Backpacking with Danny…Colorado 8.2007

August 4th-August 12th


we arrived in Denver in a downpour of rain, about 6pm on Saturday night and did a little shopping at the REI Outdoor store.

then we took off for Golden to eat some dinner.  we were specifically looking for a certain restaurant that I had eaten at before with a friend of mine and I'd taken Danny there a couple of years ago, however they were closed for renovation.  but we lucked out tonight; they were open and not crowded.  the name of the place is the Hilltop Bistro; in an old house with great tasting food but also beautiful to look at.  while the food is very unique, the atmosphere is wonderful, but also casual.  it's very comfortable.   our food was really good and the dessert (his pre-birthday dessert) was great:  chocolate bread pudding with walnut ganache and caramel ice cream.   a great way to start a vacation!


we still had about 4 hours to drive to get to aspen, but neither of us felt like driving all the way.  we pulled over in a parking lot in Georgetown and stayed in the "Hotel Mazda".  I woke up about 4:30 am and took off down the road. 


Happy Birthday Danny!

we arrived on top of Independence Pass just past sunrise and the view was really beautiful.

we stopped in Aspen, grabbed some coffee and pastries and took off for the trailhead.  before we got out of the car to get all of our gear together, I gave Danny his birthday presents from me---the Planet Earth DVD's and the book titled "Merle".

then we started getting ready for a two day backpacking trip


the trail was really steep...kind of like walking up 3 miles of stairs, but the views were very beautiful.  the trail was really crowded with day hikers, no one else was backpacking (we should have taken that as a hint as to how hard the trail was).  the photo on the right below, shows a series of switchbacks that go up the side of the mountain.  the hike was 2,000' elevation gain.

it was like ...take 10 steps....breathe....take 10 steps....breathe.  but we felt better watching EVERYONE do this, and we were the only ones with backpacks on.


we were hiking to a place called Cathedral Lake; elevation over 11,000 feet.  the weather was sunny for the hike up, but with periods of light rain.



we quickly set up our tent anticipating more rain. we played around exploring on these huge pile of rocks.


 now here was the most special part of the day....Danny's birthday surprise.  As most of you know, I had asked you to send a card, note or letter to him for his birthday.  our original plan was to day hike today, and I was going to give him the cards when we got back to camp.  but we changed our plans and now were backpacking so I had carried the pack of cards (about 5-6 pounds) up the mountain.  after we'd eaten dinner, we sat down above the lake and below the spectacular mountains to rest.  I told him then, that I bet he'd guessed there wasn't going to be a surprise party, but he had a lot of special people wishing him a grand 50th birthday...and then I handed him the bundle of cards, wrapped in ribbons and in a ziploc bag (while backpacking, everything goes in a ziploc bag).  he was so touched.  we spent the next 40 minutes reading the cards, then it began to rain, so we took them all and headed to the tent to finish reading them.  I felt so lucky to be here in this wonderful place with him, watching him laugh out loud at some of the cards and wipe sweet tears away with other cards.  thank you all for making this birthday so special for him.

and then the clouds closed in on us and the rain and storms began.


it continued to storm all through the night and we awoke, kind of damp, but with this really cool view of the valley....clouds and mountains together.


our plan was to hike from camp, up two more miles and another 2,000' elevation to a pass called Electric Pass; named because of the frequent lightening strikes.  with clouds all around us and the mountains, we were hopeful that once we got to the top, we would have a view of something other than clouds.  the wildflowers were beautiful on the hike up.  the view of the pass is on the left photo; it's the low saddle where the grassy area meets the rocky area.


once we got to the top, the view of the valley was amazing!!!  this is what I love about the Snowmass Wilderness area are these BIG views!!  the clouds were still covering the other mountain ridges, and starting to close in on the valley and around us, so after a while, we headed back down.


 this was the view looking back down the mountain toward the lake we camped at

when we got back to our campsite, we ate some lunch and got all of our gear packed up and headed down the mountain.  the photo on the right is Danny going down the switchbacks.


we've packed a lot into our first two days. 

after we got back to the car, we headed into aspen, took a shower, at ate a great mexican restaurant, Su Casa, then went to a local park and tried to dry out our gear and reload our packs.  it was after dark when we got to the trail head, still threatening of more rain, so we slept dry and comfortable in the "hotel mazda".


our packs were loaded for a four day trip; a 23 mile hike up the Conundrum valley, over two passes, and back down another mountain valley.  it was overcast when we woke up and would stay that way all day, with a brief but heavy downpour for part of the hike.

the trail was 2,000' elevation gain but over 8.5 miles; so while it was a long hike and all uphill, it was more gentle than Sunday's hike.  we hiked through many beautiful aspen groves, over and next to crystal clear streams, saw amazing wildflowers, and really cool waterfalls.  with big mountains on both sides of us, the views were endless.










this was the only wild life we spotted on the's some kind of large bird.

this valley is known for it's many avalanches and we could see a lot of avalanche chutes. 


  after 5 hours of hiking, we found a great campsite at Conundrum Hot Springs.  a natural hot springs with a view that is spectacular.  the water felt great on our sore muscles and it was easy to spend a lot of time just soaking up the hot water and the views.  there are three different "pools"; the largest being the warmest.  the springs also became an interesting place to meet and visit with other hikers...some were really cool to talk to ....others were...lets say....very unusual.


Danny chose our campsite, and as usual, it was the best! 

we had what we called "the deck" which was a stone slab on the outer area of our campsite.   looking down we could see the hot springs, and looking out we could see the mountains.  when not hiking or soaking in the springs, we would sit and drink coffee or eat dinner and just take in the view.


well, with all of this, how could we leave? so we changed our plans (we're very flexible travelers).  we decided to stay. 


so the next morning, we slept in (something backpackers don't get to do too often,) and woke, for the first time since we arrived in Colorado, to a beautiful sunny morning.  we made coffee and ate breakfast, and walked down to soak in the hot springs and visit with whomever else was there.

so, we were trying to decide a new plan.  we both really wanted to hike up to Triangle Pass.  (last year we attempted to climb this pass from the other side of the mountain but was turned back by nasty weather.)  so in spite of our late start, we threw on our day packs and headed up the 2,000' 2 mile climb. 

the trail climbs through fields of wildflowers and then up the side of the mountain through scree.  the trail goes between the two mountains you see below.

Danny going up the scree field and almost at the top of the pass.

the views from here will totally blow your mind! 

this is looking out over the valley on the west side (the one we hiked last year from the Crested Butte side of the mountains)


this is looking down towards Copper Pass (the pass we DID make it to last year) and the trail that descends


this is looking back towards the valley we hiked through up to the pass

the view looking over the east side of the valley


what a special place.  I'll NEVER forget these views from these passes; they're some of the most breathtaking. 

such a happy couple!

after about 45 minutes on top of the pass, we decided to head back down towards our campsite. what a magnificent day it had been already.

when we got back to the campsite, we soaked in the hot springs for a long time and visited with two groups of mother/daughter backpackers, and two italian first-time backpackers.....very interesting.   we decided to stay another night. 

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