One of many water crossings on the East Maroon Trail

One of many water crossings on the East Maroon Trail

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

“You’re kidding!”

The river is beyond freezing, as if wheelbarrows full of ice cubes had been dumped into the water.

Even worse, slick rocks line the riverbed where my daughter Mel declares we have to cross — barefoot — to avoid soaking our boots and socks. She neglects to mention it but this is the first of a dozen river crossings on this 16-mile hike from Crested Butte, Colorado, to Aspen — some with the water flowing so fast we have to hold hands and sidestep across to keep from falling.

But this first river crossing my two daughters and husband dubbed a Triple M — Memorable Mom Moment — because I screamed all the way across. They continued to tease me about it all weekend.

Truth be told, I didn’t really care. I was feeling pretty proud of myself — and my husband — for completing the difficult hike over the famous Maroon Pass, as well as for trusting my daughters, both experienced hikers and backpackers, to lead the way.

Fulfilling a long-held dream: the hike from Crested Butte to Aspen

I always suggest parents and grandparents let the kids lead some of the time on vacation, even when they are in grade school. First, they’ll take you in unexpected directions (who even knew that museum exhibit was there?). They’ll share their passions (who knew going to a concert with them could be so much fun?). The kids, of course, are happier because they aren’t being dragged along and are more willing to do something you choose.

Now that my kids are grown and travel more on their own than with me, I know that if they are going to do something with us, it needs to be something they like to do — skiing, hiking, mountain-biking (my husband actually gave that a try this trip), as well as enjoying craft cocktails and innovative cuisine (like at Aspen Kitchen, overlooking Aspen Mountain, which serves up new twists on locally sourced ingredients).

At the top of the East Maroon Pass

At the top of the East Maroon Pass

They are pretty typical millennial travelers, according to the new research presented at the TMS Family Travel Summit I co-chair: They are interested in immersive, active, new experiences, including trying new foods and drink. And since they are continuing to travel with their parents, that means they are encouraging us to travel differently.

That’s not to say everyone will tackle a 16-mile hike in the Rockies with their kids, scrambling over and under giant logs, hiking through unstable fields of rock called scree. But you might be encouraged to take a food tour or cooking class in a foreign city, find your way to an off-the-tourist-track restaurant in an ethnic neighborhood, or opt to plan a family vacation on an expedition cruise in Alaska or Panama rather than on a megaship.

It’s also important, wherever you go, to take the bad with the good. No matter how old your kids are there are going to be some bumps along the way, but as this hike proved, they make for the best stories afterward.

We’d started off at 6:30 a.m. from the Copper Lake Trailhead, about a 20-minute drive northwest of Crested Butte, where Mel lives and works for the High Country Conservation Advocates. For two days, we’d been debating the route — the shorter more popular West Maroon trail, which we’d done before, or the longer, less steep and less crowded East Maroon trail, which Mel suggested.

We opted to let Mel lead the way, including on a warm-up hike a few days before in the high-altitude Gunnison National Forest. It’s important whenever you head into the wilderness that you have the right gear — rain jackets, extra layers, hats and good wicking socks (no cotton) and footwear. We loved our lightweight Moab boots from Merrell, which had extra cushioning and plenty of grip for those rocks. We opted for quick-dry shirts and pants, and I was glad to have my hiking poles.

Almost finished - we reach the Maroon Bells area near Aspen

Almost finished – we reach the Maroon Bells area near Aspen

We were also glad to have my daughter Reg’s All Clear Bottle ™ from CamelBak that uses UV technology to purify water to EPA standards. As a result, we didn’t need to carry as much water. She and her husband had just used the bottle when they trekked in Peru.

We had rain jackets, healthy snacks (including Honey Stinger energy chews, Matt’s Munchies organic fruit snacks, Acli-Mate that we mixed with water for extra electrolytes, chocolate (essential for my family) and lunch fixings — salami, cheese, pita bread and mustard I’d brought back from Germany recently.

But I was still nervous — 16 miles! At least we weren’t backpacking and carrying heavy packs, I thought. Mel’s boyfriend had agreed to drive over to Snowmass, where we planned to spend a few days on Snowmass Mountain in the Timberline Condos. The trick with this hike, unless you are backpacking, is getting back. Some opt to spend the night in Aspen and then hike or shuttle back. Instead, I booked us massage appointments at the Viceroy Snowmass the next morning. (Here’s what I wrote about that experience.)

The beginning of the hike couldn’t have been better. There were amazing wildflowers, including white Columbine and Mountain Candytuft, red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Sagebrush Buttercup, Mule’s Ears sunflowers, delicate purple Elephant’s Heads and Silvery Lupine … each prettier than the next.

And as Mel promised, the ascent was fairly gradual. We reached the peak (11,800 feet at East Maroon Pass) in just four hours. We were giddy with our accomplishment. The view was spectacular — craggy mountain peaks with ribbons of snow. We moved from fields of wildflowers, down through old growth forest with impossibly tall fir trees and, as we got closer to Aspen, the famous white-trunk Aspens with their quivering leaves.

Still smiling after the hailstorm

Still smiling after the hailstorm

Then the thunderstorms rolled in. The hail was pea-sized and there was lightening, ominous thunderclaps and drenching rain. We had no choice but to keep going.

Those last miles were mud puddle after mud puddle with slick rocks in between. This was “the bad,” but not too bad, I conceded afterward, once I’d washed off all the mud and was dry again.

“You’re hardcore!” our daughters proclaimed at dinner. “We’re proud of you!”

I was proud of us too. All it took was a willingness to get out of our comfort zone and let the kids lead the way.