The last hike of the last leg of my Colorado vacation. I left Mayflower Gulch and drove straight to Basalt, but could hardly keep my eyes open for such a short drive. The backpacking trip was supposed to be one day longer, but oddly enough I was too exhausted to stand of my own accord and ended up roughing it on my new friend Jen's cabin floor. We bonfired and did hotdogs and smores, planning to get up early the next day and head out. Things never go as planned though, and after a well-deserved nine hours of sleep (on top of the three hour nap I took when I first got there) we finally got on the road through Aspen and to the trailhead.
The Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness is gorgeous. Throughout the hike, the only thing I could focus on was how absolutely beautiful everything around me was. It was like a dream. The wildflowers provided an exquisite explosion of color; perfect for scenery on the fourth of July. We crossed the creek several times; usually by rock-hopping, but once in a while there would be a sturdy, high bridge crossing the rushing water. Eventually we came to a heavily wooded area where the trail completely disappeared beneath the creek. When I say completely, I do mean completely. About seven miles in, the water overtakes everything, and the only evidence of a path lies in small clues -- a bit of a footprint in the mud here, the bark scraped off a fallen log there. Water shoes are most definitely necessary, and I was ever so thankful I had them. The water was cold, but almost inviting as I was feeling warm from the sun and from the hike. We crossed the area with a different group of about eight others, so when someone found what looked to be a way we were all on top of it. I think this must be a spot where most day hikers turn back. From here the trail gets wilder. More deadfall covers the route, and creek crossings are less meticulously cared for. But there's only about two more miles to go at this point. We headed up and up through the soft wooded land and soon came upon the campfire areas. There are no fires allowed near the hot springs, but we didn't need to worry about that and continued forth. The trail continues to be steep, but soon enough we're up in the midst of the springs. We end up picking probably the best camp site up there (#7, if you're curious -- but we heard 1-3 were great too!), with views of the storming creek below off a ledge, and of the looming mountain walls to our south. As we watched, a cloud began to descend upon the peaks and toward us. We set up camp quickly in the windy plummeting temperatures, and then headed down to the hot springs to cook up some dinner. The group we'd encountered earlier was already bathing and having a great time. We were freezing and fumbling with the stove as our fingers turned to ice. As darkness fell, I finally was able to down my food and started to contemplate getting in the water. At this point, it was beginning to sprinkle a little bit, and the sun was itself quite possibly an icicle. So, despite my better judgment, I flung off my warm layers and practically dove into the steaming water. Everyone in the pool cheered and clapped, and for good reason. The water was perfect! I felt like a fool for not getting in sooner. Everything thawed and soon I was good again. We hung out in the pool with the rowdies for a couple hours until I just couldn't hold my eyes open any longer. Getting out was just as bad as I had feared, but then got worse. I turned on my headlamp to discover it was sleeting and snowing! Besides that, someone had moved our protective layer from our clothing, so everything was soaked. One of the friendly (drunk?) male campers followed us out and insisted that he come with us to our camp because we clearly needed a man for protection and warmth. I glanced over at him and noticed probably a little bit more about him than I really needed to. After declining his offer, we bundled up the best we could and jetted back to camp. Hung our food, packed our stuff into our waterproofed backpacks, and got cozy in a tiny two-person tent. Slept like a baby.
We woke up early the next day to freezing temps and clear skies. It took a lot of internal mental prodding to just get out of the sleeping bag. Everything was still soaked, and in some cases frozen hard as a brick. Packing up was painful with our fingers numb and pulsing. We somehow made it out of there and probably would have run all the way back to the car if not for all the frost still covering everything. This especially made crossing the high river bridges a little more interesting. We soon hit the flooded river crossing and were filled with dread. What had been an inviting Mecca of refreshment the afternoon before was now a sinister glacial obstacle. Our feet already frozen, we changed into water shoes again to brave the arctic flows. After finding our ways across, we hiked until we got to a nice sunny clearing to change shoes and allow our feet to recover. The rest of the hike from there was fairly easy downhill work, despite the occasional icy log traverse. By the time it was noon, temperatures were feeling summery again and our extra layers had come off. Once back at the car, we could hardly believe that just hours earlier we had been so frozen and uncomfortable that it had been difficult just to move. We climbed into the car, put down the windows, and blasted the air. I dropped Jen off at her car in Basalt and then continued on my way. All my Colorado hiking complete now, the very last part of my trip was now the ten hours of driving straight back to Phoenix -- long winding roads of nothingness, ETA being around midnight, and having to wake up early to get in to work! Possibly the most difficult part of my whole adventure.
But I had a great time, and can hardly wait for the next break I get. Colorado, how I'll miss you!