Christa and I have an adventure planned for later in the year; we want to hike the highest mountain in the Gore Range. The Mountains encircle the north western edge of Eagle county, forming the boundary with Summit county on the east. They are forgotten about; lacking the magical 14,000 foot peak, tourists attention is drawn elsewhere in the state. As such, they sit quietly in the distance, admired from the groomed slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts instead. Rarely are they admired from within, but that’s what we want to do. Mt Powell sitting at a lowly 13,566 feet (4,135 metres), is the target for later in the season.
As a little primer, we set off from East Vail to walk up to Booth Falls, on the very edge of the Gore Range. It’s a pretty accessible hike at only 2.5 miles each way, so it attracts the crowds. Setting off from next to the motorway in a full car park is never very attractive, but within 10 minutes, we were alone in the Aspen glades, the wildflowers thriving in the mottled shade of the tremoring leaves.
As we walked further up, the trail got noticeably narrower – the well trodden path below tapered to a rough mountain track, indicating the point where the crowds begin to thin. Morning enthusiasm fading, as people turn back short of the goal.
A couple of successive ridges are gained before the valley opens into a wide bowl. The steep exposed cliffs above flow down into an open meadow where the flowers are in the throes of full bloom. Serviceberries and Raspberries were just coming into ripeness, the occasional bright red berry shining from afar as we approached. In a couple of weeks there will be abundant fruit filling the meadow. In the meantime, we satisfied ourselves by scavenging along the trail, keeping the creeping hunger at bay.
Walking up the last stretch of trail towards the falls reveals nothing but a gentle stream running down over the rocks. A hint of anti-climax builds as you look towards the river and see no more white water than two miles further down the valley. But it isn’t until you work for it that the waterfall becomes apparent. As you scramble out on the edge of the rocky precipice, the rushing water gets louder and you finally see the water bouncing down the sheer face, diving into the aquamarine pool at the bottom. It’s huge, the water spray bouncing far enough to catch you; gently cooling the mid day sun.
We sat and rehydrated in the shade of the forest next to the falls, listening to people playing in the water further upstream. The trail continues another couple of miles to Booth lake, and then again further to the top of ridge above. It wasn’t for us today. We slowly moseyed our way back towards the car, now looking south across the east vail cliffs and their huge bands of Aspens. I was disappointed to notice the beetle killed pine trees now pervading the Eagle valley – for so long it seemed that this side of the divide was a little more resilient to the spread of brown death, but now even here the trees are beginning to succumb. It doesn’t seem like there’s a solution any more, so I just hope the Aspens can stay healthy and colonise the hillsides, giving time for another species to battle it out on the mountain slopes of Colorado.
We descended back to the valley floor, noticing the number of people increasing again. It’s shame so many people start the hike before turning around, never to see the beauty of the falls. Perhaps the trail being so close to I-70 means people arrive with ambitions beyond their abilities. We happily greeted all the walkers, receiving the usual entertaining variety of responses – the happy family; the intrepid lone backpacker; the couple in the midst of an unseen argument. It really was a cross section of America on a small section of trail. The last mile back to the car revealed the bustle of the valley, and once again we were in reality. It’s cool that so many valleys sprout northwards away from the Eagle river. Much more exploring awaits!