Independence Pass in Winter

Highway 82 is closed in winter at Mile Marker 47, six miles up from Aspen. The road becomes a playground for hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog walking, and oh yeah, running. Driving through town, the temp said 37. Arriving at the road closure 700 feet higher the temp had gone up to 44. A warm, southwest, upper level wind from an incoming storm system was the wonderful culprit. About 10 cars were taking up the parking spaces, typical, as most people spend about an hour or so socializing and hiking, and replaced by others. The number of dogs usually equals the number of people, as it should be. Don’t think I’ve seen happier dogs than those romping in the snow. Snow conditions can vary, but snowmobiles pack it down, and, at the same time, loosen the surface to make it like soft sand at the beach. Easy on the knees but makes it a slow surface. Who cares? This is no place to be in a hurry and how many places can you run where you do not have to look at your footfall. (Except keep note of upcoming dark spots as it is usually dog doo that did not get picked up.) The steady uphill grade and elevation (starts at 8,600 feet) gets the cardio-pulmonary system kicked in right away. Did not take long before I was being brutally attacked by vicious breeds like golden retrievers, black labs, a white scottie, and a few mixed mutts that did not have a mean bone in their canine bodies. At length, (Poe’s term for a bit of time passing) I came around Weller Curve at MM 49 and continued on to the Weller Lake trailhead. Were the trail to be packed down, I may have run to the lake but on this day, too deep, and I did not have my snowshoes. A person on cross country skis stood nearby and I realized, behind those sunglasses and hat, was my longtime Aspen friend, Shiela. We caught up on life and she was trying to lock back into her skis for her descent back to her car. Her right boot went in fine but her left would not. Upon examination, she had a ‘small glacier’ packed into her boot mechanism that attaches to the ski. Having the right tool for the job in my waist pack, my pocketknife, I pulled her foot up and removed the glacier. She snapped in and we bid farewell. I continued up the road. Had a peaceful mile before I heard the dreaded hum of multiple snowmobiles. Along came the tour of a dozen, the riders all with helmets and goggles so all the people were unidentifiable. They slowed and exchanged waves but snowmobiles leave an exhaust in the air like a nasty fart in an elevator. I pranced along, checking out avalanche chutes, stopping occasionally to snap a pic and listen to the Roaring Fork River gurgle under the ice. As the road narrows and the canyon gets tighter, the wind, via the hydraulic effect, gets stronger and gusts whisper hollow past my ears. I make it to the Lincoln Creek road, and checking my Garmin, I am 4.27 miles into my jaunt. A good place to turn around. Again the dreaded hum. This time only three, but still the smoke hangs in the air and is a bit nauseating until the wind carries the smoke away. Next up, a dogsled. I ask the musher if they are photogenic. I attempt to pull my camera out quickly as the dog team is running fast. I am envious of the athletic nature of dogs, they can run uphill at altitude seemingly unaware of fatigue! Strap them together as a team and they love their job! In a brief exchange, I say the dogs are a lot less smelly than snowmobiles, and he fires back, that they are a lot more quiet and peaceful too. I barely have time to fire two shots before they are gone. My feet are soaked and starting to get cold so I pick up the pace going down. Past Weller Curve going down there is a large cliff on the side of the road. I notice about a five pound rock that had dropped off that was not there on the way up. Probably fell far enough to be fatal, at least injurious. I gave the cliff as wide a berth as I can to avoid what rock climbers call, silent death, that rock they never hear… I carry a blistering pace (laughing allowed) down toward my car and again, am attacked by three black labs and one is pretty aggressive. The woman says she’s harmless and controls her dogs with a whistle. Two obey, but the one comes at me hard about four times until I am 300 yards down the hill and the dog finally responds to the whistle. Near the bottom is a group of a dozen twenty something girls having a reunion. They are clustered tightly together, as if at a concert pushing toward the stage, a few dogs are with them, and they are shrieking like teenagers. Maybe they were college girls home for break. Thus ended my 8.48 mile jaunt. It was approaching beer-thirty…

Aspen Brewing was a welcome addition to town to bring real ales to outdoor enthusiasts and there are so many local trails and outdoor activities with which to pair their beers.   The beers are solid across their styles and there is always a good selection on tap.   One note – The fantastic lineup of hops in the Independence Pale Ale, which is an IPA, is in sticky competition with the caramel malts so for hopheads, and they do ”bill’ it that way, is a must try, but I find the Conundrum Red has a  better mouth feel, overall flavor, and balance of hops.  The CR is billed as a cross between a red and an ESB.    For me it scores the top trail marker in the cozy tasting room.  This Season’s Blonde is always a good choice for light lager style lovers, after skiing, golfing, running etc.  Also, a great introduction for people still on training wheels for craft beer.  Refreshing.  Brown Bear Ale is a solid brown – I am good for one pint before I escape back to the Red.  And for those who like their stouts, the 10th Mountain Imperial Stout is top notch.  High ABV at 9.3% – HINT – I get a pint of Red and get a sample size of the Stout – a variation on a beer and a shot.    Live music on occasion and always a friendly staff and a good mix of locals and thirsty Aspen visitors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *