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Conquering Mount Sopris near Basalt, CO.

Jessica.Olson's picture

View near summit of Mount Sopris: View near summit of Mount Sopris near the Basalt.View near summit of Mount Sopris: View near summit of Mount Sopris near the Basalt.CARBONDALE, CO - In most of the Colorado mountain towns where I have lived, there is one peak that dominates the skyline. In Norwood it is Lone Cone Mountain, in Colorado Springs it is Pike’s Peak, and in my new home of Basalt it is Mount Sopris. Driving into the Roaring Fork Valley one cannot miss the stunning view of this peak. It rises over 6,000 feet in less than three miles to its twin summits, both at exactly the same height of 12,965 feet. For me it is a rite of passage to summit the peak that towers above the town in which I live. Not only does this help me to understand where my town lies in relation to the surrounding peaks and valleys, it also affords a familiarity with the mountain that makes gazing up at the peak even more enjoyable and meaningful. Last weekend, I conquered Mount Sopris.

I chose a date and invited some friends, sure that we would have to set several dates before the weather cooperated and we were able to summit. That morning, we woke up to a cloudless blue sky and the weatherman predicting that it would remain that way throughout the day. We drove to the trailhead munching peanut butter and apples, and energetically began the hike. Not long after we began, we passed a gnome, sitting quietly next to his pet chipmunk slightly off the trail. After about two hours of hiking under a canopy of yellow aspen leaves, we reached Thomas Lakes. They were so still that we could see the twin summits of Mount Sopris reflecting in the water. A small pond between the two lakes was covered with a thin sheet of ice, reminding us that winter was on the way. Our midmorning snack refilled our tanks and allowed us to continue onward and upward, constantly marveling at the beauty of our fall-colored valley.

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Mount Sopris Peaks: CARBONDALE CO - View of Mount Sopris peaks near Basalt and Aspen , CO.Mount Sopris Peaks: CARBONDALE CO - View of Mount Sopris peaks near Basalt and Aspen , CO.Before we knew it, we reached timberline. Someone had created a small shelter from two of the highest trees, and we were surprised to see two hikers inside smoking cigarettes. We pushed on, beyond the smell of smoke and into the scree field that tops Mount Sopris. With dangerous drop-offs near the trail and a steep slope to slide down if our foothold slipped from underneath us, our chatter was silenced as we all focused on the task at hand. The thinning air and our tiring legs required us to stop nearly every five minutes to catch our breath and calm our screaming calf and thigh muscles. The climb became more and more difficult the further we went.

Anyone who has climbed a mountain knows of the existence of false summits. The hiker eagerly approaches what appears to be the highest point of the climb, only to be confronted with another point even higher upon reaching it. Mount Sopris has several heartbreaking false summits. We reached the false summit that all of us were expecting and continued on to the next point. Assuming this was East Sopris, one of the twin peaks, we stopped to have lunch. There was plenty of daylight left, so we decided to continue to West Sopris. A difficult climb across the scree field and one more false summit disappointment brought us to the peak we had assumed to be West Sopris. In reality, this was the first of the twin summits. From here we could easily see the other peak and quickly decided that since it was the same height we were not going to attempt to reach it as well. We sat down once again, this time to enjoy the true summit.
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Thomas Lakes: CARBONDALE CO - Thomas Lakes as view upon the climb to the summit of Mount Sopris.Thomas Lakes: CARBONDALE CO - Thomas Lakes as view upon the climb to the summit of Mount Sopris.At the top of the mountain there were several windblockers built from the stones. Our group discovered two memorials, one to a young man who died in an attempt to ski one of the slopes of Mount Sopris and another to a man whose ashes had been scattered from the summit. Another group summited while we were taking in the view, and we quickly realized that both of our groups included a Colby College alumnus. As they reminisced and took photos I looked around, orienting my position in the Roaring Fork Valley and in the state based on the peaks and highways I could see from this point. I believe I could see all the way to the Lone Cone in the southwestern corner of Colorado! The yellow and orange of the aspen leaves contrasted beautifully with the deep forest green of the pine trees and the cerulean sky. A recent dusting of snow made the surrounding peaks an even more majestic sight. Large birds soared above and below us. A group of smaller birds flitted by, diving towards the rocks on face of Mount Sopris.

After several pictures and a lot of relaxation, we forced ourselves to begin the long trek down. We went through the scree field to tree line and through the trees to Thomas Lakes. The sun still peeped over the peak, so we decided to swim in the icy cold water. One dunk underneath was enough to refresh us, and we continued on wearing our warmest clothes with our wet clothes dangling from our backpacks. The end of the hike seemed to stretch forever as we anticipated a warm car and the burgers and beers we would eat when we reached town. The light filtered through the yellow aspens and surrounded us in an unearthly glow. We popped out from the trees and into the parking lot just in time to see the sky turn pink and orange in a stunning sunset to cap an incredible day.