ASPEN - I took a hike up the Conundrum Creek Valley on Sunday but didn't quite find the peace of mind I hope for on such outings despite the sunshine and solitude.
Mine was the only vehicle in the trailhead parking lot when I pulled in at midmorning, possibly because I was the only one dumb enough to take my car up the skating rink that constituted a road.
Still, I was struck by the realization that, had I come prepared for an overnight outing, I could have had Conundrum Hot Springs to myself and made the entire hike up to the springs without worrying about avalanche danger. The many slide chutes lining the valley were virtually devoid of snow as far as I could tell.
The hot springs were not, however, my destination. I'd counted on hiking for just an hour or two up the valley, finding a nice spot for lunch and then heading back down.
The trail was dirt, though it muddied up in spots later in the day, interspersed with slick snow and ice in the shadows. I found less treacherous footing on its margins.
At noon, I plopped down on a dry knoll overlooking a terraced series of beaver ponds and admired the beaver's handiwork while I ate. One dam, constructed to create the pond that held the animal's lodge, appeared to be a perfect semicircle of mud and sticks. An engineer couldn't have done a better job with the geometry.
The trail next to the ponds was covered with ice that made further advancement tricky, so I headed back down after lunch. Ice was on my mind. I was dreading the drive back down the road and couldn't shake my trepidation.
Though the parking lot was clear, a thick sheet of ice completely covered the one-lane road at the lot's entrance. Beyond that, the snow had been polished to a slick sheen by previous traffic. I got up the road without much difficulty, but leaving meant negotiating a steep downhill pitch with a sharp curve at the bottom.
Fervent prayer proved a worthy substitute for studded snow tires, however, and I inched out without mishap.
Now I need to get those tires on my car.