Marolt: Putting the conundrum in hot springs

Roger Marolt
Roger This

Similar to lots of people, my wife and I are hiking to Crested Butte this week. We thought we’d try something different this year. We’re venturing off the “standard” routes of East and West Maroon, at least on the way over, and opting for the Conundrum Creek route instead. I’m kind of nervous.

It’s 17 miles from the trailhead on this side of the mountains to the parking lot at Gothic on the other. That’s a long trip through the Rocky Mountain high of golden aspens smoldering on the hillsides leading to the hypoxic surrealism that takes over crossing 13,000-foot Triangle Pass and on down the other side into more fall beauty almost completely unnoticed through the searing pain of blisters on your blisters by then.

But that’s not what has me worried. What does is getting naked at Conundrum Hot Springs at the midpoint of the hike. It’s not that I’m prude. My birthday suit’s not tailored with any features to be ashamed of or to brag about, so no big deal there. The thing is that getting naked in public is a lot like wearing a Halloween costume. Lots of people love it. I don’t dig it.

When everyone is naked or wearing a costume and I’m not, I feel conspicuous. But when everyone is naked or wearing a costume and I am, too, I feel awkward. It is a tie that probably does feel like actually kissing your sister.

The weird thing about costume get-togethers is that you have to tell everybody how great they look and go on about how clever their theme is and force chuckles or amazement or whatever emotion you think is supposed to be evoked. When you’re not into it, you throw on any old thing for the sake of fitting in, and people try to act like they’re impressed with your effort even though that’s not what you’re after, and then it seems you feel that everyone is begging for a compliment, and the whole thing is just — awkward. It’s so much easier to talk about kids, the weather, football and stuff at regular parties.

The naked thing is pretty much the equally painful opposite of that. It’s really not the point to check everyone out and make comments about how great they look in the buff. Instead, you have your eyes glued to theirs and pretend like standing around talking to someone with no clothes on is perfectly normal and something you’ve done a million times. It would be weird to toss out normal conversation-starters, such as “You look good,” “Have you lost some weight?” or “I didn’t know you had a tattoo.” When everyone is naked, you are pretty much left to talk about nothing but the kids, the weather, football and work.

It’s not just an opposite-sex thing, either. I hate naked men’s locker-room talk. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life there, but I will never get used to it. It’s a strange thing to listen to somebody espouse a theory on the economic condition of the planet as they are soaping up their privates. Look, man — get in, get out; I’ll meet you in the lobby.

Back to my conundrum at Conundrum Hot Springs: I feel like the naked freakiness kind of neutralizes itself once everyone is in the water. That’s like everybody having clothes on. The problem is getting into the water. It’s one thing if you are young and graceful. It’s different when you are a not-very-limber, middle-aged man trying to lower himself from the naturally rocky perimeter in his bare feet. I don’t like the positions I have to maneuver my body into to take my shoes off going through airport security. I know people can shield their eyes from such sights, but there has to be that split-second glimpse first that reminds them to do it. My concern is for the well-being of others here.

The good news is that we are planning to make the hike over on Tuesday, so there shouldn’t be too much traffic. I know that soaking my bones in hot mineral water will probably rejuvenate me for the rest of the way over to Crested Butte, but I probably won’t be able to enjoy it as much as I’d like to. It has become just one of those things that I’ve got to do, like bungee jumping. By the time the first beer is down the hatch over in the Butte, I’m sure the whole thing will be really funny — or make me nauseous thinking about it.

Roger Marolt bets the emperor who had no clothes regretted it afterward. Email at


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