Aspen, CO Colorado
As she was heading out the door, I half jokingly, half seriously said, “Don’t expose your nakedness to any young men.”
She never said a word, just gave me a smile. She was going on a long day hike with a girlfriend to Conundrum Hot Springs.
About a week later, the photo magically appeared on my desk. There she was sitting on the side of the hot springs with her girlfriend and a bunch guys on either side, all of them wearing only smiles. The photo lived on our refrigerator for a number of years, except when Mom and Dad visited. I have to admit, it was one of my favorite photos for a number of reasons.
We hiked many times over Triangle Pass to Crested Butte, and each time we would start early, hiking quickly up to the hot springs so we could soak for a couple of hours, then take off for the pass trying to beat the thunderstorms.
It’s a great route to Crested Butte, and at the same time, it’s the most challenging with 19 miles of walking and nearly 5,000 vertical feet elevation gain.
From the hot springs to the top of the pass, you’re looking at 2,000 feet of elevation gain and an approximate distance of two miles. You have to go to 12,900 feet to cross the pass, which is one of the highest in Colorado. You don’t want to be up there in storms.
Some of the best wildflowers I’ve encountered are on this route ” especially in late July and early August. If you’re timing is such that you hit the flowers at their peak in the fields before the pass, they not only rival any of Monet’s paintings, they surpass them.
Few people use this route as a day hike to Crested Butte. If you’ve done the other two routes in past years, this just may be the challenge you’re looking for.
East Maroon Pass is shorter at only 16 miles with 3,000 vertical feet of climbing. You will encounter two creek crossings that are deeper and have faster water than either of the other routes. Take sandals along that strap on securely, not flip flops which are easily lost.
Both the Triangle Pass route and the East Maroon Pass route end just above the old mining community of Gothic at the Copper Creek trailhead, a quarter mile west of Judd Falls.
The most popular route for locals and visitors alike is the West Maroon Pass, and at 11 miles and with 3,000 feet of climbing, it’s also the shortest. This route ends at East Fork Creek trailhead, about a half a mile west of Schofield Pass.
On the Crested Butte side of the pass, you will again hike through some of the most amazing fields of wildflowers.
We will start guiding visitors over West Maroon Pass in the middle of June. At the higher elevations, we will be crossing snowfields and, consequently, ski poles, ice axes, and short ropes are recommended.
Objective hazards that may be encountered on any of the three routes are the creek crossings, slips on steeper terrain and electrical storms. There are other hazards; these are just the ones I’m the most concerned about.
The subjective hazards are more extensive, such as getting a late start, not being physically prepared, getting lost, or getting caught above tree line in inclement weather just to name a few.
I use a bit larger day pack for these overnight trips to Crested Butte, usually something with more than 3,000 cubic inches of carrying capacity. I put my clothing in a plastic bag to keep everything dry. The best bags for this purpose are the plastic ones the Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone give you with every purchase. I always ask for the large ones, even if I’m only buying socks.
Make a checklist for the hike and stick to it. Your goal should be to keep your pack as light as possible. Take along some sort of water purification system. Water weighs a lot, and it will be better to fill up from creeks along the way.
It may seem incomprehensible to think that in three weeks we will be doing the first hikes to the Butte. In a normal year, we can keep doing hikes over the passes until late September, before winter closes the high country. When you think that it’s generally less than a four- month hiking season, it puts in perspective just how precious it is.
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ESPN’s Winter X Games is back in Aspen this week for the 20th straight year, although it’ll lack most of the usual flair. Out of precaution to safeguard against further spread of COVID-19, there won’t be any fans, any music and, well, really anything outside of the main competitions.