| One Tough Marathon...The Four Pass Loop
Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop
Partner: Zion the Plott
Perhaps the best trail run in the state. Words can not accurately describe how beautiful the Four Pass Loop is.
The Bells in the predawn glow:
Zion and I started at about 6am. We ran the route counter-clockwise. There are pros and cons to direction of travel on this route; I think next time I'll run it clockwise for variety but I also think I will enjoy the route better in that direction. More on that later.
The Bells in the morning light:
For the counter-clockwise loop, Buckskin Pass is the first of the four passes. Perhaps I have good memories of Buckskin because of the comfort that fresh legs provides, but I enjoyed climbing it immensely.
The Bells and the Sleeping Sexton are on your left as you ascend:
Cornice remnant at the top of Buckskin, and the Bells. I filled my hand bottle with snow here:
Pyramid from the top of Buckskin:
My favorite view of the day, Snowmass and Capitol from Buckskin:
A pan of Snowmass and Capitol and friends:
The descent from Buckskin was nice and fast on good trail. When it reaches treeline the good trail gets even better as the pines provide a nice, soft layer of pine needles to cushion the impact of downhill running.
The trail soon crosses Snowmass Creek. I had read that this creek crossing was problematic in the past; however there is now a nice log bridge spanning it to make the crossing very easy.
Shortly thereafter you pass the junction for the trail to Snowmass Lake. It is only about a 1/4 mile to the lake so I made the side trip:
The trail then begins to ascend the second pass, Trailrider. Snowmass Mt and Lake are beside you the whole way up:
The view from the top of Trailrider Pass. The Crystal River is way down there, the low point of the descent:
Zion cooling off in the Crystal River (I enjoyed it too):
The trail then passes through cool and shaded forest enroute to the Fravert Basin. On the way you pass King Falls:
The Fravert Basin is the most gorgeous place, so green as to make Ireland envious. The wildflowers were incredible:
A pan of the entire Fravert Basin:
The rare view of the backside of the Bells:
Looking toward West Maroon Pass (the final pass) from Frigid Air Pass:
On the way up West Maroon Pass I found a nice spring bubbling out of a rock face. As it appeared the water had been traveling underground for a while, I assumed it was safe to drink. So nice not having to filter water for a change!
It was here, on top of West Maroon Pass, that the wheels fell off for me. I had been very tired climbing the last two passes and looked forward to a nice gradual descent back to Crater Lake. Unfortunately the trail from West Maroon Pass is a horribly rock-strewn mess, as I guess should be expected for any trail that lives beneath the crumbling Maroon Bells. I had expected to run it in nice and easy from here, instead I walked the last 5 miles, cursing the sharp rocks attacking my sore feet.
A run of the Four Pass Loop in the clockwise direction would result in an initial ascent of West Maroon Pass, something I think I would enjoy more. It would also take advantage of the very long descent of Frigid Air Pass down the Fravert Basin, a definite bonus time wise. However, most of the time gained would be lost on the very long and steep ascent of Trail Rider Pass, so it balances out I guess. A descent of Buckskin Pass (homeward bound), I feel, is more desirable than a descent of West Maroon Pass, so most likely my next trip here will be in the clockwise direction.
A look at the Bell Chord, for anyone interested:
At the top of West Maroon Pass, my total time was about 8.5 hrs. I thought getting in before 10 hrs was just fine, but the long walk back to the car was just that....long....and I clocked in 11 hrs and 15 minutes after leaving.
My GPS logged a total distance of 27.2 miles. Without the side trips to Snowmass Lake and another to get water, this loop would be about 26 miles. (I did utilize the cutoff trail between Trail Rider Pass and the Crystal River crossing, eliminating the trip around Lake Geneva).
Final view of the Bells:
Thanks for reading!