This is an entry for Dave Chenault's Summer Trip Report contest. I intended the original media for this report to be pretty much just video, but I decided to add a significant written section (which ended up much longer than expected) so I could elaborate on details and fill in areas that were not covered on the video. I also realized some may not be willing to sit through the 52 minutes of Part 1 and Part 2 or the 30 minutes of Part 3 where I discuss my thoughts about the gear I used or changed for this trip (I included the outline for the video at the bottom). You'd think given those lengths that I didn't leave anything out, but I cut out quite a bit and also didn't take any pics or video for extended sections of the trip for various reasons. Thus, this report in both video and written forms documents my 7-night adventure in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness in late August. I have not included any pics here aside from the route map near the bottom.
The genesis of my third big trip since starting backpacking 2.5 years ago began at the end of my trip last year where I had visited the Wind Rivers and Maroon Bells - I knew I wanted to go back to the Rockies. When I began planning for this year's trip, I had anticipated going solo but knew that would require a long drive so I had also entertained finding partners again. However, when I saw the logistics of Brian Camprini's Four Pass Loop TR, I knew where I was going and how I was going to get there. I believe the Maroon Bells Wilderness is unique in that you can fly in and be on the trail within a few hours for less than $25 with no need for rental car or lodging (and fly out for just a $6.50 shower). The airfare into Aspen ($350) would have been the same amount I would have paid in gas to drive 18 hours one way. It was a no-brainer.
I secured permission from my better half and made my reservations. Given a choice, I prefer not to follow the same route everyone else does so I started looking at the map I had ordered to see what was in the general area that may be worth checking out while still making at least some type of loop. After a couple days researching, I decided on what seemed like a reasonable route for me. Since I was coming from 600' with essentially no time to acclimate, I decided to take it easy the first day and planned just 2 miles to Crater Lake, which also would give me an easy out should I experience any altitude issues. From there, I planned to go over Buckskin Pass and down Snowmass Creek to Bear Creek and up into the Pierre Lakes Basin. I had found a nice TR that made that destination sound both interesting and challenging. Then I'd either try Heckert Pass or backtrack to Snowmass Lake and then over Trail Rider Pass. From there I'd be going up Hasley Basin and over that pass, taking a bypass trail off West Maroon Trail to a mountain bike trail over to Rustler Gulch. Then I had hoped to go over the saddle on the south side of UN 13232' to the Sylvanite Mine where I'd drop down to the Copper Creek Trail and then take the trail over to Triangle Pass to Conundrum Hot Springs. Finally, I planned to backtrack over the pass and then Copper Pass and take East Maroon Trail to get back out to the road to catch the bus.
I had intended to make several gear changes from the previous year, but the amount of time and money I had been putting into remodeling our home had put nearly all of those on hold. I was able to spend the couple days prior getting ready to make sure all the gear I did have was in order and to get my food ready. I ended up dropping a few pounds from my base weight to 11.63 and I had 7 full days worth of food at 10.5 so my skin out was < 28.5. You can view my current gear list in my profile - the only thing left out was the small key to the lock I used for the locker at the Aspen Rec Center. Because I picked an early flight I ended up with less than 5 hours of sleep the night prior. I breezed through security despite my trekking poles and plethora of stakes.
