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Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop


John B
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This is, in my opinion, the classic Colorado backpack. I usually lead this trip for the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) every few years. For various reasons, I had not done so since 2009. Just got back from a successful jaunt around this loop covering four days and three nights (July 3-6).

Arrived at Maroon Lake trailhead at 10:30am on Thursday, July 3. You need to get a backcountry pass from the park for a cost of $10 and then park in the overnight lot. Left the trailhead at 11am, just less than 2 miles up the trail, we took a left and started up past Crater Lake, and followed the west maroon creek drainage. We would return to this junction on Sunday after crossing 4 passes, all of which are at approximately 12,500 feet in elevation. When checking with the rangers at the Aspen office of the White River National Forest, I got a horror story as to condtions: "no one has made it over the passes and around the loop, don't even try". In the past, I have experienced significant exaggeration by the rangers as to conditions. Guess they don't trust the general public to make reasonable decisions. In any event, we were not deterred. We ran into significant snow on the passes and some in the valleys, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with by a competent party. We arrived at our campsite for Thursday night at 4pm, leaving plenty of time to set up camp, get dinner, do our laundry, etc. That night we were visited by two enterprising porcupines--seems they were attracted by mark's pee from a 2am jaunt outside his tent. In any event, he got some pictures, and no harm done. Here is a link to pictures from day one (I'm just not tech-savvy enough to reduce the file size to post individual pictures on this site; any advice/coaching on this is appreciated! Anyway, I would be hard pressed to delete any of the pictures, as I was very pleased as to how they came out): https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/4PassLoop2014_07_03?authkey=Gv1sRgCPWl2sSemfePeQ

Day two, Friday July 4. We were up at 6am, left camp about 7:30am--by spreading the loop into 4 days, none of the days were overly long, and we were able to enjoy our time in the backcountry! Ascended toward west maroon pass (our first of four passes on the trip). Had to cut off the trail up about 50 feet of steep snow to gain a rock band and then traverse to the pass. The snow was quite soft as temps were fairly warm (only down to upper 30's at night, and 75 or so during the day. Overall we were blessed with good weather, as you can see from the pictures). After gaining the pass, we ascended a ridge due north to the summit of point 13,210--this is a deviation from the traditional 4 pass loop route but I had to feed my appetite for a summit--I like to climb as well as backpack! After summiting 13,210 we then took a ridge due west down to our second pass of the trip--frigid air pass. Descended from there into fravert basin (how green is my valley! as you can see from the pictures). 3:30pm saw us arriving at our campsite for the night a few hundred yards above King Falls-a 300ft waterfall--you will see pictures of this on day 3. Here's a link to day 2 pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/4PassLoop2014_07_04?authkey=Gv1sRgCMa_4KDGqKnffw

Day 3, Saturday July 5. Again up around 6am, left camp 7:30am. Descended about 300 feet to below King falls, then had another creek crossing after a mile or so. I highly recommend water sandals or something similar for the several creek crossing that you will encounter on this trip. Following the crossing, we hard our toughest climb of the trip up to trail rider pass--not much break in the vertical here, but of course the payoff was the view from the pass. Ran into some folks at the pass imbibing in marijuana (it's legal in Colorado now!). Descending from the pass to one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Colorado (Snowmass Lake), we encountered a couple of dicey crossings of some steep snow fields--not for the faint of heart, but ultimately not difficult due to the warm temps and soft snow. Arrived at campsite at the north end of snowmass lake at a bit after 3pm, and again had time for liesurely setup of camp, chores, etc. One of our party (Eddie) brought his fishing equipment, and caught a couple of nice rainbow trout at the lake (14 inches or so, he told me--I didn't see them, so of course I must take his word)--he follows catch and release ethics. Here are day 3 pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/4PassLoop2014_07_05?authkey=Gv1sRgCL_7-PzN5Z68Ww

