On the hill: Sopris slog
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – I’ve been up Mount Sopris in winter, spring and summer and, no matter what, it’s always a slog.
Whether you’re ascending the summer trail in shorts and hiking shoes, or skinning up the bowl above Thomas Lakes across a deep blanket of snow, it’s a withering grind. Every time I do it, I find myself part way up the mountain wondering whether I even care to reach the summit.
Those self-pitying feelings were in full evidence Saturday, which was supposed to be a sunny day but ended up fairly gray and cloudy. My buddy and I were dreaming of perfect, buttery corn snow and ended up on a combination of hardpack Styrofoam and breakable crust. All the way up, as the gray skies persisted and the snow refused to warm up, I asked myself whether it was worth the effort – to march 4,300 vertical feet up this snow-capped earth-wart, only to face marginal, survival-skiing conditions on the way down.
At one point my left quad started to cramp, and I was perilously close to turning around. I probably would have wussed out, if it weren’t for my hearty friend, who must have been cranking the jock-rock on his iPod – he marched along at an admirable pace and left me whimpering far behind, wishing for a rest and the PBJ in my backpack.
But what choice did I have but to chase him? I took my rest, inhaled the PBJ and soldiered on. Some four hours after leaving the Dinkle Lake trailhead, I found myself at the top in a howling spring gale, wondering why I ever considered turning around.
Predictably, it was beautiful up there, and despite the wind I lingered for 10 minutes or so, high on endorphins, picking out landmarks on the horizon and down in the valley.
And the ski down wasn’t half bad. In one area of breakable crust near timberline, we suffered humiliating faceplants, but for the most part we found solid, supportive snow all the way to Thomas Lakes. From there, it was warm enough to have softened the snow surface for a fast ski through the woods.
The snow ran out about 2 miles from the car, so we covered those final miles in our boots, which were covered in mud by the time we reached the car. In retrospect, this muddy trudge was the hardest part of the trip – none of the excitement and anticipation of the climb.
Mt. Sopris is always a slog, but somehow it’s always worth it.
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