On the trail: Call of the Crystal
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
MARBLE, Colo. – “That’s the best thing I may do all winter,” I told companions over a beer outside the tiny town of Marble in the upper Crystal River Valley on Saturday.
We were toasting the completion of a hike up the road out of Marble to the Crystal Mill, a route I’ve traveled on foot many times in the summer and fall but one I never have on my radar once snow locks up the high country. I’m skittish enough about potential avalanche danger to simply cross off certain outings during the winter, but when we agreed to a couple of nights at Avalanche Ranch to sample its new hot springs, I suggested the snow conditions would allow a trip to the mill, a roughly nine-mile roundtrip hike.
We pondered touring skis but chose hiking boots instead and figured we’d made the right call when we started hiking up Daniels Hill on a bare dirt road. Once we’d crested the climb out of Marble – right about the Lizard Lake area, not far from the top of the hill – some of us were secretly wishing for skis.
Snowmobiles and ATVs had packed out a path, but the sugary snow would have made for a fine ski tour despite the likely dings from a few rocks.
No matter. The valley was breathtaking. The sunny side was devoid of snow but dotted with frozen waterfalls clinging impressively to the rocks high above us.
When we dropped into the narrowest section of the valley, out of the sunshine, the temperature easily dropped by 20 degrees, and the willows along the river were feathered in ice crystals. Where the sun penetrated the gloom, the branches sparkled as though they were draped in Christmas tinsel.
A couple of hours of hiking brought us to the mill, where I find it impossible to resist taking photos no matter how many I have from prior visits.
Sunshine and dry grass next to the road, opposite the mill, provided a lunch spot and a chance to linger.
I’ll say it again. That hike might be the best thing I do all winter.
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