On the trail: Busting my butt at Williams Lake
June 20, 2012
ASPEN – Those who know me fairly well know that I’m not a “hiker.” I love just about anything to do with the outdoors: camping, walks through the countryside, slow drives up Independence Pass and chilling by the Grottos, fishing just about anywhere, swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and the like.
I’m just not that keen on running or on walking uphill.
Being from Louisiana, a nice hike means an easy stride for a couple of miles along the St. Charles streetcar line from uptown New Orleans down to the French Quarter. It’s flat, and there are a couple of daiquiri shops along the way. After having fun at places like Molly’s on the Market and Johnny White’s, there are a few options for getting back uptown: walking, bus, streetcar or cab. Usually I cab it.
Anyway, for many years now I’ve wanted to see Williams Lake, the place where John Denver supposedly wrote “Rocky Mountain High.” It lies roughly midway between Mount Sopris and Capitol Peak in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area several miles west of Aspen. Once you get to the trailhead after a rough-and-tumble drive up a rocky road, there’s only one way to reach the lake: hiking uphill.
I don’t like going anywhere or doing anything unless there’s a payoff at the end. And so on Sunday, when my friend talked me into hiking up to Williams Lake, he said it was full of trout. We would catch them and eat them later if they were big enough. The hike was easy, he said. Or maybe not easy, but not that bad, he kept telling my flatlander self.
Slightly but not completely out of shape, I was game. The first 30 minutes of the hike were the roughest. Breathing in the high altitude proved a challenge. I wheezed and gulped and spit and breathed through my mouth and ate a few bugs. The pack I carried seemed to weigh 200 pounds. Every time I thought we were getting close to the destination, my friend (who was many yards ahead) kept telling me it would take five minutes longer. I think he said that about four or five times before we finally reached the lake.
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Let me tell ya, that trail was steep. My legs wanted to give way many times. Twice I thought about giving up.
But alas, there was the payoff. “Eureka!” I exclaimed, like some crusty silver miner. We set up shop on a large rock, with food and water and beer and what-not. The fish weren’t biting all that much – my friend caught a few, but I was skunked. It was an extremely windy day. Still, the spot was simply gorgeous, with the emerald lake framed by shining mountains. When the sun started going down, I didn’t want to leave.
A word of advice: Be careful when walking around the super-steep shoreline, with its thick brush and fallen trees. I made the mistake of wandering around to another side of the lake where an avalanche had apparently cut a large 100-yard-wide swath of devastation. It was an impressive sight, but on the way back, I slipped while traversing a steep slope and a sharp wooden spear sticking out of a fallen tree stabbed me in the butt.
Had it poked me 2 inches to the right, I’d be a different sort of man today, if you get my drift.