Hiking in the Maroon Bells
Running the gammut of emotions, I left my world of worries behind. I traded my daily worries and stress for a new place, with no aggrevation and different responsibilities. I had arrived. At long last I landed in Denver. After a complete debacle with the rental car company, I settle for a convertible because all the rides with ground clearance were scooped up presumeably by less than hearty adventurers who think it's a must for traveling on even a dirt road. Undoubtedly traveling to some scenic place of which the drive would be their only approach. For these types of adventuters the confines of a metal cabin will assuredly be the only world they will ever know on their vacation. As I pondered such thoughts I remind myself that it's a rental car and a little off-roading might be fun, if not alot more interesting in a car. Additionally, something about the top down on a cool starrey night, with the moonlight casting ominous shadows on and around the summits of the Rockies was appealing.
Our preparations for this adventure included a couple of moderate hikes in the enchanted north country and my backyard-The White Mountains. This was in addition to nightly run/walks in my neighborhood in Massachusetts once the oppressive humidity of The Commonwealth's days had been exchanged for cooler, breezy nights.
My regular camp at Mt. Crawford
Then the weekend before we left, a backpacking trip up the easy Mount Crawford located in the notch of the same name in New Hampshire. Mt. Crawford has over the years become my favorite destination to get away from the world at a moments notice.
The view from our place in Dillon
We drove about an hour and a half west to a quaint resort-like town known as Dillon, which served as a great jumping off point to daily destinations like; Mohawk Lakes,
Wildflowers and waterfalls on the trail to Mohawk Lakes
Lillypad Lake, lower and upper Piney Lakes including a little scrambling on the lower tier of Peak C. We also went up to the touristy Loveland Pass for a little higher altitude jaunt around Sniktau and A-Basin to cement our altitude adjustments for our ultimate backpack to the wilds of the Maroon Bells.
I always have a feeling of apprehension come over me while preparing for a backpack with the magnitude of 9000 feet of elevation gain and a distance approaching 30 miles. Sure I can always punish myself and push the envelope a little, but for me the essence of a great backpacking trip is proper conditioning. I find the experience to be exponentially more rewarding when I'm not fighting the calf burning and quad thumping with a relentless v-tach (rapid heart beat). It's far more gratifying to take in the panorama of rugged peaks and jaw dropping scenery when it's not caused by an arrythmia!
Tuesday morning, August 6th, we make our way out of Dillon to the upper crusty world of Aspen, Colorado. Arriving here, it's easy to see why the place was chosen for development and has become a popular destination of the who's who and well-to-do. By this time we had traded the convertible now for a Range Rover and as such we were able to blend in with the Aspen locals, we were incognito. Arriving at The Maroon Bell we were greeted by a depressing infestation, not of bugs, but of the equally annoying tourists. Seeing the reflection of The Bells in the still waters of Maroon Lake it wasn't difficult to comprehend the "why" of the infestation.
Obligatory Bells shot from the trailhead
Maroon Lake is literally seconds from the parking lot and Crater Lake just a short jaunt up and both provide an equally amazing way to double one's viewing pleasure of the majestic, rocky peaks which lay just ahead. As we don our heavy loads we start off into the wilds, tourists oohing and ahhing, camera shutters poping, bees buzzing and birds chirping all around. Shortly after our start and just past Crater Lake the crowds had dissolved. We stopped for a moment to catch our breath and observe a proud marmot allerting his cohorts to our presence from the rocky perch of his domain. Its quite funny to see the marmot, the big ball of fur mustering up his energy for his alert only to hear a pathetic bird like "chirp". Meanwhile vols scurry through the scree and talus also alerting their kind of our intrusion to their beautiful worlds. As we continue, the valley walls west of the Bells rise with each step and seemingly close off the world behind us. As we make our way to camp just below 12,000 ft, a sense of calm and amazement pervades my thoughts. All the stress in my life and the problems of the world vanish. We pass some amazing wooded campsites and ducked into a couple of them temporarily to avoid passing showers. We had intentions of making our first camp at the eleven mile mark but as we approached West Maroon Pass clouds darkended as the day grew long and dictated our camp to be about 7 miles from the trailhead. We chose the edge of a georgeous little wildflower meadow at the top of the valley. As we set camp, an 8 point buck (possibly10) and his mate scrambled along a rocky hillside forraging for an evening meal.
Tyler and Megan's midnight visitor
We then shared a re-hydrated meal and thoughts on what lay ahead and reminesced on past nights in the mountains. My girlfriend and I then hobbeled off to our tent set up just on the other side of a brush patch some 20 yards away from Tyler and Megan. We stayed outside long enough to watch the sun slip over West Maroon Pass and feel calm wash over the valley-or so we thought!
