Tom Ross: Colorado’s mountains beckon to hikers from across the Western Slope |

Tom Ross: Colorado’s mountains beckon to hikers from across the Western Slope

Hikers begin the descent of West Maroon Pass July 29 on their way from Aspen to Crested Butte.

— You can't always hike what you want, but with apologies to the Rolling Stones, if you try sometimes, you just might find, you hike what you need.

What I wanted on July 29 was to hike up Handies Peak, a modest 14er in the San Juans near Cinnamon Pass. It turned out that what I needed was an uplifting hike through lush fields of wildflowers in the Elk Mountains on the West Maroon Pass Trail between Crested Butte and Aspen.

Some might argue that there is no need to leave Northwest Colorado to enjoy some of the best hiking in Colorado. But my wife and I find that we rekindle our enthusiasm for familiar hikes closer to Steamboat by taking road trips throughout the Intermountain Region and Colorado Plateau to seek new vistas and challenges.

July 23 found us climbing the Box Canyon Creek Trail in the Wyoming Range south of Jackson Hole, and during the weekend of July 27-28, we were all the way south of Gunnison in the historic mining town of Lake City waiting for a break in the weather so we could start up that 14er. The gods of thunder and lightning just weren't in the mood. So, we settled for a shorter hike in the rain on the Copper Lake Trail past some interesting mining ruins.

We rose at 4 a.m. on Monday, July 29 and didn't see any stars in the moonless sky. Thirty minutes later, a steady rain was drumming on the roof of our little guest cabin, and we knew it was time to flee north to escape the clutches of the summer monsoons.

Crested Butte and Schofield Pass turned out to be the tonic we needed. The eight-mile, out-and-back hike to West Maroon Pass provided views of 12,000-foot-plus peaks like Mount Bellview, Gothic Mountain and Mount Baldy. West Maroon Pass itself tops out at 12,500 feet and afforded us a view of the Pyramid massif.

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This is the pass that represents the crux of the hike from Aspen (really Maroon Lake) to Crested Butte (more accurately Schofield Pass above Crested Butte). And we wished we were in a position to continue our trek all the way to Aspen. But our abrupt change of plans didn't leave us time to plan a car shuttle, so we retreated the way we came and dreamed of bigger hikes just over the horizon.

Every time we head out into the back country of Colorado, or any other of the surrounding states, we connect new geographic dots in our heads, and our appreciation for the vast open spaces that remain in the great American West enriches our lives.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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