On the trail: Capitol Lake is truly awesome
August 26, 2010
ASPEN – I have a confession to make, one that I’m embarrassed to admit.
It took me 25 years of living in the valley before I went to Capitol Lake. After visiting that stunning neck of the woods last weekend, I don’t know why I let it take so long.
After a particularly rough week at work, I decided last Friday night to take a long day hike with my dog on Saturday since the weather forecast was so favorable. Capitol Lake was on my short list of new things to do.
Despite a parking lot jammed with vehicles, Ginger and I ran into only two backpackers in the 2 1/2-hour hike to the lake after an 8:30 a.m. departure.
I thought I was venturing through cartoon-land on part of the hike because the various kinds of mushrooms were so outlandish – big red balls with white dots exploding out of the forest floor beneath a canopy of aspens, with other assorted fungi popping up on the side of old logs and along the trail.
The glistening water of the lake under the towering north face of Capitol Peak was a beautiful site to behold. When I saw the path ahead snake through scree alongside the lake then crawl up a small pass to the southwest of the lake, I knew my journey wasn’t over. I had lunch at the top of that pass while Ginger wolfed down biscuits. I sat half the time looking southerly into the Avalanche Creek area, with towering peaks, long bare ridges and thick forest. Then I turned to the north to soak in the lake, the long straight valley I hiked up and the impressive peaks dotting the view.
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We made the round-trip, 14-mile hike in 6 1/2 hours, including the half-hour lunch on the pass. My endorphins were still colliding like bumper cars when I arrived home and talked to my neighbor. He broke into a knowing smile when I explained where I’d been. He said he knew the spot as Shangri-La Pass. Appropriate name, I thought.
But another old-timer I know, whose family has been here since the 1920s and knows the backcountry intimately, said he’s never heard the pass called that.
Shangri-La or not, it warrants a visit more often than every 25 years.