July 2013. Cory and I drove down to California, spent a couple days with my brother-in-law and his lovely wife, then left the boys with them while we flew to Colorado to celebrate the marriage of my cousin.
Together with my parents we rented a condo in Aspen at The Gant. It was a lovely little place. It seems perfectly normal to me get up at 5:30 am while on vacation to go hiking at/before sunrise. This is not part of the definition of “vacation” to Cory. Thankfully my mom was easily convinced to go adventuring with me.
We headed up the Ute Trail. This is one description I found online: “It is steady uphill with switchbacks, 0.9 miles and 1,000 vertical feet to a rock outcropping. The view of Aspen from the rock outcropping is spectacular. A mile long aerobic workout. (DIFFICULT)”. Another website had this to say: “Ute Trail (Aspen) is a 2.2 mile out and back trail located near Aspen, Colorado and is rated as moderate. The trail is composed of mostly short switchbacks up the forested mountainside that climb over 1200ft; so may provide additional difficulty to hikers unused to this sort of elevation or climb.”
I live in Seattle but I don’t hike often. My mom lives in Michigan and “hiking” there consists of, well, sidewalks and flat trails. We had hiked from Maroon Bells to Crater Lake the day before and thought surely this hike, moderate/difficult as it may be described, wouldn’t be a big deal. I read a lot of reviews where people made it to the top in 45 minutes or so. We checked sunrise time and left about an hour before we thought the sun would come up over the mountains.
Let’s just say I greatly underestimated the level of ‘moderate/difficult’ that this trail turned out to be. It is 1000+ ft elevation gain in a mile. Switchbacks that never level out, we were scrambling over rocks constantly to continue pressing upward. An older man in his 60’s was in front of us for a short while. We thought, if he can do it we can. So we kept on. Then a runner passed us – literally running uphill. 20 minutes later he passed us going down. He said we were not quite half way. By this time we had been hiking for an hour and the sun was up. Sit, drink more water, contemplate turning around, decide to keep going. Twenty minutes later we were passed by a kid in his early 20’s. He shouted back “you’re almost there” as he ran past us. We kept going. Indeed, ten minutes later we broke out of the tree line and were on top of the world. We chatted with him for a few minutes. Then another hiker arrived and she applauded our efforts to get there so early being “flat landers”. lol. They both left and we hung out at the top for nearly an hour. By ourselves. Just soaking in the sun and thin air, watching the sun creep higher and higher, eliminating shadows below it.
As we started descending we passed over 30 hikers on their way to the top. Getting up early and enjoying the space by ourselves was so worth it. Exerting ourselves and pushing past the ‘I don’t know if I can keep going’ feeling was well rewarded. It was something I’ll never forget.