On the Trail: Aspen’s Sunnyside beckons
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspen’s Sunnyside Trail lived up to its name Sunday, but crossing Red Mountain and dropping into the Hunter Creek Valley felt like hiking through two different seasons.
Autumn and winter vied for dominance. Winter won, judging from my thoroughly soaked hiking boots when we finally straggled out of the Hunter Creek Valley five hours later.
The aptly named Sunnyside Trail was dry and warm, and the climb up Red Mountain proved a sufficient antidote to the prior evening’s greasy food and draft beer ” requisite indulgences on an Aspen Times bowling night.
The mountain’s sweeping views take in everything from Mount Sopris and Daly to Pyramid and Hayden peaks, and Independence Pass, plus all four local ski areas. The town of Aspen spreads out below. It’s worth the arduous trudge upward just to admire all those snow-white peaks jutting into a bluebird sky.
At the top of Red Mountain, my companion urged me to press on. I’d done the hike over to the Hunter Creek Valley before, but it was all new to her, so we trudged onward into the snow.
We were rewarded with the sighting of a sole cow elk on the trail. She thundered down the hill when we came into view, while we admired her dexterity.
It wasn’t until it felt like we’d been trekking through the snow and trees forever without encountering an obvious turn downward into the Hunter Creek Valley that I began to wonder where the tracks in the snow we were following would actually lead us. I had visions of traipsing all the way to Van Horn Park and backtracking to the mouth of the valley after sunset, or worse. My daypack typically weighs a ton, but don’t ask me why. It’s not like I’m prepared for a frigid night outdoors or anything.
Thankfully, we encountered a couple who’d just come up from the valley when we reached a trail sign pointing out the directions to Van Horn Park, Lenado and the Sunnyside Trail heading toward the valley. We followed their tracks downward.
Some 10 miles after we started, we popped out into the Hunter Creek neighborhood almost exactly five hours after we’d started down the Rio Grande Trail from Stein Park to reach the Sunnyside trailhead. Two city bus rides later, we were back at the car and headed for the Woody Creek Tavern to celebrate our survival, the prior night’s gastronomic debauchery all but forgotten.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.