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A Wonderful "Bad Day" Hiking to Cathedral Lake

Jessica.Olson's picture
The view as I neared the end of the hikeThe view as I neared the end of the hikeASPEN, CO -My 1989 Chevy groaned with effort as I coaxed it past the locals pedaling their bikes up Castle Creek Road. It was only slightly easier to pass the roller skiers pushing themselves up the steep road. As one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s newest locals, I still marvel at the athletic abilities of the other residents. Turning onto a dirt path, I bounced the rest of the way to the Cathedral Lake trailhead. I found a place to park amongst several other vehicles, jumped out of my truck, and immediately smelled the pile of dog poop my foot sank into. Wiping it off as well as I could, I arranged my backpack and enthusiastically began my way up the path. After about two minutes I realized that I had forgotten my book, so I turned back to get it. “Well this is off to a great start,” I thought sarcastically. Finally I had all of my gear, the smell had mostly disappeared from my shoe, and I was able to enjoy the scenery as I hiked up the path. Cathedral Lake is a fairly popular, intermediate level hike. Round trip it is about five miles, with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain for a final elevation of almost 12,000 feet. The trail leads through an aspen grove into the pines, then the boulder fields, and eventually to beautiful Cathedral Lake. Most of the trail parallels Pine Creek as it tumbles down from the lake. I watched the stream crash down as waterfalls, tunnel through lingering snow banks, and meander through meadows. This stream, along with the songs of birds and the buzzing of large insects, formed my soundtrack as I hiked. Finally I rounded a corner to the stunning view of Cathedral Lake backed by the jagged spires of Cathedral Peak. I approached the lake and eagerly chose a spot to sit and eat my lunch only to notice a couple cuddling in the rocks nearby. My mind flashed to the week before, when the couple cuddling in the spot I coveted later came down to ask me to take pictures of them because they had gotten engaged just moments before, and I decided to avoid sitting near this couple. I walked around the lake looking for a new spot, when I came upon Castle Creek running out of the lake. Four trout swam about in the shallow water. Lunch forgotten, I pulled out my fishing gear, rigged up, and tossed my bait into the stream. All four of the fish I could see avoided my bait no matter how close I pushed it to them. Finally I spooked them all, and they swam away downstream. I walked to the other side of the lake and sat down, tossing out bait for the fish and grabbing lunch for myself. The fish didn’t show any interest in my bait, so when I finished eating I attached a lure and cast a few times. Three fish followed it close enough to shore for me to see them, but none bit it. My score at the end of the afternoon wasn’t very impressive: Fish Sighted – 7, Fish Caught – 0. Cathedral Lake at first sightCathedral Lake at first sight Eventually I gave up and re-packed my bag. I walked down, enjoying the views of the rugged peaks and the fresh greenery. I came upon a group of people staring through binoculars as they argued over whether an animal on a distant ridge was an elk or a bear. I stuck around long enough to hear the consensus that it was an elk before continuing on my way. The end of the hike brought the familiar mix of feelings; anxiousness to get home after a long afternoon combined with disappointment at having to exchange the natural beauty around me for a world of man-made objects. The disappointment was pushed aside by my hunger as I drove home. After a large dinner I curled up in bed, content with my afternoon hike and with my new life in the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen.