Usually I try and keep my posts chronologically accurate, but I'm so excited to have finally gone back to the mountains, I'm going to start with my favorite picture of the weekend [and potentially my favorite picture I've ever taken].
So now some back story: we haven't been to the mountains since Labor Day when mom was with us and we haven't hiked since August when we did Bierstadt.
It started out with me waking up in the middle of the night before a sunrise hike panicking because we didn't have any sort of bear protection and we were planning to hike a trail that had a lot of bear activity recently. I woke Logan up and told him we were going to have to wait until we bought bear spray to hike, we would go the next weekend. The next weekend rolled around and I had to leave work early on Friday because I was so sick. Saturday I slept all day and was still feeling terrible, so we postponed again. The next weekend, Logan had to leave work early on Friday and spent all day Saturday sleeping. Sunday afternoon we got out to Cherry Creek State Park to hammock and read, and we decided it had been too long - just doing a hike in RMNP wasn't going to be enough. We wanted to go for an entire weekend.
We decided on the Maroon Bells and Aspen, CO. We were going to camp all weekend, but I didn't get off work until 5:00 on Friday, and Aspen is just over 3 hours away from us so we booked a [gorgeous] hotel for Friday night and planned on going to the Bells and then hiking up to Crater Lake on Saturday. We left around 6:30 on Friday and fought traffic all the way to 70. As we were getting close to Independence Pass, it started SNOWING! We could not stop laughing and smiling and marveling in how much we love Colorado and the fact that we were driving through a snowstorm the first weekend in October. On the other side of the pass, it started to hail which wasn't nearly as exciting, but we drove through that pretty quickly.
As luck would have it, I was up all night Friday sick...again...but it was only because I get terribly carsick and the drive to Aspen is very nauseating. I was feeling okay Saturday, but we decided the 4 mile hike to Crater Lake was probably too much for me to attempt after only eating a granola bar.
Half of the adventures we have taken in Colorado have involved a shuttle bus. It sort of feels like cheating to me to take a bus packed with other tourists to one of these destinations, but when it gets put into perspective it makes sense. The shuttle runs from the city of Aspen up to the Bells. Instead of defacing the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness with huge parking lots that would hold the literal thousands of people who come each weekend, they designate parking in the city and can collect money from bus tickets to help keep the wilderness wild. Our bus driver told us that in the 80s and 90s the cars driving up to the Bells were emitting so much carbon dioxide that it was beginning to kill the delicate ecosystem. So yes, I might be taking a bus to these views, but that means that they will be here for a lot longer.
We did the short Scenic Loop Trail, an easy 1.6 miles into the Aspen groves near the base of the Bells. It was gorgeous, but jam packed with other people enjoying the beautiful fall weather. We saw a deer, and immediately a group of teenage boys tried to chase it off while a young girl started yelling at it [presumably trying to call it?]. It can be so frustrating to share the wilderness with others, but I try to remind myself continuously that a) they are just as excited to be there as I am, they are just showing their excitement differently and b) all the noise they're making means we're not going to run into a bear.
After exploring the loop, we went back to the lake and had lunch with a view - probably the best place I have ever eaten lunch before. By this point it was 1:30 and our goal was to get to a campsite by 4, so we figured we should start heading back down to town. All of the National Forest Service campgrounds close the last weekend in September, so all I had were GPS coordinates of camp sites I found on freecampsites.net. We were a little skeptical about it working out, but the GPS took us right to a huge campground near Mt. Elbert [highest peak in Colorado and second highest in the contiguous US!] that other people were at so we figured it was okay. We drove around and explored a little bit and found an excellent campsite that overlooked Twin Lakes and was in Mt. Elbert's shadow.
We hung out [pun definitely intended] until it got too chilly not to start a fire. I got it started on our first try [and later Logan had to restart it and got it on his first try] and cooked a delicious dinner of red beans and rice on our new camp stove! At this point I was wearing two pairs of pants and three shirts and gloves, so we decided to climb into the back of the car and play cards until the fire went out and we could go to sleep. Logan tried to teach me poker, gave up, and we played James Bond for almost 2 hours. The fire had died down and we packed all of our food into the bear canister, dumped water on the embers, and bundled up in the back of Logan's car.
Logan and I are not good at sharing small spaces, so we both had a pretty fitful night of sleep, but when we woke up and saw how beautiful everything was around us, that was quickly forgotten. I made a breakfast of egg sandwiches and we had our traditional Sunday Morning Muffins, but this time with a view! We were packed up and ready to head home at about 8:30, freezing our butts off in the 35 degree weather, and we got on the road. When we drove in on Friday, it was pitch black, so we had no idea how beautiful everything around us would be. We were in awe the whole time. Logan pointed out that these views are closer to us here than D.C. was to our homes in Virginia - which basically means we have no excuses not to get out here as often as possible!
All in all, it was a much needed weekend away. I feel rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to take on the three 11 hour days I have at work this week. Hopefully Denver starts to get the message that it's fall soon, and takes note from the mountains and drops its temperatures!
[Click images to enlarge; hover for captions]