Paradise in the Collegiate Peak Wilderness Area of San Juan National Forest.
We stumbled upon this dispersed camping site on a summer backpacking trip where we needed a basecamp to operate out of on a quest to summit Mt. Harvard and Mt Columbia. We wanted a place that was located near where we would begin our summit attempts but would also be comfortable to spend several nights in. This is not a camping site that you can drive up to. This is a site that you need to backpack to on an established but physically demanding trail. To get to it, you must first access the Horn Fork Basin trail at the North Cottonwood Trailhead just West of Buena Vista, CO. To get to the trailhead, it is advisable to have, at a minimum, a high clearance, front wheel drive vehicle as the county road to the trailhead is not paved and is a little rough in areas. Parking at the trailhead can get crowded since many trails originate there.
This is primitive, dispersed camping. No fees, first come first serve. You will not find any treated water or toilets in area. We hiked right at 6 miles to get to the site and passed multiple areas that were “established campsites”. Like most dispersed camping in Colorado, you are encouraged to find a spot that has been used and unofficially designated as a campsite. Most often you will find obvious areas that tents have been set up in the past. This site had multiple areas we could have set up tents and we were able to find 3 very level and cleared pads. There was also a stone fire ring that we could use.
The site was within 50 yards of a fast running stream which provided a perfect place to filter our water from. Even though the water appears to be very clear and cold, you must filter or treat to avoid being exposed to contaminants that can ruin your trip.
As I stated, there was a fire ring and fires were permissible in the area according to the managing ranger office. We were able to find ample firewood and enjoyed beautiful campfires every morning and evening. Plenty of remote wilderness to explore and wildlife (mule deer, birds, marmots, pika…) was abundant.
From the site, Bear and Kroenke Lakes are within day hike distance as well as 3 14K foot peaks and several smaller peaks. The site was at around 10,500 feet above sea level but below tree line. We were protected from high winds by beautiful pines and aspens. At the time of our trip, daytime temps were in the low 70’s and in the low 40’s at night. Perfect weather! We did experience light rain, ice pellets and a bit of snow on the way up the mountains but not at camp.
The site was about 50 yards off the established trail and was remote enough that we did not see another camper in the 2 nights we were there.
The site ended up being one of the most enjoyable camping areas I have ever visited. Can’t wait for someone else to venture there based on my review!!!
Gear Review: Matador FreeRain24
See a quick video summary of the product HERE.
As a Dyrt Ranger gear tester, I often get opportunities to evaluate camping related products during my outdoor adventures in exchange for honest reviews. I took the Matador FreeRain24 with me to this campground and during my day hikes from the basecamp and especially on this physically demanding attempt to summit two 14K ft peaks.
About the company:
Matador was started in California but moved to Colorado in 2015. Funded by sales and personal investment only, this is a true “cottage company”. Products are designed in house by people that go on adventures like I do and know what we look for.
This was a summer trip but at elevation, all kinds of weather can be expected. The bag was used in conditions where temps ranged from 38-75 degrees. I did carry it in light rain, heavy mist and icing conditions. I used it as my daypack to carry essential gear while summiting mountain peaks.
Things that stood out:
- Packs extremely small so did not take up much space in my larger backpacking pack.
- At just 5 oz, the weight cost to benefit ratio was perfect for this trip
- Sleek – hey, it just looks really good!
- Top loading main compartment is easy to access
- Two pockets that can hold water bottles easily and can be accessed while hike without taking pack off.
- External zippered storage that is water resistant.
- In addition to shoulder strap adjustments, pack adjustments available to help with comfort.
- Company sent me video instructions on the pack prior to me receiving it. Great idea!!!
My preferences for improvement:
- The zipper on the external storage is very light duty.
Summary of experience with Matador FreeRain24:
At 5 oz and about the size of a baseball when packed down, it was perfect to attach to the outside of my larger pack but could have gone on the inside. Come day hike time, took it out of its storage bag, stuffed it with everything I need for 8 hours on the mountainside and headed out. 24 liters was more than enough storage for all my extra clothing layers, food, water and emergency gear. Met with some mist and ice during one stretch and contents stayed bone dry. I don't like water bladders so the 2 side pockets were perfect for the bottles of water I normally take on my trips - easy to access and bottles stayed put. Once adjusted, pack held tight to my back and that was important on sketchy parts of the climb. Didn't want my pack shifting at a critical time. Pack was comfortable the whole way and held up well. The pack material held up to several scrapes on sharp mountain rocks. The zipper did hang up and eventually became distorted to the point that I’m worried it may fail eventually.
Fully recommend the Matador FreeRain24for similar type adventures!!!
See a quick video summary of the product HERE.