I arrived in Aspen at 9 AM local and caught the bus into town at the stop on Hwy 82. If you need alcohol for fuel, there's a Shell station on 82 with a bus stop and then the main bus station is just 3 blocks south (or you can wait the 5 minutes to get there and then walk 3 blocks north and back). It was $2.50 for a bottle of Heet. Ute Mountaineering, the local outfitter, has canisters and naptha and is just a block south of the Shell station. When you get to the bus station, you can purchase your ticket for the Maroon Bells bus for $6 and then wait for the next Castle/Maroon bus that can drop you off at the Aspen Rec Center, which is just past the schools, where you can rent a locker at the pool for $12.50 (for up to a month) if you bring your own lock. Once you've stored your travel gear, you can either catch the next Castle/Maroon bus or simply take a less than a mile walk up the road (I believe there's a paved trail also) to the Aspen Highlands to catch the next Maroon Bells tour bus. I made it just in time to get the last seat since they are pretty crowded going up in the morning. After a 15 min ride I was at the trailhead, < 3 hours after landing though I could have easily done it quicker. After chatting with some of the USFS volunteers about my lightweight gear, I got right to it and started up the trail to Crater Lake, which is a very easy and short hike. They had posted an advisory at the junction by Crater Lake that there had been a "bear incident/encounter" on Aug 18-19. I wandered around the area for a couple hours looking for a place to camp but I couldn't find a suitable location that wasn't visible at least fairly close to the lake since I didn't want to wander up the West Maroon Trail. I prefer not sleeping in designated spots but still try to stick to durable surfaces. While they had killed the bear in question just 2 days prior to my arrival I was still less inclined to be in a normal site but decided to take my chances at site 9, which seemed to be the closest to North Maroon. My dinner this night was one leftover from a local April trip with my boys - it still seemed OK but I was pretty hungry, too, so perhaps I was more forgiving.
One of the changes I had intended to make was getting an Ursack so I didn't have to worry about hanging my food from aspen and/or fir trees since I discovered finding a suitable limb to be rather difficult the prior year. In that case (or above treeline without nearby cliffs) I'd often just set my bag on a large boulder or hang it from a low branch and just hope the Opsak did it's job, but given the recent attacks and likelihood other bears may have also been habituated I wasn't willing to do that so I continued to look around for a limb and finally found one that seemed like it may be strong enough to hold and still be possible to get a rope over without getting tangled. Unfortunately, it was only 75' down the hill from my tarp but it was the best I could do. The poor branch drooped way down under the weight of my full bag, but it held and kept the bag high enough. I typically tie off on another tree as high up as I can get and coil any excess rope up high as well so a bear won't be able to see the rope at all unless walking on hind legs perhaps. How do most of you protect your food in this situation? It also got me to thinking of other related issues such as "Is it better for your mouth to smell like your dinner or toothpaste when you go to bed?" and "Do you wash your hands AFTER dinner to remove any food smell before bed?" I don't think I've run across those discussions on BPL in the 2.5 years I've been here.
My first night was at 10180'. It was clear and uneventful, and I loved just looking at the sky. I took a few pics when I'd wake up in the night and watched the moon rise over Pyramid Peak. Since I had no apparent altitude effects in the morning, I set off toward Minnehaha Gulch about 7. I kept my Driducks jacket on a bit too long. I should have taken it off as soon as the ascent began, but waited until I was sweating 10-15 minutes later. It was a gorgeous morning with no wind so it wasn't an issue, but remided me I needing to be a bit more proactive about stuff like that. Not being proactive had caused me blisters on previous trips. This time I pre-taped my heels with waterproof Bandaids so at least I had that in my favor. I was disappointed the Gulch wasn't more photogenic as I'm especially drawn to pics of water, but it was pretty well littered with logs and debris. When I reached the "No camping" zone at the alpine meadow, I stopped to read, journal and have breakfast, 2 Carnation breakfast drink packets, using water from the nearby stream. I was pleased with how quick yet good that "meal" was. It reminded me of the Packit Gourmet smoothies from last year, which is what I was trying to emulate. I was amazed by how the mountains seemed painted against the sky, nearly flat. It really did remind me of a movie set with the blue screen since there wasn't a cloud in the sky I could see. I was at about 11500', almost 1000' below the pass, and feeling it as I climbed. The last 500' were pretty rough for me, taking 30 second breaks for every 60 seconds of walking it seemed. Of course, I'm not sure what I expected after just 24 hours at elevation, but I made it to Buckskin Pass at 10:30 and was struck by the contrast between the sandstone and granite you could see in the mountains on the opposite side. There were even some granite veins within the sandstone that looked like giant Scottish fence rows against the rolling sandstone "hills".
