Outdoors: A Walk up Aspen Mountain

A stand of aspens at about 9,200 feet (photo - T. Flynn)
Aspen, Col. - I'm not an accomplished hiker, and it's fair to say I don't merit the 'hiker' moniker at all unless I'm in the act of doing it. Still, I enjoy the mountains, and I spent much of the past winter and spring in Montreat, North Carolina staying in a cabin at about 3,000 feet that backed up to Pisgah National Forest

From there I regularly walked up to 4,100 feet or thereabouts, and ambled down an abrupt, 1/4 mile, 700-foot decline to Montreat College below (my return trips up the hill at the end of the day were not ambles). I enjoyed the views, the quiet, and the needed respite from my computer.

As with running, I liked that I could easily throw on some old trail runners or sneakers and be on my way. Some gear-frenzied outdoor magazines tend to infer that without looking the part and dropping $1,000 on tech gear, you'd do well to stay on your back porch. Not what Thoreau had in mind when he took to Walden, I'll wager.

This week my wife is in Aspen for a science conference at which she's speaking. I was lucky enough to come along for the trip. On Thursday morning we walked into the historic downtown area and tucked into some toast, eggs, and coffee before she headed back to the conference center for some meetings.

I walked across the street and looked up at the now-green ski slopes of Aspen Mountain. I worked my way through the several residential blocks separating the breakfast stop and the mountain base until I found an opening between some houses. We were at roughly 7,900 feet in downtown Aspen, and I hadn't been above 10,000 feet in about 15 years, so I decided I'd start walking up the ski run dubbed Normandy that was now an open swath of green.

A summer look up a winter slope (photo - T. Flynn) 

As I made my way up Normandy, my well-worn trail runners didn't roll on me and gained easy purchase on what was a modest slope. From there the mountain got steeper, as mountains will, and I crossed over a dirt road and above it a second one called Tower Ten Road, while still keeping to a straight vertical path for about a 1/2 mile. I then followed a trail around (the harrowing-sounding) Kleenex Corner, before heading straight up Spar Gulch. The latter was as it sounds, a gulch that ran up the mountain and was a hardpacked, narrow dirt road flanked on either side by short double-diamond runs that emptied into it in winter.

At about 9,000 feet a gondola lift with riders passed overhead to my left and to my right I found a conveniently abandoned snowmobile that will stay where it is until the fall snows return. It served as a handy place to have a seat before heading further up the incline.

(photo - T. Flynn)

After an hour and a half of an easy but, at times, steep pitch, I reached my turnaround point - the base of a second gondola called Apex that took skiers in winter another 1,000 feet up. It was located at about 10,200 feet. Directly above it, thunderheads gathered and announced themselves.

After some water, I zipped up my parka, pulled on my old wool baseball cap, and started an easy, meandering trail run down the gulch. From the downward angle, I spotted a pile of snow that was still holding fast and stopped to snap a few pictures of something I'd never seen up close: June snow.

The storm rolled down the hill right along with me, doused me for good measure as it passed over, and then traveled through and out of town to the mountains on the far side. By the time I reached the base of Aspen, I was met by sunny skies and a town as striking as the hills above it. - TF

(photo - T. Flynn)

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