In the remote wilderness adjacent to my in-law’s cabin near Aspen, there is an isolated mountain basin containing a couple of lakes that I have wanted to visit for many years. I’ve made a couple of attempts to get reach this wild area on day trips from the cabin, but distance and weather prevented me from getting there.
My brother, Vince, and I wanted to do a short backpack trip sometime during the summer, and I immediately thought about the hidden lakes that I’ve wanted to visit for so long. We decided we’d make a loop hike that would take us deep into the wilderness with a two night stay at the lakes. We would then climb a high pass, drop into a deep river canyon and follow the canyon to its terminus, where we would have a car waiting for us. The total mileage of the hike would only be around 17 miles, but the climb to the lakes on the first day would be steep and rugged; difficult with a heavy overnight pack.
After dropping off Vince’s car at the ending trailhead, Valerie drove us up a 4WD road to the beginning of backpack route. Within the first mile, the trail began climbing steeply through Aspen and Spruce forests. By the time we reached the lakes, we had climbed 3,400 feet in less than six miles. It felt like we had just climbed a 14’er with a full pack. We set up camp near the smaller of two lakes nestled in a beautiful valley at the foot of a long ridge of rugged mountains. There was not another human being in sight.
Our first order of business was to try some fishing. The locals told us that cutthroat trout were planted in the lakes back in the 1930’s by the original residents who homesteaded in the nearby ranches. We were told the trout were now plentiful and quite large; we weren’t disappointed. Within an hour, we caught four large cutthroat. We could have caught more, but we didn’t want to catch more than we could eat with our dinner that evening. Fresh trout was definitely a nice change from our usual freeze-dried dinner. A lack of spices (the one thing we forgot) made cooking the fish somewhat of a challenge. Vince came up with the crazy idea to crush up the contents of
a Spicy Chicken Fajitas freeze-dried dinner and sprinkle it on the fish. Kind of weird, but surprisingly tasty.
Our next day was spent hanging around camp, exploring the area, and of course more fishing. Our original plan was to spend one more night at the lakes then continue our backpack journey over an unnamed pass and down along the bottom of a deep river gorge to our take-out point. But our lake camp was so beautiful, and the fishing quite productive, that we decided to stay an extra night and make the rest of the walk out a one night affair instead of two.
Our next layover day was spent scouting the route to the unnamed pass that we would need to hike over in order to complete our backpack trip. Although there was a trail on the map, there was none on the ground. The approach to the pass would be steep and treacherous without a trail. We weren’t really looking forward to more steep climbing with our overnight packs after we had already busted our butts getting up the steep incline to the lakes. After exploring a nearby lake, we worked our way back to our lakeside camp, caught some more fish, and discussed how we would continue the remainder of our backpacking journey.
Once again, the allure of this idyllic camp by the lakes combined with excellent fishing and some degree of creeping laziness on our parts resulted in our deciding to abandon the remainder of the backpack trip and just spend the last two nights of our trip at the lakes. We would have to hike back out the same steep, rocky trail we came up, a prospect we weren’t looking forward to, but it was preferable to going the other way.
Our last layover day at the lakes started off with an early morning hike up to a low spot on the nearby ridge, where we could look down at the family cabin on the other side. After coming down from the ridge, we looped around the upper end of the basin, and back down to our camp. After a brief rest, we grabbed our fishing poles and headed over to the main lake for one last day of fishing. Another good day at the lake resulted in another fresh fish dinner, cooked in the remaining Spicy Chicken Fajitas dinner. Looks like we’re going to have a few extra freeze-dried meals to bring home.
The next day we said a sad goodbye to our beautiful camp. Hiking back down the trail wasn’t near as bad as we thought it would be. The only bad part was that we had to walk an additional three miles down the road to get to where we parked the car at our previously planned exit point. To make the extra mileage a little more tolerable, we dropped our packs in the bushes and walked the remaining three miles down the road. It was a very hot day, and the cold beers waiting for us in the car were a welcome treat.
Well, the backpack trip turned into a delightful fishing trip in a remote mountain wilderness. No regrets that we didn’t complete the trip as planned. I was glad to finally have visited this isolated part of Colorado and hope to get up there again sometime.