Beginning early Friday afternoon we planned on knocking off 12,500ft West Maroon Pass before spending the night somewhere in Purity Basin, followed by 12,400ft Frigid Air Pass and 12,420ft Trail Rider Pass on Saturday en route to our camp at Snowmass Lake. Sunday would be an easy 10 miler over 12,462ft Buckskin Pass back to the trailhead.
First we had to get away from the masses milling around Maroon Lake and along the couple mile stretch of trail that led the daytrippers to Crater Lake. From there on out it was all about equipped hikers and minimal runners doing the full loop, the latter in a single day!
All of these endless distractions were what made hiking up the passes seem easy, or was it the way we plowed through a full bear canister of food. By the end of the first day we were still full, by the second we were almost empty. Fortunately burning big calories allows us to eat big! Andrea had packaged freezer ziploc bags with pre-packaged breakfasts and dinners just as we had done on the JMT, allowing us to only ever have to boil water – we were becoming good at this wilderness camping gig.
If it wasn’t for a sleeping mat that required re-inflating a couple of times in the early hours it was an uneventful star filled and bear-free night. Why then if it was so uneventful do either of us never get a good nights sleep when in a tent? A little tired but well fed after a large portion of oatmeal with freeze dried berries and banana we hit the trail. Conditions were looking perfect for a good day of hiking, beginning with a 700ft ascent to Frigid Air Pass followed by over 2,000ft to the top of Trail Rider Pass.
Hiking up towards the pass we noticed a steady stream of people along the trail from Crested Butte; seems like this is extremely popular and maybe something worth looking into. Whilst the hike is barely 11 miles its more than 100 miles if you decide to return by car! To avoid the crowds it’s something for the winter maybe.
A couple of significant but comfortable switchback climbs bought us out at the top of Trail Rider Pass a little after lunchtime. The much hyped camping area a further 2.2 miles away on the shores of Snowmass Lake beckoned. From our vantage point Snowmass Mountain looked very doable, the elevation changing drastically for the worse after we drop down to the surprisingly empty campsites below. From lakeshore to the summit would be a 3,000ft gain in altitude and already being mid afternoon meant a no-go for today! The popular campsite filled up over the course of the afternoon, most people planning on an early start to bag the impressive looking fourteener – a little more advance planning and we would have known that this is the normal route up Snowmass and could have structured our hike better to fit it in.
Excited about heading back to knock off the Elk Mountains we arrived back at Crystal Lake and the start of a busy couple miles to our car. Everything about this hike was perfect; the most amazing mountain scenery, blue skies, the feeling of remoteness …and the thought of returning for some fun technical climbs.
August 24th 12.52pm: Maroon Lake to Purity Basin
Mileage: 8.3 ● Elevation Gain: 3,094’ ● Total Mileage: 8.3 ● Total Elevation Gain: 3,094’
August 25th 7.12am: Purity Basin to Snowmass Lake
Mileage: 11.2 ● Elevation Gain: 2,815’ ● Total Mileage: 19.5 ● Total Elevation Gain: 5,909’
August 26th 7.36am: Snowmass Lake to Maroon Lake
Mileage: 9.5 ● Elevation Gain: 1,742’ ● Total Mileage: 29.0 ● Total Elevation Gain: 7,651’
August 24th – August 26th 2018
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