Conundrum Hot Springs Backpack- take 2 !

So in my last post i talked about my first tryst with Conundrum Hot Springs. While incredible, i wanted to go back in better weather and in better shape! So id been eagerly looking for an opportunity, and incidentally my local hiking club posted a backpacking trip over the weekend of 23rd October 2015. Obviously i signed up immediately, and soon we had a group of 4 ready to go.

The drive up to Aspen on Friday was uneventful, and we reached the trail head at around 11pm. Surprisingly there was about 1-2 inches of snow on the ground at the trailhead. We cleared of some snow, setup tents and slept. Someone had a huge 4-5 person tent, so 3 of us shared. The fourth had a single person tent to himself. We awoke to a freezing next morning and wrapped up the tents, packed our bags and had breakfast in the cold and had to sit in the car for around 20 minutes with the heater on full blast. Finally we strapped on our backpacks over our fleece jackets and started the 8.5 mile journey at around 9:15am. The trail started off gently with some snow on the sides. The sun was still rising and was not yet over the mountains surrounding the valley. We covered the first 2.5 miles at a good pace and reached the first bridge crossing of the trail, stopping only once en-route mainly to shed off an extra layer of jackets. It was a pretty good start to the day!

First look entering the conundrum valley as the trail begins
The bridge at the first stream crossing. 2.5miles in.
Snow capped peaks flank the trail as we head up the valley
More views from one of the open meadows along the trail

After the first bridge, the trail goes through a meadow for a while, and the sun had started to come out over us and the sunshine felt amazing in the cold of the morning. The trail then climbs steadily for a mile or so along the edge of the cliff constantly heading up into the Conundrum valley. The next couple miles are pretty flat meadows. There was a lot of snow on the sides of the trail. I was doing pretty well and covering my miles at a very good pace, and had been leading the group for a long while now.  The views on either side were simply gorgeous, there is something truly special about a deep blue Colorado sky, the fresh soft white snow  adorning the Colorado peaks, set against the deep green of the tall and resolute Colorado conifers. Truly a Colorado experience!

At the silver dollar pond
Another impressive peak with snow covered Boulders strewn across near the base near the trail

By now (noon to 1PM) the sun was out in full and the hiking had heated me up so i had shed all my layers and was just in my hiking shirt. At around the 6 mile marker i reached the silver dollar pond. There i rested for a while and ate lunch along the snowy banks. Around this time is when the back of the famed Maroon-bells peak with its trademark striations is seen really clearly and up close. Approximately now too the second member of our group manages to catch up to me and as i was still resting and eating he continued onwards along the trail.

First look at the snow capped Maroon-Bells peak. Note the trademark striations. 

Getting to the silver dollar pond is a good sign, the end is getting closer, although the steepest section through the thick forest is what remains in the final 2.5 miles! The snow here was fresh and thick.. about 2 to 3 inches easy. It was pretty challenging switching to walking through snow now after having been on a good trail for so long. After this there is a section of marshy grassy land which leads to the final valley we have to climb along. Here i found a couple of hikers, who were lost and dint know the way forward.. i was able to guide them to the final stream crossing (without any actual bridge present we had to improvise and go over the most stable log fallen partly across the stream) where  they took a break an i continued upward into the snowy forest. I chugged along the climb steadily and made my way up the final valley. Pretty soon, i was welcomed by the sign indicating the first of the lower campsites and the map showing the springs and the other campsites closer to the springs. I had reached my destination! Close to 3PM.

Hiking though the snow covered forest on the final section of the trail

Snow covered trees looking very splendid
At the Conundrum hot springs. Finally. Very serene, beautiful and very rustic and rudimentary

The hot springs looked very serene and inviting, bathed in sunshine surrounded by mighty snow covered peaks and pine trees. We were the first ones there and managed to get the campsite thats closest to the hot springs (up by the right hand side behind some trees, Number 6 if i remember correctly) We cleared off the snow and setup our tents. Soon the third member of our party joined us and helped me setup the tent. We stretched out for a bit, packed our towels, water and dinner, and headed to the hot springs at about 4-430PM. There was a couple lounging in the pool.We got in and started chatting a bit as we admired the views, relaxed our muscles in the hot water, and saw the sun rays go down over the mountains surrounding us. Sunset was approaching soon, and we got an amazing view of Alpenglow  as the final rays of the day began to set behind the slopes. It was majestic. A great start to what was going to be a fun evening soaking!

