Maroon Bells Wilderness - Days 10 to 12
In the morning, we got picked up by the rafting company. After a brief instruction, we were loaded into school busses and driven upstream to the starting point. Diane and I volunteered to sit in the front of the boats and were joined by a family of five. Our guide was a college student who worked as a raft guide during the summer.
We knew most of the big rapids would be near the beginning, so as soon as we got on the water we braced to get wet. The rapids weren't enormous, but it was still fun.
When the water became calmer, we started talking with the other people. The father of the family was originally form the U.S. but they had lived in Russia in recent years and travelled all over the Middle East. It was cool to hear what life was like over there, especially during the pandemic. We made a brief stop at a hot spring so we could smell the rotten eggs. The guide also had prepared a bunch of jokes about the landscape. The best one was about a huge tube running down the mountain. It started near an amusement park and our guide told us it was the longest water slide in the world. I felt bad we wouldn't have time to ride it. Then the guide told us it was actually just the water supply for the local village. Apparently in the past, a family had believed the waterslide story and had driven all the way up the mountain to find the entrance. Since then he was obliged to make it really clear it was a joke. There was also a huge cave which they called the bear cave, as some raft guides had travelled there and found nothing in it (this one only works when you say it out loud).
After finishing the rafting tour, we walked -- again in the brutal heat -- to a nearby bus station. From there, we travelled to Denver. We had planned 1.5 days to explore the city. Last year we had done the same thing in Seattle and it turned out to be a very ugly and boring place. After about 15 minutes, we started to believe Denver might be worse. Everything was just grey concrete with a lot of homeless people. We had taken one of the cheaper hotels in the city, for $240 a night. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we went for dinner and a beer before going to bed.
The next morning we switched hotels to a Hampton Inn. That one was equally expensive but way better. They had a jacuzzi and swimming pool. The warm water felt really nice after all the hiking - except for our sun burns. We also visited the state capitol building and some other parts of the city center. The only nice places in Denver seemed to be Red Rocks (an open air music theatre) and a dinosaur graveyard. They were only 15 km away, but due to the lack of working public transport it would take 1.5 hours to get there. Instead, we spent the rest of the day playing board games in a local bar, which was also fun.
After the games, we headed back to the hotel to sleep. We caught a flight the next day and the journey back home proceeded without much trouble. Diane's father had been tracking our hike and had made a nice 3D map of our trip.
Overall our trip had gone well. The hike had been a bit tougher than I had expected and hoped, but Diane had held up well. The high altitude really slowed us down the first couple of days and I have never seen the weather change so quickly and often as during this trip. The landscape was even more beautiful than I thought it would be, partly because all the flowers were blooming. Like our hike last year, all the people we met were very friendly and in some ways it was nice to have a clear trail and pre-made places to camp. Nonetheless, next time I will try to find an area with fewer people, less elevation gain, and without bears. Not having to carry bear canisters will save almost 2.5 kg and likely also allow me to use a lighter backpack. That way we can bring water shoes and a bigger tent and still save weight. To do so, we will likely need to go somewhere outside of the US and Canada. I already have some ideas...