My thighs had an odd burning sensation as I started descending even though it was an easy grade. I'd never experienced that before and wondered if my thighs were particularly tight for some reason or if this had something to do with the altitude, but it went away after I dropped about 500'. The "no camping" zone ends when the trail crosses Snowmass Creek for the first time at 10800', and it appeared there were a few areas at that point that would be a good place to set down but I had intended to get all the way above Bear Creek Falls today. As I descended into the valley I was impressed by the nice semi-circular beaver dam and after taking some pics was startled by a mule deer gazing at me just 40' away. She meandered up past me within 15' and I sort of followed her as she grazed. Of course, the lighting at the time sucked so I never took a decent pic of her. I continued down the trail after she sauntered off and continued to hear a thunderstorm that had struck up to the south. An older couple from St. Paul on their way to the pass had turned around and caught up to me taking pics and we chatted a good while going down toward the lake. I told them all about going lighter and they related some of their many adventures over the decades. The rain started just as we neared their site and then the hail started so I just stayed and talked for about an hour until the rain subsided.
I got moving again about 3:30 and made the approx 4 miles down to just below the Bear Creek confluence at 5:30, somewhat slow as my right hip and knee were starting to act up. Snowmass Creek was running pretty swift though not too deep. I honestly was going to chicken out here, but decided to literally test the waters to see how bad the current felt on my leading leg. Once in, I was surprised how well my shoes seem to plant on the bottom so I continued my way across, very slowly and always keeping 3 points of contact against the mid-thigh current. I bet it took me 3 minutes to make the 15' to the shore. Once there I was faced with a small granite cliff of sorts that I had to scramble up, there being just enough debris on it to provide some traction. Once on the top, I could see a small pond that looked like it may have been flood runoff and my plan was to head west and south until I either found the trail that was suppose to exist or run into Bear Creek. This proved easier than anticipated because I found the trail within minutes just to the south and on the opposite side of said pond. I was cruising once again though the trail often did get "lost" in the open areas where there were many weeds. I once took a major wrong turn, climbing a path up a very steep dirt slope. What threw me off was that I did find a trail up higher, but it seemed to want to continue higher so I swacked my way back down and rediscovered the correct trail. Oddly, I looked for my wrong turn on the way out so I could warn others, but apparently didn't recognize it going the opposite direction. I don't recall any major direction changes so you pretty much just keep heading SW.
I found the report I referenced at the beginning fairly helpful though video would have been much better than pics IMHO. Just before you reach the falls, you'll cross a large boulder field that isn't really marked though there's almost a shelf trail you can follow. Toward the end it seemed to start going higher than it should have so I moved more toward the base of the falls. There's a small area of weeds you move through and then you're at another small boulder field right at the base of the falls. It was here I found my first real cairn, followed quickly by 3 more leading WNW up to the cliff band over which the falls spilled. My problem was it was 7:45 now, and I knew there was no way I could attempt the slope by headlamp. My God was looking out for me though as the fourth cairn lay atop a large flat and surprisingly level boulder. The sky was clear now. I prayed it would stay that way and set out my gear while my water boiled. I hung my bag from an aspen branch just 12 feet away. Even without my glasses on the sky was amazing.
While I awoke before sunrise, I mainly just piddled around until the sun finally hit where I was since I saw no reason to get to the basin early. It was 9:45 when I finally decided to start trying to figure out how to manage the crux of the route. There was no clear way to go from this fourth cairn and no other markings I could see. The previous report's writers had also had no idea how to get up and their writeup of their descent made me think I was in the right spot though I'd learn later I had passed it in the weeds between the 2 boulder fields. I decided to take what I'll call the left fork, mainly because it wasn't cluttered with aspen. I started scrambling and climbing up various slopes, crevices and shelves in a generally NW direction, trying to look ahead as far as I could for whatever seemed like the "cleanest" route. In reality I'm sure I zig-zagged upward and at one point came to one of those "What in the world do you think you're doing?" moments and very carefully backtracked down and chose a new route. I climbed for about an hour I bet before I stopped and assessed that I had to be way above the falls by now and there seemed several hundred more feet before getting to the top of where I was and that this didn't make any sense. So I started cutting SW across the slope and then down as I could start hearing where the falls were. Once I could see the fir trees, I started heading toward them and miraculously saw the trail entering the pines from about 100' above. I was back on track 90 minutes after starting my climb. From here I only lost the trail a few short times and I added a few cairns. I saw my first porcupine near the edge of this lower stand of firs where there's also a nice campsite.
