Four Pass Loop

While the name, Four Pass Loop, does give an accurate description of the route: a loop…

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…over 4 mountain passes…

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…it does not give away the charm of the circuit: 27 miles of dreamy single track trails across classic Rocky Mountain scenery, luscious wildflower meadows, and pristine high alpine environments.

A group of us spent the holiday weekend escaping the summer heat down in Boulder with a long run along the Leadville 100 course on Thursday. Then, after a rest day (aka, a day at the office) on Friday, it was time to hit up the big hills again on Saturday. Since the threat of afternoon thunderstorms loomed over us, we woke up before dawn, drove over the ever impressive 12,000 ft high Independence Pass by first light and made it to the Maroon Lake trailhead (about half way between Aspen and Snowmass) before 7AM. We lathered up with sunscreen and got ourselves organized for the adventure ahead with our fearless leader, Kea, already assuming her position in the front of the pack.

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Ten steps into the run we had our first (of many) photo opp breaks: Maroon Lake (9,580′):

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A classic early morning reflection shot of the Maroon Bells over Maroon Lake. So peaceful and absolutely postcard perfect.

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We hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and this adventure was already knocking our socks off! Soon enough we were dripping in sweat (well, at least I was) with the biggest climb of the day up to Buckskin Pass. Most backpackers hike the loop in the opposite direction (clockwise) opting to start with the longer but more gradual ascent to West Maroon Pass and finishing with Buckskin Pass.

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We were enjoying the solitude of this first section of the trail beyond the reach of day hikers and before the traffic jam of backpackers, when, all of the sudden, we came to a screeching halt. A bear! After a moment of irritated huffing and puffing he fled down into the creek gully below. A big and beautiful animal… from a safe distance!

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The adrenaline rush carried us up above treeline effortlessly – before we knew it, the first pass of the day, Buckskin Pass, was visible ahead:

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Looking back at Pyramid Peak (14,025′) and the Maroon Peak (14,163′):

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The first of many delightful wildflower meadows:

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Alfred & Grady running along with the iconic Maroon Bells backdrop:

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And then spicing things up a bit to get to the top of Buckskin Pass:

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Jazz-hands on Buckskin Pass (12,500′) at mile 5:

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What goes up, must come down!

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What a gorgeous descent! The next 6 miles would take us all the way down into the valley below (Lost Remuda Basin) and then back up towards the impressive gray Snowmass & Hagerman Peaks ahead:

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Down on the luscious valley floor:

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And then up and along the striking green waters of Snowmass Lake (which naturally called for a disco dancing guitar rocker pose photo!)

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and a family photo:

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Time to start climbing again!

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Hagerman Peak keeps getting bigger and bigger!

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Another photo opp break…

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…and more climbing!

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Trail Rider Pass (12,420′) at mile 11:

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Back down again!

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Heading down into the heart of Fravert Basin with Trail Rider Pass in the distance behind us:

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Magnificent fields of columbines (Colorado’s state flower)!

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A refreshing dip through the North Fork Crystal River:

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And then up and around the mass in front of us towards pass #3:

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The back side of Maroon Peak:

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Frigid Air Pass (12,415′) at mile 18:

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A quick 800′ down and then up later and we were on our 4th and final pass, West Maroon Pass (12,500′), at mile 21:

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And then a final four mile descent along West Maroon Creek into the West Maroon Basin led us to the edge of Crater Lake (mile 25):

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Back where we started, Maroon Lake, 8 wonderful hours later!

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What an amazing day with a group of incredible runners and a mega-impressive ultra-running dog! I think I’ve officially run out of superlatives to describe the experience! If you ever find yourself in Colorado, this loop is a must!

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