the Denny Creek trailhead.
There is some confusion about whether Cottonwood Pass was open or closed and where the closure started. On my way out, I talked with a BMW cross-country motorcyclist who wanted to ride Cottonwood Pass, and he talked with a police officer in Buena Vista who said Cottonwood Pass was open, it's not. It seems like they closed Cottonwood Pass early, and the closure actually starts at the Avalanche trailhead, but maps indicate the closure starts at the Denny Creek trailhead. So that extra six miles ate into the original plan to go to Rebecca Lake.
The weather forecast for this day was rain, and a lot of rain. I did not get rained on but by the time I made it back to the Avalanche trailhead it was clear it was going to rain, and it did a little bit later. It was heavy rain that enveloped all of the Sawatch Range. I got super lucky with the weather though. There were periods of dark heavy clouds then it would clear up and a big blue sky with thick white clouds racing by.
There are deer everywhere along the road to Denny Creek and I did encounter three Bull Moose early on after stepping onto the trailhead. My encounters with Moose and Elk seem to fall into two categories, either they are far off in a meadow or the initial contact is very close. This one was the latter. I had just bounced across as stream and was coming around a corner in the trail when I saw this huge wall of brown. It was a Bull Moose and he could not have been more than 20 feet away from me as he plowed into the bushes, they sound like a bulldozer, breaking branches as they run away. I stopped and looked around to see if there were more Moose around and I could not see where he went.
The encounter was not over, he had circled clockwise back onto the trail and was standing in the middle of the trail. He was close, if he charged he would have been on top of me within a heartbeat; he was that close. I began to step back and stepped off of the trail and began to try and make my way around him. Though he didn't like that idea as my track would have taken me up onto some higher ground than he was on. He didn't like that idea and began to walk towards me. I walked back down and eventually circled back to the stream and began to make my way through some thick bushes. By this time he had circled back couter-clockwise and was in-front of me again, though with a thick of Aspens between us. I circled back to before the stream where this all started and watched him move away.
Pondering what to do, I slowly moved back over the stream and to where I first saw him. Not seeing him or any other Moose I quickly moved through this small section of the trail. Once I got up a bit higher on the trail I could see there was a classic Moose meadow below the trail. There I saw another Bull Moose (not the same one) and just a little further up a third Bull Moose. That was the end of the Bull Moose encounter.
In the pictures below, the first Bull Moose is the Moose I spent the most time with. If you look at his head, there's something wrong - it looks like he has a helmet on; I've seen this once before in RMNP. It doesn't look like there is any fur on the top of his head and it looks like the top of his skull is deformed. I don't know what this is, it's either age, a disease or the result of a near-fatal sparring contest with another Bull Moose. The second Bull Moose picture is the second of the three Bull Moose I saw.
After the Moose encounter it was smooth-sailing to Brown's Pass, though I decided based on that event and the weather that I would go to Brown's Pass and no farther, as I would have to go through that area again later in the day when it had cooled down and the Moose would be active again. Thankfully, I didn't encounter the Moose again on the way out.
The weather was an interesting mix of heavy dark clouds and clear blue sky with big puffy white clouds racing by. The weather changed so fast and so often that you could stay in once place and watch the clouds roll in and then watch the shadows crawl over the mountains as the clouds retreated. Even with the constant and change in the weather it was never too windy, just a mild breeze. It made for interesting and dramatic colors on the already dramatic backdrop of the Sawatch Range in the Collegiate Wilderness.
Just before reaching Brown's Pass, I saw that I thought were three deer bounding down across Brown's Pass. As it turns out they were Mountain Sheep. They have excellent vision. When I saw them, I tried to get a picture of them, but they were on the move and very far away. So, I began to run up the trail to get closer to get a better picture. As I ran they picked up the pace and moved faster, when I stopped running, they stopped running. When I started to run up the trail, they began to run as well. I gave up on a better picture and we all began to walk towards our destinations.
Brown's Pass skirts The Continental Divide with breathtaking views (in part because of the running) of the norther and southern ridges of the Sawatch Range. The cloud cover changed often while I was here. When it was heavy clouds it gave the norther range of the Sawatch Range dramatic shadows. When the clouds cleared, the range was bright and was massive against the blue sky. There was a light breeze and this was a perfect place and time for lunch on The Continental Divide. If the weather forecast was better, I would have stayed longer. I only ran into three people while on The Continental Divide.
I decided not to push onto Rebecca Lake and opted to go to Hartenstein Lake on the way back out. The first leg of the push to Hartenstein Lake is a bit steep but then levels out and moves fairly quickly. Hartenstein Lake is in a narrow bowl rimed by Turner Peak, when you look back behind you, views of Mt. Yale come into view and the views are spectacular. Hartenstein Lake is low at this time of the year, and I did meet a number of people there, most with heavy packs on their way to or from a much longer trek. The weather here too changed rapidly from heavy clouds to big bright blue skies with big white puffy clouds.
I would like to spend more time in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, though I'm not big into doing 14ers. I much prefer the elevations between 10k-12k there is so much more going on and the chances to experience wildlife are greater. Even with the extra 6 miles on a dirt road this goes down as a beautiful day in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Check out my GPS tracks here.