On the Trail: To Crested Butte
September 18, 2006
Every September, a group of friends and I make the hike to Crested Butte and back. It’s an annual pilgrimage that we – like so many other Aspenites – look forward to year after year after year.The reasons are simple and haven’t really changed over time: a few long hours spent walking through the backcountry, good conversation with good friends, a night in the Butte.The hike itself is similarly unchanged by time: strolling around Maroon Lake admiring the Bells before us, the quick climb to Crater Lake, scrambling across boulder fields and river crossings, and then the long slog to the summit of West Maroon Pass. But this is Colorado. And, as a 20-plus year resident of the state, I really should know better. I should expect the unexpected.And on this particular journey back in the backcountry, the unexpected came in, well, a most unexpected package: a giant ram’s head.Somewhere between Crater Lake and the base of West Maroon, we came upon a man carrying what appeared to be a very heavy backpack. He was wearing camouflage and sporting a gun of some type. As we passed, I saw hooves – yes hooves – poking out from what looked to be a blood-smeared garbage bag attached to his pack; my hiking partner preferred to believe they were walking sticks of some type protruding from his pack. But someone in our group knew the man and stopped to talk; I overhead the word “ram” and something about his friend being not too far behind.We rounded a few more corners and found his friend. And his friend’s friend – the ram, or at least the ram’s head. It was like the clichéd train wreck: I didn’t want to watch but I couldn’t stop looking. The animal’s head was huge. It rested on his lap, with perfectly spiraled horns and giant brown eyes. The man, exhausted and proud, was telling us all about the hunt. The ram seemed to be lost in thought. I know I was. I thought about hunting and wondered how someone could kill such a majestic-looking animal. I wondered if my son might someday be a hunter. I wondered what ram meat tastes like. And then, in a bizarre backcountry moment, I thought: What if the hunter just put the ram’s head on his head, like a Halloween mask, and started hiking on his way.Now that would have been really unexpected.