On the trail: South Fork Pass an old favorite | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: South Fork Pass an old favorite

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – In my endless search for new trails to hike, it’s easy to overlook old favorites.

I haven’t done Lost Man Loop on Independence Pass, east of Aspen, in longer than I can remember, but looking for a shorter outing on Saturday morning, I hit the lower end of the loop, intending to do an out-and-back to South Fork Pass.

The pass (it’s not more than a low ridge, really) drops into the Fryingpan drainage for someone looking to keep on going. I’ve never kept on going. It’s one of those hikes that would involve multiple vehicles in order to avoid retracing one’s steps. The trail to the pass takes off from the loop, requiring very little additional climbing, or time (the roundtrip hike, including stops, took about four hours).

Heading up to town, it appeared Independence Pass was the only cloudy spot in the valley. The skies looked downright threatening, and I asked the dog if we should reconsider. She offered no opinion one way or the other. Then that Blondie song, “The Tide is High,” came on the radio with the lyric, “I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that.”

It was an omen. We stayed true to our original course, and the clouds began to break apart shortly after we hit the trail.

Though the parking lot was packed, we encountered only a handful of hikers on our way up to the pass. Wildflowers continued to bloom in profusion, including more explorer’s gentian than I’ve ever seen on one hike. The delicate purple cups pointed up in bunches, offering a clashing contrast to the russet, gold and green of late-summer grasses.

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It’s not only the gentian that have gone crazy in this summer’s rains, though. The multitude and variety of mushrooms this season rivals the flowers. Red and yellow saucers were scattered in the grass, along with nodes of more subtly hued varieties. A colony of bulbous tumors lined an undercut bank.

If only I knew something about mushrooms. Instead, I look and leave them alone.

While I took in the views, the dog had a heyday in the numerous stream crossings. Near the pass, pot holes lured her into several cool dips. No need to give her any of my water. She got a drink about every 15 minutes, if not sooner. Perfect.

After a short break to enjoy the views from the pass, it was time to head back. Next time: the entire loop.


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