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Backpacking the Four Passes Loop

By Ann Driggers

Just before the 4th July holiday weekend got into full swing, friends Twyla Gingrich, Greg Tibboel, and I headed out to backpack the Four Passes Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The loop is a combo of trails, circumnavigating the Maroon Bells and topping out four times at over 12,000 feet on Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air and West Maroon Passes. At around 26 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing total it’s most easily broken up into a three night - four day trip. It can also be done in much shorter stints including a day. We chose the backpack experience since Greg and Twyla are shortly headed to Mumbai, India for two years and deserved a full on and extended immersion in the Elk Mountains before hitting the big and not so sweet city. On a side note Twyla was reading the Geography of Bliss on this trip which describes Mumbai as if “a wet smelly diaper was being wrapped around my head”. Of course nothing could be further from our experience.

In case you are wondering - yes, we did really carry books. For me, reading in the outdoors while sitting in camp or resting on a mountainside is one of the beauties of backpacking, and hence one of the reasons for extended time on the trail. My choice of reading material was Sir Edmund Hillary’s account of his summit of Mount Everest , High Adventures, a book I highly recommend for its humble report of a groundbreaking ascent and its deep love and respect for big mountains. Along with the book I also loaded my pack with other so called luxuries, a pair of Chaco’s and a litre of wine, which in fact I consider necessities for true camp relaxation. Despite these heavy items, and as a result of paring down in other areas, my pack weighed in at less than 30lbs making for a relatively light load.

Anyway I digress. Having run and hiked various parts of the loop before, but never the whole enchilada, I was really looking forward to an extended version of the Four Passes Loop. We weren't disappointed. It’s hard to condense a multi day experience into a blog post so here are the highlights and other standout moments, in the order in which they occured:

Camping at Snowmass Lake, falling asleep in my tent, looking up at the craggy peaks surrounding the lake and listening to the roar of the creek. Not too amused at being awoken by a porcupine at 4:30 a.m. who I believe was raiding the Jagermeister chilling in the creek. However an hour later I was thankful to said porcupine after watching the alpenglow creep down Snowmass Mountain from the shores of Snowmass Lake at sunrise.

 Hiking in Fravert Basin – a high alpine utopia where the intense green of the floor contrasts with the vivid red rocks of the surrounding mountains.

 

Tacking on a visit to Geneva Lake which added an additional 3 miles to our second day. The lake was beautiful but halfway through the detour we arrived at a rowdy creek which was too high and fast for us to cross safely. Instead of returning the way we came (and climbing back up over a thousand feet) we elected to build a bridge. Bridge building takes a while and the adrenalin ran high as we shimmied across our rickety structure.

The brief porcupine visit the first night morphed into full on porcupine warfare at our second camp in Fravert Basin. Greg spent most of the night awake defending the supplies of Jagermeister and Goldfish. Or so he thought. In the end we believe they were just after the bark on the trees, but as to why they chose the trees around our tents, I have no idea.

Condensing the trip from four days into three. On the soon-to-become, but not-originally-planned, final day we departed camp at 7 a.m., concerned about thunder storms. We met our first rain by 9 a.m. and continued hiking through to Crater Lake. Ostensibly we were worried about our camp activities (how can one read, drink and sunbathe when it’s raining?) and decided to hike out. In reality the call of martinis in a dry bar was too strong. That would be dry as in not raining, of course.

Overall it was a fantastic trip. I took a ton of photos and put together a little slideshow of the adventure. I hope you enjoy it.

  

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