Four Passes 28M Loop Run, Aspen, Colorado

Elevation Range:  9500'-12500'     Elevation Gain:  ~8000'      FKT      Scrolling Photos
July 22, 2015 -  The Four Passes Loop, located south of Aspen sweeps through
long glacial valleys and steep craggy peaks as it crests four cols all above 12,400'.
Going CW it begins with a gentle five-mile climb along West Maroon Creek
passing Crater Lake after a start at the idyllic Maroon Lake.  Passing beneath the
shadows of the three fourteeners - Pyramid and North and South Maroon Peaks.
After a short climb of West Maroon Pass the trail flanks 13,233' Belleview Mtn.
before ascending the second of the four passes.  Seven and six miles separate
the last two cols as the trail passes the gleaming snowfields of Hagerman Peak
at 13, 841' and the granite ramparts of Snowmass Mountain at 14,092'.  From
there the Tour de Maroon is all down hill to finish the marathon effort at the
beautiful Maroon Lake.


A literal run at the Four Passes Loop during my summer odyssey was one of the main
items I wanted to accomplish from my bucket list.  I had been dreaming of doing this
since even before I climbed all the Fourteener's in the Elk Range.  Having run into
Scott and Jenny Jurek finishing the loop while I was coming back from climbing
Pyramid Peak just incentivised it that much more.  Seeing them tired, and talking to
them about it, stoked my curiosity even further as to how big a challenge it was.

The forecast for the day I planned was for much improved weather over the monsoon
rains that Colorado had been receiving all summer.  There would be clouds, but rain
was not likely.  Opting to run clockwise, I figured I would deal with any high creek
crossings and muddy conditions first thing, rather than during the finishing run in.  It
proved a prudent choice.  

The run up to the first pass - West Maroon - is a climb of about three thousand feet
in a little bit more than 6 miles.  The trail was exceptionally muddy, even beginning
on the initial climb from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake.  I headed out at about 0700,
figuring I had enough ability to finish the 28-mile loop before nightfall.  The heavy
rains of the day before just exascerbated an already slogged trail.  No matter how
you attempted to sidestep the mud or gain better traction, you got sucked into the
mess in the middle of the trail.  The willows and grass along the way had you soaked
from the rain that still clung to them in the early morning. It wasn't miserable, but
there was an awful lot of evasive maneuvering to find the most efficient and safest

One could use the mud as an excuse for going slower.  I had already made up my
mind to approach this run conservatively, given I was doing a difficult challenge in
three days in Utah - Speedgoat 50K.  I did not need to wear myself out right before
a hard race.  There were a considerable number of backpackers, heading in both
directions during the initial run up.  All were friendly and seemed more amused than
annoyed by the mud.

I reached West Maroon Pass in 2 hours and 15 minutes before laying sights on the
next one - Frigid Air Pass - only a couple miles across a wide basin.  The trail 
descended steeply for five hundred feet before leveling off for more than a couple
miles, then climbed quickly back to the next saddle in the series.  This I accomplished
in short order, logging a time of three hours cumulatively for the venture to reach
nine miles.  I was satisfied, given the amount of walking required to negotiate the
steepest of the climbs and to weave in and out of the willows.

There were dozens of friendly hikers at the bottom of this basin during my crossing,
many coming up from Crested Butte for the day.  From a very windy Frigid Air Pass
the back side of both North and South Bells was suddenly in your face.  Very
impressive to see it from this perpective, given I have only seen it from the north
when I climbed each of them.  A long basin stretched out below to the west, which
pointed down for the following five miles before I would have to climb again.

This section went well.  I was comfortable running well within myself, reaching about
half way on my day's journey in four hours.  But the most severe climbs of the day
lay ahead, beginning with the two mile straight up assault on the next col - Trail
Rider Pass.  I climbed most of a mile up the pass before stopping for ten minutes to
refuel with some snacks and Gatorade.  I was beginning to feel the toll from my
efforts.  The climb crests in a bit of a false summit before you see the real col yet
still in the distance.  The so-called two mile climb seemed to take forever even 
though I kept up a consistent trudge forward,

I was not trying to achieve some impressive time for the effort.  Sometimes I chose to
walk when I could have run, and sometimes I ran when I perhaps should have walked.
I was there to enjoy, and stopped frequently to bring back some cool images on my

From the pass you could see Snowmass Lake far below.  It is one of the prettiest lakes
to be found anywhere.  The four miles down on switchbacks, crossing small snow fields,
went quickly.  Reaching the bottom in seven hours - twenty miles - I felt pretty good.
Glissading down one snow bank I slipped after I hit the wet grass and ended up on my
back with a quick fall.  That was the only mishap of the day.  No harm done.

The eight miles or so from Snowmass Lake back to the car at Maroon Lake took me
three hours.  Even though the climb up the final col - Buckskin Pass - was but 1500
feet, it seemed to take me forever to slug it out with the mountain.  Reaching the
top was worth it, however, with close up views of the west side of the North Bell.  The
final run in back to Crater and Maroon Lakes was steady but slowed down from being
weary.  Legs were good.  Feet weren't sore.  No problem with the knees.  I think I was
just weary from a shortage of calories, honestly.  It was nice to get back to the car
under a very light rain right at about ten hours.

I had come across a woman and guy running the loop in the opposite direction and then
another runner out for a day run as I finished.  They as well as many hikers seemed to
acknowledge and appreciate the feat I was doing and completed.  Such acknowledge-
ment is actually kind of rare at other venues.  Hikers on the Four Passes Loop, who are
taking three or four days to do what you are accomplishing in a matter of hours, seem
in awe.  For me, it was a day of great satisfaction to be able to attempt and achieve
this feat... and one I would like to return to do with friends to share in the experience 
some time again.

The following day I showed no fatigue or soreness after a good night of sleep.  I did
decide to take two days off prior to my next objective of similar difficulty and
challenge - Speedgoat.  Hopefully two days is enough to rejuvenate and be ready to
rumble up and down the mountains of Utah.