Moonlight Hike

The climb was slow.  There were three of us.  J was up front, half skipping, half running up the mountain.  L and I were a little behind.  She was hiking in her snowboard boots, with a snowboard strapped to her back, and I was limping in pain.  I did something to my ankle while skiing a little over a month ago, and still have been limping on an everyday basis.  Hiking up a mountain might not have been the best healing process for me, but I hurt my ankle just two days before the last full moon, and this was my only full moon left while in Aspen.

We started our hike just a little past eight.  The sky was still bright and there was no moon in sight.  We forgot to look up what time the moon would rise, and just hoped it would be soon.  It was probably about halfway through the hike that we first caught glimpse of the moon through the aspen trees.

Everything changes after dark.  The trails, the trees, the whole mountain.  Once familiar landscapes take on other worldly appearances.  We stopped and stood in awe in those first moon beams.  I was truely amazed at just how much the moon lights up the mountain.  It made me a little proud that I was the only one who didn't bother to bring a flashlight (flashlights were never used for even a single second).

We reached the warming hut at about 10 o'clock.  It was quite a strenuous climb for us.  For me at least.  The warming hut is a nice little building used by ski patrol during the day, and open to anyone during the night.  Many people spend the night there during a long backpacking trip.  During a full moon, it is packed.  I believe I met half of Aspen that night.  In addition to people, there was also a lot of alcohol and sleds.  There is not much snow left this year, so skiing down would be a little sketchy.  J brought a cookie sheet, and I brought a blanket and trash bag to ride.

Every person upon entering the warming hut would ask "Will we see you up top?"  This being the first hike for my entire group, we didn't know that we could continue.  After the 7th person asking us, we decided to follow.  We left our supplies behind, and hiked about 10 more minutes through the trees along the edge of the mountain.  We found the missing snow.  It was hiding in the trees.  My right foot constantly fell through it up to my knee, and once even up to my hip.  It was just icy enough that you could mostly walk easily on top of it, but I think my limping on my left foot caused just enough extra pressure on my right.
Me and J in the dead tree, poorly photographed on an iPhone

It was worth it.  As we emerged from the trees, the view was breathtaking.  Though the clearing was packed with beer guzzling hikers, there was one tree right on the edge that caught our eye.  J and I climbed up it a little and sat down.  The tree was dead, and had our branches broke, we would be rolling almost straight down a rocky cliff.  It was astonishingly quiet for the amount of people attending.  I was absorbed in the peace, tranquility and beauty of the valley below.  

I could have sat there for hours staring off into the night.  Midnight rolled around though, and our driver had to work the next morning.  We vowed to return to the tree during daylight to compare, and trudged off down hill to our sleds. 

Two ladies joined us, one on skies and one with a snowboard.  So the two of them and L took off riding down the hill.  It wasn't snowy enough for my trash bag to work, and J's cookie sheet worked so well that she was terrified.  So I folded my blanket, set it on her cookie sheet, and had the ride of my life.  J held my bag, and ran down the hill just like she had run up it.  During the steepest parts I wanted to avoid wrapping myself around a tree, so I laid on my back, head first, held the cookie sheet, and slid down.  We reached the bottom much quicker than I hoped. 

From seeing the moon rise over the aspen trees, to gliding down the trails, it was all an exhilarating experience.  I highly recommend the adventure, and the mystery of moonlight hiking, especially up a mountain!
Buttermilk Mountain, Home of the Winter X Games

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