4 Loop Pass – Buckskin Pass (12,500 ft) –> Trail Rider (12,420 ft) –> Frigid Air Pass (12,415 ft) –> West Maroon Pass (12,500 ft)
Length: 30 miles (normally done in 3-4 days)
Beginning Elevation: 9,580 feet
Highest Elevation: 12,500 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,920 feet (but there are 4 passes so you lose and gain multiple times)
Difficulty Rating: Strenuous
For our 5th anniversary we decided to take a long weekend down well-known Maroon Bell area near Aspen, CO. We took off Wednesday night after I coached CrossFit and headed towards Aspen. We took I-70 to the Leadville/Copper exit and then headed South on CO-91. Once you get through Leadville, 91 turns into US-24. After 16 miles you will turn right onto CO-82 West and go over Independence Pass towards Aspen. It took us a little over 2.5 hours to get to our destination. Then we camped in the back of the truck for the evening so we could get an early start the next morning.
Day 1: We started out the next morning around 8 a.m. from the extended stay parking lot that’s close to the trailhead. Immediately you walk to the trail head and get a gorgeous view of the Maroon Bells and surrounding mountains. This is probably one of the most infamous photographed areas in Colorado, but even in the crappy rainy weather you could completely see why! We hiked approximately 2 miles before hitting Crater Lake and then decided to take start the 4 loop pass going counter clock wise, starting with Buckskin Pass. I know it’s not recommended to go this way, but we decided that since it’s supposedly the steepest of the 4 passes that we wanted to knock it out the first day. And I’m very glad we did! It really wasn’t too bad fresh, but unfortunately the views at the top sucked due to rain and fog. Really couldn’t see anything at the top. We continued down the pass and after going 9.5 miles saw signs for Snowmass Lake. We decided to set up camp since it had been raining all day and seemed like a little break in the weather. We had everything set up by 2 p.m. and then took a little nap since we didn’t get much sleep the night before. We woke up to more rain so had a quick dinner and got back in the tent to settle in for the night.
Day 2: We woke up around 6:30 a.m. and slowly got “out-of-bed”. Unfortunately, we woke up to more hazy weather and drizzle. Made some instant coffee and eggs/bacon with the jet-boil, ate, and repacked everything. We got started on the trail a little after 8 a.m. Just a quarter mile in we hit Snowmass Lake, which is beautiful! Then we began to climb back up hitting some rocky areas til we made it to the top of Trail Rider Pass. It really wasn’t too bad of a climb, but again due to rain and fog we couldn’t see anything from the top. :( We continued on starting to work our way down the pass. As we went we met a ton of people going the opposite direction, another reason why I liked going the opposing direction… we definitely didn’t have as many people heading our way which I think helped with finding camping areas too. As we continued down into the valley the trail began to get super muddy and the rain just did not stop. We debated trying to do the last two passes, but didn’t know if we had the energy or time in the day to do it. So after talking to a few people, we decided to camp before Frigid Air Pass, which I think was the smart decision. We were completely soaked from it raining all day and had read that Frigid Air Pass is called that for a reason and that between our dog being soaked and us, it would be bad to continue on. We made it into the valley and then made it through the river crossing. Shortly after is a breathtaking waterfall and we had been told to hike up past there to avoid some of the steep climb for the next day. So we did. It was hard to find a camp site that wasn’t completely soaked or covered in puddles, but we finally did. For the day we had hiked 8.5 miles. After getting the tent set up, and the dog dried off and warm, we purified some water. We attempted to make a fire to help us warm up, but it didn’t last long since all of the wood in the area was drenched. In the end, we ended up eating a pretty early dinner and going to bed. Unfortunately, we could not find a dry spot that wasn’t on a slope, so sleep didn’t come easy, but we made it work.
Day 3: We woke up semi-early, I want to say 6:00 a.m., but again it was raining out and we were hoping to pack up without the rain. After realizing we weren’t going to be able to wait it out, we packed everything up and made the decision that no matter what happened that day we were hiking out. We had enough of the rain and being wet and all of our equipment was either soaked or covered in mud. We got an early start around 7:30 a.m. We were not moving too fast and could tell we both were over it… We slowly worked up the muddy pass to Frigid Air. Again, we really couldn’t see anything from the top of the pass so we proceeded right back down. The mud was really making for a not so pleasant hike just sliding down as we went. Luckily, this section isn’t too steep and you get into a nice valley that is pretty flat. It’s not long before you have the next pass: West Maroon in sight (up to the left).
We have officially gone backpacking 5 times now since we’ve been together and each one has either had one or more of the following: snow, hail, flash floods, landslides or ungodly amounts of rain. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a sign we were not meant for backpacking, lol. Anytime there is a chance of rain in the future backpacking trips planned, I think we will have a backup plan and not go. My favorite part of backpacking is having a campfire, which if it’s constantly raining can’t happen. Oh well, that’s life. We hope to get back down to this area again because from what we could tell it looked beautiful. Dang fog! Til next time…