On the trail: A pearl of a pass | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: A pearl of a pass

A trio of hikers comes down from Montezuma Basin, above the turnoff to Pearl Pass. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

The best thing about Jeep roads is snow.

In the winter months, they’re often nice ski routes, especially if they’re not snowmobile superhighways. At this time of year, while the receding snow still blocks the higher reaches of the gnarly passes through the high country, they’re awesome places to hike, since the four-wheelers can’t get through yet.

Four-wheel-drive routes never get as steep as trails and, because they’re roads, they’re not within wilderness boundaries, which makes them friendly environments for dogs that need to expend some of their unfathomably boundless energy.

So it was that a foursome of two-legged hikers and a twosome of four-legged hikers headed up the road toward Pearl Pass on Sunday.

Blue skies, the remnants of snow on the surrounding peaks, a few blooming wildflowers and the roar of Castle Creek were all exactly as they should be on this, one of my favorite strolls. The big waterfall, just before the road splits to Pearl Pass or Montezuma Basin, was spectacular.

If there was a downside to the day, it was the occasional passing of four-wheelers anxious to see exactly how far they could go. For one in a line of three single-occupant, jacked-up, giant-wheeled machines, the answer appeared to be the wimpy remains of a snowbank in which the tires on one side of the vehicle were lodged. He drove in purposely and couldn’t get out ” at least he hadn’t as we chuckled and left the scene behind us on our way down.

I’ll admit right now, I’ve never understood the attraction of four-wheeling, which often appears to be a jolting, slow ride over jagged rock that can oftentimes be traversed faster and more comfortably on foot. I’d rather burn calories than fossil fuels in my traverses through the backcountry.

For the record, one driver reported the road into Montezuma Basin is open to about 11,000 feet ” his estimate. The road to Pearl Pass appeared snowy from a vantage point low in the basin, though the junction of the two roads is clear.

Judging from a map, it appears the hike from the end of Castle Creek Road to the Pearl Pass/Montezuma Basin junction covers roughly three miles and 1,700 feet.

Drive to the end of Castle Creek Road south of Aspen. There’s a parking area where the road splits, about 13 miles from the Highway 82 roundabout. Park there and walk, if you like to pull the keys out of the ignition for your explorations.

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