Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop Trip Report
For many of us, 2020 has completely disrupted our lives and forced us to look at new avenues of entertainment. In the early spring we all accepted working from home and video chats. We connected with each other. As spring gave away to Summer, the itch for fun in the sun dominated our minds. Living in lockdown in Chicago, summer took on a completely different appearance than years past. Our access to parks, beaches, and the beloved street festivals were restricted- like so many others we turned to the backcountry.
Planning a backcountry adventure has always brought me joy as well as anxiety, but I came across a website that seems to eliminate a lot of those pre-trail jitters. RightOnTrek was a doorway to nature's playground. I began by looking at the "All Inclusive" vacation packages and decided that I wanted to visit Rae's Lake in King's Canyon National Park. The 4-day/3-night loop was perfect for that last summer adventure before the snow blanketed my beloved skyline.
But no trip is complete without inviting a few friends and family along. I asked my good friend located in Florida to go. It was his first backpacking trip, and he was up for the adventure but didn't know where to start. We started by creating a profile and selecting our trip. Our group ended up with 3 explorers, and RightOnTrek made it easy to collaborate with one another in the planning process. We were able to work together to select our meal plans and any additional group gear we would need.
It was the week before we set to disembark and explore the mountains of King's Canyon when we got the news. California made the decision to close the park due to air quality concerns, due to wildfires burning in the area. We were disappointed. We thought our trip was lost. However thanks to one of the inspiring Product Managers at RightOntrek, they made the suggestion that we consider Colorado- and we check out the Four Loop Pass just outside of Aspen. I was ensured that this loop would be just as epic as Rae's Lake.
So with about 4 days to go, we went to Colorado. RightOnTrek was a great partner helping with logistics. They diverted our food package to Denver so we could pick it up before hitting the backcountry. A couple of team members sent us location suggestions as well as maps. They were nothing but helpful and willing to ensure us the adventure we were itching for.
Arriving in Denver, we found our package, and it was filled with all kinds of trail goodies, including some little extras that would go a long way to make our trip that much better. After a 4.5 hour drive to Aspen, we arrived at Lincoln Creek Dispersed Campground at 2am. Unable to find a campsite in the dark, we slept in a very spacious Rav4. At daybreak the next morning, we found a campsite in the far nook of the campground. This would be our home base for the next two days to acclimate to the elevation before our Four Loop Pass adventure.
We spent the next two days exploring nearby trails; the New York Trail and the Difficult Trail provided us the ability to exercise our legs, lungs, and love for the mountains. On the third day, we drove to the Aspen Highlands to board the shuttle that would take us to the trailhead. At long last, our much-anticipated adventure was going to begin.
It was a cold morning, the temperature the night before was 8 degrees, and the sun was still in the process of warming the morning air, but we were ready. The shuttle was running behind due to COVID safety measures, resulting in a later start, but as luck would have it, we ended up being the catalyst to a trail friendship. We camped our first night just below West Maroon Pass, where we shared a site with a father-daughter team from Tennessee.
Our first night in the Colorado Wilderness could not have been more magical. The day's excitement had officially dissolved into exhaustion, and dinner that night was the perfect end to the day. Normally I'm a freeze-dried, just add hot water- minimalist, but RightOnTrek provided us with easy to cook meals. Like most backpackers, there is always a balance between weight and food—and oftentimes the sacrifice is the food. With RightOnTrek, the meal was lightweight and OMG DELICIOUS! I had restaurant quality Chicken Alfredo, Breadsticks, and washed it down with Apple Cider, all while watching the sun dip behind the mountains. After cleaning up dinner, refilling water, and getting situated for the next morning, we settled in for another cold night.
Waking up the next morning to snow-capped mountains, crisp air, and a hot breakfast of Eggs Scrambled with Mushrooms and Cheese, Coffee, and a breakfast biscuit, was just what we needed to conquer our first pass. It was about a mile outside of camp that we encountered another backpacker, who was coming to the end of his journey. Another Midwesterner, who like us, was escaping into the beauty of the backcountry. Rahul was from Michigan and making his way to Crested Butte. He gave us some insight into the trail ahead and told us that Sunset and Sunrise at Snowmass Lake would tug at our heartstrings. We hiked together over West Maroon Pass, and at the trail split, he headed to Crested Butte, and we continued on to Frigid Air Pass.
Years ago, I had this epiphany while watching the sunset in Lane Cove, on Isle Royale, that only a small portion of the population would ever get a backcountry experience that would resonate with them for a lifetime. As I climbed to the summit of Frigid Air, I was rewarded with 10 uninterrupted minutes of the most amazing mountain view I had ever seen in my life! I had the Maroon Bells all to myself. After a lunch break and some discussion of building a hut and never leaving, we descended down into Fravert Basin, in search of a campsite that sat on top of a waterfall.
Dinner that night was Beef Lagene Stew, and the conversation was filled with excitement of the views of Frigid Air. Again we shared our campsite with the father-daughter team from Tennessee; they would become close friends, and the memories made would last a lifetime. The next day we knew we were in for a long hard day up TrailRider Pass, but we stayed up and shared stories of past hikes and future adventures. Finally, the cold night air began to nip at us, and we said our goodnights.
The next morning we awoke to birds chirping and the promise of a hike thru Aspen and Birch Trees that were in full foliage. The cutoff trail to Trailrider was arduous. It was steep, but being surrounded by the colors of fall kept us motivated. After a long morning of hiking, we finally reached the summit of Trailrider and were rewarded with our first views of Snowmass Lake.
As we descended down to Snowmass Lake, we were rewarded with peek-a-boo previews between the trees to this magnificent lake at slightly over 10k ft. As luck would have it, we arrived at the lake with no one in sight. After setting up camp next to a waterfall, pumping our water, we grabbed our stoves and headed to the shoreline for another tasty dinner from RightOnTrek. As promised by Rahul, the lake did not disappoint with a sunset. After cleaning from cooking and awing at the lake trout, we turned in for the night.
The following morning we were filled with excitement and sadness; excitement because we would be leaving the mountains and heading back into civilization, and sadness because we were leaving the rustic autumn mountains. After our last breakfast, with a morning sunrise that creeped down the slopes of Snowmass, we were off towards Buckskin Pass.
It was at the summit of Buckskin that the realization that our trip was coming to an end. We had come to the end of our summer backcountry adventure. Our souls were filled with memories of the mountains, and we owe it all to RightOnTrek for helping us plan and execute our trip. Next summer, we will continue our journey and hike the Rae's Lake Loop.