2 families, 4 days, 3 nights, 15 miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
This summer our family hiked from Aspen to Crested Butte with another precious family.
Preserving my vacation memories is part of why I started this blog six years ago, so I’m going to give each day its own attention in order to tell the story of our hike. At the end if you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to do a post just on the details of how you and your family can make a similar journey from Aspen to Crested Butte!
Aspen To Crested Butte: Day 1
We left Arkansas after lunch on a Wednesday, stopped for dinner and drove all night to Colorado.
We had breakfast in Glenwood Springs before arriving in Aspen.
Aspen is one of those places that does not seem like it can possibly be real. I love to make a stop in Aspen, but I start to feel like I’ve fallen through the looking glass if I stay too long. Au pairs at the park, Banh Mi Pizza, and shopfronts that should only be in New York or London are mixed in with backpackers, sandwich stands, and camp gear stores. One of my favorite spots in Aspen continues to be the Thrift Shop, where we picked up an old Mountain Hardwear zip up, a jacket and a backpack. Total cost: $11. A good deal is hard to come by in Aspen, so we always stop in there.
We ate lunch and picked up our last few groceries, before we headed to a nearby campground to get geared up.
The process before you actually hit the trail to go backpacking is a little bit overwhelming.
Basically, we put a tarp down and then throw everything that has to go with us on top of it. There’s a pile of backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, cooking gear and food. Plus we each have our own personal items.
Taido had organized everything ahead of time, so we had to wait for him to assign us our packs and our stuff. Once we had our packs, we loaded them up according to his instructions:
Loosen all the straps on your pack first. Then put your sleeping bag in the bottom, followed by your clothes. Then add in the community gear. Your sleeping pad goes last.
Still, we struggled. It took for-like-EVER, and we didn’t loosen all our straps, because there were a gajillion, but Taido came around and fixed all our packs and added things to the tops and to the outsides.
He was only a weensy bit frustrated.
Finally, though, after many adjustments, we were ready.
It was about after 5pm when we drove the van up to Maroon Lake.
Maroon Lake (with the famous Maroon Bells in the background) is one of the most photographed spots in all of Colorado.
Since so many people want to visit this gorgeous place, they close the road up to it for most of the day and only allow buses to run. So, if you are camping or backpacking and you want to take your car up, you have to do it before 9am or after 5pm.
This meant we were getting kind of a late start on our first day, but Taido promised that we were not going to hike too far in before we set up camp on our first night. Just a mile or two.
By the time we got up the road, found the correct overnight parking lot and were ready to hit the trail, it was after 6pm.
It felt like it had already been a long day, so we were not exactly starting out with the wind at our backs. Also it seemed we were going to be fighting daylight. But Taido was unconcerned, so we snapped a quick group picture, said a prayer and headed in.
(Bobby, Cole, Taido, Ben, Mary Polly, Blair, Rhonda, Bailey, Simon and Alison)
Almost immediately, we were surrounded by Aspen groves and wildflowers. It had been a year since I’d hiked a Colorado trail and all the familiar views and smells sort of washed over me on those first few minutes on the trail.
I was so thankful to be back.
The kids all got ahead of us quickly. I think the adults were feeling the overnight drive a little more than the kids, who all slept just fine in the van. Rhonda and I had been walking to get ready for this trip for a year, but the altitude and the lack of sleep became too much for us in a hurry. It was not long before she was looking at me and saying, I think I’ll volunteer to hike back out tomorrow and drive the van around to meet y’all.
Oh no. I said. You can’t say that so soon.
Pushed down by the unfamiliar weight of your pack, your first hour on the trail might be the hardest one of all.
When I was 15, I talked several of my friends into going backpacking with my father and three of us were in tears after about 10 minutes on the trail. Not. Even. Kidding.
Daddy! I’ll NEEEEEVER be able to do this! My backpack is soooooooo heeeeeavyyyyy!
I can’t remember if he even acknowledged that I was speaking, but if he did, it was only to tell me to keep moving.
While the van is still close enough that you could turn around, you are tempted to do just that. It’s right there. You know the way. You just need to steal the keys.
Even though we only hiked about 2 miles, we were all super exhausted. Well, all of us except for Cole and Bailey.
Simon and Rhonda were both close to tears toward the end of the day, plus the shadows just kept getting longer.
I think Simon might want to go back to the van with me. Rhonda offered.
We came upon the most amazing field of Columbines, the Colorado state flower.
Can you even believe how gorgeous this is?
Rhonda barely looked up. Taido looked at us and promised that we would stop very soon to camp.
In fact, start looking for where you want to camp because we are far enough in that we can stop as soon as we see a good spot.
It was about another half mile before we came upon a clearing near the creek. We decided it would do.
Taido threw a tarp down and told everyone to throw their community stuff on it, so we could find dinner. He and I set quickly to fixing dinner while everyone else set up tents. It was dark by the time we ate our Creamy Shrimp Pasta, which tasted wonderful. Rhonda was not at all hungry, but we made her eat and drink before we all fell into our sleeping bags.
Sleeping arrangements: Rhonda and Bobby had a tent. Blair and Mary Polly (15 & 13) had a tent. The rest of us (Bailey, Cole, Ben, Simon, Taido and I) slept on a tarp with an MSR shelter staked over us. This last option is both my father and husband’s sleep spot of choice. The MSR is so light and is a great shelter from the rain (if it’s not too windy), but you are still out where you can see the stars come out and the sun come up. I’ll be honest. I’m just fine as long as I don’t think about how there’s nothing between me and the animals.
I was zipping myself up into my bag at about 9:45pm and Taido was still up rummaging around. He came over to the row of sleeping bags after I was all tucked inside of of mine and told me he couldn’t find his phone.
I took it out to take a picture in that wildflower field and that’s the last time I remember having it. I’m going to hike back just to that field with my headlamp and see if I dropped it on the trail.
I’ll be back in a minute.
I waited for him to get back, checking the time on my watch. Eventually he wandered back into camp. I think it was almost 11 when we crawled into his sleeping bag.
Nope. No luck. And it gets worse.
Guess what I just found in my pocket?
The padlock to the trailer?
The one that’s back at the trailhead with all our bikes in it?
After a while he said,
I’m going to get up at first light to go put the lock on the trailer. Then I’ll be able to look for my phone in the daylight. I think everyone is really tired so they may not even get up before I’m back. If they do wake up, the biscuits, sausage and eggs are for breakfast tomorrow.
I fell asleep whispering an all too familiar prayer to God,
It was not even the first time on this trip that I had closed my eyes and breathed that prayer, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.