I’m not quite sure why but come the weekend, holiday, or midweek getaway, my inclination is to rush off to some far distant spot, often taking hours to get there, or even longer given the sheer vastness of the continent-sized country that is the United States of America. But on Sunday the 6th of October 2013 Kris and I made the decision to be tourists in our own town for a day. And so we pointed the Infinity in the direction of Aspen with the plan of taking the Gondola to the top of Ajax (Aspen Mountain), so as to hike our way down through a couple of inches of freshly lain early autumn snow.
The weather, as it often is around this time of year, was nothing less than spectacular as we polished off a late breakfast, lingered on a brief stroll around the The Birdhaven Studio Sculpture Garden, and as noon approached, climbed into the car and pointed it in the direction of Aspen… eight miles or so to the south east of us.
Hooking a sharp right at the end of the drive we picked up Upper River Drive and followed its familiar course south.
Downtown Woody Creek came and went.
After a couple of miles we climbed up on the mesa and made our way along the rolling messa of McClain Flats.
The weather was certainly playing its part and as we rolled along I felt compelled to stop for a quick pic of the moment against the backdrop of the Snowmass Ski Area, The Elk Mountain Range, a rustic split rail fence, beautiful Colorado Blue Bird Sky, and meadow.
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As we drop down to the slaughterhouse bridge on the Roaring Fork River the mountain begins to fill the horizon
Up and along Cemetery lane we have now entered Aspen proper.
Once we have parked and changed our footwear for the hike we head towards the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ where it becomes immediately obvious that we were not the only ones with the idea to ride the Gondola up to the Sundeck.
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Kris is a little dismayed by the lines, but after a brief discussion ensues about the wisdom of hiking up and taking the Gondola down, she too realizes that the women in charge of loading the buckets are well on top of their game. Soon the intimidating line of tourists is whittled down with impressive efficiency.
Before we know it we are being beckoned to our own car, and within the minute are whooshed out of the steel and glass building and whisked up the steep mountainside.
Inside the gondola car we are all chummy, chatting with our new compatriots as if we’d know them all our lives, suspending our yacking just long enough to pose for a quick snap!
As Aspen falls behind in our wake the cars climb higher and higher…
…and higher and higher!
By the time we climb out at the top we have gained an elevation of 11,212 ft.
We take our place among the crowds of tourist lining up to be photographed against the backdrop of the Elk Mountain Range and the world famous Highlands Bowl.
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Inside the Sundeck Aspen’s early ski pioneers and all-around legends beam down from their hallowed perches.
Boy, did they look the part or what?
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Immediately outside the Sundeck we are greeted by a familiar sight – perhaps even familiar to some of those black and white legends adorning the walls of the aforementioned food court. It is of course the Ski Patrol building, and if I were a betting man I’d say its days are numbered given the fact that it looks charmingly like something straight out of the 1960s.
Yes, Aspen Mountain (“Ajax”) is steep! There really is no easy way down – but who would want it any different? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve whooshed down this slope, and so it felt slightly odd and surreal to pick my way down like an old man with a stick, but pick my way down I did. And you know what? It was completely lovely. We were in absolutely no hurry whatsoever and stopped often to simply admire views that I simply whizzed past when strapped to a pair of skies.
Down, down down we went.
Past the legendary Bonnie’s Restaurant we stride – scene of some truly epic apple strudel and cream interludes down through the years.
Down through the daunting Spa Gulch.
Suddenly the Gondola pops up from behind the rim of Bell Mountain.
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Eventually downtown Aspen appears as if by magic. Peering down from the precipitous edge of the aptly named Niagara double black diamond run it looks for all the world as if you (or the Legends of Sundeck fame) could simply leap and take off right into the heart of town.
Foregoing the hustle and bustle of the new Aspen residing at the base of the Gondola, we choose instead to retrace our way back to the car via the old atmospheric Lift 1 A. Believe it or not these ancient looking (beautifully footrest and guardrail-free) old chairs actually replaced an even older ski lift that at one time held the record as the longest lift in THE WORLD!
But we are in no hurry to reacquaint ourselves with our car, and so we take in a slight detour whereby we can look over the Aspen skyline and bask in the astonishing array of autumnal colors.
To be truthful we find ourselves more than a little reluctant to finally come down…
What the place must have been like, or felt like, when these rusty old seats provided the gateway to the old Sundeck I can only imagine.
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vid: Aspen Mountain (“Ajax”) Road trip and Hike
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Thanks for visiting martincooney.com
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