On the Trail: Don’t pass it up
September 19, 2005
I’ve driven back and forth over Independence Pass countless times without ever stopping at the top, where the parking lot is typically crammed with vehicles, and tourists are wandering about, taking snapshots of the scenery.Last weekend, I stopped there, too. A friend and I wandered out the short, paved pathway that provides an overlook down the east side of the pass, toward Twin Lakes. But our real objective was a hiking trail I’d heard took off from that path, following a ridge that doubles as the Continental Divide, south from the highway.I don’t doubt this is a hike plenty of Aspen locals overlook. After all, the trailhead is littered with the “looky-loos” who crawl up the pass in campers and refuse to pull over even when there’s a line of cars stacked as far as they could see if only they’d glance in their rearview mirror. And, most of the elevation gain can be accomplished via a motorized ride to the top of the pass (my kind of hike, frankly).We hiked past the debris of old snow fencing and watched a butterfly flit across the landscape despite a near gale-force wind. Lichen and cushions of amazingly tenacious plant life clung to what would otherwise meet my expectations of a moonscape. Donning gloves, caps and windshirts, we wound our way up to an unnamed summit for a 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks and the outline of distant ranges. Aspens in the valleys far below us were beginning to turn gold. Higher up, the green carpet of the high country was giving way to orange. We gazed into a basin that I could not place, until at last I recognized formidable Grizzly Peak towering over the valley where I once hiked to Grizzly Lake, years ago. On the opposite side of the ridge, Mountain Boy Park contained the remnants of miners’ cabins, still standing despite a century or so of unthinkably brutal winters and oh-so-short summers.Tucked behind walls of scree, piled into windbreaks by prior hikers, we marveled at the views, the blueness of the sky and the hardships someone must have endured in those cabins below us.In short, if you’re passing over the pass, this isn’t a hike to pass up.