Monday, October 12, 2009

Conundrum Hot Springs

Adam and I spent this weekend in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. It was a gorgeous day in Aspen. The leaves had changed color and were still bright in the cooling fall air. It was so beautiful that people were out on motorcycles. This was a huge difference from the bitter icy weather in Colorado Springs. We barely made it out of the Springs. Roads were covered in sheets of invisible ice. So we stopped at the Donut Mill to grab breakfast and to let the roads warm up. We then made our way west and escaped the chill of the Front Range. We had planned this trip for a few weeks, so we were relieved to see the weather improve as we headed west.

As we got to the trailhead, we stripped off the thick fleece layers and winter jackets we had been wearing. The walk was gorgeous! Bright mountain sunshine and a rushing stream all along the way. We hiked 8.5 miles up Conundrum Creek to the very remote and beautiful Conundrum Hot Springs. We passed beaver ponds and huge mossy trees. The river had three main crossings with huge logs set six or eight feet above the water. I wore a terrible pair of boots, which Adam made sure I knew was a really bad idea. He was right. I ended up with a big nasty blister.

We walked through thick trees and through meadows. At one point, we made our way over gigantic trees that had been blown over in a recent storm. It was amazing to see these huge, strong trees brought down by wind. It was a little difficult to find the trail at some places because there were so many trees down.

We got up to the campsite around 5:30, just as the sun had set behind the gigantic peaks around us. From the Springs, you can see Conundrum Peak and Castle Peak, both 14ers. And there were another 7 or 8 13,000 foot peaks nearby. We hurried to set up our tent in the freezing air and went to meet other campers who were already in the steamy water of the hot springs. The water was perfect... two to three feet deep in places with pockets of hot water bubbling up from under the ground. Beautiful! The edge of the water touched the rock border and spilled over into the next pool. It was amazing to look out and see the brilliant stars coming out one by one as the light of the sun disappeared. There was a group of six from Denver/Boulder and then a guy from Aspen who had come up by himself. We stayed in as long as we could before we started to get hungry.

The exit was extremely frigid!!! We couldn't dry off fast enough. But we hopped back to the campsite to have a quick dinner and then back to the pool for one more hour before bedtime. All the campers were out. A mom and her grown son, a couple from Steamboat, and the seven we had met before.
There might have been two more, but it was pitch black. This place must be super crowded in the summer. I can't imagine the pool accomodating more than 15. Anyway, what a cool place. It's about a four and a half hour hike. Such a beautiful and authentically Colorado experience.

I think next time, we will be more prepared... It was suggested to us that we bring full-length towels - two, if they fit, a pair of Crocs to wear in the water, my down jacket, blister bandaids, a better pair of hiking boots, a box of delicious wine, and a hot water bottle to throw in the bottom of my sleeping bag.

Adam insisted on bringing only things that would contribute to our survival. I was a little more lenient, but still, the other campers had it made. They also had to carry heavier packs. But I think it's worth it. It was a completely wonderful trip!

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