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Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Information on peaks other than the CO 14ers and 13ers.
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Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby verso lalto » Sun May 20, 2012 2:56 pm

This is my first post here, so I figured I'd introduce myself. My name's Kevin and I just finished my freshman year of college. I really want to hike the four pass loop in mid to late June of this summer and was hoping I could get some wisdom from the more experienced backpackers here. I've done a lot of reading online and on this site, but can't find some of the specific information that I'm wanting. If anyone could help, I would greatly appreciate it.

Right now the I only have one other friend who is coming for sure. Neither of us have much experience backpacking. I've spent a few days with a group in the ozarks and he's gone on a couple of trips himself. However, we both have spent a lot of time in the outdoors hunting and a little hiking. My first question is how detailed should our planning be? Part of me thinks that I should have all of the places I plan to camp marked on a map and entered into my GPS. The other part thinks I should just show up to the trail head and start hiking. Is the latter foolish?

My main concern as far as safety goes is altitude sickness. I live below sea level and he's only at about 1,000 feet above. From what I've read, It seems like the main things to do are drink a lot of water, sleep at lower elevations, and be on the look out for signs of altitude sickness. Should we get to Colorado a day or two in advance to acclimatize ourselves somewhat to the elevation or does that not really help?

Also, I'm wondering if my clothing will be sufficient for however cold it might get. Right now I'm planning on taking an under armour turtle neck for my base layer if it's really cold, a light fleece pullover, goose down vest, hat, gloves, rain jacket, and rain pants. I'll also have a polyester t-shirt for when it's warmer.

Sorry for all the questions, but I know I have a lot to learn. If you can give me some answers to any of these questions it would be really helpful. Also if you have any advice in general that you think it would be good for me to know that would be great too. I also realize that the four pass loop might be a little too ambitious for us inexperienced low altitude people, so if you think that's the case let me know that too. I don't want to find out that I'm in too over my head once I'm out there.

Thanks a lot,

Kevin

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby mouse_rat » Sun May 20, 2012 5:12 pm

Some of the things you are asking don't have definite answers, but I can give you my opinion having done 4 pass loop a couple years ago.

First of all, you will get better at backpacking as you get experience. That being said, I think 4 pass is a good backpack for relative beginners. Plan your meals ahead of time and maybe try making them a couple of times as well. Bring enough food that you can last an extra day if needed. As far as planning your route, take a map and be familiar with the route before you go. It is relatively difficult to get lost on this loop if you know your route. I would recommend doing the loop clockwise. When I did it, I spent the first night in Frasier Basin after Frigid Air Pass, then the second night at Snowmass Lake (3 days spent hiking). This worked for me, but the first day was long, and we started hiking at about 7:00am. I don't think it would be foolish to show up and start hiking as long as you know the good locations to camp (before Maroon Pass, Frasier Basin, and Snowmass Lake) and you have a general idea of how far you will get each day. Again, bring some extra supplies in case you don't follow plan.

For hiking in mid-June, you will likely run into some snow on the trail. Monitor conditions to make sure you are comfortable (this website is a good resource and SNOTEL may be useful). Your clothing sounds adequate for that time of year, but pay attention to weather and snow. I would recommend a 20F sleeping bag or lower as well. During this time of year, thunderstorms often build up during the day. Much of this route is above treeline, and you will be exposed to lightning. Be aware of weather and aim to be below treeline by 12:00-2:00 if possible.

Coming from sea level and doing this hike might be a problem for some people, as much of the route is sustained above 11k. It really depends on how each individual adjusts to altitude. An acclimatization day beforehand would provide some benefit if you can manage. Otherwise, it sounds like you have some good ideas on how to reduce the likelihood.

Lastly, I will just say that this is a great hike, but only you can really decide if it is too much for you. If you are reasonably fit, and can hike 8 miles a day (take altitude into account) with a pack on, then you should be ready. Make sure you have comfortable boots. Well this is a rambling reply, but if you want more information or clarification, then go ahead and ask. Have fun!

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby prestone818 » Sun May 20, 2012 5:22 pm

Not sure id recommend that loop for a beginner. Theres some decent elevation gain in there. With the lack of experience and low altitude area i would start with something a little shorter with less elevation gain. Its a great loop though and you should do it sometime

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby verso lalto » Sun May 20, 2012 6:53 pm

Thanks for the replies and mouse rat, don't worry about rambling. It's all useful information. Well I've got one person saying it's not too difficult for a beginner and one saying it is. Maybe some other people can voice their opinions. In the mean time, is it feasible to fly into Colorado and have someone drop us off/ pick us up at the trailhead? Are there any shuttle services that do something like this? Does any have any experience and know how much it would cost? If I could fly in for about the same price and skip the 3,000 mile round trip drive that would be nice.

Thanks again!

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby madbuck » Sun May 20, 2012 7:41 pm

verso lalto wrote:Thanks for the replies and mouse rat, don't worry about rambling. It's all useful information. Well I've got one person saying it's not too difficult for a beginner and one saying it is. Maybe some other people can voice their opinions. In the mean time, is it feasible to fly into Colorado and have someone drop us off/ pick us up at the trailhead? Are there any shuttle services that do something like this? Does any have any experience and know how much it would cost? If I could fly in for about the same price and skip the 3,000 mile round trip drive that would be nice.

Thanks again!


Coincidentally, there are buses (and flights) from Denver International Airport to Aspen.
And there are bus shuttles up to the Maroon Bells trailhead, making this particular hike accessible without needing a car.

This info should be easy to find online.

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby LoneStar » Sun May 20, 2012 8:37 pm

First, congratulations on getting Four Pass Loop on your to-do list at such a young age. FPL did not come into focus for me until I was 50. All of that is to say, if you decide this is not the time to take on FPL, plan a perhaps more manageable trip this summer secure that FPL will be there for you after you have a little more experience under your hip belt.

A couple of points based on what you have had to say about your trip prep:

1) If you go in June, creek crossing might be more challenging than what I faced in July 2010. You just need to be aware and prepared for that. Others on this site will know more about that.

2) Coming from 1,200 feet myself, I always like to spend at least one night at about 8,000 before heading up into the higher elevations. A buddy and I once flew into DIA, drove up to RMNP and hiked up to 10,500 to camp … that was a mistake for both of us. I felt wretched that evening but better after a night’s sleep; my buddy felt bad the rest of our time there. Point is, different bodies react differently to the altitude, to be sure, but I no longer rush it and risk ruining the precious little time I get to be in the mountains.

3) If you do decide on a different “inaugural” trip, there is great backpacking in RMNP. And it is easy to fly into DIA, take a shuttle to Estes Park and then take the local shuttle system into the park itself. You could do all that without renting a car if you chose to … just make sure your return shuttle gets you back to DIA on time.

4) When I hiked FPL, I knew generally but not specifically where I wanted to camp my three nights on the trail. That is detailed here http://fourpass.homestead.com/Trailhead.html and it all worked out pretty well for me.

I will just add this, given your statement about relative inexperience backpacking: be certain of your abilities. There is no technical climbing here, very little in the way of confusing route finding on the well-trod trail, etc. Just the same, there ain’t a back door on this one: when you are out there, you are really way out there. Don’t hesitate to plan an alternate trip this time that will give you the chance to build skills and increase your enjoyment of FPL for next summer or the next … that’s from an old guy reminding you again that you have youth on your side. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy and be safe!
"Happy trails to you ..." - Roy Rogers

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby coloradokevin » Mon May 21, 2012 11:30 am

The first time I tried the FPL I was about your age, and was also coming from sea level. It's a great backpacking trip, but I'd make sure you're in decent shape for it. Obviously the route has a lot of climbing, and the four passes are all above 12,000 ft.

I'd recommend that you plan an extra couple of days into your itinerary, in case you find that you're tired, or caught by weather. I've been socked in by weather a few times while attempting this loop, and sometimes the thunderstorms have been significant enough to prevent any real progress. The first time I was out there I made it over Buckskin Pass, and was then stuck by Snowmass Lake for a couple of days due to really nasty weather which made climbing Trail Rider Pass unsafe. Needless to say, I'd plan your campsites with thunderstorms in mind. I've never been to that area in summer without seeing a thunderstorm (and I've been there half a dozen times now). If you're going in June, you'll probably still encounter some snow. It seems like that area isn't really completely snow free until later in July.

As for your campsites, there's no harm in plotting out some potential spots in your GPS. Just have a backup plan in case those don't work out. Your backup plan doesn't need to be complicated... just use your map and the terrain as a guide to picking alternate sites.

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby Titan » Mon May 21, 2012 11:36 am

FPL is an amazing backpacking trip to take on. It is a beautiful part of Colorado to explore and when I did the loop 3 years ago it felt wild and rugged with very few people on the trails. From an intensity level standpoint this is a challenging trip with each pass presenting a long steep climb to altitude. As long as you are in good shape and prepared for intense elevation gains you should be in good shape.

I did the loop counter-clockwise with an afternoon start and camping before West Maroon pass. Day 2 over West Maroon and Frigid Air. Day 3 over Trail Rider to Snowmass lake. And Day 4 on out of the wilderness over Buckskin pass. The most challenging pass I felt was Trail Rider.

Be sure to store food properly as there were lots of black bear in the area on our trip. Enjoy your upcoming adventure!!

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby alsrun » Mon May 21, 2012 11:39 am

Did Mouse_Rat mean Fravert Basin rather than Fraiser Basin?

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby MrFrumpylane » Mon May 21, 2012 12:26 pm

Titan wrote:I did the loop counter-clockwise with an afternoon start and camping before West Maroon pass. Day 2 over West Maroon and Frigid Air. Day 3 over Trail Rider to Snowmass lake. And Day 4 on out of the wilderness over Buckskin pass. The most challenging pass I felt was Trail Rider.


Not to be nit-picky but to prevent confusion for the OP, that is actually clockwise. However, having done the 4PL both directions, I actually find counter-clockwise to be easier- Buckskin Pass first with West Maroon last.

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby mouse_rat » Mon May 21, 2012 12:49 pm

alsrun, I did indeed mean Fravert Basin.

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Re: Four Pass Loop for a beginner

Postby Titan » Mon May 21, 2012 2:34 pm

MrFrumpylane wrote:
Titan wrote:I did the loop counter-clockwise with an afternoon start and camping before West Maroon pass. Day 2 over West Maroon and Frigid Air. Day 3 over Trail Rider to Snowmass lake. And Day 4 on out of the wilderness over Buckskin pass. The most challenging pass I felt was Trail Rider.


Not to be nit-picky but to prevent confusion for the OP, that is actually clockwise. However, having done the 4PL both directions, I actually find counter-clockwise to be easier- Buckskin Pass first with West Maroon last.


Ahh yes thank you for the correction I did mean clockwise! :) If I do the loop again I would want to try counter-clockwise with a day for climbing Snowmass included in the trip.

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