We now retired to the confines of our nylon world as crickets lull us to sleep. Well, actually I'll give an assist to the crickets but actually it was the Benadryl that knocked us out! Hours later, the sounds of Tyler and Megan attempting to be polite, stir us from our alpine slumber. They seemed distressed about the presence of the buck we had seen earlier. Apparently the deer of The Maroon Bells are carefree about human presence. In fact, they were actually sniffing around their tent and tearing vegetation from its roots right at the base of their tent. It made a very loud noise I 've come to learn. At first Tyler and Megan didn't know what the source of the strange noise was. They laid in their tents (momentarily) wondering if it may be a bear in search of a midnight snack- "a camper burrito" as I like to call it. I can imagine their relief when they recognized the fuzzy antlers through the moonroof of their enclosure. The buck would scamper away with Tylers loud voice, only to return to grazing, inches from the tent-undoubtedly right as they started to fall back asleep! We settled back to sleep-kind of, and they let us be for the rest of the night (both the deer and Tyler and Megan). At 5am we woke to the cell alarm letting me know it was time to break camp and head to the Maroon's west pass.
Although this wasn't our intended final destination, for Liz and I, it was to be our first and last pass. See, during the story so far I mentionioned stopping to catch my breath but never did I mention hydration. I grossly underestimated my water consumption and although my sense of thirst was satisfied my body had become dehydrated. I noticed it first when I woke up and the usual aches and pains didn't subside after moving around a little. I drank a liter of water with breakfast and replaced my electrolytes with a supplement but the damage was already done and I started feeling my head pound and the headache, that followed would last until nightfall. However a funny thing happens to me in the mountains. Something about the clean, crisp, thin air overcomes the pain and with it sadly, logic and reason. I should have decided to drink alot more and painfully, regretably, head down. However I flew all the way to Colorado and I wasn't going to be deprived of the view from West Pass, I wasn't going to spend years wondering what I missed or carry the shame and guilt of bailing before at least one of the four passes. So back to the good stuff.
The alpinglow eecked down from tiny little shimmers on the higher surrounding western summits. Seemingly fighting to get over the valley walls. Much as I was to be in short order. We welcomed the warmth that very slowly started to dissolve the chill from the crisp morning air and in turn from our aching muscles and bones. A short while later Tyler was out and about, followed by Megan. We had oatmeal for breakfast and a little trail mix. Next we shouldered our packs and were on our way. We started slowly stopping to filter and replenish our water supplies. Then we crossed into the direct sunlight which illuminated the paintbrush wildflower meadows all around us. It was amazing how the colors up close were individual, vivid and bright and as they faded toward the valley walls became an abstract pastel of beauty.
The vivid colors of The Maroon's wildflowers with the walls of West Pass in the background
We passed a few marmots lounging on rocks, catching the morning rays that had beckoned them from their rocky homes. Also, there were hundreds of small song birds sounding off in tandem and creating an amazing alpine orchestra as they zig-zagged effortlessly across the sky. Cascades appeared and gurgeled faintly at first, then grew louder and more soothing as we approached only to fade as we climbed the valley wall to West Maroon Pass. The wall of the pass had acted as a physical and visual barrier since the night before, but as we crested the pass it would no longer. As we topped out, it opened almost a 360 degree panorama. Fravert basin, Snowmass Wilderness all amazing. The Keyboard of the Wind could be seen looking over it all in majestic style (just as we were-ha!) We caught our breath and the scenery fueled our recooperation. This was as far as Liz and I were to go.
Liz and I at our highpoint-West Maroon Pass
Tyler and Megan, younger and hydrated continued on to finish out the next 20 miles. We parted ways, fondly, well wishing, then began our descent.
This was where I did alot of reflecting. I often wondered if I was just being lazy or if I had made the right decision. My rationale was the mountain will always be here and if it pains me so much that I couldn't finish it, I can always return. Which brings me full circle. The experience is alot more enjoyable when I'm not hindered on many levels by my physical limitations. If I had continued, I would have spent it in agonizing pain. I know this because the next 8 miles, hiking out, downhill, was horrific. I just wanted to curl up and die but everytime I stopped my head pounded relentlessly. This is when something took over me. Beyond just my will to be done with the hike. The last two miles I didn't stop once. It was almost like someone was lifting my legs for me and I was more like a disgruntled confused viewer than the actual participant hiker. I vaguely remembered people saying "hi" only to receive a jarbeled "ugg" for a response. Looking back on it all I was happy to have shared the quality time with my best friends up in such an amazing place and the quality memories made will forever reduce the negativity of my dehydration to a mere lesson learned.
Thanks to tdogge for allowing me to incorporate some of his photos into my report, especially the primary image. The photo really describes what I felt seeing the cliff walls clearly yet somewhat distorted in the water-much as I felt in the midst of my dehydration.
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