Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Four Pass Loop And A Lot Of Other Fun Stuff For The Week

This has probably been the most fun week of the summer.  A lot of training but a lot of time and opportunity to do some fun stuff the past week and a half as well.

Snowmass Lake looking east from the second pass, Trail Rider Pass.
The big day was yesterday doing the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area.  This run has been on the docket for several months at least.  I had the idea to do it then when I was in the Springs, Paul D. brought it up at lunch one day that he and Shannon wanted to do it.  I hatched the plan to do it in late July when the passes were clear and hoped to get in as a long training day as well.  In the end there were four of us in the party, Shannon, Paul, my friend Jeff here in Aspen and myself.

The Four Pass Loop... all I can say really is that if you have not ever done it is well worth the effort.  It is hard.  My GPS showed 27.5 miles of travel with 9,286 feet in gain.  The average elevation of the day was 11,193 feet. 

It is remote wilderness so everything that you might need you will need to carry with you.  I had a full daypack with enough gear to stay out overnight if it came to it.  I just prefer to be prepared.  I had two handhelds (22 oz each) and a 100oz bladder all full when we started.  When we were done I was down to my last five sips out of the bladder.  Just enough.

As as I said it was difficult.  The climbs were steep, the descents seemed even more steep.  We did the loop counter-clockwise and doing the passes in order of Buckskin Pass, Trail Rider Pass, Frigid Air Pass, then lastly West Maroon Pass which is followed by a very long, very long, VERY LONG, seven to eight mile descent back down to Maroon Lake and the start.

All that I could think about all day was it felt like I was doing Hope Pass, over and over and over again.  Both sides.  All day.

The first pass, Buckskin was a steep climb and felt like the steepest one of the day.  The drop down into the next valley surprised me.  I failed to really grasp that portion of the elevation profiles that I had studied and was under the assumption that the trail stayed higher than it did on the way over to Trail Rider Pass.
The drop of the back side of Buckskin Pass.  Photo by Jeff Marshall.
The climb up Trail Rider pass did not seem that bad.  I think mostly because about halfway up the climb you are treated with just awe inspiring views of Snowmass lake.  It definitely took the sting out.
Shanon, Paul, and Jeff taking a break on top of Trail Rider Pass.  Snowmass lake is in the background.
The descent off of Trail Rider pass gave me the most fits.  Lots of loose rocks and very steep.  I don't know how many times I slipped on the way down and I even busted my ass once really good.

Approaching Frigid Air pass was forever long.  There was an awesome waterfall along the way but past that the trail ascended slowly through winding willow thickets no view of the pass to be seen which left me wondering just where in the hell we were going.  But once I saw the pass it was startling as it was a very steep climb with switchbacks up out of the valley.

An amazing waterfall on the approach to Frigid Air Pass.
Between Frigid Air and West Maroon Pass is the shortest segment of the day between passes.  It only took us 54 minutes to get from one to the other and it was probably the most runnable section of the day.  The final climb up West Maroon was very steep again.

Shannon, Paul and myself sitting up on West Maroon Pass before our final descent.  Photo by Jeff Marshall.
Lastly the final descent or home stretch back to Maroon Lake.  Being tired and the nature of the trail made it very slow going.  That section actually ate a lot more time than I was expecting but we just did it one mile at a time until we were done.

But leading up to Saturday we had a really fun week. Monday we went white water rafting on the Roaring Fork. It was my first time on the water in probably 12 years, and 15 years after my "accident" up on Clear Creek.  It was a lot of fun and although we were in a raft as opposed to a kayak, I was surprised to just how well I could read the river and how natural it felt.  The day left me wondering if I might want to start kayaking again.  The jury is still out on that as of yet.

Tuesday evening we went to a very nice birthday picnic at the East Maroon Portal.  Wednesday, Melissa and I took the Jeep up Express Creek out of Ashcroft up to Taylor Pass then made our way back to Aspen via Richmond Ridge Road.  We also got to see the newest Planet of the Apes movie this week and that was awesome!

The Jeep up on top of Taylor Pass.
Training wise it has been a good week.  Good runs and good rides both.  It is good to be home in Aspen and getting to ride and run trails that are not clear most of the year.


  1. Well done. I've run from Buckskin to Snowmass Lake and it's a depressing amount of descent. Heh. But damned beautiful. I ran from the Bells parking lot. I remember looking up at Trail Rider Pass -- way the heck up there -- and thinking "no way"!

    The sobering fact that I face as an entirely non-competitive, slow runner is that I have doubts I could even complete that loop in a long summer day. We'll see.

  2. So happy to hear that you had fun, because without fun what is it all about? See you soon my friend!