Backpacking…Aspen to Crested Butte & back 8.2008

Day 1 - Sunday  

Back in Aspen in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness!

This is the trip we'd originally planned to take in early July, but the snow was too deep, and the water crossings too wicked, so we put it aside until this August trip.  The plan was to backpack for six days, leaving Aspen and hiking over West Maroon Pass then down to Schofield Park; outside of Crested Butte.  We'd then go to a different trail and hike back to Aspen...and that's sort of how it went.

We usually take a day to acclimate before we backpack, but hadn't planned on that this hindsight...we probably should have.  We'd arrived in Aspen late Saturday night, and spent the night under a star-filled sky in the trailhead parking lot.


Danny on the trail; ready to go.  Our packs, filled with six days of food, we're really least heavier than we normally carry and a lot more than we LIKE to carry. 

My pack weighed about 40 pounds...about 5-10 pounds more than I usually carry.  My pack took on a life of it's own!  Your center of gravity and balance change dramatically when carrying a really heavy pack.  The first mile or so of the trail was very rocky and you had to pay close attention to every step.  So, when the trail turned to dirt, I began to look around at the beauty surrounding me...not seeing the only two rocks in front of me on the trail.  The toe of my boot found the first rock, and down I knee finding the second rock.  My pack smashed me into the trail then the weight of the pack flipped me on my back...and to add insult to water bottle then fell out of it's pocket and smacked me in the face!  And, I was like a turtle on it's back...unable to move.

To say the least it scared both of us and for a few minutes I wondered if I had ended our trip that had just begun. But luck was smiling down on me, and all I ended up with was a bruised and skinned knee, a sore shoulder, and a dirty shirt.


The beauty of the Bells;  See the giant marmot in the center?  That sucker was huge!


More amazing scenery along the trail; our campsite for the night. 

It'd been a hard day; we both struggled at times with the weight of our packs, the altitude and elevation.  The one stream crossing we'd dreaded, was much smaller than the last time we'd been on this trail and it was easy to cross.  The weather had been nice for most of our hike.  As the evening grew nearer, it thundered and boomed, but only a little rain fell. We enjoyed a nice dinner of "Bombay Potatoes" (it was the heaviest food we'd packed), tortillas and fruit, and then turned in for the night.



I'd expected the wildflowers to be mostly gone, but was so overjoyed when the higher we hiked, the more flowers there were...and they are all so beautiful.


Day 2 - Monday


This is a distant view (on the left) and closer view (on the right) of West Maroon Pass 12,500' and this is where we were headed.  The pass is the lowest part of the mountain (kind of the part that dips down towards the left).


If you look closely at the photo on the far left, you can see a faint trail which leads to the top.  It's narrow and mostly scree which can be daunting, but thinking about it is worse than hiking it.  You can see in the photo on the right, Danny is getting near the top.  There had been some backpackers that preceded us on the trail, and as we were hiking we heard a "whoop and holler" and knew that someone had made it to the top...feeling so glad to be there!


And the views from the pass are mind-blowing!  Amazing in every direction. 

The very first time we came here to Snowmass Wilderness was in 2000, backpacking with Lucas and Peter.  We did a well known, and spectacular hike called "Four Pass Loop", so we had hiked to the top and over this pass back then.  And the scenery is just as incredible now as it was then.


The view down to the trail we'd just climbed.


On top of the Pass and loving it!

Back in 2000, as we'd hiked our way down West Maroon pass and towards the second pass, I'd seen a trail in the distance heading south.  The following year I'd asked around about the "trail we didn't take" and learned that it went to Crested Butte.  I also learned that the trailhead was off Schofield Road (or as I refer to it as the "scary 4WD road" that I have referred to in my trip in July and again last summer in Colorado).  This is what's had me obsessed with this road...that I've been unable to get to the trailhead.  And I've wanted to hike it for so long. 

So, EIGHT years later, I was finally able to hike this trail and totally avoid driving the scary road by leaving from Aspen.



And it was filled with wildflowers and so beautiful.  It was a gentle downward trail through the valley...and the whole time I was hiking it my heart and mind were "whooping and hollering" ...feeling so glad to be there!



an old cabin at the end of the trail

So, our next trailhead was about 7 miles down the scary road. 

Our plan, a little sketchy I'll admit, was to hitch a ride from "someone not afraid to drive the road" and ask them to drop us at the trailhead.  We'd passed two day hikers (and visited with one of them) as we were coming down from the pass and they were going up.  And, as luck would have it, they arrived at the trailhead a few minutes after we did.  Boldly I asked them for a lift, and they told us they'd didn't have a lot of room (they had lots of gear to spend the week hiking, biking and partying with friends), but if we didn't mind a ride in the back of their truck, they'd be happy to drop us where we needed to go.


This is Jeff and James, from Denver, taking some time off to play and have a great time in Crested Butte...thanks again're great!


We filled our water bottles, and hiked up the road, hoping to find a spot to camp for the night.  The sky grew dark and it began to hail and then rain.  We took refuge under some trees until it stopped and then found our camp.


Danny is so diligent about hanging the bear sacks and I'll admit, it's pretty fun to watch him figure it all out each night.  The photo on the right is Gothic mountain...the view from our tent.  As we were cooking mushroom pizza with pepper jack cheese, Danny looked up to see a visitor walking around our was a fox.  One of the few times my camera wasn't with me, so I missed the shot.

Day 3 - Tuesday


But the next morning, as we were drying out our tent (it poured buckets of rain all night), this new little guy came to stretch and sleep in the field next to us.  We couldn't stop watching him and were late getting on the trail


Judd Falls...along the trail.

Our next hike took us up to Copper Lake...a hike Danny and I had done 3 years ago as a day hike.  My notes on my map read "very, very steep and hard"...and that wasn't with a backpack.


 It's a deceptive start as you hike on an old road.


I did remember that there were 4 or 5 stream crossings...and there were 5; so we kept our sandals on for most of the hike.


Danny enjoying a break for lunch and crossing one of the streams.


And then, just as the map noted, the trail went vertical.  It was a long and steep climb, up and up (you can't see his face, but Danny isn't smiling now).  Copper Lake is at 11, 321' so it takes a lot of effort to get there....and by the time we arrived, we were "efforted" it out!


 Copper Creek running down the valley.  The lake is circled by mountains and the water as clear as air. 


We set up our tent then bathed in the stream and I washed a pair of shorts.  After a dinner of red beans and rice; feeling all clean and happy, we went exploring around the lake.


There was this little hill that jutted out into the lake, and so we climbed it to see the view from the top.


You know my series called "Danny setting the camera timer and taking a photo of the two of us"?  He cleverly balanced the camera in the tree, set the timer...and voila!  don't we look happy?



another bear bag hung perfectly! (Although he was worried about a tight-rope walking squirrel he saw.)



So, this big gray mountain to one side of the lake, was also the next day's trail.  You can see a faint trail about halfway up (photo on the left) that looks narrow and all scree.  But actually, it was about the same width as any other trail and the rocks were about the size of a fist or larger.  The photo on the right shows the pass (the low spot).

and ...the adventure continues

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