By John Chapman
The afternoon began with a 3.5 hour drive from the flatlands of Boulder, CO up to Aspen. Leanna, my fellow traveler, sat shotgun. Crossing the continental divide a few times lead us to Independence Pass: a colorful, scenic route that takes visitors up and over the divide, and is only open during the summer due to treacherous winter conditions on a road that narrows to just one lane in multiple spots. The drive was just the beginning of the sea of falls colors we were about to submerge ourselves within.
Upon our evening arrival in Aspen we cruised through town toward the trail head for Conundrum Creek. The creek is home of Conundrum Hot Springs, a ground fed hot spring that sits nine miles up at the base of Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak, two of Colorado’s fifty-four 14,000+ foot peaks.
The starry sky was clearing from the passing snow storm (or at least we thought it was passing) as we tightened up the straps on our packs and set off on the trail. Trailing clouds came and went, but only brought others with their passing. Snow flurries began to fall and we set up camp for the night. The morning came and we had been dusted with an inch and a half of snow. Too cold to sit still, we skipped the planned breakfast, crushed some power bars and made our way up the trail. Intermittent snow led to heavier, more consistent snow fall that stuck with us through the following evening.
We soaked in the stone-lined pool surrounded by cold, misty air while fellow hikers basked in the 100 degrees F water with us.
We woke the next morning to an open, sunshine-filled valley and towering peaks on three sides. Before departure a second soak was obligatory when the rare opportunity of an empty hot spring presented itself.
The hike down was a gorgeous one, with colorful Aspen trees flooding the valley. I’d highly recommend this adventure to everybody. A mellow hike up with an ultimate pay off: a free hot spring with million dollar views, no matter the season. If possible tackle this one in the spring, fall, or midweek due to the popularity of this well known gem.