Monday, August 4, 2014

#8 - Hike from Gothic to Aspen

Gothic, CO to Aspen, CO is a 4.5 hour drive around the most rugged mountain range in Colorado.  Or it's a 10 mile hike straight through. 

My friend Adam hopped the bus from Denver to Gunnison to meet me on Thursday night.  We prepped, got to bed early, and braced ourselves for the 4:30AM alarms, hoping that the thunderstorms that swept in late at night would be gone by dawn.  In the darkness, we woke up, grabbed our breakfast, and headed to Crested Butte to catch our 6AM shuttle.  As the sun came up, the clouds in the sky were daunting.  With no chance of lightning til early afternoon, we wanted to press on, but we were getting a little nervous, because it was looking like it could be a wet day.  We decided to at least make it to the trailhead and then decided if we wanted to go for it or turn back.  On the way, we picked up 6 women in their 50s-60s, so naturally our macho-ness made us feel way better about the hike if they were doing it.  After a brief moose sighting and our shuttle driver taking the dirt mountain road like a NASCAR driver, we arrived at the trailhead and were greeted by a slight drizzle, and started our hike - knowing that if it stayed like this, we'd be ok!

After about a half mile we were awed by the amazing wildflowers that carpeted the valley - yellow, purple, blue, red... flowers as far as the eye could see in every direction.  That awe quickly melted as the rain picked up and we spent the next few miles getting soaked.  Luckily, Adam had a couple of trash bags so he saved my camera!  The trail wound through the valley at an easy incline (with a couple steeper spots), so we were making great time... and fine by me because between the rain, the muddy trail, and the bushes that our bodies would swipe across, we were completely drenched.  We knew that if it stayed like this, we'd be miserable...

About 3 miles into the hike the rain started clearing a little.  Then it stopped.  Then we were passed by a 5 foot tall girl speed walking her way up the mountain.  As we looked behind us, the clouds started a lift and patches of blue started coming out, just in time for us to hike over West Maroon Pass.  About 3.5 miles in, the easyish incline turned into a steep series of switchbacks as we ran into a dead end of mountain range, knowing we'd have to go up and over.  Breathing became heavy and pace became slow, but before we knew it, we made it to the top!  The valley behind us looked amazing in the sun, and we basked in the victory of the trail we had conquered.  The valley ahead of us looked majestic, and we reveled in the feeling that we would soon be descending into it.  But for now, we stopped for a few minutes to snap a few pictures and to grab a quick snack.  4 hard miles done - 6 easy miles to go.  For the first time in the hike, we really got to take in the surroundings, so we took advantage of it!

We started down into the valley and that's when we started seeing a lot more people who were coming from Aspen.  We chatted with a few on the way down, about the hike, about the obstacles that would be on the way, and some interactions were way funnier than others.  We crossed a few streams trying to tiptoe across the rocks, we crept through the muddy muck that the trail turned into in many sections, and just kept hiking down.  The view of the 13ers and 14ers around us was breathtaking, and now that the weather was finally nice, we started to dry off and made everything way more enjoyable.  After a few miles of steady downhill, we found ourselves at the base of the Maroon Bells and right alongside Pyramid Peak - and only the home stretch remained.

As we headed down to the first of two lakes that we'd hit, clouds started rolling over the Bells behind us, and along with the gray of the sky ahead of us, we knew that we weren't quite done with rain for the day.  As we headed around the lake, the clouds kept slowly rolling in and the rain started up again, and our ideas of being able to take our time and relax at the end of the hike were quickly washed away.  The last couple miles were in a steady rain, but then, we saw the final lake - which meant the end of our hike.

Adam and I rounded the final lake and peered back at the Maroon Bells - some of the most beautiful mountains and the most photographed spot in the state of Colorado.  Yet here's what we could see, and after my two previous unsuccessful attempts to see the Bells, I was now 0-for-3.  The Bells really do hate me.  We hopped a couple of buses and made it to our hotel in Snowmass, took advantage of finally being dry and warm, and waited for his wife Kristin and my Kristen to join us later that night.

The next morning, we all reluctantly agreed to wake up early on a Saturday and make one more attempt to see the Bells, which was now my 4th attempt.  But this time, my luck changed, and we were treated to a breathtaking morning at the Maroon Bells. 

We enjoyed a wonderful partial weekend of Glenwood Springs, mini golf, some great meals, and lots of conversation, love, and laughter.

And another incredible experience is in the books!  Thank you Adam for taking the journey with me!

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