June 18 - Training Routes: Snowmass Village, Colorado

While Cheryl waits back home with the girls until their school year is finished, Will, Cody, and I are laying over at my mother's house in Snowmass, Colorado. Cody's using the time to refine the web page, and systematize/automate the updating process, assuming we can ever find a phone line to plug into. He also took his annual fishing trip. A bit miffed that he now has to buy a license, he paid $5.50 for a one-day, non-resident permit, and headed straight for the bridge where stock are dumped into Castle Creek. Brought out two trout with a line and processed pink fish bait. Cooked and ate 'em, too. Better than the Doritos/salsa/cheese dip he usually eats (is this diet induced by long hours on the computer?).

Will and I have taken several "training rides". Our house sits at 8300', with the low point of the valley being 7500', and roads branching up out of Aspen going to 12,000', 9700', and 9500'. We're trying them all. The air is thin, and Will thinks this will induce better conditioning. All I know is it induces rapid breathing after minimal exertion. But the extra effort is more than compensated for by the weather and scenery.

Going up to Maroon Bells on 6-17, the temp was 55-60, and the clouds (unusual for 9 AM) kept the sun at bay. Three cars passed me during the 8.5 mile ride up, which meant the aspen trees, the birds, and Maroon Creek could all sing to me in a chorus. The Maroon Bells are the US's most famous unknown mountains. Starting with Ansel Adams famous B&W shot over a half century ago, they've been easy pickings for amateur and professional photographer alike. They look so classic, they're often used (un-named) to grace calendars and advertisements. The setting is literally picture perfect. A U-shaped valley frames the peaks, with the gray crumbly base of 14,000' + Pyramid Peak on one side, and the light and dark green of an aspen and spruce covered slope on the other. Maroon Lake sits in the foreground, reflecting the two Bells above. They rise 4500' above the valley, and are deeply snow-flecked this time of year. Capped by clouds and a halo of blue, its easy to be mesmerized, whether riding or just sitting.

Today, we tried Ashcroft (Castle Creek valley). Thirty-five years ago, this was the first place I really noticed that mountain valleys were different than the Mid-west. The town site of Ashcroft sits at the upper end of a mile-long beaver-pond wetland. Miners of the last century built a small city to support themselves as they hacked away at the huge mountain rising 3000' above them, while Castle Creek meandered into a beaver swamp through a corridor of spruce, some leaning crazily half-way into the stream. Smooth surfaced rocks create mini-haystacks around which trout snorkel. My dad and I camped by the creek for a couple of days, while he tried to learn how to fly-fish, and I learned how to skip stones and explore half-crumbled shacks. Across the road, the Toklat kennels housed the descendants of the huskies who played in the fifties' TV show, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". Today, the dogs (actually, their progeny) have migrated two valleys over to "Krabloonik", where they haul tourists across the shaded expert slope of "Campground" at $125 apiece for an hour. The kennels have become an art gallery, a "cookhouse" (elegant backcountry lunch site), and a cross country ski layout. The campground is gone, and the ghost town has been rebuilt (I'm sure the miners didn't really have shiny green metal roofs with gutters). At the north end of the beaver swamp sat Elk Mountain Lodge, back then just a stable and ranch house where I first tried horseback riding in the mountains up to Cathedral and American lakes. Now, the stable has been replaced by a multi-story, multi-room faux log cabin, perfectly situated for maximum view of the Elk Mountain range towards Crested Butte.

I'm not complaining about any of this; as a matter of fact, this little valley has changed less than most places I know. And the wilderness area surrounding the valley has grown 4 times larger, so if one wants pure solitude, it's actually easier to find. The temp was warmer, the sky clearer, and the wind perfect (headwind uphill, tailwind downhill). This time of year, the 13 mile ride down 2000' to the Aspen Summer Music School site can be made with little fear of traffic; Will got over 40 mph with ease. The 10 mile peddle back over Owl Creek summit into Snowmass and up to our house, mostly on bike paths, ended with the smallest of mountain showers around 2 PM.

Tomorrow, we'll try Independence Pass.

**Next Day's Journal**

-Al Bikrutz