Aspen – Crested Butte – Aspen
I’ve long had the desire to complete the storied voyage from Aspen to Crested Butte under my own power. Much like the 4 Pass Loop, it is sort of a right of passage on the local hiking/running scene. After many summers I was finally able to execute my own version of the trip and check this one off the bucket list.
I left the Jeep behind at the Maroon Lake parking lot at 6:30 on a typically priceless Aspen morning, and made quick work of the frustratingly rocky trail that covers the 1.6 miles between Maroon and Crater Lakes. The sun was just making its way into the Maroon Valley and I quickly found a decent rhythm on the climb up West Maroon Pass. There was not a breath of wind at the top so I prepared a short picnic of Mandarin Orange Gu while enjoying the beautiful lonesomeness of my adventure.
The descent down to Schofield pass road was heaps of fun and I was happy to engage in conversations with the few early morning hikers I encountered. Typically I’m not too keen on the stop and chat while on the trail, but the spirit of my undertaking was making me unusually sociable. I connected to the 401 trail at Schofield Pass and commenced to soul shred 8 miles of fantastic singletrack all the way to the tiny outpost of Gothic some 5+ miles from my ultimate destination. Most people thumb their way into town from Gothic but I was content to tread the dirt road into town under the locomotive power of my own two legs.
I arrived at my hotel around 11am and had my first beer at 11:45. It was perfect. I had never been to CB in my entire Colorado based life, so I spent the remainder of my day cruising the main drag in town (Elk Ave.), eating and drinking myself silly. I noticed a lot of mountain bikers in town, and after a barstool inquiry, I learned that a Leadville 100 qualifying event was taking place on Sunday that would cover 100 kilometers on the trails and dirt roads around town. I wish I could have been a spectator. Early to bed early to rise.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the coffee shop next door to my hotel was open for business at 6:30am. It was even more pleasant to learn the day old doughnuts were free. Breakfast of champions. I was back on Gothic road by 7 on another glorious morning, smiling with every step.
My route home would take me over East Maroon Pass via the Copper Creek Trial. This meant that once I hit Gothic, the way home would be entirely different from the way there. Awesome. The climb from town to East Maroon Pass was entirely enjoyable and runnable. I was awestruck by the beauty of Copper Lake just below the pass and took my time there chatting with campers and taking pictures. Copper Lake is a special place in the universe.
I crested the top of East Maroon Pass soon thereafter and ran relaxed on the ensuing downhill. My rhythm was only briefly interrupted when I encountered thousands of downed trees covering the trail. Crossing the path of destruction left by an avalanche is a good way to gain respect for the immense power of nature. I felt very small as I negotiated my way through the run out.
It is outings like these that help to remind me how fortunate I am. The ability to run in mountains everyday is a gift. Even more, this trip reminded me that running’s place in human history started with the practical application of getting from A to B. It’s interesting to experience running as a means of transportation rather than as a means of exercise. It sounds overly profound but the simple act of running took on a whole new significance and joy for me this weekend. Let’s hope I can carry this joyous momentum with me to another small mountain town in less than three weeks.