The Collegiate Peaks Loop – Colorado’s Newest Classic Ultra Mountain Run
It was the middle of the night, and 36 year old Boulder ultrarunner Jon Davis kept looking over his shoulder. “I kept thinking that every little noise was something that was going to eat me.” Davis was 65 plus hours into running around the Sawatch Mountains of central Colorado on the Collegiate Peaks Loop – exhausted, hungry but unmotivated to eat, and alone. “That was the scariest night of the whole run,” recounted Davis a few days later back in Boulder. He had just completed running Colorado’s newest and destined to become a classic ultra mountain loops.
Finished in 2012, the Collegiate West Trail is a high mountain addition to the Colorado Trail, creating a natural loop around the Sawatch Mountains, going from Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville south to Monarch Pass high on the west side of the Sawatch before looping back around and running north on the east side past Mount Princeton Hot Springs and over Hope Pass. With over 160 trail miles and 36,000′ of elevation gain, the Collegiate Peaks Loop (also known as the Collegiate Loop) is quickly becoming an ultrarunning classic for those seeking out a greater challenge than found in a typical 100 miler.
“The views on the loop are just spectacular, particularly on the west side. You can see where you have to go next, so that is really cool. Really, though the scenery is absolutely incredible – high alpine tundra, alpine lakes, rocky talus slopes, mountain meadows, sandy singletrack through thick forests – the loop is really amazing.”
It may be an amazing loop circumnavigating the majority of the Sawatch range, but it certainly is not easy. Davis – a seasoned ultrarunner who has finished the Bighorn Trail 100 among other races – was struck by the loops beauty and difficulty. “Day two was the most difficult. When I got into Monarch Pass, my hip was really bothering me so I found a stick and that helped. Finally then I got my poles and that really helped.”
With one primary crew member, Jon set off on the morning of September 2nd with the goal of finishing the loop as fast as he could. “I think that setting a goal and then completing that goal is pretty important to me. So my first goal was to finish at all costs. If I set a goal I want to really, really finish it.” He didn’t have to complete the run on his own, however, as friends started showing up about halfway through the run to help and support. “Something that really amazed me is this community, my friends. So many people came out and that was amazing. Coming into some area and finding my friends there was just pretty cool.”
Despite the difficulty of the loop and just running for 3 plus days, John made many parts of the loop seem easy. He fueled mainly with Tailwind Endurance Fuel, some Honey Stinger waffles, a few Snickers bars, and twice big juicy cheeseburgers that his friends brought to aid spots. At night he ate a bunch of rehydrated mac-n-cheese before trying to get 3-4 hours of sleep. Running in a pair of Nike Wildhorses, Jon went through only three sock changes for the entire 160 miles.
“It’s a lot of fun – being out in the mountains like that is just incredible to me. To be able to move that far is just wild. It’s surprising, not thinking you can do something and then actually doing it, I think that is really fun.”
Ultimately it took Davis 73 hours and 50 minutes to complete the loop. “I want to do it again, I feel like I could go faster. However, I’m excited to see what other people will do on it. It’s such a good loop.” A classic really. “There were a lot of other people thru-hiking the loop, perhaps a half dozen other people.” Running the loop, however, is just becoming known, and Davis’ time was close to the FKT (Fastest Known Time) set just the week before by Bryan Williams and Eric Truhe in 62 hours and 47 minutes.
“It opened up my eyes to what I can do, and what I think is possible,” noted Davis. Exactly what is necessary to call a run a classic. The Collegiate Peaks Loop may only be a few years old, but it is already starting to gain attention within the ultra community. Jon Davis’ completion of the loop helps to cement it within the pantheon of classic ultra mountain runs.