Tag Archives: Pyramid Peak

The dragon atop the gong at The Cliffhouse.
The Cliffhouse with Pyramid Peak in the background. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

The Cliffhouse, looking more Himalayan than Mongolian. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

A while back, I was chatting with Jim Butchart — the Executive Chef of Aspen Snowmass — and the topic of favorite on-mountain meals came up. The first thing that sprung to his mind, literally, were the vegetable spring rolls at The Cliffhouse atop Buttermilk. “Nobody knows about them,” he noted.

That last line — nobody knows about them — could describe a lot of things at Buttermilk, such as the powder stashes on Timber Doodle Glade, or the way the aptly-named Javelin propels you at gleeful speed when its groomed.

The Cliffhouse may seem unassuming at first glance (well, except for that view of Pyramid Peak), but once you see what’s cooking here, its pretty clear this restaurant is one Aspen Snowmass’ true hidden gems.

When I was up there a few days ago, I went for a Pho noodle bowl, which they make at the Mongolian grill station, as well as a glass of carrot-lemon-ginger from the juice bar.

It’s mostly an order-it-exactly-as-you-like kind of place. First, hit up the salad bar and load up on the veggies you want them to fold it: edamame, yellow bell pepper … whatever sounds right.

Pho noodle bowl at The Cliffhouse. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

Pho’ing it up at Cliffhouse. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

Head to the back, hand it over, let them know whether you want rice or noodles (you can choose between mongo, which has yakisoba noodles, or Pho which uses a traditional rice noodle) and then watch them cook it all up on the traditional Mongolian range top (which is a monstrous piece of equipment … instant kitchen envy).

At the end, you can add garnishes, such as basil.

The slippery noodles and layers of Asian flavor — green onions, ginger, soy beans, pepper, basil — instantly recharged me.

And since it was gorgeous, bluebird day, I ate outside on the patio with this view of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Creek Valley.

Panorama from The Cliffhouse atop Buttermilk. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

The panorama from The Cliffhouse atop Buttermilk. Click to enlarge. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

One more element I’d recommend: It may be cliché to throw an egg on everything at this point, but seriously — do it. The extra hit of protein does a body good when skiing at Buttermilk. Zero lift lines usually equals an extra two or three runs per day.

The dragon atop the gong at The Cliffhouse. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

The dragon atop the gong at The Cliffhouse. ©Kevin Day for Aspen Snowmass

Maroon Bells, Aspen, CO

This summer, as part of our $29 Perfect Summer gondola ticket package, we’re offering a guided tour of the Maroon Bells. They are said to be “the most photographed mountains in America.” How they can quantify that statistic, we’re not sure. All we know is, they’re gorgeous, and being able to visit them in our own backyard is a pretty huge privilege.

Whether you are joining us for this tour, or looking to spend a day of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure underneath their shadow, we have rounded up a complete guide to enjoying the area below.

Why Go

Maroon Creek Road Maroon Bells view, Aspen, CO

That first glimpse of the Bells. ©Kevin Day

For the thrill of seeing the Maroon Bells. There is an exact moment when the twin peaks come into view along Maroon Creek Road, and it can only be described as exhilarating. Up ahead, it only gets better: the postcard view and reflection from Maroon Lake is so perfect, it almost seems deliberately composed. And if you burn some calories and reach Crater Lake, 1.5 miles into the wilderness, you’ll get a whole different view of the Bells from right underneath their imposing eastern face.

The Valley’s Mountains

  • Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Pinnacles to the north of Maroon Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Maroon Peak (14,156 feet) & North Maroon Peak (14,014 feet) – Together, these two peaks comprise the Maroon Bells. Separated by a treacherous saddle, the snow-striated peaks are comprised of mudstone, a loose, sedimentary rock that gives them their distinctive color and a nasty reputation among mountain climbers. From Maroon Lake, North Maroon Peak appears taller, but it is an optical illusion since it is merely closer.

  • The Sleeping Sexton (13,460 feet) – The disorganized jumble of striped cliffs and towers that rest to the north of the Bells is known collectively as The Sleeping Sexton. Topping out above 13,000 feet, if this mountain stood alone, it would warrant a lot more attention.
  • Pyramid Peak (14,018 feet) – Visible from Buttermilk, many first-time visitors confuse Pyramid Peak for the Maroon Bells. It’s snow-striped sides and sheer, angular features certainly bare a resemblance. From Maroon Lake, much of Pyramid Peak is obscured by the sheer rise of its northern ridges.

What Else You’ll See

Paintbrush Maroon Bells, wildflowers, Aspen, CO

Paintbrush near the inlet to Maroon Lake, with Maroon Bells in the distance. ©Kevin Day

  • Wildflowers – The Elk Mountains are home to a great diversity of wildflowers. The combination of rich soil and heavy winter snowpack contribute to a profusion of color. In the aspen groves, look for Colorado’s state flower, the blue columbine, while along water-courses you will likely see bluebells, parry primrose and shooting stars. Alpine meadows above treeline offer a glimpse into some of the heartiest plants on earth, such as alpine sunflower, alpine forget-me-not and sky pilot.
  • Wildlife – On Maroon Lake, there is a decent chance you will see beaver, particularly around the inlet. In the forests and meadows, mule deer and elk are frequent visitors, while on the rocky alpine slopes above, look for marmots, pika, mountain goats, and Colorado’s state animal, bighorn sheep.

Hiking Trails

  • The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    The rushing waters of Maroon Creek en route to Crater Lake. ©Kevin Day

    Maroon Lake to Crater Lake (easy) – From where the shuttle drops you off (Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead), it is an easy, flat stroll through meadows along the northern edge of Maroon Lake. Beyond, you enter a grove of aspens and climb almost two miles to the lake, which sits at the foot of the Maroon Bells.

  • East Maroon Creek (fairly strenuous and long) – For a little bit of solitude, visit the East Maroon Trailhead and travel into the beautiful depths of the wilderness area. Passing beneath the eastern face of Pyramid Peak, the trail eventually climbs to the top of Conundrum Pass some 8.5 miles in.
  • Buckskin Pass (strenuous, short but steep) – For a glimpse over the mountaintops of the Elk Mountains, few views are better than the one from atop Buckskin Pass. Located on a rolling-green notch north of the Sleeping Sexton, the pass offers a vista that takes in Pyramid Peak, an unusual view of North Maroon Peak, and distant views of Snowmass Mountain and Snowmass Lake.

(Note: The Maroon Bells are two of the most challenging and dangerous mountains to climb in Colorado. This post is geared to those who want to take it down a notch, and does not include route info for making an ascent on the summit.

Camping

Three small, intimate and perfectly gorgeous campgrounds can be found along Maroon Creek Road — Silver Bell, Silver Bar and Silver Queen. Operated by the U.S. National Forest Service, you can make reservations online at www.recreation.gov. One advantage to camping in the valley is that your vehicle is free of usage restrictions on Maroon Creek Road.

Driving There On Your Own

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Maroon Creek Road has several restrictions on vehicular traffic, including:

  • Personal Vehicles – Access in summer is restricted to 7am–9am, with an entrance fee of $10. From 9am to 5pm, you must take the shuttle bus from Aspen Highlands. Some exceptions apply. Visit the White River National Forest website for more.
  • Shuttles – Regular shuttles travel up Maroon Creek Road to Maroon Lake. Pickup occurs every 20 minutes at the Aspen Highlands Village parking lot. Bus passes can be purchased for $6 at Four-Mountain Sports. Shuttles operate every day from mid-June to Labor Day, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. The road is closed in mid-November.