Difficult Campground and Other Difficulties in Aspen Colorado

Breaking camp on July 4th was the order of business for the morning and then traveling on down to Difficult Campground outside of Aspen CO in Rocky Mountains’ Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains. Difficult Campground is along the Roaring Fork River at an elevation just a little below 8000’ above sea level. I had thought it was only 80-90 miles but turns out it was 180 miles and 4-5 hour drive.  I had taken my time breaking camp as I didn’t think I had to drive so far. Of course the first order was to hope the car held together on the 22 miles of washboard road out but I didn’t mind taking it easy as the vistas are beautiful and I remembered to dodge the deer. Again I chose mostly two lane roads and they were for the most part winding and curving up and down the mountains. I love that kind of driving. The route took me over Independence Pass and the Continental Divide. Those choices leave few option for supplies but managed to pick up the few things I would need and there were gas stations open. So many stores were closed though for the Fourth. I arrived at Difficult Campground, in good order, three miles east of Aspen. I am not quite sure why it is called “Difficult” – there is no Difficult River running trough it, there is no difficult road to get to it, the campsites are not difficult to find or set up, there are plenty of vault toilets and water spigots which are not difficult to find or walk to…. I had pictured something much more primitive and Rocky mountain-ish by the name. But there may have been a day years ago when it was perhaps quite difficult to get to. I plan on hiking the “Difficult Trail” the next day so I will see.

Again my timing was perfect. Just got the tent laid out and the rainstorm started to move in. It fortunately did not come ranting and slashing in and I was able to get the tent set up ant rainfly over it before we got too wet. About 15 minutes later it was over and the intense sun at this higher altitude dried everything up quickly. And so began our simple routine of setting up my cot, laying out the sleeping bag, getting the boys beds, a chair, finding water etc. I keep talking about a cooking a simple meal. This is usually some kind of flavored rice packet, into which I throw dehydrated peppers, freeze dried chicken and powder cheese or a meal of bean and rice. Breakfast is always oatmeal with powdered milk and freezer dried blueberries. So after dinner, I set the fire. The dogs, at that moment, decide it is their bedtime and go to the tent. I usually find one asleep on my cot and they definitely moan and groan when I move them, put on their coats (in the mid 40’s) at night and put them in their doggie beds.

Another dawn and I decided I would go into Aspen to get the Forest Service office to inquire about dispersed camping in the areas we were planning to hike. Traffic has seemed no more or less than what I would expect in a tourist area. But I definitely wasn’t prepared for the vast number pf people already in town by 9:00 am. I followed the signs for information as Siri would only give me directions to the USPS instead of USFS. The not so very informed information provider told me I would have to go to a town 28 miles and a 45 minute drive away. So I headed out towards towards Carbondale but within a few block, low and behold a USFS office right in the middle of Aspen. Being informed is probably better than walking into something blindly (my normal approach is to dive in the deep end) so this last statement is new found wisdom. So I talked to the man at the USFS desk and he strongly advised against us doing the hike as the passes still required cramp-ons and ice axes to negotiate. It had never occurred to me that due to the very heavy snow falls this past winter, my dream hike would be buried in snow. Of course there was this very small daredevil voice urging me to not give up yet…but picture an older adult with asthma, a twelve year old who has not walked much more than a couple miles at one shot, a “tiny dog,” and a dog that seemed quite under the weather — all depending on my daughter Tasia to be the guide, cook, pack animal, and emergency sherpa – transporting everyone’s packs and the dogs across very icy sections. So I accepted that the 4-Pass Loop in the Maroon Bell was a NOT. Drove around, feeling quite disappointed, but was amazed at the rock formations and just then understanding why this mountainous area is called the Maroon Bells. I think I am finally a grown up that has moved into a more calm place of acceptance. Years back I would have been sobbing hysterically if I couldn’t do what my heart was set on doing. Finally picked up the supplies I needed and head back to camp after parking in town and checking email and texts before I headed back to the no cell zone. There is a strong part of me that would like to be more unplugged but can’t quite get there yet.

When I selected my campsite on line it was the only available one. And though it is nice and relatively private, it is not shaded once the sun comes up over the mountains and stay in full sun until it dips back below the ridges on the West. It was HOT and though the car said 88 degrees the sun at the 7908’ is intense and felt like a furnace . Spent time re-arranging and re-packing the car in preparation for picking up my daughter Tasia and granddaughter Amara in Denver with the dogs resting in the tiny shade spot we had. However Kili has not been himself, for several days. He was very lethargic, not eating much of anything, and panting excessively so I decided to put him into the air conditioned car, drive as far into town as I needed to get cell service. I called a couple vets and I was able to get an appointment at the Aspen Animal Hospital the next morning, as it was already at 4:00 in the afternoon. I also took the time to make some telephone calls so dogs could be in air-conditioned car. The afternoon rain set in just as we were getting back to camp but the upside was that it cooled the temperature down to 73 degrees. After dinner I finally decided to try at least of mile of the Difficult Trail. Well the trail was not that difficult, unless I suppose you can’t walk a few feet without getting winded or are unable to negotiate stepping up on few rocks. The crossing of the Roaring Fork River had potential to be difficult but was not difficult because there was a sturdy bridge. I did it in Crocs though I really don’t recommend hiking in CROCS.

I had to stay organized (that is a challenge in small Not-So-Pretty Priss Prius) with way too much gear in tow, break camp and be at the Aspen Animal Hospital at 10:00. Two hours later and $700.00 poorer the diagnosis was gastroenteritis and we left with pills and a still very lethargic panting anemic dog who had lost 3 pounds in the last month. I never would have anticipated how much I would worry about these dogs. But the are my best buds!!! So I finally was off to Denver at 12:30. I stopped in Silverthorne and checked into LaQuinta, mostly so i could unload a bunch of gear so as to fit Tasia’s and Amara and their gear in the car. Also set up the “charging station” so all the techie stuff would be up and running for he backpacking. Of course I got stuck in the rush hour traffic getting to DIA for a 5:30 arrival. It was a happy happy re-union though I just about fell over when I saw the massive suitcase that Tasia had that would need to be squeezed into my pint sized Prius. But I know Tasia can work magic when it comes to packing gear into a car and it worked quite well (of course I had not yet told her that I had stored a bunch of stuff in the hotel room in Silverthorne that would also have to be pried into a place in the car. It was a peaceful and happy evening after a trip to Target for a few last minute items. An so the next phase of this journey, backpacking, was about to begin.

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