Asher on Aspen: Find your church

Seeking solitude and sanctuary at Cathedral Lake

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
Sometimes all you need is a hike to Cathedral Lake.
Shannon Asher/Courtesy photo

When I was a kid growing up in Iowa, my world revolved around the thrill of exploration.

From sunrise to sunset, I was a wild rover, continually drawn to the allure of nature and the beach on which our neighborhood was centered. The outdoors served as an endless playground, a beautiful oasis that I frequented without fail. When the streetlights flickered on, reluctantly signaling the end of my outdoor antics, I’d return home, often to the teasing of my sisters, who claimed I smelled perpetually of the great outdoors.

However, life has recently become quite busy, holding me back from spending as much time outside as I used to. But on a recent September Saturday morning, I awoke with an intense yearning to lose myself in the mountains, disconnect from cell service, and rediscover why I decided to call Aspen home in the first place.

Standing there, at the Cathedral Lake trailhead, I knew I was right where I needed to be. As I contemplated the 6.6-mile journey that lay ahead, it felt like the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button. At that moment, I realized just how desperately I needed a respite and a date with solitude to clear the cluttered corridors of my mind.

The journey to the trailhead had its share of bumps and rocks, but my trusty Ford Focus managed just fine. While a high-clearance vehicle isn’t an absolute necessity, I must admit, it would have made things a tad smoother. The temperature stood at a pleasant 65 degrees, with the sun shining down and not a cloud in sight — the sort of day that makes even the biggest homebody crave an outdoor adventure.

My spirits soared as soon as I set foot on the trail. Nature provided the soundtrack to my solo hike, with a distant waterfall’s thunderous roar, birds and bugs engaging in lively conversations, and the rustle of aspen trees blowing peacefully in the wind. Every crackle in the bushes prompted a fleeting worry of encountering a bear or another large animal, only to be replaced by relief when it turned out to be a playful chipmunk. The crisp aroma of evergreen pines filled the air, while each step I took brought another incredible view of the high-country oasis.

The trail didn’t waste any time proving its reputation as a challenging one. From start to finish, it demanded nothing but determination. When nearing the last mile, I encountered a rocky field that I knew came right before the infamous switchbacks. Steep and unrelenting, these switchbacks are where the trail earns its reputation, but I was undeterred. After a hefty 2,070 feet of elevation gain, I finally stood at the edge of Cathedral Lake, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. The mountain formations, resembling the grandeur of a cathedral, surrounded me, and it was impossible not to feel small, almost insignificant, amidst such natural beauty.

Arriving at the lake, I wasted no time in loosening my shoelaces and slipping off my tennis shoes, eager to dip my exhausted feet into the frigid alpine waters. Finding a comfortable spot on a nearby rock, I gazed down at my reflection in the clear water, spotting a handful of smooth stones just begging to be skipped. I remained perched on that rock, idly passing the time by the lake’s edge for nearly an hour.

Hiking, for me, has this magical way of simplifying things. The noise of everyday life seems to fade into the background, and problems become a bit more manageable. When you hike solo, it’s an even more intimate experience. You’re left alone with your thoughts, forced to confront them head-on. Hiking alone allows me the freedom to set my own pace, dawdle by the lake for an hour if I want, and take as many breaks as my legs demand. My music, my rhythm, my world. Don’t get me wrong, hiking with friends has its charm, but there’s something profoundly satisfying about tackling a trail on your own terms.

As I sat there, staring at the crystal-clear waters of the lake, I was transported back to my childhood days by the water’s edge. It was a reminder of simpler times, of the days when my neighborhood was my entire world. That day, hiking to Cathedral Lake felt almost spiritual — like my own sanctuary, my church in the wilderness. It dawned on me that we all have our own places of solace; we just need to find them.

I emerged from that day with unexpected insights and revelations, a sense of accomplishment that made me feel proud. Overall, it was a lovely reminder of the power of nature. So, go find your own Cathedral Lake, your sanctuary, your church in the wild, and let Mother Nature work her magic and take care of the rest.

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