Day 4, Sunday July 6. Up at 6am, left camp at 7:30am (our usual routine). Had our last creek crossing of the trip. This used to be the toughest, but a log bridge has been installed (sometime between 2007 and 2009). Then followed a long gradual climb up a beautiful alpine basin to buckskin pass--our last pass of the trip. This pass always holds more snow than any of the others, but I knew that it could be easily detoured by ascending the ridge to the south of the pass. This was again the case. A descent through Minnehaha gulch followed, and we were soon back at the Crater Lake junction where we had started on Thursday. An easy two mile descent through hordes of tourists followed, and we were safe back at our vehicle. This trip is a must do for anyone with four days to spare while in Colorado! Here are day 4 pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/4PassLoop2014_07_06?authkey=Gv1sRgCNj94OSKq6HhdQ

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

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Aaron Zagrodnick

John, thanks for sharing, awesome report...Sounds like an amazing trip and looks like one as well from the photos!

You should be able to insert photos in your post and they'll be automatically resized. It looks like we were experiencing intermittent timeouts when uploading larger photos and that issue has now been resolved. Sorry for the trouble! Alternatively, downsizing first is an option. (And you'll also save time by not having to upload a lot of large photos, they're resized after upload anyway) You can downsize photos many ways, one easy way is to use Windows Live Photo Gallery. Once you open Photo Gallery you can select all the photos you want to resize by clicking while holding the shift key, then right clicking and selecting resize. I usually leave the setting on the default large size @ 1280 pixels on the long edge and then let the site I'm on readjust the size from there. Additionally you also have the option to insert images using the "From URL" tab when posting to embed images hosted on another site.

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Thanks for the trip report, Johnny B. ~ Congrats on making the summit, hope you had some peak chocolate stashed in your pack. I've always wanted to climb the Maroon Bells, they're so beautifully picturesque and no doubt an awesome climb. I never heard of Porcupines being attracted to pee? Sounds like the tourist hordes may have been the most dangerous situation, they can be brutal! I don't think I've ever read the words "marijuana and legal" in the same sentence in a trip report, the times they are a changin'!

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Bobo,

The summit I was on was a smaller sub-peak of Maroon peak. I climbed both Maroon and North Maroon peaks some years ago--they are a bit more than just a side jaunt from a backpacking loop. Yes, although I don't smoke marijuana, it has been interesting to watch the process in Colorado since it was legalized...

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John,

Thanks for the awesome report. Great timing.

Hiking the same route starting Tuesday July 29th. Did not realize we had to get permit. No biggy though. Just need to allow for the extra time.

Couple questions for you. Think the snow will still be up there? Or was it melting fast? And how were the mosquitoes?

Rocky Mountain High!

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Opi,

The permits are self-issue and done at the trailhead. There will still be snow on your dates, but I would be surprised if the trails weren't completely clear. Only spot that had some (slight) mosquito issues was at snowmass lake. I have never really had a problem with the little buggers in the 3 times I have done the loop. Have fun!

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  • 1 year later...
gabrielrivera

John,

Great trip report! As you've done this trip many times I have a question: are there any good sites to camp that you know of between maroon pass and frigid air pass? I'd really like to get over maroon pass on day one but I'm not sure I want to push my party all the way past frigid air. Any other recommendations for optimal view camp sites would be appreciated as well. Thanks!

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Gabriel,

Thanks.  It would be a long day and a bit of vertical to climb from the Maroon lake trailhead all the way over west maroon pass, but can be done.  There is a large meadow between W maroon and frigid air passes.  Would not be a problem to camp somewhere there, just be sure that you get a ways off the main trail.   I will warn you--starting this year, I understand that bear boxes are going to be REQUIRED for those doing the loop.  I have always found these to be a hassle to transport on a longer backpack--due to their bulk, not so much the weight.  

 

Camping at snowmass lake is not to be missed--the views there are awesome.  

Here is a link to info on the loop from White River Forest Service folks:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3848737.pdf   Noted that yes, you must use bear boxes.

 

Have fun, you will love the scenery!

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