Hiking can be intimidating. First there is the gear: Camelbak packs or Nalgene water bottles, Columbia hiking boots , the North Face wind resistant pants, and obscure maps with contour lines like thin strands of hair marking the receding elevation. You need necessary snacks, torn between Cliffbars, trail mix, and varieties of dried fruit that you imagine other experienced campers eat on a daily basis. One must also choose the location. Do you travel long distances to the Rocky Mountains or attempt to navigate the trail behind your house in upstate New York, hoping your deer hunting neighbor will not mistake you for a young doe.
Of course, the real fear is not the brand names of waterproof clothing, the food or the specific location of the trail. It is nature itself. Weather is unpredictable, bugs are prevalent, and Googling “beautiful nature views” takes a fraction of the time it takes to actually go out there yourself. But stop for a moment and think. Think about the most beautiful sight you have ever witnessed or the most beautiful place you have been. How many of those memories took place in nature, watching the sun slip behind the gently rolling waves or smelling the violets on the first day of spring? We have become so removed from nature that outdoor adventures are increasingly unknown and dangerous experiences, saved for mountain men and expert campers. Go ahead. Reclaim nature for yourself.
My college roommate and close friend is not a hiker. While Jen is outgoing and very athletic, her favorite experiences in nature are laying on the beach and reading a good book. However, she dressed the part and was more than willing to try a number of hikes during our week in Aspen. The Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed mountains in Colorado. Towering over 14,000 ft, they are a magnificent sight seen with ice patches at all times of the year. Jen and I did the Crater Lake Hike get a special view of these natural wonders. The 3.6 mile hike was a moderate trail, taking less than 2 hours. Our pictures were spectacular and our memories were unforgettable.
Two days later, I attempted Aspen Mountain which begins at the base of Little Nell and climbs 3267 feet up the Aspen Mountain ski area finishing at the Sundeck Restaurant at an elevation of 11,212 feet. The benefit of such a climb other than the incredible view is the free gondola ride, bringing you safely down the mountain back to where you began your journey hours ago. Our four person group became two about halfway up the steep ascent. The combination of unyielding vertical climbs and high elevation made me question my sanity and physical conditioning more than once as I continued to the top. Many Aspen locals and expert athletics jog up the mountain for exercise, racing during the America’s Uphill spring ritual. Who are these people with the lung capacity and mental stamina? In my mind, they tower over me like gods with large wings and a golden aura around their dusty running sneakers.
Most of us will never reach this caliber of hiker/jogger/athletic extraordinaire. But each of us can look on a map and pick out a trail that is right for them. Look for opportunities locally. Hike a mile to a nearby waterfall or walk through your local bird sanctuary with a bottle of water and a pair of binoculars. The natural world has sights, sounds and wildlife for everyone to experience. Even if you don’t want to run up Aspen mountain.