On the Trail: Bonehead at the Bells
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Fearing crowds every bit as spectacular as the scenery, I nonetheless paid my first visit of the year to the Maroon Bells on Sunday.
I slipped through the entrance station shortly before the 9 a.m. cutoff for vehicles on the final day of mandatory bus rides to Maroon Lake and paid the $10 fee. The attendant warned me parking would be a hassle. Her exact words: “It’s a zoo up there.”
I smartly pulled into the nearly empty West Maroon lot, situated well before the lake, and enjoyed the hike through the woods up to the visitor’s center. Shortly after that, I managed to get lost in an area so well marked, there’s a sign denoting the trail to the lake from a spot where the sparkling emerald that is Maroon Lake is in clear view.
I diverted off the gravel path next to the lake on a well-maintained trail into the woods that I thought might bypass the crowded trail to Crater Lake. Instead it petered into nothingness and I spent at least a half-hour bushwhacking up and down a steep slope, battling the underbrush and hoping for a route that did not materialize.
I finally burst out of a grove of saplings looking like Sasquatch after an all-night bender ” twigs in my hair, seeds stuck to my shirt and brown streaks of something on my pants ” and joined the tide of humanity on the trail to Crater Lake. I tried to skirt around photo ops and anyone wearing Crocs, flip-flops or Chanel No. 5 ” you know, people who managed to find the trail ” but it was still slow going.
By the time I reached the turnoff to Buckskin Pass, I figured I had way too late of a start to make the pass summit my goal. Instead, I chose a better destination ” no where in particular. I ambled up the trail toward the pass at a leisurely gate, stopping to admire the views, snap a few photos and revel in the relative solitude (most tourists call it a day after the trudge to Crater Lake, where they discover they’ve been duped by the promise of a lake that turns out to be a shallow pond).
After lunch on a flat rock in the sun, a rushing stream far below and North Maroon Peak jutting skyward above me, I picked my way back down to busy Maroon Lake.
I debated plunging into the woods to find the trail that would return me to my car, but stuck to the road, just to be on the safe side.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”