4 Pass Loop: Maroon/Snowmass Wilderness
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6
I typically start my trip reports with a message the Spirit reveals to me while on any given trip. I do my best to connect my outdoor pursuits with a more important Spirit filled message to glorify Jesus and His love for us. On many of these trips, the message comes to me in different forms...through fellowship, scenic views, or the Lord speaking to me through thought and prayer. Once I receive this thought or message, I hold on to it...make notes...and pray that this is in fact a word inspired from the Spirit and not some Idiot (Me) spewing off some religious mumbo jumbo to you all.
But this trip is different than any other trip I've been on...I didn't have an AWE HA! moment with Jesus. Nope, I didn't. In fact, I had something better. At the end of this trip, I had a full day's hike out of the wilderness with Jesus. I didn't know it at first, but I soon came to see my Savior provide for me and my friends...over and over again on this very cold and uncertain day.
The day started off with doubt and indecision and it ended in complete trust in Jesus...to the point where I just chuckled in confidence when another obstacle presented itself...
So instead of starting off the trip report with a message...I hope to let the trip report speak of Jesus' goodness (The message comes on day 2 of this trip)...
(Jeremy, Me, Brad)
What: 4 Pass Loop, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Goal: 26 miles, backpack over 4 passes at 12,500'
When: September 09/26-09/28/13
Who: Jeremy Hendrix, Brad Hardin, Ugly Pasquel
Brad, Jeremy, and I started on the Loop up to West Maroon Pass at 7:30 a.m. The day started out windy, but absolutely clear with blue bird skies. The 4 pass loop is a 26 mile circuit that climbs up over 4 passes that clear 12,500' each. The 4 passes consist of West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin Pass. It is one of Colorado's classic hikes and I was certain that Brad and I would find redemption this time around...You see, I attempted this hike a couple of years back, but did not complete the loop due to one of our team members feeling ill (Read here: http://seekingtheburningbush.blogspot.com/2011/09/4-pass-loop.html ).
As we arrived to Aspen, we went over to the gear shop and then to the Ranger station to ask about weather conditions. We had been looking at the weather all week, and it appeared we were going to have good weather outside of a quick cold front that was going to move in on day 2. We had our concerns, but we felt good moving forward with all the information we had. The news, the locals, hell...even the Rangers basically told us that day 2 would be wet, with a few inches dropping at higher elevation...so with this, we felt confident about completing the loop.
So after a day of acclimation in Aspen (meaning a few beers at Aspen Brewing Company), we started at Maroon Lake TH at 7:30 a.m. Our goal for day 1 was to hike 12-13 miles over West Maroon and Frigid Air Pass and set up camp in Fravert Basin.
The first mile of the trail, from Maroon lake to Crater Lake is absolutely wonderful this time of year. Matter of fact, we planned this trip exactly this time of year in hopes of catching the Aspens at their peak...and I believe I finally caught the Aspens after all these years! I wish I can tell you how I felt walking in the woods that morning...it was beautiful.
...reminded me of His love of color...
...Painter, Sculptor, Creator...
...Once again, I am reminded of His goodness.
The first mile and a half, you hike West towards the Bells. It shouldn't take you long...but it was taking us a while to get through this first mile. Partly because I was taking several pictures and enjoying the scenery...Frankly, I don't see how anyone can fly through this section. Though the trail is really easy with minimal elevation gain, the crux is the beauty of the place...it will just stop you in your tracks. Side note...there have been several moose sightings in the area the past few weeks. Didn't see any on this trip...
After an hour of hiking, we arrived at Crater Lake...which sits right under the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak...3 14,000' peaks within close proximity of each other. In the picture above, Pyramid's shadow rises below the Bells. This is one of my favorite pics of the week. Our trail continued Southwest for 5 miles in the direction of the valley you see above...5 miles and a steady 2,500' hike up to West Maroon Pass. This is goal #1.
This is a view down of West Maroon Valley...the Peak in the center is Pyramid.
This is the last 100' hike up to the first pass on our trip...West Maroon Pass.
Picture of us on top of West Maroon Pass. The view behind us is the basin on the West side of the pass. From here, we drop down about 500' and head NW across the basin towards Frigid Air Pass.
