On the Trail: The gold rush
September 26, 2005
The turning of the aspen leaves will probably hit its absolute zenith sometime this week but, judging from the gold crown on Aspen Mountain, the peak was close enough to call last weekend the weekend.Is there anyone who didn’t succumb to the allure of back-to-back gorgeous fall days to hike a bit of a trail, take a bike ride or a drive, specifically to take in what is arguably our most stunning season?I was half-hoping for the predicted weekend rain, which never materialized, as I have much packing/sorting through accumulated junk to do before a pending move. The duties kept me indoors far more than I’d care to admit. Instead of a couple of all-day hikes, I escaped each day for a couple of hours and stuck close to home.It didn’t matter. At this time of year, one barely needs to stray farther than one’s front door to be overwhelmed by the splendor of the foliage.Saturday, I headed up Buttermilk, trudging upward on a dark carpet dotted with gold – leaves littering the well-worn paths through the tall grass. The snows that blanket this landscape are both a hazy memory and a not-too-distant reality that I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge as the sun warmed my bare legs and shoulders.The views from the summit bogged down my retreat.Sunday afternoon’s heat nearly forced an about-face when I reached the platform on Smuggler, but I ducked into the shade on the cutoff road and followed the long singletrack into the Hunter Creek Valley, inhaling the unmistakable scent of autumn – the sweet tinge of decaying vegetation. It was one of those days when the light illuminates the aspen leaves against a backdrop of deep blue sky, defying belief even as you’re staring at it.By the time I meandered down the valley, cut back up the mountain on another stretch of singletrack and retraced my steps down the face of Smuggler, the sun was arcing low over the canopy of aspen as far as I could see.What a rush. A gold rush.