Peak(s):  Buckskin BM  -  13,370 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2011
Date Climbed:   08/09/2011
Author:  Summit Assassin
 Four Pass Loop - Days 3, 4, & 5  

Four Pass Loop - Buckskin Benchmark
Google Map of Route + Campsites

Day 3 - Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Goal: Snowmass Lake

We were stirred awake around two in the morning by a large animal just outside our tent. Whatever it was did not have hooves and made deliberate and slow thumping sounds as it meandered by our site. Besides this thirty minute detour the rest of the night was spent soundly sleeping in our remarkable tent site.

Not too far from our site we ditched our boots and crossed over the ice cold North Fork Crystal River:

Further up the trail towards Trail Rider pass, looking northwest at Meadow Mountain:

During our Four Pass research the consensus was that Trail Rider was the most difficult should you do the loop in a clockwise fashion. I'm not sure about that. It definitely was more abrupt:

At 11,800' you are rewarded with a gorgeous and gentle reprieve. Trail Rider summit is the at the low point near the left side of this picture:

Top of Trail Rider pass looking northeast with Snowmass lake in view:

As we headed down the trail towards Snowmass Lake it seemed to get bigger and bigger. It's easily the largest mountain lake I've ever seen and without a doubt the most serene.

We fully intended to climb Snowmass Mountain the following day but gradually decided to take it easy, enjoy the views, and relax. Snowmass demands your full attention and with the snowfall this past winter, proper snow gear. We wanted a good shot at Buckskin Benchmark and didn't have axes or crampons so Snowmass was saved for another hike.

Excellent shot of the gully we intended to hike:

The best campsite at Snowmass Lake is on the far east side of the lake, where the lake feeds into Snowmass Creek. Not quite one-hundred feet from water but nicely tucked into the trees our campsite and view was unparalleled. Hagerman Peak, Snowmass, North Snowmass:

Snowmass Creek waterfall, a short distance from our campsite:

It was four in the afternoon, our campsite was set and our water was filtered. With a lighter than planned day ahead we decided to play. We walked up and down the creek in our water shoes. We met people and shared the joys of being in the mountains. Dinner was prepared early and enjoyed lakeside minus the jet ski's and power boats. It was glorious.

Once again an uninvited visitor stopped by our campsite in the wee hours of the morning. I remember faintly hearing the sound of clanking metal and passed it off as some hikers getting a real early start on Snowmass. The sound got louder and louder until I decided to do something about it. As I sat up in the tent I looked over at my boots (drying outside the tent, under the rain fly). A long large mass of an animal was hovering nearby and scattered under the fly. A porcupine had taken an interest in the leather in my boots. The clanking metal sound was its teeth against my shoelace buckles. Needless to say our boots were stowed inside the tent from that point forward.

Elevation Profile of Fravert Basin to Trail Rider Pass to Snowmass Lake:

Day 4 - Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Goal: Buckskin Pass + Buckskin Benchmark

Snowmass mountain at sunrise (6:19am):

Snowmass in full sun, no clouds:

We headed out around 8:30am at a less aggressive pace. Nice view along the way:

Bucksin Pass definitely seemed a lot easier than the others. It was not as loose, much more gradual, and we were fully acclimated. We were at the pass summit in under two hours from the lake.

Summit of Buckskin Pass looking southeast:

Summit of Buckskin Pass looking northwest:

We dropped our packs at the pass summit and recharged our tanks. After a brief stop we put our packs back on and backtracked a hundred yards or so down the trail. At no certain point we left the trail and in proper LNT fashion spread out on the tundra as we headed towards Buckskin Benchmark.

From a lot of research and PM's with wonderful members of this community we were warned of a massive year-long snow cornice to the north of Buckskin Pass. With this knowledge we stayed fairly low and angled northwest around the ridge to the 12,600' low point (see google map above):

As we neared the low point we dropped our packs and carefully planned our ascent. Our movements were made gradually and with full team consensus. We made a fanned out switchback ascent of the south ridge:

Buckskin's south ridge was touted as easy class 2. Well I might have a skewed flatlander opinion but it definitely had some class 3 sections. On more than one occasion I was scrambling with all fours.

Near the summit of Buckskin Benchmark looking south. Buckskin Pass summit is visible left of center (look for all the trails) and the year round cornice is fairly obvious. Our packs are somewhere down there:

The final pitch to the summit was a blast. After a few hairy sections of scrambling I ran the last hundred feet or so. On the summit of Buckskin Benchmark:

Panorama from Buckskin Benchmark:

Snowmass and Capitol as we descend the Benchmark:

We met some nice college students upon our return to the summit of Buckskin Pass. They were gracious enough to snap a photo of The Three Amigos!

From Buckskin Pass looking north towards Buckskin Benchmark.

From Buckskin Pass looking east towards Minnehaha Gulch. I believe that is North Maroon on the far right.

Wildflowers Ferdayz:

After passing up a couple sweet camp spots in Minnehaha we descended all the way to Crater Lake and found that our Day 1 campsite was vacant. We dropped our packs, set camp, then made our way to Crater Lake for some rest (and an excellent impromptu stone skipping contest).

Sleeping that night was easy. We knew our trip was coming to an end but what an amazing trip it had been. All the time we spent planning and preparing really paid off. The weather was easily the best all year and just in time! I was really looking forward to seeing my family the next day.

Elevation Profile of Snowmass Lake to Buckskin Pass to Crater Lake:

Day 5 - Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Goal: Car, Cooked Meal, Hot Shower, Comfy Bed

We got up early, motivated by the thought of a cooked meal and hot shower. Destined not to disappoint us the cloudy morning cleared just in time for our departure.

Crater Lake Reflections:

Maroon Bells Reflections (postcard picture):

In 4 days we hiked 41 miles and gained 14,200' of elevation. As exhausting as that might sound I walked out of the woods with more purpose, energy, and sustenance then when I entered. When describing this trip even the most perfect picture or eloquent words are desperately inadequate. You have to get out and experience it.

Thank you Ben and Chris for being the incredible hiking partners that you are. You define unselfishness and I greatly anticipate our next adventure.

La Plata Trip Report

Four Pass Loop - Days 1 & 2

Elevation Profile of Crater Lake to Maroon Lake Trailhead:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

 Comments or Questions

09/14/2011 13:44
Wow great trip and pictures. Did you see any of the mountain goats near the Bells? This is one of the premiere loops in the whole world and you guys nailed it at the best time of year. Sweet and thanks. This one will be book marked.


Seriously Good Stuff
09/14/2011 13:46
Great report and stunning photos. We have to make sure our calendars line up to do something next year. Really glad you had the ”perfect” trip. Peace and grace.


09/14/2011 13:46
really wonderful report (both parts)! thanks so much for sharing

Summit Assassin

Thank you!
09/14/2011 14:21
gsliva - We did see some mountain goats coming down Buckskin Pass. They were above 12,500' on the east ridge of that protrusion nearest the pass, between the pass summit and the benchmark. We also saw a bear cub at Maroon Lake at dusk.

Gene913 - Absolutely. Maybe Holy Cross on a long weekend?

dmccool - Thank you very much. It all lined up so perfectly..


ditto on the pics
09/14/2011 18:51
great photos, I need a new camera
good report too


09/14/2011 20:46
Super shots again! The ”spring” flowers were still shining that late! Wow! Image 20 almost looks like smoke signals in the distance.

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