In 1989 I was introduced to the alpine high country of Colorado, I was ten years old. My aunt took our family on a short backpacking trip along the eight-and-a-half-mile Lost Man (Loop) Trail. (You can’t hike too fast in the mountains with kids.) I liked being in the mountains, but the first day I had altitude induced headaches a good deal of the time. That night was miserable for me, I wound up sleeping without my sleeping bag on a wet tent floor. The next day the headaches were gone and I was better able to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Roaming around in the alpine tundra was a new experience for me. While on the trail however, I was tired and didn’t necessarily want to ever go backpacking again. Fortunately, off the trail this mindset soon disappeared. In the years that followed this trip I was almost enchanted by the mountains due to my experiences in them. Runaway romanticism with memories of the mountains of Colorado can’t hurt anyone, can it?
In the years that followed, I dreamed of one day revisiting Lost Man Trail. I finally got my chance in early August 2003. My sister, Meghan and I drove to Colorado and made our way to aspen. After a quick trip to see the Maroon Bells, we set up camp at Lost Man Campground. Our plan was to set off down the trail from the lower trailhead and hike to the top of Lost Man Pass. I figured that while we were on the pass we might as well give an ascent of Geissler Mountain a shot while we were there. After the climb we would continue down the trail to the upper trailhead. The two trailheads are separated by a 4.5-mile stretch of Colorado Highway 82 and about one thousand feet of elevation. I decided that we could stash a bicycle at the upper trailhead and I could hop on it, fly down the road and retrieve the truck. In the late afternoon/early evening we drove up to the upper trailhead to stash the bicycle before we retuned to our camp to settle in for the night. This little chore turned out to be pretty delightful. The soft late-day light illuminated the slope above the trailhead as the Roaring Fork River rushed below out of sight. We were the only people around save for the occasional vehicle rounding the switchback on the highway. These sort of quite moments in the mountains are all privileges and reason enough that I love the high country.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and struck camp. We drove the truck just across the highway, parked at the trailhead, then set off. As we went down the trail it was interesting to see the same sights again, thirteen years later. A few miles down the trail we found the spot down by Lost Man Creek where we had stopped for lunch in 1989. As it had not taken us very long to reach the site, we realized how much faster we were hiking this time around. As we hiked on, I had to admit to myself that the land I found myself in wasn’t quite the magic land that I had been musing on for so many years; ah well, romanticism can make your memories sweeter when you are away from those people and places you love! (Along the trail) (Interesting ponds) Somewhere up in the neighborhood of the trail’s intersection with the South Fork Pass Trail, we passed our campsite of the first trip. On we traveled through the alpine tundra and finally up to Lost Man Lake, our former lunch site of the second day. (Lake and pass) It was now about noon, but we decided to go ahead and climb to the top of the pass above the lake. Geissler Mountain was now rising above us to the west. On the top of the pass we sat down to eat a windy lunch.
Lunch finished, we walked to the west end of the pass and dropped our packs and then took off up the ridge. The ridge is a non-complex, class 2 talus climb. (A gentler stretch of the ridge) When we were nearing the summit, we noticed some dark clouds off to the east and decided that we probably should hurry to the summit and get down in case the weather was going to take a turn for the worse. Finally the ridge rising above us disappeared and we found ourselves a few feet away from a three-foot tall summit cairn. Meghan picked up the summit register and we both signed it. Using the cairn as a tripod, I snapped a few summit pictures. (Summit photo) In the distance I could pick out the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain, and Capitol Peak; to the east stood the king of the Rockies, Mount Elbert. (Mount Elbert)
After we descended the ridge and retrieved our packs, we headed down the pass towards Independence Lake; the going was all downhill from here. (Independence Lake) Traveling down this stretch of the trail was considerably more enjoyable this time around. Now I was admiring the beauty of the high, glacially formed valley instead of wondering how much further the trail went on. When we reached the trailhead we retrieved the bicycle. I dropped my pack, made darn sure that I had the truck keys securely zipped in my pocket, donned my helmet, and mounted the bike and took off down the highway. I must have looked like a complete idiot—I was on a mountain bike wearing khaki pants and hiking boots! I didn’t quite look like one of those Colorado mountain cyclists. On the way down I did pass one guy on a bike that was climbing up the highway. At first I was really afraid that I would wind up tearing off down the road at eighty M.P.H. and end up flying off the edge of the road into the valley below. I was pleased to find that wind resistance kept me from rolling any faster than a manageable speed. In a relatively short time I was back at the lower trailhead. I put the bike in the truck bed and drove up the Highway to pick up Meghan.
It’s always good to go visit an old friend; you might even wind up meeting a new one along the way.