A North Star float at long last
I arrived in Aspen about a year ago, and one of my first assignments here at The Aspen Times was to write a feature story about the North Star Nature Preserve east of town.
Despite the fact that Lance Armstrong randomly happened to be there that day, the focus of the story was loud partiers, litter, a horrendous parking situation and a general lack of respect that had taken hold at the increasingly popular preserve. That popularity stems from North Star offering a spectacularly mellow float trip along the only flat water portion of the Roaring Fork River.
Since then, I’ve written about North Star many times as Pitkin County and U.S. Forest Service officials have attempted to get a handle on the situation. But I’d never really seen it, and I knew that had to change.
So I decided that with a friend coming to town last weekend, not only would it be a perfect chance to float North Star but also a prime opportunity to try stand-up paddleboarding for the first time.
And I was right on both counts.
Last Saturday afternoon was beautifully warm and sunny with just the right amount of clouds to provide a break from the intense solar rays.
Following the advice I’d received from Pitkin County Open Space Ranger John Armstrong and Open Space Assistant Director Gary Tennenbaum, I loaded my bike into my truck and then dropped my friend and the paddleboards off at the Wildwood put-in. I drove to the Stillwater bridge take-out, parked, unloaded the bike and then took the East of Aspen Trail back to the put-in.
Just as Armstrong said, the easy bike ride only took 10 to 15 minutes. I locked the bike up, then climbed aboard the paddleboard for what I thought would be an easy, relaxing float.
Not so much.
Stand-up paddleboards, for the uninitiated, take some getting used to.
With the first mildly rapid bit of water, I was immediately in the drink and on the rocks. Ouch. Then I fell off and became entangled in a submerged tree — known as a “strainer” in boater parlance. I know from rafting that this is not where anyone in their right mind wants to be, and that point was again hammered home.
My friend had never been on a paddleboard before either, and went in at least as often as I did. As you might imagine, we looked like the Moron Bros out there. But while the water was cold, it felt refreshing under the warm, alpine sun.
Thankfully, we finally got the hang of it, and the full North Star experience began to wash over us. The tranquility and quiet were especially impressive to my friend, who lives daily with ubiquitous Denver city noise.
But I also was struck by the beauty and quiet. We saw many, many others on paddleboards and rafts and tubes, but no one was yelling. No one was inappropriately partying. I saw a bit of litter, but not much. Everyone appeared to be chatting quietly and floating slowly, amiably through what is truly a crown jewel of this area.
The nearly two hours on the water was a blissful way to spend a Colorado summer afternoon.
So while it may have taken me awhile to finally experience the lazy beauty of North Star — I’m kind of a slow-starter — I can guarantee it won’t be my last float of the summer.
I’m just hoping I can make it through next time without all the bruises.
Tracing the source waters of Glenwood Canyon’s iconic Hanging Lake is a little like a game of whack-a-mole.
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