On the Trail: Fryingpan Lakes | AspenTimes.com

On the Trail: Fryingpan Lakes

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

I’m not sure if it was Labor Day staring me in the face from my calendar or that hint of snow that fell in the high country last week, but I hit the trail last weekend with a sense of urgency, a heavy pack and a light heart.

Finally ” my first overnight excursion into the wilderness all summer. And it couldn’t have been better, considering my hiking legs were woefully out of condition and my backpack felt like I was toting around barbells instead of the relatively meager provisions required for one night out of doors.

A friend and I debated a few destinations, but settled on Fryingpan Lakes in my new favorite playground, the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area. It’s not loaded with the imposing 14,000-foot peaks and multitude of oxygen-deficient, just-kill-me-now high-mountain passes that make hiking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen so appealing. It’s not loaded with the stream of hikers one would expect to encounter on an outing to one of the more accessible lakes in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, either.

That said, a friend and I inexplicably had Fryingpan Lakes to ourselves on a Saturday night. The small chain of lakes near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River is about a 4.5-mile hike up a lush valley. The climb is steady, but pretty moderate, with only about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. We were at the lower lake in two hours flat.

On the way in, we passed two backpackers on their way out, while three day-hikers overtook us heading toward the lakes. By afternoon, they’d left and the place was ours.

The trees near the first lake yield several good campsites and the fishing produced plenty of brook trout, including some decent-sized ones, and a few cutthroats that bent our light-weight pack rods like a sapling in a hurricane.

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Whenever we weren’t fishing or puttering with camp duties, we just sat and admired the surroundings ” over dinner, over wine as the stars popped out, and over coffee the next morning, when the sun bathed the tips of the peaks opposite our camp with that golden glow of first light that never seems to look as spectacular in a photo as it does when I’m standing there looking at it.

We marveled that we were just three hours from home, including hiking time, and lamented the lapse of resolve that kept the backpacks in the closet all summer.

Now, I’m consulting the calendar for free weekends in September and scanning the maps for yet one more Hunter-Fryingpan expedition before the nights grow too cold to coax me into a tent.

Drive up Fryingpan Road out of Basalt and watch for the Fryingpan Lakes trailhead sign between 32 and 33 miles up the paved road. Take a right and drive nearly 6 miles on a gravel road to a parking area on the left. The gravel road is driveable with a passenger car.