Segment 12 passes through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area and is characterized by 2 steep ascents and descents. The trail passes near numerous fourteeners, including Mounts Oxford (14,153′), Harvard (14,420′), and Columbia (14,073′).
After a brief 0.5 mile flat section, the trail began a relentless 4.5 mile climb from 8,916′ to 11,653′. During the climb we passed a young couple from Wisconsin. They were carrying heavy packs, including Brandy (she’s a fine girl :-)), who was carrying some heavy camera equipment. Her hiking partner said she takes good photos and that she’d hiked 1,300 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail the year before.
From the ridge, the trail descended steeply 1-1/2 miles into the Pine Creek valley, crossing Pine Creek at 10,430′. Beavers have been very active on Pine Creek and have dammed up the creek creating several large ponds.
Beaver Dam on Pine Creek
There were several hikers camped along the creek and most camp sites had been claimed. Mark knew of a good camp site above the creek, and we set up camp there. We were a bit later than usual arriving at camp, and after a busy day, including that steep climb and descent, we were all eager to get horizontal. We had dinner and hit the sack.
7/11/19 – I slept pretty well and woke with the birds at around 5 am (4:50 am to be precise). After a warm-up by the fire, a hearty breakfast and replenishing our water supply, we packed up and were back on the trail by about 8:30. We started the day with another steep ascent, climbing 1,400′ in two and a half miles.
While resting at the top, a lone hiker walked by who looked familiar. Turned out it was Sasha (without her dad) who we’d met on segment 9. She said her 70 year old dad had decided to sit this segment out. From the high point near timberline at 11,845′, the remaining 9.5 miles of segment 12 were generally downhill. Whew!!!
Hiking at Timberline – Segment 12
We’d been targeting a potential camp spot at Three Elk Creek, which would leave us a little over 3 miles to hike in the morning, before another, even more brutal climb at the beginning of segment 13. Upon reaching Three Elk Creek in mid-afternoon, we needed to make a decision, should we call it a day, or hike the remaining 3+ miles today and start the ascent on fresh(ER) legs in the morning. There were several good camp sites, but we decided to continue on and take our chances on finding a good site at the end of segment 12. On the way down, we passed Harvard Lakes – a pretty spot.
Harvard Lake – Segment 12
We were able to find a nice campsite and settled in for the evening. We had passed the halfway point today on our quest to hike the Colorado Trail. We celebrated that accomplishment, had a nice fire and dinner and went to bed anticipating the climb that was in front of us the next morning.