Saturday, September 11, 2010

Got Oxygen?

Bouncing around to my iPod the first week I arrived in Aspen, I sprinted up the hill to our rented apartment. Blasting through my headphones, 'The Scissor Sisters' had just finished their chorus line of "I can't decide whether you should live or die" when their question became completely academic as I doubled over on the side-walk heaving for breath.

I .... must have .... the fitness .... of .... a ......

I looked around, but frankly everything right then looked fitter than I was. Including the large statue of a bear and the rectangular postal box, which was looking positively svelte. Head swimming, I staggered up the remainder of the road and tumbled through my door to collapse on the coach.... whereupon I was confronted with a brochure lying on the coffee table, detailing all the fun you could have at 8000 feet.

8000 feet above sea level. 

Aspen is high.

I scooped up the pamphlet which suggested gondolas, horse-back riding and family hikes. Oddly, it did not suggest breaking into sudden sprints up hills because 'The Scissor Sisters' had a faster beat that 'Owl City'.

While still too low to be a serious problem, there was no doubt that Aspen's altitude was noticeable. At 8000 feet, Oxygen in the air has dropped by about 25%. It you were to make the summit of the highest peaks at 14,000 feet, then it would have dropped by 40%. I had a headache for several days, stuffy nose, I ran out of breath quickly and my recovery time was shot to pieces. I felt the Physics department rather emphasised the problem by offering free bike rental.

Rather than taking a bike, I took the pamphlet's advice to heart and bought a week's pass for the gondolas. One of these led from the centre of Aspen to the summit of the aptly named "Aspen mountain". The other led up from the nearby resort town of Snowmass. Once at the top, there were hikes that looped around in trails along the mountain ridges.

Completing a few of these hikes revealed an important fact; the best views were from where the gondola deposited you. This had actually been true of our trip to Maroon Bells too, where the bus left you by the scenic shores of Maroon lake, but you had the option of walking much further. I have to say, I found this faintly unrewarding, but it probably saved on countless mountain rescue operations for a bunch of fainting tourists. The Aspen gondola even had a jazz concert at its summit, surrounded by many deck chairs.

It was a hint.

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