Four Pass Loop Backpacking Trip

Round-Trip Length:  26 miles

Elevation gain & loss: 7,400′

Starting elevation: 9,655’

Trailhead Location:   Maroon Lake Trailhead – 6.5 miles west of Aspen, Colorado on Maroon Creek Road.

As I mentioned in my preview report on this trip, my son and I did this backpacking trip with his Boy Scout trip several years ago in mid July in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area of Colorado.  It was the perfect time of year.  Most of the snow had disappeared from the passes and the meadows were incredibly green with an abundance of wildflowers blooming!

The 26-mile loop begins at Maroon Lake and its postcard views of the Maroon Bells (the most-photographed peaks in North America, according to the U.S. Forest Service). From there, it spans vast wildflower meadows, tops four passes each higher than 12,400 feet (West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass, and Buckskin Pass) and circumnavigates the iconic pyramidal peaks of North Maroon Peak, Maroon Peak, and Belleview Mountain, all the while serving up staggeringly perfect alpine panoramas in the high Elk Range mountains.

Here is an overview of the entire loop.  We started at Maroon Lake which is off the map in the valley below Crater Lake, probably coming onto the map right around where you see the date in the lower right side of the map.  Once reaching Crater Lake, we will begin the loop in a clockwise route heading to the left over West Maroon Pass, on to Frigid Air Pass, up over Trail Rider Pass, on to Buckskin Pass and back to Crater Lake and back out to Maroon Lake.

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Day 1

There were 10 of us (7 scouts and 3 Dads) that ventured out on this backpacking trip.  We left the Denver area around 9:00am on a Saturday morning and headed to Aspen, Colorado.  We arrived in Aspen around 12:45pm and stopped at a sub sandwich shop to pick up some sandwiches for lunch before we headed out to the trailhead.  We arrived at the Maroon Lake parking lot around 2:00pm.  After organizing our gear, and ourselves we were ready to hit the trail by 2:30pm The official group shot at Maroon Lake before heading out.

Group

Maroon Lake sits at an elevation of 9,600’.  This is probably one of the most photographed pictures of Maroon Lake with the Maroon Bells in the background.

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Heading out down the trail.

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We continued on up the trail for 1.8 miles to reach Crater Lake at around 3:30pm and the start of the loop.  Crater Lake sits at an elevation of 10,076’.

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After a short break at Crater Lake, we continued on up the valley along West Maroon Creek.  Here we are about an hour later heading up through a boulder field .

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Looking back down the valley at Crater Lake.

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Crossing West Maroon Creek.

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We stopped around 6:00pm the first day and set up camp.

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Day 2

We broke camp and headed out the second day around 9:00am.  Not too far up the trail we had another stream crossing.

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Heading across the basin before climbing the steep West Maroon Pass.

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Nearing the summit of West Maroon Pass.

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Looking back down the valley from the summit of West Maroon Pass.  West Maroon Pass is the highest of the passes at 12,500’.

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DSC084971Maroon Bells in the background

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After a break on the summit of West Maroon Pass to take in the views and have lunch, we headed down the other side around 12:45pm.

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From West Maroon Pass, we dropped 1000′ and traversed the southern face of Belleview Mountain.  The valleys were so green with lots of wildflowers.

DSC085068Looking down the East Fork Valley

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DSC085089Look closely and you can see a backpacker in the valley

Making the climb up Frigid Air Pass.

DSC0850910Hasley Pass is marked by the ridge of snow in the background

We made the summit of Frigid Air Pass (12,415’) around 2:30pm.  View from the summit looking across at the Maroon Bells.

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Looking across to Snowmass Mountain (left most point, 14,092′), Hagerman Peak (the flat-topped higher peak,13,841)’ and Snowmass Peak.

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Summit shot of my son and I.

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Wild flowers on the summit.

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After a break on the summit, we headed down into the Fravert Basin around 3:00pm.

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We headed off trail across a big meadow and set up camp near a small lake in the Fravert Basin around 4:00pm and called it a day.  Looking across the valley from our campsite towards Belleview Mountain.

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Day 3

I got up early and took a hike around the lake to get some great reflection pictures of the peaks and our tents in the lake.

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We had breakfast, packed up camp, and headed out across the meadow around 9:00am to catch back up with the trail.

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We decided to do a little bushwhacking to get back to the trail rather than backtrack to the trail following the way we had gotten to our campsite the day before.  The route proved quite steep and a little frustrating for some of the scouts.

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After a couple of hours, we eventually got down the steep canyon and into the valley.  We had a great view of King Falls, a 300′ cascade.

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An hour later we had another stream crossing.

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After our stream crossing, we began our ascent.  Looking back down to the stream crossing in the valley below.

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The trail leveled out in a meadow by a lake below Trail Rider Pass.  Everyone was tired so we decided to set up camp here for the night around 5:00pm rather than push to go over Trail Rider Pass today.

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Looking up towards Trail Rider Pass to the right as a storm was moving in.

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More pictures as the storm moved around us.

Below Trail Rider Pass - Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness - ColoradoAn unnamed peak at 12,626’

Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness - Colorado

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Day 4

Morning sun hitting the peaks around 7:00am.

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Some morning lake reflection shots.

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We headed out around 9:00am to begin our ascent of Trail Rider Pass.  Looking back down the valley as we headed up.DSC0859225

Looking up the trail.

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Continuing the climb.

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We made the summit of Trail Rider Pass (12,420’) about 10:00am Looking back down at the lake where we had camped the night before with Treasure Mountain in the background.

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Looking down the other side of the pass to Snowmass Lake.

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Some of the scouts on the summit of the pass.

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After a short break on top of the pass, we began our descent to Snowmass Lake.  It is a 1,500’ descent from the top of the pass to Snowmass Lake.

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We got to Snowmass Lake and set up camp.  We decided today was going to be a short day with time just to hang out at the lake.  The one downside to hanging out at the lake was the mosquitoes here – there were a lot of them!

I explored around the area and headed a ways down the Snowmass Lake trail to this waterfall.

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Day 5

We packed up camp and headed out around 8:00am.  Not too far from the lake we had a stream crossing.

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Another half hour down the trail we had another stream crossing.

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An open swampy area.

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A look back at the Maroon Bells.

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We summited Buckskin Pass (12,500’) around 11:30am.  My son and I on Buckskin Pass.

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Some of the scouts taking a break on the large open meadow on the pass.

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There was still quite a bit of snow on the pass.

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View of Hagerman and Snowmass Mountain from the pass.

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Heading down the switchbacks of Buckskin Pass.

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We got back down the parking lot around 3:30pm.  What an amazing 5-day backpacking trip in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area.  Truly some wonderful backcountry scenery in this area!

10 thoughts on “Four Pass Loop Backpacking Trip

  1. Hi Bob, it’s great to remember this trip. I had such a good time and the weather and views were awesome. I would do this trip any time. May be the opposite direction next time? Thanks for sharing. Don

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