On the Trail: To hell and back – with a smile
This is the summer I will remember for going to hell and back – and liking it.I hiked several trails that were new to me, including Avalanche Pass, Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek and Blue Lake. But the most memorable adventure was Hell Roaring Creek from the Crystal Valley side.I dragged my brother-in-law, a flatlander from Iowa, out on the trail one bright morning in mid-July during the Colorado mountains’ heat wave. Fully loaded with omelets from the Village Smithy, we drove to the trailhead at the Avalanche Campground north of Redstone. The hike started pleasantly enough along the Avalanche Creek Trail. The ascent was gradual, so we ate up the first two miles before most people ate their breakfast.When we arrived at the junction with the Hell Roaring Creek Trail, officially known as Trail 1960, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to change course for that beautiful red ridge that runs between Mount Sopris and Capitol Peak.It was obvious from the contours on the map that the Hell Roaring Creek trail was steep. We just didn’t investigate enough to know precisely how steep. Immediately after the junction the trail shot up quicker than the city of Boulder can change district attorneys. Vegetation crowded the trail, signifying its relatively light use.We climbed and climbed and climbed some more. A couple of waterfalls took our minds off the heaving of our chests. Finally, near the top of a dead-end valley, the pitch eased a bit, enough to let us enjoy an abundance of wildflowers. By that time the trail petered out, but our destination was plain to see. We undertook the last punishing ascent to the 12,100-foot ridge and were rewarded with a unique perspective of Sopris, Capitol and all the surrounding terrain on a crystal-clear day.Unfortunately, the terrain took the thrill out of the descent. My brother-in-law Jim swore it was the toughest hike he has done here in several years of faithful visits. I think he’s crazy. Granite Lakes with a heavy backpack and monster hangover – now that was tough. New York Pass in a blitzkrieg of a thunderstorm – pure terror.Now that I think about it, hell wasn’t bad at all.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.