I had to start taking lots of breaks again above 11K but it was noticeably steeper, too. It was also longer than you would think for being just 4.5 miles in from Snowmass Creek. It took me 6 hours from the base of the falls before I saw the big lake (though I did come in too far south). It was a very cool site to see. This is supposedly the only all-rock basin in CO. While there are little bits of grass here and there, they are littered with rocks so finding a spot to crash is sort of like the proverbial needle in a haystack. I was never able to find the tarn the previous report's writers had pitched their 2 small tents near (even after later scaling the large hill). Since a storm was now moving in, I was rather anxious to find another spot as I moved along the large lake's edge toward the north and once again a spot appeared right before me and my tarp was up minutes before the rain and hail hit. I knew the prayers from back home had been answered again. The lightning close to the basin sounds really wild - you can hear the thunder move slowly around you for about 240 degrees in a surround sound effect that lasts for over 10 seconds. Once the rain stopped, I explored some more and took some pics and then ate dinner. My camp was at 12200'.
The clouds prevented a nice sunrise though the sun did peak out for a couple minutes. My original plan was to go over Heckert Pass to Trail Rider Pass, but when I saw Heckert from the other side, it looked rather intimidating and it was no cakewalk from this side either. Since my right knee had been acting up a bit going downhill yesterday, and that this little adventure had already been more than I expected, I quickly dismissed that idea and decided to simply backtrack. It wasn't too bad though there were a couple spots I briefly lost the trail again. I actually met an older local man on his way up to see the basin who had camped where I had seen the porcupine. I was impressed he made it past the falls. It sounded like he had taken a route similar to me. Following the trail nearer the falls was a challenge in a couple places and I added a few cairns. One wrong turn had me out on a steep rock face high above the falls level. I tried to document this whole Pierre Lakes basin fairly well in the video. It took me 4 hours to get back to the base of the falls, and I must have lost my empty water bottle near the end of the swack down the slope. I periodically check to make sure they're well seated, especially when going through brush, but it must have slipped out without a sound. It took another 2 hours to get out to the crossing and my left knee was now hurting pretty well while my right felt fine. I decided to follow the trail to the other crossing further north and it turned out it was only another 150 yards. Since it's wider, it is somewhat shallower (below knee) and not as fast but I used my poles anyway just in case the rocks were slick. It's also easier to spot from the main trail and you don't have to go looking for the Bear Creek trail so I would recommend crossing here. That trail also continued further north, but I didn't follow it.