Once you drop down 500'...the trail stays pretty steady until you reach the base of the red peak you see in the upper right...
These are your views as you traversing across the basin...
The Loop has signs at certain junctions...here, you could continue West over another pass into Fravert basin, but to remain on the 4 pass loop, you want to head up and over towards Frigid Air Pass.
However, we decided to take a much needed break before heading up over Frigid Air...we had traveled over 8 miles, gained a total elevation +/- of 3000' and we knew we still had to go over another pass, plus travel another 4 miles down into camp. We had also been told by a passing hiker that Frigid Air Pass had a lot of snow and the descent would be sketchy...So we took our sweet time and rested in the Sun before heading up.
(From Frigid Air Pass, you get views of the Bells backside...)
After hiking up 400' from our pit stop, we gained Frigid Air Pass. On the North Facing Slopes of Frigid Air Pass...there was a lot of snow. We could not find the trail so we just headed straight down the steep slopes...Needless to say, it was sketchy.
Also from Frigid Air Pass, you get your first views of Snowmass Peak off to the NW. Brad and I summited this peak a couple years back.
This is a view of the Upper Fravert Basin from Frigid Air Pass...
This is what our decent down from the pass looked like...We eventually found the trail, but it was after we dropped halfway down the slope. There were several inches od snow on the ground and it made for a slippery descent.
We continued 4 more miles down Fravert Basin, dropping down 2000' to our campsite below Fravert Basin Waterfall.
On day 1, we hiked a little over 12 miles...gained a total elevation +/- of 6000'. The temps were in the low to mid 40's most of the day...but in the Sun, so it was perfect. Pictures above is from our nearby campsite...where we had great views, great water source (North Fork Creek of Fravert Basin), and pristine wilderness to ourselves. We ended day 1 tired, but on a good note...What we didn't know, is that our real adventure would actually start the next morning...
09/27/13- Day 2
Yes...that is the same waterfall from the picture above. As mentioned before, we knew a cold front was moving in...we even knew of the possibility of minimal snowfall. But we never thought our day would start off like this. Matter of fact, I had woken up to use the restroom at 5 a.m. and there was no snow on the ground...two hours later, we woke up to our tent caving in on itself in the middle of winter wonderland.
So here's a picture of our campsite in the early morning...I shook off the snow on the tent so it would show up better in the picture. We laid in bed for an hour figuring out what to do. We had essentially 4 options at this point:
A) Stay put for the day
B) Hike over Trail Rider Pass
C) Hike back over Frigid Air and W. Maroon Pass back to TH
D) Hike over to Geneva Lake and hope a road would lead us back out somewhere.
Each option had an "unkown" factor to it. I was leaning towards Geneva Lake, but we didn't know where it would lead. We only had a map of the Maroon/Snowmass Wilderness 4 Pass loop...so we weren't certain where roads lead. We did however know that the town of Crested Butte was somewhere Southwest of us...unfortunately, our maps cut off everything in that direction. Brad was holding on hope to hiking over Trail Rider Pass...but he knew that was probably the most dangerous move. Jeremy decided to look at all options from a process of elimation standpoint...so this was our thinking:
A) Not good idea...we would remain snowed in, and snow was building up around us.
B) Most dangerous option...did not like this at all.
C) We knew the route...we just came up from above the day before. There would be more snow to deal with but at least we had an idea...
D) A complete unkown...were not prepared for this trail, did not have a good map of the area and did not know where it exactly lead.
So Brad and Jeremy decided plan C was best and I agreed to go with the majority. Though this was our best plan, there was a sense of hesitancy with it all. But we felt we needed to make a decision...so we did. We quickly jumped out of our sleeping bags, broke camp, and ate breakfast. As soon as we put on our packs to head back up the way we came, we saw a familiar group from the day before...and this became blessing #1.
This group of girls are students at Colorado College (CC) in Colorado Springs. On Day 1, we kept passing each other...With each passing, we would pleasantly say our hellos and make quick conversation about the day. Strangely enough, each time I saw them...they brought a certain sense of comfort to me on the trail. They all were so positive, had wonderful smiles, and I fed off their energy at each crossing. In some ways, I could see my own daughters, Hannah and Pia,...just trekking along, enjoying the mountain with friends. I felt like I could briefly see into the future...and this made me happy on the trail.
