On the trail: Solitude at American Lake
November 10, 2009
ASPEN – American Lake, south of Aspen, is not the sort of destination one bent on quiet contemplation would pick.
As mountain lakes go, it’s a hugely popular destination and the trail sees heavy use in the summer and fall. I’d no more expect to find solitude up there at lunchtime on a sunny day than I would to stumble upon buried treasure. But I found just that (the solitude – which was sort of a treasure) on Sunday.
A friend and I set out for the lake at about 9:30 a.m. A woman and her dog headed up ahead of us and we never saw them again until we were nearly at the lake. They were heading down as we finished our ascent.
The hike is fairly short, mileage wise – 3.2 miles one way, but it climbs almost 2,000 feet and the trail conditions – mud, firmly packed dirt, ice and snow – didn’t make the trek any easier. Still, the snow in the higher reaches wasn’t deep by any measure, but for one short, wind-loaded stretch where previous hikers had punched the trail into a thigh-deep trench.
I can’t imagine the lake is accessible at this time of year in many seasons, but the warm temperatures and scant snowfall we’ve seen so far this year have definitely prolonged the hiking season. I’m not complaining.
What is a striking, emerald lake in the summertime was completely frozen over, and the surrounding peaks gleamed white in the sunshine under bluebird skies.
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We sat on dry boulders for a bite to eat and watched the gray jays gather on cue, looking for a handout. We’d come prepared with only three snack bars between the two of us, though, and were famished from our two-hour climb. They jays were out of luck.
The light breeze was nippy, but not biting, and we lingered in silence, taking in the scene and sun before cold toes convinced us it was time to get moving.
I’ve been to American Lake a number of times, but it may be this outing – the lake encased in winter stillness – that I’ll remember best.