I don’t know what came over me.I’m hardly a morning person (see any On The Hill I’ve ever written) nor do I go out of my way to get some exercise. But last weekend I was up at 6 a.m., filling my CamelBak and making a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By the time the sun started making its climb into the sky, my Jeep was the lone car ascending Maroon Creek Road.Maybe it was the chance to share a piece of Aspen with my girlfriend that motivated me. Maybe it was the chance to have an entire trail to ourselves, and to beat both the heat and the crowds. Of course it didn’t hurt to save the $10 entrance fee. We were headed for the Bells.Past a few early-morning bikers and the llama standing on top of his domicile at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch – Laura made me slow down to take a picture. When we pulled into the day-use parking lot, ous was one of only three cars. We wasted little time, hoisting our packs on our shoulders and heading for the Crater Lake trailhead.Maroon Lake, which sat in the shadows of the surrounding peaks, stood still in the cool air. We made the moderate hike through the aspen trees as the sun began to shine through the leaves, stopping every so often to take a sip of water and to take in the awe-inspiring views. The calm sounds of flowing streams soothed my senses with every step.We climbed over loose rocks and dirt for nearly two miles. Once we crested a hill and spotted water at the base of the Bells, the shortness of breath and the heaviness of our legs dissipated. We may have been only a few miles outside town, but it felt like a world away. A rabbit stopped to look at us before jumping into the brush. A porcupine lumbered across the dirt path. The sounds of a marmot echoed through the trees as we sat on a fallen tree and ate our sandwiches.The pictures couldn’t possibly do the scenery justice, but that didn’t stop us from trying to record it all, from the colorful rocks that filled the streambeds and the ski tracks on North Maroon to the wild flowers that stood tall amongst fields of grass.Only as we first started to turn back did we see another person. Then another. The crowds began to grow as we continued the descent. At one point we were forced to pull off the trail to make way for two people on horseback. One man, dragging a large camera and tripod, asked me in between gasps for air, “Am I almost there?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was just beginning.”Almost,” I told him. “It’s well worth it.” I doubt I even had to mutter one word to the man. The smiles on both my and Laura’s face said it all.
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