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Week 8: Aspen to Crested Butte Double!



Week 8 has come and gone and I haven’t ran since the end of Week 5. I’ve tried to take the shin splints seriously because it can turn into something much worse that would take me out longer. Consequently, with only 10 weeks to go, the chances of being able to run a marathon in December are starting to look quite bleak. If feel a PR is definitely off the table, but I do still hope to run the 26.2 miles.

I basically didn’t do anything during the week. Aunt Flo came for a visit on Monday and I felt like asssssssssssss the whole week. I didn’t do a single thing until Thursday!

Monday – Wednesday: Nothing. Even though I did nothing, my shin finally started not hurting while walking! That’s a big deal! (I almost said HUGE but that word has forever lost all value) The hike in Telluride had NO EFFECT on my shin! I actually hadn’t gotten excited about that until writing this (10/2)!

Thursday: 2.5 mile hike at Apex Park – I had carpooled with W and we went straight to the park after work. I was only going to hike for as long as he was going to run, which ended up being a little over an hour. The hike was fine but boring – I did get to hear and see some bugling elk! It was good to get some fresh air.

Friday – Saturday: Nothing. Ugh. I really let my motivation go away this week, although I was preparing for a great adventure that I’d be doing on Sunday and Monday…

Sunday – Monday (of Week 9): The hike from Aspen to Crested Butte AND BACK! This totally made up for the lousy week that I had, and then some! When I’d initially talked to my friend, Bria, about doing this, I thought she only wanted to go one way. It wasn’t until a week before the trip that I realized she wanted to do an out and back! I was stoked as this would be an almost 22 mile adventure!

Sunday: I got up at 2:45AM (yes, that’s right) to throw myself together, as Bria would be picking me up at 3:20. I’d been a good girl and had everything packed and ready to go on Saturday night. One of Bria’s co-workers, Summer, was going with us as well so it was set to be an awesome ladies adventure! We got to Aspen around 7:00, parked, got a shuttle to the trail head, and began our hike sometime after 8am. We figured that 11 miles should take us 6-7 hours at most – more on THAT later.


Beautiful colors on the Aspen side

I didn’t weigh my pack, but based on how wrong I usually am about how much my pack weighs, I’m guessing it was about 40 pounds (felt much heavier). 40 pounds might not sound like a lot but it is when you are carrying it over 11 miles and 3200′ of elevation gain.


This was during the first couple miles

There were a ton of people around during the first couple miles, until we reached Crater Lake (a “lake” that was bone dry – they like to call all bodies of water around here lakes too, btw. Cracks me up!). Crater Lake was only two miles in but it took us over an hour to do it. Those first couple miles were the most beautiful, as far as fall colors go and being able to see the Maroon Bells. Those mountains are so majestic and it makes it look like you’re looking at a painting right in front of you.


Bria at Crater Lake

It usually takes me a couple miles to warm up (running or hiking) so I was feeling better by the time we got to Crater Lake, and it actually leveled off a tad then. We were all kind of going at our own pace but whoever was in front would stop to wait for the rest to catch up. I ended up being in front after several miles as the incline got steeper.


Headed towards the pass

From the Aspen side, it is about 6.5 miles to West Maroon Pass at just under 12,500′. You can see the pass from far off and it felt like it took forever to get to the top. The weather so far had been perfect, although a tad warm. I had on a t-shirt and capri-length pants. I wore my Nike Wildhorse 4 trail shoes for the hike because I’m not a fan of hiking boots (which I’m sure you’ve gathered from previous posts). They worked great for the hike, minus some really rocky parts.


You can see the top of the pass there. The willows were just beautiful – picture doesn’t do it justice.

We stopped at the top of the pass and took a longer break. Bria wasn’t feeling too well and said she experienced her first taste of a bit of altitude sickness. Carrying a heavy pack at altitude can bring out all sorts of things – refer back to my Mt. Shavano hike. Once she said she didn’t feel good, we knew we needed to start descending and it was quite windy on the other side of the pass.


Top of West Maroon Pass

The Crested Butte side wasn’t nearly as pretty as the Aspen side. We were expecting/hoping to see lots of aspens but there wasn’t a single one on that side. The willows and some of the other ground cover was really pretty, and you could tell it would be covered with wildflowers in the spring – I would love to see that side in the spring. The descent was just under four miles but it felt like it took FOREVER. We were just ready to get those packs off our backs.


