09/14-16/12

28 miles, 8500 ft (plus 5 miles and 3000ft for Snowmass)
Day 1: Maroon Lake to Fravert Basin, 12 miles, 3650ft, 6.5hrs
Day 2: Fravert Basin to Snowmass Lake, 8 miles, 3035ft, 4.5hrs (Snowmass Mtn addition: 5 miles, 3000ft, 3.5hrs)
Day 3: Snowmass Lake to Maroon Lake, 8 miles, 1780 ft, 4.75hrs

Link to pictures.

Jean's mom was in town and was gracious to suggest that we have a weekend to ourselves while she got in some good gramma-time with Miles. How could we4Pass-55.JPG (397296 bytes) argue with that offer?! We've been wanting to backpack the Aspen 4-Pass Loop ever since I ran it in a day in 2006. It was shaping up to be an awesome weekend given the stellar forecast and the changing aspen trees! We packed up and left Thursday evening, arriving at the overnight lot at Maroon Lake around 10pm, we slept in "Camp Yukon" after checking out the amazing amount of stars and Milky Way.
We started stirring around 6:30am and after breakfast sammy's and final packing, we hit the trail around 7am. There were tons of photographers at the lake waiting for the awesome morning glow on the Maroon Bells. The views here are world-famous and plastered all over posters, paintings, and 4Pass-11.JPG (412466 bytes)postcards. After taking several pics and a bathroom break, we started heading west. The aspens were exploding in color at the base of the Maroon Bells and it was hard to keep our eyes on the trail. After a couple miles we passed the Pyramid Peak turnoff then arrived at Crater Lake. It was more of a puddle, given the low snow year. In another mile or so we were warmed by the sun and started gaining steady elevation towards West Maroon Pass while contouring below Bellview Mtn. After about 3hrs we were sitting on the 12,400ft West Maroon Pass. Amazing views in all directions with the aspen groves glowing against the steep peaks and red rocks. It was so nice to be out with just me, Jean, and Denali in the backcountry like the old days. We considered this Denali 10th (70th in doggie years) birthday party.
After a nice long break we headed west towards our next objective, Frigid Air Pass. This is only a few miles away and doesn't drop as low into the basin. A4Pass-16.JPG (391136 bytes) turnoff and a steady climb got us to Frigid Air Pass after a couple hours and we took another long break just taking in the scenery while seeing a different side of the Maroon Bells. We dropped down into Fravert Basin working towards our home for the evening. The trail eventually drops below treeline and we were amazed at the amount of deadfall. Giant trees just plucked out of the ground! I remembered some great campsites near a waterfall so we motored-on waiting for the perfect spot. After 6.5hrs we found paradise.... a flat shaded spot right next to a small waterfall. We set up camp, had some snacks, and just relaxed. Denali napped in the dirt while we took a nap in the tent, then cooked up some freeze-dried spaghetti. The sun soon set and it started getting chilly so we retired to the tent.
4Pass-22.JPG (540180 bytes)A great night's sleep and a chilly morning. MMMmmm.... bacon on a bagel. YUM! Breakfast, then packing, then off we go further down Fravert Basin. The trail follows the meandering stream for a couple miles before it starts to climb towards Trail Rider Pass. Gaining elevation through aspen-tunnels and leveling out for a small bench near an alpine lake. Climbing almost 2K feet found us on the 12,400ft Trail Rider Pass looking down towards our next home, Snowmass Lake. Once again, the views were outstanding with high peaks and patches of aspens for as far as we could see. We enjoyed our daily "pass break" then followed the switchbacks down down down down down towards the deep blue colors Snowmass Lake. After dropping nearly 1500ft we were at the lake and picking out another camping spot. It was easy since every site is level and close to water. We covered the 84Pass-31.JPG (488986 bytes) miles and 3035ft in 4.5hrs. Since it was only 1pm with bright blue skies and no rain in the forecast, I decided to head up Snowmass Mtn! Why not?! I repacked my backpack and told Jean I'd be back for dinner. The trail wraps around Snowmass Lake along the slippery and tall willows, crosses a marsh, the goes steeply up scree. I was moving along quickly and was soon above 12,500ft boulder hopping towards the summit ridge. Occasional cairns got me above 13K then up to the ridge. The summit still looks far and there's lots of 3rd class moves over loose rocks to the top. After 3,000ft and 1hr 50mins I was on top with a group that just arrives from Lake Geneva. I didn't stay for long and slowly traced my way back. Rock hopping and trying not to disturb the balance is the name of the game. I figured I could make it back in 3.5hrs and hurried along after a brief hobo-bath in the lake. Back at 4Pass-34.JPG (302608 bytes)camp we ate dinner, filtered water, watched the sunset, then retired to our tent. Neither of us slept well, but neither one of us cared too much either since we were just happy to be out doing what we love.
Morning came along and we did the typical routine.... hot water, breakfast, change, filter water, pack up. The morning light creeping down Snowmass and Hagerman was awesome. We were on the trail around 8am and gained a bit of ground the crossed the marshy and frosted area around Snowmass Creek. Some beavers had been busy in this area making large still ponds with great reflections of the mountains in them. We climbed slowly up towards Buckskin Pass on the nice gentle trail. This section never got too steep and before long we had knocked out the 1700ft and were standing on our last pass, Buckskin. There was a chilly breeze, so we ducked down the other side for our break. The Maroon Bells were once again in our face and we could see far4Pass-52.JPG (670395 bytes) below to our destination near Crater Lake. Down down down down, eventually back into the trees along Minnehaha Creek. The number of hikers was increasing as we got closer. After dropping 2400ft we just had a couple miles back to the truck. Given the great weather and beautiful scenery, it was easy to see why it was so crowded. Walking through the aspen groves gave everything a golden hue. I stopped at Maroon lake so Denali could get a drink and I could take some more pictures while Jean hurried to the bathroom. Back at the truck we had cold beers and potato chips waiting. Awesome!!!! We changed clothes, piled our dirty stuff in the car and headed to Aspen for lunch at Little Annie's. The drive back over Independence Pass was crowded but beautiful.