Monday, July 27, 2009

Four Pass Loop - Aspen, Colorado - Backpacking

The 24th of July, better known as Pioneer Day, is a major holiday in Utah. It commemorates the day that Brigham Young and a group of his Mormon followers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The festivities and fireworks rival the 4th of July. For non-Mormons, it's also a great holiday weekend to leave to the state.

My friend Josh invited me to visit him in Denver for a few days so that we could do some backpacking like we did last year near Indian Peaks. Rob joined us for the weekend to check out a graduate program and get some hiking in as well. It also gave us a chance to check out Josh's new home in Denver that he just moved into.

Josh picked the famous "Four Pass Loop" trip around Maroon Bells, an amazingly beautiful set of mountains just outside of Aspen. It was an excellent choice and a perfect three day hike that gave us plenty of time to enjoy the incredible scenery.

Our first day took us up over Buckskin Pass (12,462 ft. elevation) through fields of beautiful wildflowers and small streams. Lots of people were out hiking in this area, many of them headed to Snowmass Lake which was also our destination for the day. We didn't cover many miles the first day, but it certainly felt like we did with all of the elevation changes. It was pretty wild to see so much snow in late July! Snowmass Lake was beautiful, but also a bit crowded. It almost felt like a developed campground with all of the other hikers, but the scenery more than made up for that. Rob and Josh did some fly fishing, and I relaxed for the evening in the tent to avoid the mosquitoes.

Maroon Bells at the start of our trip

Beginning the climb towards Buckskin Pass

On the way to Buckskin Pass

Me near Buckskin Pass with a nice snow cornice

Snowmass Lake - the end of Day 1

We started Day 2 by relaxing in the cool morning air at Snowmass Lake before heading off for our longest day of hiking. We immediately started to climb towards Trail Rider Pass (12,420 feet) as we left the lake, and got some awesome views of the turquoise water below. After reaching the pass, we descended into the North Fork of the Crystal River valley. The crowds completely thinned out and we finally had the place to ourselves. We had a couple of river crossings and some great views of an impressive waterfall. We passed through Fravert Basin and up over Frigid Air Pass (12,415 feet) late in the day before finding a great camping spot just below West Maroon Pass. We camped in a peaceful field of wildflowers near a small stream - my favorite part of the trip.

Snowmass Lake from above

Snowmass Peak with Trail Rider Pass to the left

On the way to Trail Rider Pass

Fravert Basin

Rob near Frigid Air Pass

Our camping spot for the second night

Our third and final day took us up over West Maroon Pass (12,500 feet) before the long descent back to our starting point. Overall, we covered about 26 miles with some exhausting climbs over four mountain passes. The weather was perfect - not a single thunderstorm despite being in the middle of the Rockies in late July.

Leaving our campsite to begin Day 3

Lots of flowers and water along the trail

West Maroon Pass

Josh at West Maroon Pass

Me at West Maroon Pass

Thank you Josh and Rob for another great adventure in the mountains of Colorado!