The Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop has become somewhat of a must-do adventure in Colorado ultrarunning circles, and for good reason. Much like the Grand Canyon R2R2R, it can be done over the course of a few hours or a few days. For those who choose the single day push option, get ready to sweat. The route is somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 miles depending on where you start. Don’t be fooled though, this is far more robust than your typical trail marathon. With about 8,000 feet of climbing and descending, runners have to work for every mile, and must negotiate climbs to 4 separate passes of 12,500 feet. All in a day’s work.
My day started at dawn in the Maroon Lake parking lot. There were already about 20 photographers set up to capture the first rays of sun about to hit the beastly twin faces of the Maroon Bells. I got a few curious looks as I trotted down the gravel path toward the Crater Lake Trail. It was the beginning of a lonely but beautiful day in the backcountry.
When done in the counter-clockwise direction, the 4 pass loop begins with a ~3,000 foot grunt of a climb up to Buckskin Pass, before bombing down the West side of the pass into the Lost Remuda Basin. Runners then climb up past Snowmass Lake, in the Shadow of 14,100 foot Snowmass Mountain, to Trail Rider Pass. From there, the trail descends into the Fravert Basin and climbs gently for a few miles before the not-so-gentle final push up Frigid Air Pass. Of course a downhill ensues from Frigid Air before the final short but steep climb to West Maroon Pass, the fourth and final pass of the day. From West Maroon, runners complete the loop with a ~6 mile, ~3,000 foot descent back to Maroon Lake and the comforts of civilization. What a day.
There are hints of winter out there. Anyone hoping to get this done in 2011 should pony up as soon as possible.
More brotography here.