Geardog and I linked up on Monday at the Denver International Airport around noon and caught the shuttle over to Hetz car rentals. We waited in line for over 30 minutes and didn’t get to the actual car until after 1. As we were driving out the security gate the check engine light came on so we were turned around and had to go back to the line to get a different car. Around 2:30 we’re finally on our way. We get on I70 headed west. I started getting a splitting headache so we had to stop at a small gas station along the way so I could buy a bottle of Tylenol at rip off prices.
Once we got to Glenwood Springs we turned south on HWY 82 towards Aspen. We stopped at the Glenwood Springs Walmart and picked up fuel and some snacks. Geardog spotted a liquer store and picked up one of those cardboard wine dispensers that looked like it weighed at least 5 or 6 lbs. (He could carry it, not me, but I’ll be glad to drink it!)
On the way to Aspen we had some light rain showers and spots of sunshine arriving at the group parking lot around 6-6:30 pm. I can’t remember whether or not we stopped to eat. The ranger gate was open and unmanned, but we stopped to fill out some sort of registration form and put $5 or $10 into some sort of envelope, it was all very confusing. Supposedly, only backpackers are allowed entry and long term parking at the Maroon Lake trailhead parking lot, else everyone must take a bus shuttle.
It was overcast and looked like rain so we hurried to repack our stuff and transition from getting up at 4 am, to air travel, to renting cars, to driving across Colorado, into hiking clothes, for a 4-5 day hike into the “unknown.” If I remember correctly we actually hit the trail about 7:30 (geardog says it was closer to 8:30) and it was already looking dark due to the cloud cover. When we reached Maroon Lake, (about 2 minutes) we had to spend some time ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ and taking pictures while there was still enough daylight.
The trail skirts around the edge of the lake and a series of meadows, then winds gently in
and out of patches of trees before going into the forest. We kept an eye out for potential camping spots, but not being familiar with the area, didn’t see anything where we wouldn’t get busted by the rangers the next morning.
We wound up heading up the trail towards Crater Lake as it started getting darker and darker. After a while it started raining, so it was break-out the parkas & headlamps. We trudged on for over an hour and didn’t get to Crater Lake. It’s only 2 miles between Maroon and Crater Lakes, but in the dark and rain, after a long long day, it seemed farther. We started looking for any spot to pitch tents and set up camp at the first decent looking site, a gap among the trees really, I think around 11pm. It mercifully stopped raining as
we pitched our tents. Next morning was cool and sunshine. We were only just off the trail and hikers were already going by, staring at us. After a quick breakfast we headed up the trail only to find we were about 5 minutes short of the lake and its designated campsites.
This was just like when geardog and I were winter
backpacking in the Bavarian Alps behind Garmisch Germany very long ago; we hiked up through the Partnach Klam into the Rhinetal valley and towards the Boch Hutte, where we turned up and left, up the mountain towards the
Saschen Hutte. The path was snowed under, and we kept losing the trail and wound up scrambling in the snow in many places. It got dark, flashlights gave out (this was before either one of us had a headlamp), I was sweating plunging through the snow, this was on the night before New Year’s Eve, it started snowing and we weren’t sure how much further we had to go, so we gave in and tried to set up camp on the path,
in the snow, on the side of a steep mountain, in the forest. (I have pix). I literally pounded a trough in the path and set up my tent over the ‘depression’ and tried to get in my bag in a semi-sitting position. Geardog, bless his heart, found a slight overhang under a sloping rock wall just off the trail and set up his pad and bag in the little crevice, you can’t make this shit up. I was jealous that at least he could stretch out, but the snow was dripping inside the crack and I had a down bag to keep dry (that bag is still rocking almost 27 years later). The next morning we get up and find we were only about 20 minutes from the freaking hut! Anyway, that wasn’t the end of that epic trip, but that’s another story! I will say the bivy bags and water proof flashlights were immediately on the next shopping list!
Back to the story. At Crater Lake we take a bunch of pictures and start really absorbing our surroundings. The goal for Day 2 was to only reach a spot about 10,500′, set up camp and acclimatize. We sign the register at the trailhead then headed up Maroon basin.
We had our first stream crossing (jumped rock to rock) and were lucky to find a pretty good campsite.
That night, I heard geardog up and moving around so I think it’s time to get up and get going, so I pack up my bag and pad, and get out of my tent, well it’s pitch dark, full moon and geardog is taking pictures with his tripod. After a few minutes I realize my watch is still on east coast time, so I go back in the tent and sleep for 2 more hours!