After our visit to the ghost town of Gilman we continued on our way up the mountain, glad to leave the man-made toxicity of a once beautiful area. Fortunately the remaining time on the mountain was one of natural beauty untouched by humans. Our decision to do this trip by jeep was the right one – the terrain was rocky and uneven and often right at the edge – with of course, no railings.
But it is stunning. There are tightly packed alpine forests carpeting the entire mountain side:
We stopped for a leg stretch at this beaver dam valley:
Another stop was in a magical aspen forest:
Aspen trees are truly remarkable – here are some facts that you may not know:
- Aspen can grow from 49 to 98 feet in height and has a strong root system that can reach 40 feet in diameter.
- Although the above photos seem to show many separate aspen trees in actuality an aspen reproduces by growing new trees from root suckers. These are long roots that grow underground horizontally and send up new shoots from them. So this is one aspen with many offshoots – reminds me of the trees in “Avatar.”
- The leaves of the aspen have long stems and a round shape with serrated edges. They shimmer with the slightest breeze making the slightest of sighing sounds – very zen.
- The white bark of aspen contains a sunscreen to protect it from the sun. Unfortunately rubbing the bark on one’s skin does not provide humans with the same protection.
- There is a theory that stakes made of aspen wood can kill vampires and werewolves.
As much as we could have stayed in the shimmering aspen forest all day we needed to continue up the mountain. We didn’t get to the top by jeep however. All motorized vehicles must stop about 1/4 mile from the 12,000 foot high summit at a parking enclosure and the last section of the mountain must be hiked on foot, with no real trail to follow. Since the vehicles are stopped because the “road” is extremely steep and rough, we knew we were in for a bit of a strenuous climb.
Surprisingly it wasn’t that bad at all – perhaps our adrenaline helped, but we made the summit easily and were rewarded with the most amazing views. We actually got there just in time, for the weather was quickly changing from overcast to ominous and we could only stay a moment. It was worth it for two reasons. One, it was quite a sight to watch clouds forming below us:
Our guide talked about the local venomous spiders but I didn’t really listen as I had spied the second great reason for reaching the summit:
This is the Jackal Hut, built by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
It is one of a number of huts used by the troops during their war training in the 1940’s. It can house 16 people.
More importantly it had these:
After we finished using the facilities and locking the doors to prevent visits from bears and other wild creatures, we hiked back to the jeep – with the storm clouds starting to spew rain.
We made it down the mountain safely with lots of extraordinary memories.
Having successfully hiked a bit I know felt I was ready for a more major climb – with some unexpected extras I hadn’t planned for – coming next week.