Hike in to Conundrum

After my hike to Electric Peak, I was feeling pretty good about my conditioning-though strenuous, the exertion had not been to the redline. However, I hadn’t been carrying a full pack. Although I had practiced packing everything at home before departure, I had picked up a few items in Denver at the REI store before going to Aspen. Now, the night before the hike in to the base camp location, I was re-assessing my gear: Should I take the extra rope ? (yes). Do I have enough clothing? (Probably). Do I need gloves?-after all, it’s high summer (but you’re in the mountains, so take the gloves). Even with creative packing, I barely got it all stuffed in my backpack, and I staggered a bit as I tried it on. I estimate I was carrying between 30 and 35 lbs. Savoring my last meal in civilization, I went to sleep tired but content, as the smell of marijuana wafted through the hotel (after all, we’re in Colorado)

Trail into Conundrum Valley
Trail into Conundrum Valley

Early the next morning I drove to the trailhead, parked the car, and as I read the signage at the trailhead I realized the Forest Service had not left any “poop bags” in the bin. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about that, but off I went up the trail. The sky was gray, unlike the day before, and only a handful of other hikers were present. I soon settled into a rhythm, adjusting my pack as I went to minimize the load on my shoulders. Once an hour I stopped to take a break and get the pack off my back, eating a snack and stretching. There were a few steep stretches and some muddy spots. About halfway to the camp I had to ford swiftly flowing Conundrum Creek but I managed to find a series of shallow beds and previously placed logs that granted me access to the other side.

The trail went steadily up. It sprinkled but there was no steady rain. I met a few hikers coming down the trail and I actually passed a few going in my direction as well-that made me feel good about my fitness. Toward the end of the eight mile walk, I was feeling the combined effects of the previous day’s hike, the extra weight on my back, and the steadily increasing altitude.  I was really happy to finally see the signs delineating the campsites:

A schematic of the campsites available
A schematic of the campsites available

due to heavy use I could only pitch camp in one of the designated sites. It was a first come, first served system but since I was arriving on a Monday I figured there would be some room after the weekend crowd left. However, the last part of the trek was the steepest, and I was really breathing hard when I arrived at the hot springs. Searching through multiple campsites I finally found one open at #12 and plopped down to appreciate my accomplishment. I didn’t tarry long, though, since the sky looked threatening and I knew I needed to get the tent set up before my last energy reserves were depleted.  Mine was a new tent but it went up quickly and easily. As I spread out my sleeping pad and bag, the thunder cracked and the rain pounded on the tent-I snuggled into my bag and slept like a man who had hiked 17 miles at elevation in the last two days-boy did that feel good . . .

When you're warm and dry, the world is good
When you’re warm and dry, the world is good