I should mention at this point that I had been using new socks for this trip and testing insoles. I used to use a pair of Injinji white toe socks but had worn a hole in the heel of one so I brought some new Bridgedale Coolmax/wool socks. While they are comfortable and good dry, they sucked IMHO once wet as they wouldn't come close to drying at all. They were significantly thicker, which is good for sleeping socks but bad for walking through creeks with trail runners I guess. Even 30 minutes later my feet would still be squishing in them and if I wrung them out, I could wring out just as much water 30 minutes later. It seemed like they were generating their own water! My sleeping socks were different Bridgedales and they acted the same way when I tried them a few days later. Moral of the story aside from trying to test before a major trip. Go with as thin as the expected weather will allow and keep wool content down. The insoles I decided to test was one of the tips from Mike Clelland's new book, Ultralight Backpacking Tips. He claimed the basic gel insoles helped prevent foot fatigue. Since I had experienced that the previous year even though I don't do high miles, I figured I'd give it a shot. To be the best side-by side test, I wore an OEM insert (Inov-8 in this case) on one foot and the Dr. Scholl's on the other and switched each day. I really could not tell any difference in comfort or fatigue though my feet weren't getting tired this trip for whatever reason. After a few days, the cloth top of the gel inserts started to delaminate. It may not be needed anyway perhaps. The Inov-8's need to have the pads on the bottom reattached every now and then though. The gel insert was more than twice the weight of the OEM, but one place the gel did excel was in water retention (or lack thereof really). To be fair, I just tested the base gel insert - Dr. Scholl's does offer "Work" and "Sport" versions and I don't know which Mike C! likes. Speaking of footwear, I'm not happy the soles of my 315 Roclites are delaminating after < 200 miles. Not only is the black vibram coming off but the white stuff under that has pulled away on one shoe. Shouldn't I expect more miles than this?
I knew with my now aching left knee and taking 6 hours to get back to the main trail that I wasn't going to make it over Trail Rider Pass today so I decided to stop at Snowmass Lake for the night. I arrived at 5:30 and set up - once again just ahead of a thunderstorm. While unpacking I was discouraged to see my headlamp switch had somehow gotten bumped into the on position. It was still lit, but I had no idea how long it had been on so from then on I used only the red setting for as little time as I could. It had done this one other time on a local trip. Since it is also pretty heavy with 3 AAA, I think I need to replace it. What is a good, light red/white headlamp?
Another thing I changed today was how I packed my pack. I knew going into this trip I was likely not going to get enough support from the Oware foam pad I had bought to replace the generic blue CCF I had been using. Even with it folded over 3 times to give 6 thicknesses worth of padding, it was just so flexible that it wouldn't effectively transfer the weight to the hipbelt of my Pinnacle. I had noticed my shoulders feeling some pull on the trip into Pierre Lakes so decided to stow my food bag vertically rather than horizontally to lower the pack CG and that did help. Leaving from Snowmass Lake I went a step further, putting my food bag in the bottom and then my sleeping bag and that helped even more. I packed it that way for the remainder of my trip.
It was a beautiful sunrise but somehow I didn't get up soon enough to get better pictures. Given my knee, I knew I was going to have to make some decisions on my intended route since I was behind schedule but figured I'd wait until I was over the pass, which took me 2 hours to reach. The beauty atop the pass is almost surreal. I was also surprised to see a couple outcroppings of what appeared to be calcium carbonate at the top. I hadn't seen any anywhere else in the range. I know I spent over an hour at the top, partially so I could take some time lapse pics. I talked to several people about lightweight gear, including a few trail runners that were amazed at my small pack for 7 days. Oh to have the knees to do the 4 Pass Loop in a day! I never really did run into anyone else going as light as I was and I'm not even UL yet. Going down was pretty brutal on the knee and I figured I would skip the entire SE portion of my trip, putzing around on some short day hikes and then heading over West Maroon Pass back to Maroon Lake.
