On the Trail: Hit the road " on foot
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” I’ve long turned to Colorado’s Jeep roads as a way to access the backcountry ” I simply choose to travel them on foot.
An ailing knee makes the dusty, rocky roads, which climb a little less sharply than a lot of high-country trails, a wise choice for me these days, but chances are, I’d be exploring them anyway.
The upper Castle Creek Valley south of Aspen offers three routes that are all worth their weight in gold, so to speak, during autumn’s glory, but I regularly traipse all of them outside of the winter season, when they’re avalanche prone. The views never disappoint.
Express Creek Road splits off Castle Creek Road just north of Ashcroft (turn right and park at the wide spot next to the bridge). It’s the only place I’ve ever seen a mountain goat close up ” it popped out right in front of me on one gray, spitting-snow November day. The road climbs to Taylor Pass, and Taylor Lake beyond, or one can double back on Richmond Ridge to the top of Aspen Mountain (too far for a day hike ” at least for me.)
At the “end” of Castle Creek Road, where the road splits, I sometimes walk up the Cooper Creek route to the left, or Pearl Pass Road on the right. Cooper is great because it’s closed to vehicles, but I’ve walked a long way without getting to the top.
Pearl Pass sees a fair amount of vehicular traffic, once the snow finally melts, but on Saturday, I encountered more pedestrians than vehicles. Everybody was checking out the fall colors, which were undeniably impressive.
It takes about an hour to hit the turnoff to Pearl Pass, where the road gets considerably rougher and steeper (and the actual pass is still a long way off). Or, continue on into Montezuma Basin, a more moderate hike. At the end of the road in the basin, the hike up Castle Peak, a fourteener, begins ” if you’ve got the legs for it.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”