The Hardest Hike

After a day of rest, Mark and I decided to take a day hike loop starting and ending at basecamp. Many of our fellow campers at the hot springs had traveled from Crested Butte through Triangle Pass. From looking at the map I had spotted nearby Copper Lake, reached through Triangle,  and I thought it might make a reasonable hiking goal. (See map at bottom of this post.) Mark was agreeable, so we set off.

Wildflower field on the way to  Triangle Pass.
Wildflower field on the way to Triangle Pass.

The first part of the hike was quickly steep, meandering through deep bushes and giving way to a pleasant green meadow full of wildflowers, reminiscent of the land below Electric Peak described earlier. We were steadily increasing in altitude, and our breathing picked up accordingly. As the green gave way above treeline to the red rocks above, we marveled at the patches of snow left on the ground, here in late July.  We approached the gap hunched over and shortened our stride, then gasped our way to Triangle Pass, where we were rewarded with a fine view of the valley beyond.

View west from Triangle Pass
View west from Triangle Pass

Next up was a gently sloping downhill leg into the woods adjacent to Copper Lake. We scrambled across a loose rock field where Mark slipped and cut his leg, but fortunately it was superficial so he soldiered on.

On the way to Copper Lake
On the way to Copper Lake

I was pretty sure of our path but still glad to see a confirmation on the trail as we entered the woods.  We stopped briefly for a snack but the mosquitoes descended so we moved on.  It was only a short walk to Copper Lake. When we arrived, we were surprised to find lots of company-apparently we had selected a popular lunchtime spot, even for a weekday. On a small peninsula sticking out into the lake we sat down, re-fueled and restocked our water supplies, before starting back to the trail leading to Maroon Pass-the second one of the day.

Our lunch spot was the small peninsula at the lower left
Copper Lake: our lunch spot was the small peninsula at the lower left

As we walked over Maroon Pass, we considered leaving the trail and striking out across east across the valley below which would have saved us some mileage, but also introduced some uncertainty about footing, terrain, and getting across the creek in the valley. So we kept on the trail as it descended gently into East Maroon Valley. There was a beautiful waterfallIMG_1649 on our right as we drew closer to the stream crossing.  After only getting slightly wet, we got on across and started going back uphill. At this point in the day we were starting to get tired and the incline was steadily up. The trail was in pretty good shape with some muddy spots. There was no one in this large area between the creek and Copper Pass as we headed back in a southerly direction. (See map at top of post).  There was nothing to do but put the head down and grind on uphill. Gorgeous views of the valley behind us helped sustain our sense of adventure  and determination.

Copper Pass beckons
Copper Pass beckons

We finally reached the top of Copper Pass (low notch in the ridgeline here) and paused to rest. Just below us was the remnants of what looked like an old mine shaft, now filled in with rocks and debris.Skeletons of old wooden support beams lay strewn around the opening. I wondered about the people who had worked here in years past-difficult, lonely work far from creature comforts. They were made of stern stuff.

Across the valley we could see our next destination which was Triangle Pass IMG_1656 (see photo right, now approaching from the west). After sliding down the slope we rejoined the trail and trudged across and up to the final apex of the day. Our legs were tired, so tired, but we knew it was downhill back to our base camp. We stumbled a bit but gravity was now our friend as we gratefully anticipated a hot meal and relaxing in the hot springs upon our return.

I estimate our total hike was around 10 miles. Total ascent was probably a few thousand feet but at altitude the  exertion seems doubled compared to sea level.  I have never done anything quite so hard in a single day of activity. Riding 100 miles on a bicycle was easy compared to this day’s hike. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything-there is no price to put on the feeling of wonder and accomplishment that resulted.

Day hike over four mountain passes from Conundrum Hot Springs.
Day hike over four mountain passes from Conundrum Hot Springs.
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One thought on “The Hardest Hike”

  1. I’m amazed at the detail with which you recount your hiking ventures; the details take one right along (without the exertion when enjoying the experience vicariously in the lounger).
    It is fun to know how very much you enjoyed the challenges–and the subsequent resting on the hard ground. These memories and beautiful photo will continue to soothe and sustain your soul.

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