Quick Retreat

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Friday evening I set out for Conundrum Hot Springs, on the Aspen-side of the mountain pass. We (Rowdy and I) set camp at Copper Lake and enjoyed a quiet night, followed by a beautiful sunrise. Then a forest ranger surprised us at 7am, with some unfortunate news: No dogs allowed in Conundrum Basin. Since almost 6,000 hikers visit the springs each year, there have been recent issues with waste management. This was a disappointment, since we’d only planned on hiking to the hot springs. Still, we knew we would find solace in one form or another.

We packed up camp (40-something lbs = prepared for the worst) and set off for Triangle Pass. Our map showed a less popular route (loop) that would take us over three 12,000′ passes and back to Copper Lake. Had I known we would certainly return to Copper Lake, I would have left the tent pitched and only brought a day-pack. However it is difficult to predict where the next camp will be in such a beautiful area, so we brought everything with us. This really increased my workload for the day, and my legs and back were sore after just a couple hours into the hike. Still, we kept a great pace and covered a lot of ground with impressive timing (That’s how it goes when you’re solo. You just keep moving, pushing and busting ass.) Another bonus of going solo: stop whenever you feel like it. Go wherever you want, at your own speed. Like a “choose your own adventure” story, decisions are made as opportunities present themselves. For example, stopping for a half-hour to eat wild raspberries because…well, because…why wouldn’t you?

Although we got one helluva workout, Rowdy and I had a fantastic time wandering the mountains. When the trail would disappear before us, we’d branch out to a game-trail and find the hypotenuse between destinations. The weather was outstanding (75) and I was able to go shirt-less for a while, which was nothing less than refreshing at that altitude. While relaxing by creekside that afternoon, I decided on a new plan. We would hump back over the mountain and make our way the last five miles back to the car. I’ve realized that I am not very good at sitting and waiting. I am very good at going, going, and going…then setting camp, making dinner and falling asleep. I had two options: find a place to camp and wait out the evening (couldn’t really summit a peak whose route I was unfamiliar with), or head home and be productive on the laptop. With no particular game-plan in mind, besides possibly sitting at my computer, removing my heavy pack and relieving my feet from the confines of my leather boots, it was time to sack it up and make the long push out.

A short trip, yet a big one if you count miles/elevation/weight-load. Here’s five stellar pics to highlight our quick retreat into the tundra…my new favorite micro-climate (I hope to replicate a tundra in my own yard one day.)

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