A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Aspen: Sunnyside trail and C++Now

May 11, 2015
Emilie Phillips

I flew to Aspen for a week at a C++ conference. I arrived a day early for a hike up in the mountains.

The conference was C++Now. I would summarize it as “experimental C++ for library developers.” I had lots of fun and met really nice people.

Since I had gone to all the trouble of flying out to Aspen, I wanted to enjoy the outdoors some. Tyson had to stay home, so I only arrived one day early to hike. It is mud season out there, so half the stores are closed and the other half have reduced hours. I waited for the one outfitter that opened at 9AM to get suggestions for possible hikes. The previous day, it snowed several inches in the mountains, so the best options were right near town. Aspen is at 7,900 feet above sea level, and it was my first day there, so I scaled my expectations back to 6 miles and 1,000′ of elevation gain.

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The trail the shop owner suggested was called “Sunnyside.” It started just a half mile outside town and climbed up the scrub on the south side of Red Mountain. It started as a city path – broad, well used, constant noise of cars and the occasional jet departure from the airport, houses above, houses below, recent construction traversing the path, and everyone else carrying nothing more than a jacket tied around their waist. This was not the hike I wanted and I was mentally kicking myself for not pushing harder to find a trail farther from town. But I did not have the time or knowledge to find a different path, so I kept on.

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The higher I got, the better the trail got. There were views into the steep mountains beyond the hills around Aspen. More and more snow covered the ground. The houses and noises disappeared, and I met fewer and fewer people.

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Then, I reached a building with a radio tower. All the other tracks turned around. Ahead, covered by a couple inches of untracked snow, I had the trail through the aspen forest all to myself. This was much better. The trail was easy to follow. I picked up my pace as it flattened off and followed the ridge. Just before intersecting Shadyside trail, I emerged from the woods to more views.

My one problem, was that despite twenty odd reminders from the conference organizers, I had not brought sunscreen. I could feel my cheeks starting to burn from the bright high altitude sun and the snow glare. I did not want to give up on my hike, but I needed to do something or I would be in sad shape by the evening. I decided to tie my pack towel around my face western-bandanna style and keep going. The first trail junction gave me the option of staying on Sunnyside trail or turning off onto Shadyside trail with a possible loop via Shadyside cuttoff. I decided to try to go out Shadyside and loop back Sunnyside so I could hide under the trees while the sun was highest and get less sun burnt.

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My map did not have any contour lines, so I was a little surprised when Shadyside started straight down the hill. I was also a little worried because I would be quite slow climbing back up due to the high altitude. The trail led through mixed aspen and evergreen woods. I was able to relax my makeshift bandanna. Then I hit the next hurdle. I started post-holing in old snow drifts hidden under the couple inches of fresh snow. As the trail contoured farther around to the north of the mountain, the drifts became more and more frequent and deeper. I was also having troubles finding the trail. Finally, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I was up to my knees in snow, uncertain where the trail went next, and still heading downhill.

I backtracked to the trail junction and stared up the Sunnyside trail wishing I could go explore it, but I needed to get back in time for the first event of the conference. After enjoying a snack, I headed down. The trail had melted out significantly in just a few hours since I hiked up. The whole south side of the mountain was much browner than in the morning. The trail crossed a canalized stream. I later looked it up and it’s called Red Mountain Ditch. It’s a huge irrigation ditch that collects all the water off Red Mountain and routes it miles away.

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Route: out and back Sunnyside to Shadyside trail

In total I did 6.5 miles, almost 2,000′ of elevation, and got back in time for the conference. For maps, see Pitkin Outdoors.