Sandy dog and I just came off an incredible weekend backpacking trip! This was the first time I had taken Sandy backpacking and she performed way beyond my expectations. We chose the 4 Pass Loop trail in Aspen CO for our first foray together and it was amazing. The 4 Pass Loop is within the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area and is a world renowned backpacking trip!
The loop is around 28 miles (some sources say 27 and some say 29 miles) and we hiked over 4 high mountain passes. The total elevation gain of the hike is right at 8,000-9,000ft! And the peak altitude was around 12,500'! The altitude was the biggest challenge for me as my thin Florida Man blood had me gasping deep for air on those pass climbs... I had to take multiple breaks!
To get access to the trail head we used the Maroon Bells shuttle bus system which departs every 15 mins from the Aspen Highlands Resort Area. The parking was $30 and I paid almost that much to reserve my shuttle time. But this was worth it as it was all very convenient and I had no problems. It is also the only bus route in Aspen where dogs are allowed to ride!
We kicked off our hike on Friday Sept 11 at around 1pm and concluded around noon on Monday. If you were to get an early start this could be a 3 day hike. It is a very strenuous hike but a scenic one! We chose to hike the loop clockwise so that on the first day we would not have to cross any of the 4 high mountain passes. This map denotes each day in a different trail color for our hike.
The hike starts on the top right corner and then splits at Crater Lake where we turned left and went south on the light blue trail section...stopping for the night at the beginning of the yellow section...just short of West Maroon Pass. This first day was also only about a 5-6 mile day and sort of helped us get our "trail legs". That first night was fairly cold and we pitched our tent on about 9" of snow! It was what I would call a "2 dog night"... but alas I only had 1 dog! But we did ok!
On day 2 we proceeded right up to West Maroon Pass making the summit by about 10am that morning. The approach was a bit sketchy as the snow was melting making for a muddy, slippery trail on the way up!
We took a short break on the summit of West Maroon Pass then proceeded on the trail towards the Frigid Air Pass. This section between those two passes was one of the most beautiful sections of the trail... maybe the most... except for the views later of Snowmass lake. I found myself stopping repeatedly not just to rest but to take in the expansive views! It was incredible. During this section I also ran into hikers who had entered from Crested Butte so that is likely another way one could start this hike.
Even with all the views and stops we made it to the summit of Frigid Air Pass by around 1:30PM. The sun was out and barely a cloud was in the sky.. so it was cool but warm at the same time. On our first day Sandy and I had made friends (Alf and Annie) with another Florida couple from the Miami area... they had thin blood too! At each pass summit we would all meet up and share our break time together. Alf turned out to be quite the photographer and took all the pictures of Sandy and I on the pass summits you will see here!
After the nice break up at Frigid Air Pass we hiked down into the valley finding an incredible camp site near a roaring stream near the end of the gold color trail section on the map above. I camped together with a group of folks from Boulder... I thought they were young college students but in reality they were more like 30 somethings! Everyone looks so young to me now! They may have been older than I thought but they were still capable enough to have brought a ton of food so we had a great evening meal and shared lots of laughs.
To kick off day 3 Sandy dog and I jumped right into a very strenuous hike up to Trailrider Pass... This approach was by far the toughest and most challenging. But we made it! Fortunately the other side down into Snowmass Lake area was not too bad and the afternoon portion of the hike was both pleasant and very scenic. The views of Snowmass Lake were outstanding!
On the final night we pitched camp a bit past Snowmass lake in a wide flat area along Snowmass Creek. Three other guys from Denver camped nearby and we shared a ton of laughs that evening too. The next day we got an early start and had broke camp by 8 am. Making the final push up to Buckskin Pass by about 10 am Monday morning. My Florida friends joined me there and we said our goodbyes as they had a plane to catch that night in Denver to go back to Miami.
After a great morning up on Buckskin Pass Sandy dog and I began the descent back to our starting point just past Crater Lake. The shuttle buses were running like clockwork every 15 mins so we hopped on board and were back at our vehicle in a flash. We finished the hike mind and body totally blown!
Make sure to watch the vlog for our trip below too!