A light rain started as I made my way down the switchbacks and into the North Fork of the Crystal River valley. The trail to Hasley Basin is just after you cross the river. There seems to be a man made gulley that looks like a trail right there but since it had water gushing down it, I didn't know what to make of it. There seemed to be another trail that veered off toward the left so I took it and it passed by a couple campsites in the meadow and then started uphill once into the firs. The trail was quite well used but there were several blowdowns that required significant uphill detours. Coming down you may not notice these detours so it could be a pain to bactrack perhaps. I reached the first meadow area in about 30-35 minutes and it was a fairly easy and steady grade from there. I had planned to find a spot above treeline and stop for the day. The only spot I saw was taken by 4 men so I kept going up. Since I was already < 800' down from the pass, won't sleep on wildflowers and only had a 1/4L of water remaining, I decided to just go over and stop at the next water I found. The remaining climb was steeper but not bad at all. I made the top in 30 minutes. Once there I could see a storm coming up behind me and a t-storm moving away to the east. My map indicated a side trail to Frigid Air Pass and also one that swept around the mountain to the SW, but I never saw either fork as I worked my way down the trail. It would be easy to do your own off-trail routes here though. I finally came across a trickle of water and refilled my bottle about 3/4 full. I was going to look for a place nearby to camp but the storm caught up to me and quickly added lightning as well so I kept moving down the trail and was soon to the switchbacks, which were very easy. I couldn't find a decent spot anyway as it turned out and decided I'd have much better luck going down rather than up the East Fork of the Crystal River. In 3/4 mile I came to a trail that headed across the creek where there were a few stands of firs so I decided to check them out and indeed they were campsites. I picked the one that had some nice benches made by the fire ring and had a a very nice double rainbow while setting up quickly since light was fading fast. It struck me as I boiled my water that I had only eaten 2 power bars and a piece of jerky so far today. After dinner I decided to treat myself to a fire to dry out my socks finally. I very rarely make fires for LNT reasons but I couldn't pass up such a sweet spot where someone had already gathered a small pile of larger logs. It took me 15 minutes to finally get it going (with just 1 match) and I did have to use my red light to find some of the better tinder to keep it alive, but I enjoyed my roaring blaze for almost a couple hours while attempting to dry my socks. I'm pretty certain the Hasley Basin trail used to be an official one for the condition it is in and that it has a sign on both ends. It may have been part of an alternative 4 Pass Loop and I would recommend it as such if you'd like a change of pace from the current loop. It would be easy to go over in either direction.
I stayed in bed reading, writing and route planning. The sun hit my site at 8:20. I had discovered I was at the bypass trail I had originally planned to take so I've decided to go back to most of my original route. This trail will lead me via the bike trail to Rustler Gulch where I hope to camp at the end of before trying to go off trail over a saddle. Since I only had about 10 miles planned I didn't leave camp until after 10:30. The bypass trail and bike trail (Trail Riders Trail) were both pretty easy and it took me just over 2 hours to reach the trail head. There were 3 trucks parked along the 4x4 road. Speaking of which, my map indicated a junction which didn't truly exist. The bike trail and the 4x4 road are maybe 30' apart but you can't see the other through the weeds unless you're really looking or there happens to be a car parked in the lot at the top of the hill as there was in my case. The bike trail switchbacks down the hill to the south while the 4x4 road curves down to the SE. As I walked up Rustler Gulch I passed 3 sets of day hikers and I asked each about the possibility of going over that saddle but none of them knew for sure though one had heard of a few that had done it though it was rather dicey. I noted a couple decent campsites between the first 2 crossings. The weather started clearing as I hiked up and was pretty nice by the time I got near the end of the road, but one look at the saddle and I knew I shouldn't go for it. Had I had no knee issues at all I may have chosen otherwise even though I was solo without a PLB. As expected from the few pics and satellite views I'd seen, it looked clearly easier than Heckert Pass would have been, but I was in no mood to try something foolish. As it turned out, there was rain and lightning for several hours the next morning so I wouldn't have attempted it anyway. Needless to say this put me in sort of a quandry because I didn't want to be way behind schedule again so I decided to scamper back down the trail as fast as I could and prayed for a ride over to the next trail head. It was indeed a miraculous day as I made it back down the 3.5 miles in 1 hour, which would be great for me even with 2 good knees. I made a quick video, wrung out my socks and prepared to hike down the road when the hunter who owned the only remaining truck returned and gave me a ride. Cha-ching! (I guess 1 set of dayhikers parked somewhere else?) (I also had no idea bow season started so early in CO). Interestingly, I had actually seen him the previous day atop Trail Rider Pass and some other hikers had commented on how nice he was. This trail angel truly made my day. He even insisted I take the spare AAAs he'd just bought when he learned mine had been run down. We had quite a nice conversation on the 30 minute drive over to the Copper Creek TH. I then figured I could hike all the way to the mine with the 3.5 hours of daylight I had left.
