On the trail: Escaping the crowd at Maroon Lake
October 19, 2011
ASPEN – There’s an adage about hiking two or three miles up a popular trail and leaving 95 percent of the crowd behind. Nowhere can that be more true than at Maroon Lake, where I suspect the vast majority of visitors never see much more than what they could get from a postcard.
I got up there about 10 a.m. Saturday – on the final weekend that $10 was being charged at the entrance station – and was surprised to find the parking lot closest to the lake nearly full. The fall colors, or what’s left of them, are well past their prime, but the emerald water, blue skies and the Maroon Bells, striped with snow, were hard to beat for scenery anyway.
Much of the crowd was lingering along the shoreline or spread out on the trail to Crater Lake (the latter was a veritable ant line of people on my return), but once I reached Crater Lake and made the turn toward Buckskin Pass, the wilderness was mostly mine. A trio of young men left me in the dust. Much later, I encountered an acquaintance and his companion, bound for snowy/muddy Buckskin Pass, and never saw another soul until I closed in on Crater Lake during my descent.
It was another of the epic fall days with which we’ve been blessed lately: I stripped to short sleeves, listened to the breeze rustle the dried grass and withered wildflowers of yet another summer come and gone, inhaled the fragrant pines and stopped often to gaze at the peaks, dusted in the first snows of winter. It’s one of my favorite times – that brief transition that offers the best of two seasons.
My destination was not the pass, but merely the subalpine meadows above Minnehaha Gulch, where I staked out a spot for lunch with views of North Maroon and Pyramid peaks. North Maroon is really in your face up there. It’s a very different vantage point than one gets from Maroon Lake thanks to a decent elevation gain, even without reaching 12,462-foot Buckskin Pass. Lower down, the trail offers great vistas of the West Maroon Creek Valley spread out below.
Having ignored the Maroon Lake portal to the wilderness all season, given the summer crowds and hassles of parking/buses/fees, I think the time has come to put it back on my radar before snow locks it up.