On the trail: A trail that got my goat
ASPEN – One of the great things about working at The Aspen Times is the diversity of assignments and the opportunities to work outdoors every now and then.
I hiked into Minnehaha Gulch on Monday to check out a trail-rerouting project on the lower slopes of North Maroon Peak. I typically avoid the Maroon Lake area and the Crater Lake Trail during tourist season because it’s like a stroll through a New York subway. But, hey, any assignment that requires a hike is worth a sacrifice.
I was thrilled to find a mostly abandoned upper parking lot when I arrived at 7:30 a.m. A couple was eating breakfast at a picnic table. One or two obligatory photographers with tripods surrounded Maroon Lake, and some half-hearted hikers milled about. By the time I reached the far end of Maroon Lake, I had left all people behind. The 1.8-mile hike to Crater Lake was deserted. It was just me, the rushing water in Maroon Creek and chirping birds. (Can’t use the cliche of rustling leaves. There was no wind.) A gray squirrel ran so close in front of me I could have drop-kicked it if I were inclined to do such a dastardly thing. He or she was too busy at work to pay any attention to me. The critter carried something that filled its entire mouth.
I turned onto the Willow Pass/Buckskin Pass trail after Crater Lake and then huffed and puffed up my favorite hill. It’s got to be one of the most scenic workouts in the country. After popping out of the woods on temporarily flat terrain one-half-mile past Crater Lake, I came to the intersection of the North Maroon Peak Trail, crossed the creek and started the steep ascent onto lower slopes of the big mountain. After popping over a short, steep granite ledge, I was staring at a nanny mountain goat with her kid, both dazzlingly white. I cursed that my camera phone was in my CamelBak. I was certain the goats would bolt before I could get prepared. The nanny just glanced at me and resumed browsing. The kid was skittish but stayed close to Mom.
After completing an assignment that morning, I ventured back down the trail. The descent from Crater Lake to Maroon Lake was the usual zoo, but I didn’t care. Nature had already paid big dividends.
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