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Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop, Elk Mountains, CO

John B

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I have been overdue to post this report.  I did this 4 day/3 night backpack for the fourth time over July 4 holiday weekend.  It entails 28 miles and about 8000 feet of vertical gain and loss over 4 passes as you circumnavigate the Maroon Bells of Colorado's Elk Mountains (near Aspen).  I led a trip for the Colorado Mountain Club (myself and 5 others), leaving Friday morning July 3 from the Denver area at 7am, and arriving at the trailhead at Maroon Lake at noon.  We had planned to hike up to just below our first pass (west maroon)--about 6 miles and 2000 of vertical.  However, we stopped about a mile short of that as the rain was a bit persistent that day:   

Saturnday (day two) found us up at 6am, on on the trail a bit after 7am--we had a beautiful day, with clear skies, snow capped peaks around us, and (with all the rain we have had in the past 60 days), Colorado was as green as she ever is this time of year:

We ascended to west maroon pass, admired the views west into purity basin, then descended into the basin, back up to our second pass of the trip--frigid air pass.  All four passes on this loop are approximately 12,500 in elevation.  Snow was present on all the passes, but it was easy to avoid or deal with the terrain.  After lunch and some hang time at frigid air pass, we descended into fravert basin and then another 3-4 miles to our camp for the night.  We arrived about 3pm.  I like to do this trip over 4 days so that each day allows for an early arrival to camp, and time to chill, relax and enjoy the scenary (after our chores are done, of course!).  We had a bit of rain shortly after setting up camp, but nothing like day 1.  A good sized buck mule deer decided to stop by and check us out after dinner, but his visit was very brief, and my camera wasn't quite handy enough.

Sunday (day 3) found us on the trail around 7:30am.  This was our hardest day, with a steep climb out of fravert basin up to trail rider pass.  We did have a treat to start the day--views of a 300 foot waterfall (King falls).  After a bit of a climb, there is a beautiful alpine meadow with views to the backside of the maroon bells, and a small lake--one of my favorite parts of the trip.  We ran into some rangers doing trail work as we were sweating our way up to trail rider.  They informed us that most likely by next year bear boxes are going to be mandatory for the entire loop, rather than just the lower part of west maroon creek drainage as was the case this year (day one terrain).  This doesn't excite me.  In any event, trail rider was our lunch spot, and we again admired great views down into snowmass lake, and also of many of the surrounding elk mountains: hagerman peak, snowmass peak, snowmass mountain, maroon peak, north maroon peak--the list goes on!   We then descended to snowmass lake to camp for the night, encountering the largest snowfields of the trip, but consolidated enough that it wasn't a problem.  Arrived to camp early afternoon.  Had heavy rain shortly after arriving, and had to resort to shelter in our tents until it let enough to allow for dinner.  Rain, thunder, and lightning most of the night!

Monday (day 4) up at our usual 6am, had the joy of packing up wet tents, but the rain had stopped, and held off all day to allow for an enjoyable hike up to our final pass (buckskin), and then a descent back to our trail junction near crater lake.  There we rejoined the hordes of tourists, who generally will hike this far, and no further.  Back to maroon lake, where we caught the bus back to aspen highlands (just outside of aspen, where we had had to park our vehicles).  I saw more folks on the four pass loop this year than ever before--I suspect this is driving the forest services' decision on bear boxes.  All in all, a great trip!   Here's a link to all pictures, for those who are interested:   https://picasaweb.google.com/102393818060897668441/4PassLoop072015










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Aaron Zagrodnick

Easy to tell why this is a classic hike John, great report!

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