How to Fall in Love with Colorado: Part 2

Two intrepid Huckberry explorers join forces for a wild weekend in the Rockies
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Oct 26, 2014 | By Whitney James

Last week we checked in with backcountry hiking supertramp Kyle Frost, as he met for the first time, Huckberry contributor Whitney James for an adventure in Colorado. This week, we get Whitney's side of the epic story. 

wo pairs of wayfarers, one bottle of Bulleit, and way too much pesto. That’s the best way to summarize my first backpacking experience this fall in Aspen with fellow Huckberry contributor, Kyle Frost. But let’s not forget howling at the moon, my frozen bikini, and the aftermath that is trying to walk in Sperrys after hiking with a pack for the first time in your life. It was an experience to remember, and quite frankly, I'm not certain I can even remember it all. 

We kicked off the trip with a frigid photo-shoot on the top of Independence Pass. Roughly a gazillion degrees below zero with wind-chill, I promptly put on all my layers and wondered how we were ever going to survive the next 48 hours outside.

Lucky for us, the first night would entail luxurious car camping, enabling us to easily warm up after having spent a night above 10,000 feet in the Rockies. Even with a mouse getting into the chocolate and a backbreaking, hour-long fire-making session, we were what you might call happy campers. 

The next morning found us in Aspen's posh downtown before our onslaught to Conundrum Hot Springs. I say this jokingly, as we chuckled over lattés, studying the elevation chart for the climb. 800 feet is what both of us run on a normal night after work, Kyle being in San Francisco and myself on the Boulder Front Range. 8.5 miles and an 800-foot elevation gain to the springs was surely a laughing matter. 

Flash-forward to the hike, where we're five miles in, and I’m feeling it. Kyle is carrying most of our stuff, but still I’m absolutely dying under my load. It’s less of a physical response than a mental one. How are we not there yet? Hiking is the slowest activity ever! It’s been like three hours already! That’s not withstanding the mud, which was being frothed up like frosting from the boots of hikers before us. But it was quiet. The aspens were golden. The mountains were snow-capped. I already had 12 photos of the back of Kyle’s head and they looked great. 

Pace complaints aside, we arrived at the mecca that is Conundrum Hot Springs, located 11,200 feet above sea level and in an absolute mud pit. To our absolute astonishment, there were hikers. Everywhere. We quickly grabbed a “campsite” which consisted of a 6x4 foot piece of snow-free ground (but not mud), and made camp. 

Then we promptly froze to death as we tried to wait out the twenty-some springs-goers who were already excitedly exclaiming that they’d “run out of fireball, and it’s only 2 PM!”

When you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Kyle and I decided to jump in the 102˚ hot spring before we lost our toes to frostbite, trying to 'borrow' enough whiskey to fully embrace the situation. An hour later there were 55 people in the natural tub. Still dressed (for now), fully inebriated, and covered in tattoos, the collective group was a sight to behold. A Jambox blasted the Rolling Stones. A gallon of apple cider floated past. A bowl of guacamole hovered in the corner. A Pomeranian barked from the shore. “God damn Outside Magazine, put this place on the map!” slurred a bearded, beanied man. 

When the first nude individual dove headlong, hooting and hollering into the hot spring, the crowd rejoiced, howling fiercely at the moon, frozen exhalations drifting away with the sounds of Van Morrison. With a glance at my backpacking buddy, we decided to make a graceful exit and hurriedly ran back to camp — me in my bikini and hiking boots, sloshing haphazardly into partially frozen mud pits all the way there. 

The next eleven hours consisted of me lying catatonic in my sleeping bag, Kyle cooking gourmet spaghetti and then oatmeal (less gourmet) from the vestibule. Our water froze in the night, as did my bikini. No one will ever know what the temperature dropped to, but it couldn’t have been a hair warmer than fifteen degrees. We hiked out the next morning past groggy, hungover swim compadres from the night before as they made slower progress waking up.

Kyle kept the pace, leading me along. The grand finale of carbs consumed during the weekend would be celebrated in portions of bacon mac-and-cheese in downtown Aspen. Then Kyle got caught a flight back to the west coast. My hiking legs would be sore for the next four days. Next time, we’re taking mountain bikes. [H]

Whitney does marketing at Outside GO, loves donuts, and is a total endorphin junkie based in Boulder, Colorado. Follow along with her on Instagram