For my last Colorado hike I wanted to do a backcountry trip. The area around Crested Butte provided endless possibilities. I learned of a route through the mountains that would take me from Crested Butte to Aspen. I was unable to find a good paper map, so I decided to wing it. At 6pm I left Crested Butte and drove up towards Gothic. The forest was dark and ominous, but beautiful. I looked back down the valley and saw a rainbow forming above the mountains, the road was too narrow to stop for a photo though. I arrived at the West Maroon trailhead by 7:30pm and decided to spend the night in the car. As I read my book, The Dharma Bums, I watched the clouds turn pink in the last rays of sunshine.
I didn’t sleep much at all that night. It was cold and cramped inside the car.
By 8am I was on the trail. The morning light was bursting through an endless field of wildflowers. They glowed yellow, red, purple, white, and blue. I soon came to a fork in the trail. A small wooden side reading "West Maroon Trail" was shaped pointing towards the left, so I went that direction. I had heard this was a popular trail, so I was surprised to see it so overgrown. Alarm bells went off that I was going the wrong way, but the sign was pointing in this direction. I started a steep climb up the hills, surrounded by thousands of wildflowers. This still didn’t seem right, I should’ve taken that other fork. After an hour of hiking up the mountain the trail dead-ended in the tundra. I climbed up to a rock outcropping and looked for another trail. I soon found one.
When I reached the new trail I encountered some hikers. Thankfully they had a map. Eventually I got back to the correct trail and restarted my ascent to West Maroon Pass. The climb up was intense, very steep and easy to slip. Finally I reached the summit, only to find dozens of people were relaxing at the top! Never before have I seen so many people on top of a mountain, it was like Grand Central Station. After a nice chat with a white water rafting guide, I began the descent to Maroon Bells.
A few hours later I came to Maroon Lake. It was packed with tourists. My next goal was to find a campsite. I soon found one in a pine forest and setup my hammock. The flies were terrible, and were constantly digging into my skin. Thankfully they couldn’t get me when I was wrapped up in my hammock.
At 6pm I had a great lasagna dinner and a Clif bar for desert. I made sure to pack up my Bear Can away from camp and then headed back to Maroon Lake for sunset.
I watched as the tourists took hundreds of selfies and family photos, when everyone suddenly started yelling. A bear was walking around on the far side of the lake. Too bad I didn’t have my telephoto lens.
The temperature began to drop and I ran back to my hammock to grab my down jacket. When I arrived I saw my bear can sitting at the bottom of the hill. That's not where I left it... I made some noise to alert any nearby animals, then went over to inspect it. There were gouges taken out of the bomb-proof plastic and the canister was wet with slobber. Clearly the bear must have found it. Thankfully he gave up rather quickly and left before damaging anything else. I hoped he wouldn’t return later in the night.
I returned to my sleeping bag at dusk and tried to sleep for 3 hours before heading out to photograph the Milky Way. At midnight my alarm went off. As I opened my eyes I saw a dark forest canopy swimming in stars. I crawled out of my warm down sleeping bag and headed to the lake shore. Surprisingly, 3 other photographers were already there. After talking with them I realized I had already been following the one photographer on Instagram!
We spent a few hours talking while our cameras clicked away. Since I was doing a Star Trails image, which takes hours, I left my camera on the lake shore. I figured no one would steal it. At 2am I headed back to my hammock to get some sleep, knowing I had to be back soon for sunrise. It got very cold. At 5am I headed back to the lake shore to check on my camera and prepare for sunrise.
With sunrise wrapped up, I now had a very long, arduous hike back over the mountains. I felt horrible the entire way. Must have been the combination of dehydration, lack of sleep, lack of food and the strain of the long hike. I truly thought I would not make it back to the car. I had to stop at one point and setup my hammock to rest. At least I didn't have to worry about taking another wrong turn and going miles of course. I finally made it back to the car around 3PM, barely. I was happy to have finished the rough hike and ready to move on. All I could think about now was a big meal, a hot shower, and a warm bed to sleep in.
The drive back to Crested Butte was stunning in the late afternoon light. Once I finally got cell reception I started looking for lodging in town. I couldn't wait to get a hotel room and shower, it must have been over a week since I'd slept in a real bed. I smelled horrible, was completely exhausted, and I was starving. Of course every single hotel and hostel in town was completely booked for the night. Great...
For dinner I had a massive burrito at a great little restaurant in Crested Butte. At least I got to eat! Then I drove up into the mountains just outside of town, where I knew of a dispersed camping spot. I still wanted that shower... So I crashed through the brush down to the river and washed my face with the cool water. I guess that was the best I could hope for. Then I set up my tent and passed out.
The next morning I drove through Kebler Pass, home to one of the largest colonies of Aspen trees in the world. I would love to come back here in the fall!
My next destination is Grand Teton National Park.