When it’s too hot in town, it’s time to head for the hills. Glenwood Springs was pegged at 93°F today, a little warm to do much of anything except maybe float down the river. But without a full crew to fill a boat and no rafting reservations, we headed toward Aspen for a hike to Cathedral Lake in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area.
Getting there is almost as pretty as the hike, and a whole lot easier. Take Highway 82 South toward Aspen, then at the roundabout veer off on Castle Creek Road toward the Aspen Music School and Ashcroft. From the roundabout, drive for about 12 miles. The circuitous two-lane road is lined with spectacular foliage and monster-sized mansions. Look out for cyclists, most stick to the side of the road, but some ride two astride. There are lots of blind curves, so be careful passing. Before long you’ll arrive at the historic town site of Ashcroft. The trailhead is located just past it. Take the dirt road marked with a wooden sign for Cathedral Lake and Electric Pass off to the right.
We drove a little over a half mile to a parking area. When we arrived at 10:30 a.m. it was already packed and parking became somewhat creative. Fortunately, hiking groups were well dispersed and we didn’t feel hemmed in by crowds. To begin, the trail takes hikers through a fairy-like forest of white-trunked aspen trees filled in with greenery and alpine flowers: ferns, Queen Anne’s Lace, and columbines. The elevation gain is 1,970 feet and the climb kicks in right from the start as my thighs and lungs let me know almost instantly. Eventually, my body got on board and we made steady progress transitioning from aspen groves to higher elevation evergreen forests.
All along the way, colorful blooms exploded everywhere – red and blue columbines, yellow buttercups and sunflowers, fuchsia wild roses, red paintbrush, and low growing white daisy-like flowers. In the background Pine Creek crashed and careened, brimming from snowmelt. We crossed a couple of rock fields, obvious avalanche chutes in winter with broken and bent tree trunks lining the edges and bottom of the fall area.
After some steep switchbacks, what felt like near vertical pitches, the trail leveled off. Instead of rocky, the surface became soft, cushy duff and the views opened up. We had to leap, in a single bound, across the creek which was churning and moving fast. The trail up Electric Pass took off to the right. You know you’re close because you can see Cathedral Peak right in front of you. After passing through waist-high shrubs, the high alpine lake comes into view. We found a meadow to the left of the lake for lunch. A few sprinkles and a snow-kissed breeze cooled us off quickly – a great way to beat the heat.
Roundtrip, this is a 5.3 mile hike. From the trailhead to the lake took us approximately two hours and we dilly-dallied on the way down. Would I hike Cathedral Lake again? You bet.