The Copper Creek Trail was another 4x4 track on a fairly easy grade for most of the way though the track going to the actual mine was much steeper. It did take me almost 3 hours for the 5 miles so it was dark by the time I set up and ate. I also finally developed a small blister on the bottom of my left foot, but it was helped along by a small pebble that must have worked it's way in during a crossing. I found a nice spot sheltered fairly well from wind that may come up either valley. I stayed up until 10 since I now had fresh batteries. The sky above me remained clear though I could see the glow from lightning far to the south and over the mountain to the west. I was afraid that would mess up the star time lapse pics I did from 1:30-4 am. The storm must have finally rolled in around 5 and it rained on and off for the next several hours. While it was mild, the wind had shifted enough so I needed to put up my "storm door" to keep spray off my gear.
Even though my feet would dry quickly enough when I'd remove my footwear, I was tired of having soaking feet all day so I decided to wear my dry sleep socks under some veggie bags and see how that worked since I wasn't aware of any crossings I'd have that couldn't be rock-hopped. I had just included 2 of these bags in my first aid kit that could be used for either gloves, a wrap to hold gauze in place or VBL for feet or hands. Even though I added some duct tape to the toe area, they didn't hold up to even 30 minutes of hiking to the lower mine and back though neither failed at the point of the toes. Oh well. I've read that maybe bread bags or ones from Subway would work better but I was hoping the lightest would be strong enough. Another lesson learned. The lower mine shaft closure had been compromised at some point so you could actually enter it if desired. You could see the rails going in and a spring was rushing out of it. A book source I found claims the spring and lakes are tainted with acid mine waste so I'd caution you not to drink the water here. The closest water is maybe 3/4 mile down the mountain where a small stream crosses the 4x4 track at the first switchback. There are supposedly several pieces of mining equipment in the area, but aside from rails and pipes the only other one I saw was a mining car on the talus slopes that had maybe been pushed off the upper shaft rails.
I had intended today to be pretty low mileage, taking the Triangle Pass Trail over to Copper Pass and then staying in the upper basin of East Maroon Creek. Because of all the rain, I was concerned that shelf trail may be slick and the views I had expected would be dampened by the clouds so I decided to keep it simple and go over East Maroon Pass. As I descended from the mine, I noticed a side trail to the left that appeared that it may connect to the Copper Lake campsite area just around the mountain, but I did not investigate. If so, that would save 1000' of loss and gain. Once you hit the Triangle Pass cutoff the 4x4 track ends and the trail steepens to the lake. I didn't find Copper Lake as attractive as the others, but the dismal skies didn't help matters as it kept spitting rain on and off. As I neared the pass though, the clouds began breaking up and there was a fair amount of sun as I stopped on the other side. Last year I had looked down into this basin from the east after I had "summitted" just north of Conundrum Pass. I recalled the stunning view and severe dropoff. That was near the end of my trip then. There would be no such adventures this year, but I stayed near the pass over an hour, drying my shoes and socks and taking some time lapse pics while watching two heavy rainstorms pass by the head of the valley. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to get below the 3rd crossing so I wouldn't have to worry about wet feet or my knee as much on my way out and that would also get me out early enough to have a nice meal before catching my flight. I think that proved to be wise since yet again I didn't find a nice site past the first crossing until just before dark again near what must have been some type of mining camp east of Thunder Pyramid (13932). The trail was in poor condition in several areas between the 2nd and 3rd crossings (going down). I ran into an avalanche that had you maneuvering a good hundred yards of firs strewn every which way that was much more challenging than boulder fields IMHO. I was surprised there had been no apparent attempt to clear a path. The trail was also quite rocky, steep and eroded in various places along this section. I did see my first elk near the 2nd crossing though (4 of them actually) and wished I could call the hunter that had helped me out though I think he sticks mostly to the Crested Butte side of the range.