But back to Day #2...We saw the girls coming up to our camp, and we met them on the trail. We both shared our plans with each other for the day. The girls had camped nearly 500' above us the night before and had indicated to us there was considerably more snow where they camped. With this little bit of information, we immediately knew that going back up was no longer a safe option. The girls informed us they were heading towards Geneva Lake since they knew that either pass was no longer an option for them. I knew at that moment, this meeting at the trail was no coincidence...This group of girls kept us from making a mistake. Instead of leaning on our own understanding, we were receptive to the new plan for us...
...One of the cons of heading towards Geneva, was knowing there was a mid calf water crossing. There was no way around this. We all took off our shoes and waded across the freezing water to plant our feet on the other snowy side. We all got across...with pretty good attitudes I should add. These girls are tough!
In a way I can't explain...I was really enjoying the day. Yes it was cold...it was windy...it was snowy...my feet were wet...and I really had no clue how this day was going to end. But I kept looking around, enjoying the snow fall onto the earth. And It all seemed so peaceful. I felt like this was blessing #2. Everything about this situation should have added up to confusion, discomfort, and possibly panic. But I didn't feel this way at all...Maybe it was finding comfort in a large group...maybe it was only focusing on my surrounding, which I was enjoying...or maybe it was Something more. Either way, I felt good. I felt protected. I felt like I was being watched over in this moment. Knowing this gave me a sense of security that did not exist earlier in the day.
We continued another mile down the basin until we reached another junction. At this point, the trail goes up to Trail Rider pass or continues straight towards Geneva Lake. You ccan choose to take the trail up towards Trail Rider and you will find another junction that leads to Geneva. However, we chose to travel straight through...and continued hiking another 1.5 miles before reaching another water crossing right below a waterfall which serves as drainage for Geneva Lake. We never saw the lake, turns out it was some 1000' above us...but this was a good sign. We were dropping elevation.
We traveled South down the basin for another .5 mile before we hit the Geneva Lake TH and a road. I believe it's CO 3 we hiked down on...we were all happy to be on a road. We could see where we were on the map...the snow line was above us...and we were dropping elevation along with the South Fork Creek. Everything indicated we were still ok! There was a road...there was a river running downstream...we all had food and water...I was ticking all the checkpoints in my head.
So after another 1.5 miles down...we arrived at another junction. CO 3 and CO 317. There was a sign that indicated CO 3 lead to the town of Marble...6 miles away...and the road appeared to drop down even more. The other sign pointed towards Crested Butte...with no mileage marker. This is where I believe we recieved blessing #3. Before arriving at the junction, there were several in the group who were ahead of me, apparently waiting for everyone to catch up and discuss what route to take. Some discussed the idea of hiking to Marble...knowing it was 6 miles away. However, I knew that...or I should say, I was being led away from this decision and felt an overwhelming need to continue towards Crested Butte. Though we didn't know how far away it was...or what lay ahead...I knew it was the right decision. It was the only...I mean the only time on the trail I was 100% certain that we needed to head up CO 317. It was more than a decision...it was a conviction of rightness. I knew for a fact this is what we needed to do...And this overwhelming assuredness did not come from me!
So everyone agreed...and we headed up East on CO 317, on a gnarly 4X4 road through the Crystal River Valley. We still had no clue how far we were from Crested Butte...but we all continued to make our way. Though this was the right decision...it was definitely not the easiest hike. We quickly found out the road started gaining elevation, for over 3 miles (some areas steeper than others)...the road was wet and loose...and we started hiking back up to the snow. The weather got worse as we continued to climb up...and to our dismay, we had two more watercrossings deeper and longer than the one earlier in the day since the road flooded. And since the road flooded...we now found ourselves bushwacking over willows for short sections that just zapped our confidence, energy, and joy. I think we were all getting to a point where we felt defeated...but we just continued moving along.
Our goal that day was to get to the bottom of the map...that's all the information we had. We figured we would make an educated guess from that point on and hope we found Crested Butte at the end of the road. The end of our map was Schofield Pass...and after hiking over 9 miles, in deteriorating weather, over three barefoot watercrossings, bushwacking, and no end in sight...we finally arrived to the end of our map...Schofield.
