Ringing the Bells- Maroon bells 4 pass loop, Aspen, CO

We’ed initially planned to do the famous Maroon bells 4 pass loop over the July 4th long weekend. But there was still too much snow at the passes from the last winter and so waited for some more weeks, and finally decided to do it Mid August over a weekend.

The drive from Boulder to Aspen on Friday was pretty uneventful  – going by the independence pass route and the scenery everywhere was nice and lush green. We reached the Maroon lake trail head at around 630PM and started hiking, our destination for the night was a couple miles in and 1000ft up past Crater Lake. We found a good spot, setup camp, ate dinner under the stars and went to bed

Next morning we had an early start and started hiking upwards and onwards to our first pass- Buckskin pass. The Maroon-Snowmass trail wound up the valley steadily. After rising through the forests of pine and aspen, the views started to open up. Everything was lush green with lots of wildflowers and a sweet scent in the air. The pass started to come into view high up following the steep switchbacks. Finally we found ourselves on the top of Buckskin pass 12500ft.- the pass out of the four with the maximum elevation gain! The views on either side were amazing. Behind us was the valley and maroon bells range from where we had started, Beyond us was the vast expanse of backcountry wilderness, with the Snowmass lake and valley visible in the distance backed by the Snowmass peak, Capitol ridge and other 14er’s.

After taking in the views, we descended steeply into the valley and then the trail slowly mellowed into open meadows and after the first basin the trail dropped steeply again and we were soon at the bottom of the valley we had seen from the pass. The trail continued though forests and by a creek and in a couple hours we were on the banks of the Snowmass Lake at 11,000ft. We lunched on the banks of the lake under the towering Snowmass Peak. Stocked up on energy bars and some chocolate and then continued on the trail past the lake.

The trail climbed up moderately through the trees. While climbing, on our right was the azure blue colored waters of Snowmass lake that just continued to take our breath away higher and higher we went. Past the tree line we were in a vast grassy meadow with amazing views all around us and the steep switchbacks going up to Trail Rider Pass in the front. The top view of snow mass lake was amazing as i continued to huff-and-puff to get on with the steepest climb upto the Pass 12420ft. On the pass there were a bunch of social people talking about their adventures. Most of them were on the loop in clockwise direction and were going down the trail we’ed come up and were camping at the Snowmass lake. After a photo op on the top of the pass down we went on the other side. This side was grassy and open meadows. Past the steep descent from the pass the trail flattened out for a mile or so and we stopped by a small quaint little pond for a while and then continued onwards.

On the edge of the meadow the trail started to drop into the Fravert basin valley. The switchbacks were many and steep. Luckily we were going down on them. We descended fast. It had been a long day with lots of elevation gain and loss and were eagerly waiting to reach the campsites in the valley. At around 630 we reached the campsite in a clearing in the woods with amazing views of the Maroon Peak to the East and by the banks of the Crystal river, We ate, relaxed and stretched out  our tired feet ,and waited for sunset that was gorgeous. Soon we retired into our tents and sleep was upon us very quickly.

On Sunday- our last day – we got ready, ate and started the hike to the last 2 passes. Both of them were not as much in steep elevation gain and the elevation change and distance between the two was not as much as the previous day.. encouraged we started hiking though the Fravert basin along the Crystal river and were soon greeted by a wonderful waterfall.The trail climbed up steeply for a while on switchbacks and then leveled out though some trees on one side and an open meadow and creek on the other. And the slopes of the Maroon bells ranges visible in the distance. We covered the miles at the good pace on the mostly level trail until the trail opened out in a vast expanse of grass just below the backside of the Maroon peak.

Here on the trail climbed steadily and steeply. Again i huffed-and -puffed and pushed myself up the steep rocky switchbacks and after a while was on top of Frigid Air Pass (12,415′) The view of the Maroon peak and the vast meadow and basin underneath was amazing. On the other side of the pass was another expanse of wilderness- the Crested Butte side with vast valley full of grassy meadows and wild flowers. After taking inthe views at the Frigid air pass, we descended down the trail and into the valley.

 It was pretty level with the open wilderness slopes on our right hand side. Soon we were at the fork and took the left to the final pass the West Maroon Pass. I refilled water in the stream from fresh snowmelt, and braced myself for the final climb. It was pretty steady and not as steep as the earlier ones and soon was on the last set of rocky switchbacks and on top of the pass. The view again was amazing. Behind us was the crested butte valley and dark clouds were starting to roll in over there. On the other side was the west maroon valley, that we descended down following the trail. There were no switchbacks so soon we descended and were into the valley … We continued on the trail admiring the views of Maroon peak on the left and the creek and valley on the right.Lots of wild flowers

Winding trail continued past the campsites in the West Maroon valley, and soon were passing the campsites past the Crater Lake that were closed for some time due to recent bear activity there. After a final photo op at crater lake we continued past the final mile of the trail and were back at the Maroon Lake trail head.

We soaked our tired feet in the col waters of the lake for a while amid a crowd of people. Maroon Peak and Lake is supposedly the most photographed location in the US- it was indeed beautiful (and easy to get to) Soon we were on our way back to Boulder after gorging on delicious cheesy pizza in Aspen. It was a Killer backpack with killer views. Im glad and proud that i did it – and managed it in 2 days !

Author: mysterytryst

Hi. Here i am venting out some stuff into cyberspace with the hope that it'll be considered as great words of wisdom in some mysterious far away alien world...till then hope you have a good time here getting a glimpse of my experiences, trips and observations.... Please feel free to connect, comment, like and share. Id love to hear your thoughts and reactions. © All content is mine, share with due credit.

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