Acclamatization BeginsSo, here we were, a group of ten people, from all over US trying to climb Mt. Elbert the next day. But, in order to get acclimatized to the relatively high altitudes, as compared to the plains we belonged to. I guess, you all would agree, that a person from Houston or Tulsa, or, for that matter, Cleveland, Ohio will be gasping for breath, while attempting a 14-er in Colorado, right?
The planned hike was a relatively difficult hike called the Buckskin pass hike, which is approx. 4.8 miles one-way, and goes from a beginning elevation of 9,580 feet to 12,462 feet above sea level. To our luck, there was no fee for hiking this trail. This hike gave us great views of Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Snowmass Lake. Overnight camping is available in Minnehaha Gulch, but we had no intentions of camping in this area, as we had a much bigger aim the next day. It is not allowed to camp in the alpine meadows, and campgrounds are available only after crossing the Buckskin pass.
If one gets an early start, which we didn’t, one can drive 1/2 of a mile west of Aspen on Highway 82 to the Roundabout, from where turn right on Maroon Creek Road. Drive 9-1/2 miles, to get to the Shuttle stop at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area. Because we didn’t enter the park before 9 am, we had to take a shuttle from Aspen Highlands Ski Area, from where; it took us about half an hour to reach Mirror Lake and Maroon Bells.
The TrailThe trail starts at Maroon Lake and follows lakeside until it reaches the Forest Service bulletin board at the far end of the lake. Stay on the Maroon-Snowmass Trail which ascends on rocky paths through the aspens to the top of a rocky rise before it descends to Crater Lake. At the Crater Lake bulletin board, the trail forks to the right and climbs steeply through aspen and spruce forest for 1 mile to Minnehaha Gulch. A stream divides the nearly one mile long gulch in half with campsites available before and after the stream crossing. The trail continues its steep ascent exiting the gulch into an alpine meadow with Buckskin Pass looming ahead. A trail sign for the Maroon-Snowmass /Willow Lake junction appears in another 1/2 mile. Take the left fork which continues to follow the Maroon-Snowmass Trail through the meadow to a series of switchbacks that climb steeply to Buckskin Pass. If hiking beyond the pass, the next available campsites are 2 miles ahead.
We Made it, but got tired !We all reached Crater Lake easily, with some people in front, and some at back. Everybody had a good break there, with some energy bars and water and Gatorade, after which people started dispersing for the next leg of the hike – to Buckskin pass. Me and Kedar kept good pace, and were at the front. After the walk through the calm spruce and aspen forest, we picked up pace, and had our next break at the bifurcation of willow pass and buckskin pass, where we met a couple who were going to camp beyond the pass. A left turn from the break point, and the switchbacks started. Whew – there were quite a few of them, actually. Finished up with them, took a few snaps at the pass, where the wind was very strong. On our way back, we met Rakya, Soniya, Mahadik and Pittya.
I and Kedar reached the car parking lot, where all the girls were already having a nice time in the car. Instead of waiting for the others to return, we went to Aspen and bought loads of Hamburgers from McDonald’s for the hungry lot.
All in all, it was a nice, tough trek, which did tire everybody out, but, I guess, gave everybody a taste of the high altitudes, which we were going to experience the next day. The only feeling that saddened me was that, had Kedar not exhausted himself on this trek, he would have definitely made it to the summit the next day, instead of giving up at the first false summit!