On the Trail: Time for all seasons
September 25, 2006
Autumn and winter, all in a single weekend. With the green of summer. Go figure.I’m not sure whether Mother Nature is confused or not, but I sure was after a couple of weekend hikes that smacked of three season – all rolled into one.Saturday, a friend and I headed up Buttermilk for the workout as much as anything, but the smallest of the local ski areas is also a stellar place to spend a couple of autumn hours, as aspen trees make up plenty of the foliage dotting the slopes.I hadn’t done this hike since last spring, and my legs felt it, especially as we postholed through what I’d estimate was 8 to 10 inches of snow at the top, under densely overcast skies still lingering from the storm that dumped the snow. If the depth of the white stuff was unusual, given the time of year, so was the rest of the color scheme. The aspens would normally be at full-on, take-my-breath-away gold at this time of year. We were instead dazzled by a palette that ranged from still-green trees to golden ones with occasional hints of red, along with plenty of aspens that were a mix of green and gold. It all looked pretty outstanding against the snowy backdrop, despite the snow spilling into my hiking boots.On a perfect, sunny Sunday, the destination was the Avalanche Creek Trail, which heads into the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area from a trailhead between Carbondale and Redstone.Since the valley floor was snowless downvalley from Aspen, I figured we’d enjoy the stupendous colors I’ve seen there many times in late September, with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, but minus the need for snowshoes.I was correct on one count. The trail was mostly muddy, with a few patches of snow in the deeply wooded areas. While the scrub oak that covers some of the hillsides in the area was a spectacular mix of autumn oranges and reds, only one grove of aspens, not far from the trailhead, had given completely over to gold.Others were either in the midst of their annual transformation or still quite green, judging from the scenery we managed to take in with only a couple of hours to hike up the trail before it was time to retrace our steps and head on to other commitments.With a week of sunny skies in the forecast, I’m betting Avalanche Creek is worth a second visit. It could be spectacular by the coming weekend, or not. It has been a weird fall.