Asher on Aspen: As the Crow Flies
Asher on Aspen
My eyes felt heavy as I rolled out of bed at 5:45 a.m. to gather my hiking gear. Still half asleep, I slammed a cup of coffee and nibbled on a Clif Bar before it was time to head out. We loaded up and squeezed into the back of our friend’s Toyota. The drive up to Maroon Lake was mostly quiet as we mentally prepared ourselves for the five-hour feat in front of us.
Upon arrival, we piled out and graciously thanked our friend for waking up at the crack of dawn and hauling us up to the trailhead. The dirt kicked up as he drove off in the distance, and that’s when reality set in. There was officially no turning back. We snapped a quick group photo in front of the Maroon Bells before the eight of us set out on our 11-mile journey to Crested Butte.
By car, Crested Butte and Aspen are 100 miles apart. But as the crow flies, the two beloved mountain communities are just about 11 miles from one another. It takes almost as long to hike to Crested Butte from Aspen as it does to drive. This specific trip is rumored to be exceptionally beautiful in late July and I have been eager to give it a try. I have trekked the first 1.8 miles to Crater Lake many times, but I have never gone beyond that point. With a friend willing to pick us up at the other end of the trailhead, I reasoned there was no excuse to turn down this hike of a lifetime.
The voyage to Crater Lake is stunning, surrounded by groves of Aspen trees and the Maroon Bells peaking in and out of sight. My sleepy eyes began to awaken as soon as we started hiking. Despite the chilly morning temperatures, this section of the hike is highly trafficked as it connects to surrounding 14ers and trails.
Once past the lake, we came across two mandatory river crossings. Some opted to take their shoes off while others determined it best to keep them on. For some reason, I decided to attempt the first crossing with my shoes on. I leapt across, skipping from rock to rock, before I eventually lost my balance. My right foot sunk down, immersing itself completely into the chilly river water. I learned my lesson, as the annoyance of having one soggy foot for the duration of the hike wasn’t worth the time it would have taken for me to remove my shoes and walk across barefoot.
The journey was filled with amusing banter, storytelling and constant gawking at the vast views. As we walked, I kept picturing Maria Von Trapp whisking in the wind while singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” as her family trekked across the Swiss Alps. Along the way, friends warned us of the last mile to West Maroon Pass at 12,500 feet, which proved to be the most challenging section of the day. Consisting of a series of steep switchbacks, this lofty climb eventually led to amazing summit views that proved rewarding.
During the toughest parts of the hike, I felt thankful to have gone with friends who were encouraging and supportive. I appreciated how we all stuck together, taking breaks whenever needed. Once we reached the top, I was told that it was all downhill from there. We briefly took a break at the peak to soak in the panoramic views and eat our lunch. To our surprise, one of our friends whipped out a bottle of prosecco that they had been saving for this moment. We toasted to our epic, early-morning venture and proceeded to pass around the bottle in celebration.
After descending from the summit, we were treated to vast meadows filled with the most colorful abundance of wildflowers. With every step, I spotted a new foreign-looking flower. I pictured the scene in “Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy falls asleep in luscious poppy fields as they approached Emerald City. The landscape surrounding us felt just as vibrant and magical as that movie moment.
At the end of the day, I had never been so happy to see our friend on the other side — waiting for us with a big Yeti cooler filled with an assortment of beers. We immediately grabbed a cold one, took off our hiking shoes and waded in the icy-cold river water to help soothe our tired feet. At that moment, I remember feeling like a total badass. It’s remarkable to think that we live in a place where so many people are willing to put in the work to reach extraordinary heights. To celebrate, we congregated at The Secret Stash in downtown Crested Butte to indulge in pizza galore and much-deserved tequila shots. Talk about a successful day!
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