This was our first view of the Crested Butte side. You can see all those spruce trees out there.

We finally reached the East Fork trail head and dumped our packs. Strava said our moving time was 5:40 but our elapsed time had been 8:11. Wowza. The trail head had nothing but a sign – no trash cans, bathrooms, nothing. We set up our tents – Bria and I in one and Summer in another. We pointed the tent doors at one another, just in case, and we’d be sleeping at about 10,500′. I’d brought a package meal for dinner – it wasn’t freeze dried and it was self-heating. It was a bacon hash which turned out to be YUMMY, but was only 260 calories! I didn’t realize that until I was finished and still hungry. Bria had a two-serving meal so I had several big spoonfuls of hers.


This was coming down the Crested Butte side of the pass

The only thing at the trail head were signs, one of which that said we needed a bear canister for our food. We’d brought dry bags and a rope so that we could hang it in a tree, but the only trees around were spruce – not ideal for hanging bear bags. You’re supposed to hang it from at least 4′ out from the tree but all the limbs were really short and close together. I walked around for a while before I found anything remotely suitable, and it was a dead limb. I only needed two tries to get the rope where I wanted it! Yeehaw! We each just left our food in the bags that we brought but they were HEAVY! I really didn’t think the limb would hold but it did!


Not really the right way to do it but it worked!


Elevation profile

Monday: It rained on us most of the night and luckily we’d put our packs inside the tents. I used my Jet Boil to make water to refill my bottles, coffee, and to cook the hot quinoa  blueberry cereal that I’d brought. We’d planned to be headed back by 7am but we didn’t wake up until then! By the time we did everything it was already 8:30 and we would need to be back to catch a shuttle by 5pm. Sounds like plenty of time but we didn’t want to chance anything – we knew we’d have to push through pain to make sure we got back in time.

The way back to Aspen would be “easier” because there is only about 2,400′ of gain but 2000′ of that is in that first four miles back up to the pass. We’d be working against tired legs and sore body parts from carrying the packs the previous day. We made it up the four miles in two hours which isn’t too bad! All along the way we kept smelling something that resembled wet dog. I think it was all of the dead wildflowers along the ground and the rain that had dampened them. Phew! Also, my Garmin was going dead so I decided to stop it at the top of the pass and use my phone/Strava for the rest. It worked even though I had no service! I thought that was super cool.


Summer, Me, and Bria at the top of the pass going back!

Once we crossed over the pass, it started to rain and we had 6.5 miles to go. Up to that point, it had been cool with an overcast – very nice. It was only a drizzle but enough to wear a rain jacket; I stayed pretty comfortable minus the fatigue and soreness from the pack. At one point I couldn’t do simple math by adding the four miles from my Garmin and the 3 miles Strava was saying. I announced to the gals, “We only have two miles to go! WOOOOO!” It took me two miles to realize my mistake, but apparently the gals already knew I was stoopid.


I was tired and water logged…

When we got to Crater Lake with two miles to go, we were DONE. None of us wanted to go any further but knew we had to. We threw the packs back on and went for it. I find that if I just zone out, the miles go by quicker. This is the one big thing I don’t like about backpacking… When the discomfort gets too great, you miss out on the great scenery around you.


Just lovely


We made it back in plenty of time for one of the shuttles; our total elapsed time for the return was about 7 hours, over an hour faster than the day before. Once we got back to the car, it was time to drive the three hours back to Denver.


Walking the final path to the finish

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Week 9 and how I felt after the hike…


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Between you writing about mountain hikes and runningplaces9919 climbing 14ers this summer, I'm having a serious case of western jealousy down here in the flatlands.

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40 minutes ago, Gonzo Runner said:

Must. Get. To mountains. 😮

We have a spare room. Just saying...

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Love that you make and take the time to go enjoy all the beautiful stuff that is nearby in CO. And a 40lb pack sounds super heavy! 

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a nice walk in the woods.. great pictures, thank you.. 

catching shuttles from the trailhead just seems wrong.. did it myself a week or so back, though.. even with a little running on that trip. ha. 

the usual rule of thumb with a backpack is 2 mph, and another 30min per 1000ft of elevation change, up or down.. then you don't need Strava 😉

my son got a $150 fine for not having a bear canister while backpacking up there.. I told him to buy one at REI and I'd pay for it, but would he listen ? not to his old father. I'm such  a softy I actually helped pay his fine too, since I try to encourage backpacking behaviour.. 



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