4 Days, 4 Wildernesses

I breathe deeply, savoring the richness of full lungs at what seems a mere 8,000 feet elevation. My feet hurt a little, but in a happy way, as they have covered over 40 miles and gained more than 10,000 feet of elevation (up to 14,336 feet on Colorado’s fifth highest peak) in four days. Not only that, but my hiking was spread through four different wilderness areas! This year is the 50th anniversary of the United States’ Wilderness Act. Wishing to learn more, I locate a map that shows Colorado’s 41 wilderness areas. My home town, Basalt, appears central to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter Frying Pan, Collegiate Peaks and Raggeds Wilderness Areas.

My hiking itinerary was driven by meeting up with different friends on their schedules, so each hike was distinct from the other and required motorized transportation to the trailheads. We carpooled and I did two hikes on one round trip in an effort to minimize our carbon footprints. The first hike of the four was in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. It was a partial loop from American Lake Trailhead to Hayden Peak (13,561 feet), returning via American Lake during a welcome rainstorm.

The second day, I explored beyond the Midway Trail that originates on Independence Pass and is in the Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness. I wandered through Coleman Creek basin, ascending a snow corniced ridge with a 12,921 foot high point via a well-used game trail. From the peak, the distant 360 degree views and dramatic surrounding mountains, were awesome.

More immediately, I could see into several drainages including Midway and Ptarmigan Lakes. This is a small pond in the Coleman Creek basin.

The third day, from our camp near the historic town of Winfield, my hiking partners and I began the ascent of the southwest ridge of La Plata located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. It was an attractive hike via a lovely valley, old log cabins, mining remnants and most memorably, more than half a mile of hiking on a ridge over 14,000 feet to gain the summit.

Above the Slate Creek drainage, the fourth day’s hike was located in the Raggeds Wilderness. It started near the town of Marble. The trail ascended Marble Peak via Anthracite Pass, displaying stunning compositions of colorful wildflowers.

We continued exploring the wild upper reaches of North Anthracite Creek and its ridgeline. Near Ragged Peak, we looked into Mitton and Raspberry Creeks. A close encounter with a young bear, and lunching on a ridge above five elk who also were engrossed in their feeding, were among the highlights of this day’s wilderness wanderings.

Hiking Strawberry Lakes in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Surrounded by craggy peaks and ridges, the secluded upper reaches of Lime Creek cascade in waterfalls over massive boulders and meander through wildflower filled meadows. The creek supports several large, lovely lakes, including Woods, Eagle, Halfmoon, Fairview and the highest, Strawberry Lakes.

My hiking partners and I delight in exploring remote drainages of the mountainous terrain surrounding our home, the Roaring Fork Valley. We discover surprise lakes nestled within high steep valleys, and upon gaining the ridges, we add pieces to the puzzle of connections among these wild basins. Our exploration of upper Lime Creek, beginning near Woods Lake, provided the pleasures of both experiences.

Within this watery landscape, boundaries between life and death, beginning and end, were blurred. We were immersed in cycles and spirals of life. In the dappled leaf-light, a fallen tree trunk, half buried in the ground, supported moss, lichen and mysterious forms of fungus. Water, that not long before had been frozen snow on windswept ridges, sparkled and danced it’s way downstream, pausing in pools to gather reflections and saturating wetland grasses in the meadow flats. As we admired golden hues and red tinged peaks at sunset, the blue-sky faded to shades of gray, while the land below was dark for lack of sky-reflected light. Morning would bring soft new hues of color and time for another hike.

Blue flax blooms invite us to traverse the meadow towards our destination, the distant mountain valley

In the beginning, the trail skirts Woods Lake amongst a rich perennial and shrub understory including cow parsnip, native rose and columbines, while aspen trees tower above

Melting snow from the peaks above fills the creek as water dances its way downstream

Sometimes water lingers longer in reflecting pools

and sometimes it’s simply WOW!

A rainbow of wildflowers leads us up valley

Near the wet meadows of the headwaters we look west towards the setting sun

and east towards Strawberry Lakes and their multiple dimensions


The following morning, we gain the ridge on the northern side of Lime Creek. Fairview Lake, where we camped, is in the distance looking west. Looking north, we see the East Lake and West Cross Creek drainages(not shown above). Another puzzle piece is placed.

