Maroon Bells: Four Pass Loop
I can finally feel my toes again after my last trek, so I guess that means it's time to plan the next one! I've been looking at the Four Pass Loop 10mi southwest of Aspen, CO, but I've stumped Google with a few questions during my planning; so I humbly ask ya'll for your opinions...
-Is there a particularly good time to hike this area? I've seen trip reports from around July to September. I'd like to go sooner rather than later, but I haven't heard if the passes are...passable as early as May.
-Can the trip be done with a hammock? I think the trail drops below the tree-line often enough for a 3 night trip over the 25mi length of the trail, but I've been unable to find if they are close enough or sturdy enough to use. I'm hoping "yes", since hammocks are awesomer, and I need an excuse to make an underquilt and top quilt
-The passes are all well north of 12,000ft. Well beyond any hiking I've done previously (~9000ft). Is there any legit way to prepare for the altitude, or is it best to simply get in the best shape possible, then acclimate for a day or two prior to embarking, and take the trails slow 'n steady? I do plan to do at least a couple 20+ mile multi-day shakedown hikes, but at Texan altitudes (<8000ft)
-Any special gear I should consider bringing aside from very cold/wet weather gear & shelter? I suppose I'll have to get a more expensive cooking device than my alchohol soda-can stove for the altitude/temperatures out there
-Is there anything particularly cool (but not super-expensive) in Aspen or the surrounding area I should be sure to check out after I'm done adventuring? I just know Googling "cool stuff in Aspen" would take a few lifetimes to sift through
This expedition doesn't seem quite as cut-and-dry as the Napali Coast trail, and I really appreciate the advice
This is definitely a bucket-list item. I haven't hiked it with a hammock yet, but the area is absolutely amazing. It won't disappoint.
A few answers, from my perspective below. I've been to the bells during a few times of year but haven't hiked them extensively.
- Timing: Later is always better (late August/September being ideal, IMO - better weather and fewer crowds in late August/September). May is pushing it... mid to late June is probably okay, but the tough thing is that you'll have to watch the winter weather. This year, with our very low snow, May could have worked. The year before, which had nearly 200% averages, June might have been too early. While you could try earlier, if you're planning to travel in, a late spring storm could very easily spoil the plans. I personally wouldn't even really consider it until mid-June. It could be okay, but could also get pretty cold and snowy. As this is a bit of a longer trip and pretty high altitudes, better safe than sorry.
- Hammock - Never tried with a hammock, but I've seen trip reports of it being done. I'd say go for it (I'm also trying it in August/September next year and will go for it). I'll probably bring a light pad in the rare event I have to go to ground.
- Have you been at that altitude in the past? That'll give you a good indicator of how you'll do. If you've been up that high for hikes before, you should be good. Typical recommendations apply. Make sure you're in good shape, hydrate a ton, eat well, etc. There are also some altitude medications available that may help if you're concerned. Also, if you plan on dropping back down into treeline to hang, the altitude is much less of an issue (shorter exposure at the higher altitudes greatly limits the negative impacts).
- No special gear, honestly. It's an amazing, but standard trip from a gear standpoint. Possibly some bugs (but nothing like Texas). Great views, nice wildflowers. Bring a camera. As mentioned, I'd consider bringing a light pad in the event you go to ground. If you go in a month where snow is always possible (May for sure, June, late September/October) make sure you have adequate cold-weather clothing and are prepared for possible snow. Stove-wise, again if in colder weather, I might bring a small canister stove. Otherwise, your alcohol stove should do just fine, even at altitude.
- Activities - anything you enjoy doing? I can recommend some things if that's the case. Do you fish? Great fishing around there. Moab isn't too far, which has some great hikes and mountain biking paths. Some nice climbing not too far away. Glenwood Springs (north of Aspen, up on I-70) has some hot springs which are always fun. Toss out what you like to do and I could recommend a handful of things to try.
I believe the four pass loop is in the Snowmass Wilderness which means you will probably have to get permits. I'd check into that first since an area that popular will fill up fast.
Keep you eyes on the Colorado snow pack last year we got nothing all passes opened up very early.
Good Luck sounds like the start of a great hike.
Thanks for the tips, ya'll
I looked into the permitting issue, and it appears from the not-so-clear website that permits are free, and issued at the park, as opposed to something I need to line up ahead of time. Sounds like a first come, first served kinda deal.
Mid June would work; it'll give me more time to train up in some other areas closer by (ha!) like Palo Duro Canyon and the Guadalupe Mountains. The Guadalupes (~8000ft) kicked my butt years ago, but I was in terrible shape from 4 years of college cuisine and slacking :lol:. I've dropped about 30lbs since then, and can run/hike much farther than before, so it at least seems plausible I could train up for this (hope so, anyway)
I guess I need to start putting together a gear list, so I can get cracking on the stuff I need to make. An under and top quilt, perhaps a new hammock to replace the Hennessy, and I guess a more shielded tarp than my Hex Cat?
How much water does one typically burn through at those altitudes? Being from Texas, I'm accustomed to carring 6 or more liters since water is quite rare, but that looks like it'd be overkill in that lush an area.
If you know of any particularly good brew pubs, that'd be a good starting point for frivolities after camping :D. I'll probably bring along the little fishing setup I used in Kauai; who knows, it might actually get used this time.
I do have snowshoes (impulse buy; my Danners happen to be compatible with military surplus showshoes), and I've been idly looking for an opportunity to try them out, but I don't know if any accessible spots would have snow at this point in the year (no, I don't want to do the 25mi loop in snowshoes ;))
If you have any questions in other areas, though, let me know.
Snowshoes could be interesting... if you know there's snow up at the pass, you may want to bring a pair. But, if there's enough snow to warrant much of a use, that might be an indicator that you're going a bit early.
Aspen is not popular for the front range folks. There are many great areas closer and cheaper than Aspen.
The ground under deep snow is generally warmer than the snow above. Close to the ground is depth hoar snow, aka sugar snow. At some point in the spring the snow is sugar snow all the way to the top. At that point travel even with snow shoes is not practical. The snow shoe deck accumulates heavy icy snow and any travel becomes a struggle, except when there is a frozen crust.
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