At least it was hard last Monday. More so than when Richard Betts, an avid trail running friend, sommelier and producer of killer wine and fine mezcal (if there is such a thing it’s called Sombra), and I have completed this trail linkup in years past.
This time was different though. With all of the recent cold temperatures, cloudy weather and rain (and snow up high– see last weeks TGIF dawn patrol), the local high country trails haven’t been melting. As an annual rite of summer for Richard and me, we run the 19 mile Midway Pass to Hunter Creek route each year in the days preceding Food & Wine weekend in Aspen, and this time the mostly downhill(2211 ft. gain/4891 ft. loss) run wasn’t the typical the pre-work cruise but rather an early season hike/ slog through water, mud and snow.
Nevermind that around here it was just an average snow year or that the dust accelerated the melting for a while earlier in the season, Midway Pass, the highpoint of this day was in full spring snow mode. In hindsight, considering this route at the last minute instead of attempting our favorite Four Pass Loop, was a smart move. We figured that Midway Pass’s highpoint of 12,000 feet, which we would crest only once, might be a better choice when compared to the four 12,400 foot passes covered while on the appropriately named alternative run. And while it likely was, Midway was still too high to give us any dry ground, at least for a huge chunk of the morning.
Long-story-short, the trail was dry from the start, at the Lower Lost Man Trailhead, to the Wilderness Boundary sign where the snowcover began. And snowcovered it remained for two miles to Midway Pass and for most of the entire +/- 5 mile descent to the crossing at Hunter Creek. Thankfully we started early and the snow was frozen enough that we didn’t find ourselves stuck in a post holing nightmare. It took an entire hour longer than the usual two we typically spend on this stretch.
Once through Hunter Creek, a few mud stretches aside, the trail was dry all the way back to Aspen. The overall time it took was nothing to brag about or even mention here (>5 hours) and thankfully Richard and I had a lot of catching up to do so the time passed quickly.
If you’re looking to get out on a backcountry hike or run, a few more weeks might be needed before this linkup and other high country routes should be considered “in condition,” especially around the Maroon Creek/ Four Pass zone. For those who don’t mind marshy mud and postholing, go for it sooner. After having noticed a lot of online searches for Four Pass Loop conditions, I think I can take an educated guess on what it’s like out there and say that I myself am going to wait a few weeks for the sun to finally get to work. If you go anytime soon, I’d love to hear what the conditions were like. You also might want to bring a bottle of Richard’s Sombra with you– it will kill the pain, pick up your mood and disinfect any scrapes and cuts– and all that from the same bottle!
And up next– Christy, Jen (Christy’s sister), Kathy Fry and I are heading up to Wyoming for the Bighorn 50 on Saturday. At least it should be dry.