Our mantra at KNS Reps has always been use the gear we sell. So, on a beautiful Fall day in September, I planned to hike over West Maroon Pass to Aspen to visit my friends at the Ute Mountaineer, and hang with Sam, my good buddy whom also works on the buying team at the shop.
Crested Butte, from the West Maroon Pass trailhead, is only a 10.2-mile trek to the other side. I thought, ‘hiking between two very different ski towns on opposing sides of the West Elk Mountains, how cool is that?’ West Maroon Pass is one of the busiest trailheads in the US for backpacking and day hiking alike. There are several routes in this region, but this one is the most direct, and people from all backgrounds and levels of experience in the outdoors attempt this route. So, in an effort to keep it real, I headed out early one Thursday morning to see what all the hubbub was about. I was not disappointed.
Surprisingly enough, I only came across two groups of folks on the 4-mile portion from the Crested Butte side to the top of West Maroon Pass at 12,490 ft. However, the view looking down from the top of the pass into the Aspen valley was a different story. Hikers were crawling like ants along the switchbacking trail for as far as I could see. As I continued down the Aspen side of the pass I began to encounter a virtual cornucopia of people and gear of all types. I counted several external frame packs, a group boiling water for purification on the trail and even a few of those tents you can throw in the air and they set themselves up. I said hello to one gent hiking in wool knickers with matching wool stockings. It was almost 80 degrees out!
I have been selling outdoor gear for over 20 years, and it was refreshing to see a myriad of folks getting after it. I thought of sharing my sales pitch for Big Agnes several times, but kept it to myself. Maybe this foray into the wilderness will lead these hikers into the Ute Mountaineer, or their own specialty retail store back at home. After taking a short bus ride to town from Maroon Lake, I head to The Ute Mountaineer. The Ute is unique in the fact that it has been in the specialty outdoor business for 41 years. That’s almost as old as the man’s wool knickers I saw on the trail! The staff was eager to say hello, hear my stories from the day and inquire about the newest, latest and greatest gear.
After our mandatory Elks Club cocktails and dinner, my friend Sam and I headed to his house to get ready for the trip back to Crested Butte. Sam, his girlfriend Leslie, and I drove back to the West Maroon trailhead on Friday at 7am. Although all the parking lots were already mostly full, we managed to find a spot. This trailhead was bustling with people. Maroon Lake was surrounded by spectators with cameras, down jackets and blankets awaiting the priceless view of an autumnal sunrise in the West Maroon Valley. Leslie decided to stay behind and get some photos while I proceeded to chase Sam for 6 miles to the top of West Maroon Pass.
After a quick lunch on top of the pass, Sam and I parted ways. As I began switchbacking down the pass to Crested Butte, I was enjoying the solitude of my trek when I encountered Bob from Pennsylvania. Bob was 300 meters past his turn to Frigidaire Pass (which he missed) with a fully loaded pack for a solo four-pass adventure. It was Bob’s birthday and he wasn’t feeling well. He had all the classic signs of altitude sickness, so I offered to help get him down to the trailhead and give him a ride into Crested Butte. It was slow going, but after hours of slogging we made it to the truck. I handed Bob an ice cold Tecate (maybe not the best idea with his altitude sickness, but it seemed celebratory at the time), and I wished him a happy birthday. Spending my quiet time with Bob wasn’t really what I planned on for my venture back along West Maroon Pass, but I figure I’ve got one more in the karma bank, right?
While I do have the coolest job on the planet, it’s still a job. Once and awhile I, too, need to hit the reset button and step into the backcountry to appreciate my surroundings.