I pretty much went straight to sleep. I awoke to discover I had left my other pole outside my tarp for the first time I can recall and some critter gnawed some on the plastic handle. I planned on replacing the handles anyway. I think it was the rabbit that watched me eat dinner from a few feet away. I decided to forego breakfast (yet again) and just get going, figuring a nice meal in town would more than make up for it. It took me 2 hours to make the TH. I waited only a few minutes for the next bus, which was empty at this time of day, down to Aspen Highlands. I could have done the short walk down to the Rec Center, but it was just an 11 minute wait for the next bus and I had him drop me off there (the downhill stop is actually about 100 yards past the ARC) where I paid $6.50 for a shower (they just charged the same CC# since the card was in the locker). Then I dried and repacked everything at a shelter outside so everything fit into my pack while calling my wife to tell her I survived my adventure. After catching the next Castle/Maroon bus into town, I walked 2 blocks north and the next block east from the station to Little Annie's for a BBQ beef sandwich and Ranger IPA. Both were quite good and hit the spot, setting me back $22 with tip. Then back to the station to catch the Down Valley bus to the airport. This TSA crew at least did pull my pack aside to check out my "ski poles". She said my "pointy" (pretty rounded to me) tips were borderline and not to get the poles out on the plane. "Uhh, OK." My 4:35 flight was right on time. The End.
Route map - the yellow As (some are hard to see) are my campsites and the blue portion of line near the bottom was my ride.
Below is the outline I used for Part 3 of my video, which covered my closing thoughts and discussion on some gear:
- If not "in shape" take it easier the first several days. I acclimated to altitude fine, but my knees couldn't keep up with me. My knee still hurts a week later.
- Verify nothing major is happening on fly in/out dates. There was a major bike race the day after I landed that closed traffic downtown and altered bus routes apparently.
- I learned not to use trashbag pack liner to cover foot of bag to protect from condensation. I figured the open end would allow enough moisture to escape but apparently not. I normally use Driducks jacket for this, but had it on so I was testing how the trashbag would work.
- Love Neoair partially inflated but can't figure out how not to stick (sweat) to it.
- Nixed my normal pillow, using stuff sack from my tarp filled with either DriDucks, Capilene or trashbag. Never could get Clelland's ziplocs to work.
- Replaced my shortened generic blue CCF pad with a thinner full-length from Oware with an R1 rating. It wasn't stiff enough for good pack support with >20 lbs unless you moved weight to bottom.
- I risked not taking my puffy insulation, relying on Cap 4 top and Cap 3 bottoms to be enough. They were (never wore for insulation value) but was never < 40 F I think.
- Hated the Bridgedale socks because of water retention. Great for sleeping though.
- BPL Thorofare shirt worked great but pocket rubbed my nipple which may have been pure coincidence. Any way to get some of this material???
- Not happy with Inov-8 Roclite 315 soles delaminating after < 200 miles!
- Dr Scholl's gel insoles did not hold water but top fabric layer deliminated on heel area. Maybe you don't need that layer? My feet didn't feel any different with OEM insoles. The Work or Sport models may be better?
- Baskin Robbins plastic spoon still cracked after a few times of sterilizing it in water. Use hand sanitizer in future.
- Might look into 1L Platy for "sports" drinks so I can easily "bag" it. I've only drank water in past, but seeing as I don't eat much this would be easy way to get salt/potassium and a few calories.
- Braided catfish line sucked for bear bag rope.
- Foodbag and opsak worked well again but would still like an Ursack so I don't have to "hang" at all in these areas.
- 2nd time headlamp has switched on by itself - any recs for a red/white one that is light?
- Waterproof Band-aids didn't stick like used to.
- Grocery veggie bags didn't last - try Subway or bread bags
- Repackaged toothpaste to save weight. Is it better to smell like dinner or toothpaste?
- Still too much food! Smaller portions and more salt. I came home with 40.7 oz of food, almost 1/4 of what I took! What's even weirder is I lost no appreciable weight on this trip. (?!?!?!) Go figure!