Aspen 4-Pass Loop
Home Up Live Music 14'ers Log 13'ers Log Lost Creek Wilderness Wedding & Belize Ice Climbing Colorado Wish List

07/23/06

Keith Bershader, Steve Nicholls, Jeff/Allison Valliere & Sierra, myself
From Maroon Lake up and over: West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass, Buckskin Pass
~26 miles, ~8K elevation, just pennies under 11hr

Aspen 4 pass 03.JPG (171063 bytes)
This hike has been on my to-do list for a couple years now after hearing Keith and Beth rave about it and how it’s their favorite backpack in the state. So finally the time has come! I’ve wanted to hike it in a day and backpack it, so this was a scouting mission for a future backpack.
After a lazy Saturday morning Keith, Jean, and I drove to Aspen to meet up with Steve who had some sort of wet bushwhacking hike planned for the day. He said the campgrounds along Maroon Creek Rd were a zoo and he had a spot along Lincoln Creek. Cool, anything to get out of the town of Aspen! About 45mins later and bouncing down Aspen 4 pass 05.JPG (265425 bytes)Lincoln Creek Rd, we were drinking beers, grilling meat, laughing, and dreading having to wake up even earlier. 3:30am came WAY too early and by 4am we were bouncing back along Lincoln Creek Rd to meet Jeff and Allison at the TH. They had a much bigger issue dealing with porcupines most of the night! Well, at least we were all on the same page with a nearly sleepless night! Jean and Denali curled back up in the Yukon for a few more hours of sleep while we headed up the trail at 5:25am. No need for headlamps as the sun was just starting to come up and turn the mountains red. It didn’t take long at all to get to the turn off for Pyramid, and then we came up behind a CMC group that Keith’s wife, Beth, was with to climb S. Maroon! Hi’s and bye’s were in quick order as we came up to the turn off for S. Maroon swapping stories of how bad we hated that ascent/descent. The hike was already starting to live up to its reputationAspen 4 pass 06.JPG (209928 bytes) of being ice cream for the eyes…..peaks all around, babbling streams, lush green and flowers everywhere, hummingbirds and butterflies for Keith and Steve to look at, etc etc etc. The first of many creek crossing before the gentle slog up West Maroon Pass. Near the top as I was sucking wind and Keith and I were talking smack I couldn’t help but to think that it was shaping up to be a pretty big day. After about 6miles and around 8:05am we were at the top looking down both valleys and up at Belleview Mtn. A short break Aspen 4 pass 08.JPG (235833 bytes)for pictures and food stuffing, and we started heading down towards East Creek and a few groups of backpackers. The wildflowers were everywhere and we all took several breaks for pictures. For not being a big fan of wildflowers, it was very impressive how many were around! It didn’t take long at all to cover the ~3miles and start heading up Frigid Air Pass and we got on top around 9am. This time we could look down into the Fravart Basin which is just jaw dropping. Other snowy peaks of the Elks were all around and this was really a magical place. More snacks and pictures and we headed down the 2K descent to the bottom of the basin. It was really hard to keep your eyes on the trail with all the beautiful sights around. We knew this would be aAspen 4 pass 10.JPG (275102 bytes) long section of about 8miles but who cares in paradise?! Awesome camping spots, a few waterfalls, elbow high flowers and vegetation. We stopped to refill our empty bladders and get attacked by flies before heading up Trail Rider Pass. Down here was the crux creek-crossing of the day. It proved easiest to just take off socks and shoes and jump in. Sure felt great on the legs and didn’t take long to go numb. Nicholls had the great idea to do a loop around Lake Geneva and we gladly told him to meet us back at the car! That didn’t happen and we all slogged up getting into our paces. This was definitely the longest pass and the hardest push taking almost 2hrs of just ascending. After switchbacking up through the aspens you pop out on a stream and realize that ya still got a LONG way to go looking around the corner! D’oh! Jeff V. Aspen 4 pass 11.JPG (207194 bytes)being the good husband that he is, took Allison’s pack for her, but wouldn’t carry the rest of ours. Luckily there’s a nice flat bench for a bit before the final push. On top around 12:25ish where an older couple was sitting. Keith and I swapped high-fives after jogging the last 200ft or so, then started cheering on Nicholls as he jogged up. Apparently the older couple didn’t like Keith’s rendition of the Rocky theme song and said with a real snotty attitude, “well, it USED to be a quiet and tranquil place up here”. We kept our giggles to ourselves thinking, “pardon us for being on your pass!” Oh well, another much needed break,Aspen 4 pass 15.JPG (244350 bytes) pictures, and grubbing. The views down to Snowmass Lake are really breath-taking. Pure Colorado! Here we talked about repeating Dwight, Sarah, and Dominic’s Hagerman to Snowmass traverse, but decided we didn’t quite have enough time. We started down the rocky trail knowing the worst was behind us and just one pass to go. More water pumping near Snowmass Lake with jaws hanging open looking around. This section was 5 or so miles with the trail switch-backing up past giant trees and grassy slopes Aspen 4 pass 17.JPG (156891 bytes)towards Buckskin Pass. Up top around 3ish with big smiles on all our faces! The views of North Maroon and Pyramid here are amazing. Pyramid looks unclimbable and you can just barely pick out the steep route up North Maroon. Looking at the map we contemplated making this a “Five Pass Loop” by adding an up and back up Willow Pass, but quickly shot that idea down and headed for the cars. Following Minnehaha Gulch down towards Crater Lake it was amazing the size and amount of trees that were uprooted from an avalanche some time ago! I was able to get Jean on the radio and tell her we were almost done and found out where she and Denali would be chilling out. Before long we were above Crater LakeAspen 4 pass 18.JPG (199640 bytes) and seeing tourists huffing and puffing. The best was the group of older kids heading towards Crater Lake with beach towels and flip flops! They were in for a chilly surprise! Near Maroon Lake when the trail flattens out Keith and I decided to start jogging the rest of the way to beat 11hrs, Steve cursed us from behind but joined in and Jeff/Allison choose to let Sierra cool off in the stream. Smart choice!! Got back to the cars just under 11hrs and had cold beers in hand seconds later!
What an absolutely beautiful place!!!!!!!!! A perfect day with great people!!! GET THERE! I’m real excited to go back and do this loop as a three day backpack to relax and take in more of the scenery.

Aspen 4 pass 20.JPG (260234 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 21.JPG (270454 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 22.JPG (182233 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 23.JPG (307120 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 25.JPG (204304 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 27.JPG (246947 bytes)

Aspen 4 pass 28.JPG (252359 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 30.JPG (196232 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 31.JPG (262279 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 32.JPG (225227 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 36.JPG (247958 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 37.JPG (211044 bytes)

Aspen 4 pass 38.JPG (240672 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 41.JPG (256460 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 42.JPG (183203 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 44.JPG (179733 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 49.JPG (204372 bytes)        Aspen 4 pass 51.JPG (219455 bytes)