The evening soak begins whilst admiring the setting sunrays

The final rays of the day kissing the snow capped peaks

After sunset, it got dark pretty fast. And in the dusk, more folks started rolling in and heading to their campsites. After most of them got setup they started soaking with us too. At around 5-530 the final member of our group made it to the campsites (it was her first backpack experience!) and settled in. In chatting with the others who had joined us in the springs, i found that the hikers i had guided earlier across the stream several hours back, had just made it to the lower campsites and were too exhausted so they were planning on soaking next morning. I was happy to hear they made it, but disappointed that they stopped just so short- just a few hundred more feet and they would have camped in the upper campsites and soaked in the evening as well!

Sunset colors seen along with the steam coming from the Hot springs

As night fell, more folks started coming into the springs. After a while, the snowy peaks around us were starting to get lit in a strange luminescent glow, after more time it got even brighter, and soon we realized the moon was now rising over the mountains and was the reason for the glow. We all saw as the moon slowly came out from behind the pointy peaks and spread its glow. It was pretty close to a full moon–  a gibbous moon. As everyone was bathed in magical moonlight, the glow from the snow started looking even more splendid, and another side effect was that the folks who were skinny dipping became slightly more conspicuous :P…

By around 8-9 everyone had started having dinner, and were merrily chatting and admiring the surroundings. The alcohol and the joints were also starting to pass around freely now. We were also joined by a group of about 6 guys who were there celebrating someone’s bachelor’s party. What an awesome idea we all thought. A truly unique and magical, perhaps a little hippy, experience to commemorate the occasion. The atmosphere was pretty jovial, as  everyone soaked in the soothing waters, the temperatures around us were dropping fast as night began to set in. Contrary to my expectations, the bachelor party guys were actually pretty mellow. We all also began a game of guessing where/which part of the world/US everyone in the hot springs was from based on the accent. Most of the US folks were pretty easy, but there was this girl who had a very strong and unique accent. Everyone was puzzled.  Majority of the people guessed eastern Europe, German, or middle eastern … but to everyones dismay, it turned out to be Chile. It was a fun discussion. People ate, drank, soaked, smoked, talked and laughed. Again, here i was sitting half naked among a random group of other naked or half naked people soaking in the Rocky mountains at 11,300ft on a freezing night with beautiful moonlight all around taking in the warmth of the water. Conundrum hot springs had lived up to its magical reputation yet again! There is something special about Conundrum i guess, even the most shy and introverted person can start to relax and feel all the tensions and shyness slip  away in the hot springs! As time past people starting returning to the tents, and at around close to midnight, reluctantly, we too left the springs, changed, and crept into our tents nearby and soon were fast asleep.

Next morning, i awoke by around 8-9 and got cleaned up and ate something. As there was nothing much to do i headed down to the springs for a soak again. I was the only one there. By around 930 i saw the first of the few groups starting to return back down the trail. After a while i was joined by the 2 others of my group, and we let the fourth member get a head start by starting to return down earlier than us. I was happy. Soon the bachelor party guys joined in the soak as well and started playing a floating board game (3 little pigs im inclined to say if i remember correctly) We all soaked for about an hour or so. The pictures and the surroundings looked even prettier in the early morning sunshine than they did last evening in the setting sunlight.

Monochrome pic of me, solitary soaking in the Hot springs in the morning
Fun group enjoying a morning soak on a chilly day
Snow covered trail heading off to the upper campsites.

Another view looking down the valley from the Conundrum hot springs. A majestic view
Reluctantly, i left the hot springs with my group as the others continued to soak. We packed and started hiking downwards back to base. The return hike down the valley was pretty easy and we covered the miles at a very good pace. Soon we were at all the trail/mile marker we eagerly waited for while going up. The hike through the meadows, the stream crossings all went by pretty fast and we found ourselves on the first stream crossing, 2.5miles away from the trail head. It is true what they say… the last mile seems the longest…. it indeed was… after pushing through the last mile we found ourselves back at the trail head and after a while were joined by none other than the bachelor party guys who too had left shortly after us. We all said goodbye and set off back to Boulder!

It was a very unique weekend, actually experiencing the Colorado backcountry wilderness first hand!

I may be back again here, maybe next time during the Fall to see all the splendid fall colors and golden aspen! 🙂

Final view of Conundrum peaks on the return journey heading back

A small snow melt run off off the cliff along the trail. A great place to fill up fresh water

Heading back form the Conundrum Creek trailhead. What a trip it was.

Author: mysterytryst

Hi. Here i am venting out some stuff into cyberspace with the hope that it'll be considered as great words of wisdom in some mysterious far away alien world...till then hope you have a good time here getting a glimpse of my experiences, trips and observations.... Please feel free to connect, comment, like and share. Id love to hear your thoughts and reactions. © All content is mine, share with due credit.

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