Being Human in Nature

When on the trail, my inspirational backpacking partner and I would often contemplate the beauty of our minimalist lifestyle and our raised awareness of being a human in nature. Casey Lyons captured that feeling in these excerpts from his recent article:

“Then one morning, you open your tent door and you know, sure as dew glistens in the sun, that you are just exactly where you should be. There’s no distinction between you and the woods and the trail, because you are all part of the same bigger organism…

You’re floored by the way a tree bark looks when the afternoon shadows give it infinite depth, the sight of a caterpillar silhouetted through a beech leaf, the way a summer cloudburst sounds when you can’t get out of it and don’t care, because being wet has been a condition of life forever and now it’s part of yours, too.”

Lyons, Casey. “More is better: Long-distance hiking.” Backpacker June 2014: Pages 12-14.

Hiking the Elk Mountains near Crested Butte

In early summer, the mountains near Crested Butte are ablaze with colorful wildflowers. The lush green valleys, high basins and snowy peaks beckon keen hikers and bikers. I started my trip at Maroon Lake near Aspen, an area that is well known for viewing the scenic Maroon Bells, wandering the short hike to Crater Lake or embarking on the longer trek over West Maroon Pass to Crested Butte. It was approximately 6.5 gorgeous miles and almost 3,000 feet elevation gain to the top of West Maroon Pass at 12,500 feet. Crossing the chilly knee-high creek waters and navigating a few remaining avalanche-path snow fields, added to the interest of the hike. Marsh marigolds and buttercups were highlights near the still moist trail.

From the pass, it was a delightful descent into the East Fork valley. Columbines, paintbrush, and gentian among many other blooms invited me to linger in the meadows en route to Schofield Pass Road. It was early evening when I reached my camp for the night next to East River, above Gothic. As I was setting up my small tent, thunder that had been rumbling in the background was suddenly upon me and huge raindrops were falling all around. The evening storm brought a stunning double rainbow, followed by a vivid pink glow in the sky that was also reflected in the water. It was a fitting finale to a beautiful day.

The following morning, two hiking friends picked me up and we headed to Rustler Gulch trailhead. We left the main trail shortly and followed a ridge to the east, to ascend unnamed peak 13,010. High snowy mountains surrounded us: we were immersed in magnificent wilderness. Our descent was via a magical jewel-like high lake in which patterns of white puffy clouds played teasingly. To return, we negotiated avalanche-carried tree stumps down a steep slope, regaining the lower flower filled meadows near Rustler’s Gulch.

A curious marmot greets hikers as they summit West Maroon Pass

Colorful paintbrush invite hikers to enter the East Fork valley

A symphony of wildflowers

My tent beneath a stormy sky

The last blush of sunset

A magical high mountain lake

Flowers of the Elk Mountain Range, Colorado

An early morning in July, I headed for the Hell Roaring Trail that leads to the ridge between Capitol Peak and Mount Sopris. As I drove the bumpy gravel road towards the Capitol Creek trailhead, I was stunned by the show of blues and yellows sparkling in the meadows beneath the aspen trees. Not wishing to drive further and pass by this wonder, I pulled over and continued on foot towards the trailhead. Although it was less than a quarter mile distance, the flowers so entranced me that it took over an hour to get to the start of my hike! The display of lupines, false lupines, columbines, wild geraniums and paintbrush continued to entice me as I gained elevation. Crouching low in the meadows to capture light reflecting in flowers and foliage, I was finally reminded to move on by the buzzing and biting of busy bugs around me. I climbed higher along the trail where patches of snow still rested in the shade of the evergreen forest. In moist areas where the snow had recently receded, buttercups and marsh marigolds glimmered. At last I made the crest of the ridge, only to be wowed yet again by the rich and intricate tapestry of the tiny flowers of the high alpine zone.

A lupine glows in the meadows beneath the aspen trees

Yellow and blues appear like the sun in the sky

Lush blue lupines contrast with the snowy white slopes of Capitol Peak

Old Man of the Mountain is a bright cheery flower in the alpine tundra

Aspen Music Festival and School – Landscape Architecture and Planning

Today was the Aspen Music Festival and School’s official opening celebration for the Lower School Building on the Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus located off Castle Creek Road in Aspen. I served as the landscape architect and site planner for the project when I worked at Design Workshop. After almost 10 years of visioning, designing, obtaining approvals and preparing construction documentation, the first phase of the campus was built in 2013. The new buildings, circulation and plantings have transformed the campus and have already been recognized with awards, but more importantly, the new campus has instilled a sense of pride in occupants and visitors to the campus, and created wonderful spaces for music-making.

These are a few summer landscape images that I captured today.

Details of dryland grasses and riparian wildflowers

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Views of Practice Rooms and of Lower School area from roof garden(above)
Architect Harry Teague in front of the Lower School building that he designed(below)