We were still on CO 317, and it intersected the East Fork TH that heads up towards West Maroon Pass. It was at this point we all felt somewhat defeated. Here we were, had been traveling for 8 hours, and still felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We still had no clue how far Crested Butte was...we now had no map for the area we were heading to...we were all cold, wet, and exhausted. We all knew we had to reassess our day...We were losing daylight, it was getting colder, and we needed to decide if we were going to camp or continue on for a few more miles. It was at this point, I could sense many in the group wanting to give up on the day...including myself. It looked like we were going to have to spend the night in what felt like the middle of nowhere...
And then blessing #4. As soon as we started to discuss the idea of hunkering down...one of the girls shouts, "I see lights...I see a truck!!!!!" And just like that, we all start yelling and waving our hands. What a moment! I couldn't believe it. It felt like pure Godsend. Immediately, our morale changed.
Turns out, a shuttle truck driver was scheduled to pick up a few hikers at this TH. We spoke to the driver and he was at first hesitant to drive us down, since it would exceed the state law's passenger maximum. But after pleading with him...he knew he couldn't leave us up there. He told us, "I won't leave you guys up here." What a blessing.
But personally, it is even more amazing to know that this truck shows up...within 5 minutes of our arrival at the end of our map! Perfect timing! Perfect gift. The whole day, we had each other and enough information to get us to this point...but at the end, we ran out of information, map, and will power to move forward. We were not meant to finish this trip on our own...nor did we want to.
(Side note: We waited for two hours for the group of hikers the shuttle was there to pick up. Two of the hikers arrived by 6:30 p.m., but one (Miriam) was missing. It was a frantic, sad, and scary situation. We left the TH without her and as soon as we arrived in town, we were dropped off and a Search and Rescue team was heading up for her. The good news, Miriam was found the next day...she took shelter under a tree. She was hospitalized in Aspen but sounds like she will be ok.)
When we arrived in the town of Crested Butte, the girls went on their way to find help for the night...and we had no place to stay. Our car was left at Maroon Creek TH some 110 miles around the mountain. But the Lord continued to provide for us. Blessing #5 came in the form of a place to stay in Crested Butte. Over the past year...Brad had been telling me about a guy who owns a condo in Crested Butte. Brad shares some of our stories with him and I believe he does the same with Brad. As we arrived at a bus station, Brad contacts Ron about a place to stay in CB. Ron tells Brad that he is back in Austin, TX and that we could stay in his condo for the night. Ron arranges a couple of friends to give us a key to his place and next thing you know...we have a nice- very nice, clean, warm place to stay for the night. It was the best night of sleep I had in weeks. Ron, if you ever read this post...THANK YOU SO MUCH! Humbled by your generosity...I will always remember this gift. Also, your place is great...I enjoyed the pictures, posters, and places you guys have been. You are a true adventurer.
The next day, we still had to figure a way back to our car...I didn't even fret. I kept looking back at the last 24 hours and was reminded over and over again of the Lord's provision on our adventure. He was there to calm, to protect, to guide, to gift, and to shelter us the entire time. I had no reason not to continue to trust him with all my heart. So I did.
We were looking at spending over $300 to get back around to aspen...Every shuttle service was quoting us the same. We didn't want to spend that kind of money...but knew we may have had no choice. Then we get a phone call from one of the shuttle services...they tell us they are picking up a group of girls and would only charge us $60 pp to bring us around. We knew who they were...We knew Who was in control! We just chuckled...
The thing is...I would like to use this trip as a day long metaphor as to what it's like to walk as a believer. Everyday is about trusting in Him in every moment, not relying on my own understanding to navigate through life. And sure...I see it as that. But really...I don't have to use it as a metaphor. In those 24 hours...I relied on God's provision for us with every step on that mountain. No matter what mountain top or valley low...I just kept trusting in Jesus.
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me." Psalm 138:7
The enemy on this trip was myself..my doubts. But thank God I didn't rely on myself...I trusted the Lord with all my heart, submited my ways to him, and He laid the path ahead of me. So I took the path ahead of me...and found myself hiking out with Jesus. Now that is some goodness!.