West Maroon Pass
Trailhead: Crater Lake (Maroon Bells)
Distance: 15.5 miles (strenuous)
Lots of things to preface this blog post, so bear with me, please.
Originally, Logan and I set out to do the Four Pass Loop. This would have been our first backpacking trip and we were really excited. About 6 miles in (5 miles on the trail), I started crying because I finally came to terms with the fact that I was not ready to do this Loop. I was angry and upset and frustrated, and in a lot of pain. I sat down on a rock, pulled out our maps, and realized that there were still at least 2 miles to the pass, another 750+ feet of elevation gain, and even further to our planned campsite. It was not happening. And it broke my heart. For one thing, I felt like I was quitting. For another, I've had my hopes set on this trip for a month or so now and not being able to complete the hike made me feel like a failure. Logan talked me down, helped remind me that I was still out in an INSANELY beautiful area, and to look positively at what I had accomplished already (No seriously, Logan is probably the only reason I'm not crazy).
So, while I didn't do exactly what I set out to do, I still accomplished more than I have before - 15.5 miles in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness carrying a 28 lb pack. Now that I've had time to remove myself from the situation, I am really proud of what we did this weekend, even if it didn't follow my carefully laid out plans.
Logan and I headed down to Aspen on Wednesday night. We had a hotel reservation (praise the lord for off season pricing) and we were getting up at 5:45 to head to the trailhead by 6:30. It was a beautiful morning, not too chilly, a little overcast, and I was getting lots of nervous/excited butterflies. On our way up Maroon Creek Road, we saw two rainbows over the mountains. I'm definitely a believer in the universe giving us signs, and I took this to be a good one. My butterflies went away and I was ready to hike! We got to the overflow parking area and scored one of the last parking spots (mom's parking lot mojo is real & it's hereditary). After doing some last minute adjusting, eating a breakfast of water and poptarts, we hit the trail by 8:09. Since we were in the overflow lot, it added 0.75 miles to our day (easily the worst mile of the whole thing). We trudged up the hill and reached Maroon Lake.
We've only ever been to this area in the fall to see the aspen trees, so it was a totally different view this time around. I wanted to get on the trail, the clouds were looking a bit ominous, so we didn't hang out long. We started up towards Crater Lake and got our permits.
We hiked up to Crater Lake last September, and I remember it being more challenging than I would have expected, so I was prepared for the huffing and puffing I would be doing. Logan was jamming to Young Thug and was definitely in a rhythm, but I opted not to use headphones and could not get going the way I wanted to. It was frustrating and I felt like I was stopping every 3 minutes. Then it started raining, so we had to stop and put our pack covers on and any semblance of rhythm I had disappeared. I had been religiously checking the weather for the previous week and a half, and it said there was only a chance of rain for this morning, so I was a little bitter when the skies just opened up on us. THANKFULLY, by the time we reached Crater Lake, it cleared up and blue skies came out. I still stopped to put on my rain jacket, though, because the wind had picked up and I was starting to feel pretty cold. We took a moment to enjoy the lake - it's absolutely stunning (and the water was an insane blue color that morning), but we had miles to cover and our slow and steady pace urged us onwards.
After Crater Lake, the trail starts winding its way up some talus fields and further back between the mountains. We passed a guy who had just been climbing on Thunder Pyramid and told us that he had been snowed on! We eventually came to a field of rocks, and stopped to have a snack and reapply sunscreen - with our pale skin, I was trying so hard to prevent us from getting burnt and being absolutely miserable. I had drank about 750 ml at this point (I was counting because the water was the heaviest part of my pack), so I refilled and we stood up to leave. Just as we got our packs on, a man walked by and asked if we were camping and if so, where. I told him I didn't know off the top of my head, but that I had some maps in my backpack, so we got them out and he was able to get whatever information he was looking for and headed on. I rolled my eyes a little because it's hard for me to imagine going on any sort of trip without a solid plan, but I also know that not everyone is as hardcore of a planner as I am.
Just after our break we had to stop again because we were at our first creek crossing! We sat down and changed into our sandals so that our boots wouldn't get wet and braved the way across. It wasn't especially deep or especially fast, but it was the deepest and fastest creek I've ever had to cross. Not to mention the fact that it is all snowmelt, so it was COLD. Like, the type of cold that you can't feel at first, and then everything starts burning, cold. Like, couldn't feel my feet for a few minutes after getting out, cold. Nevertheless, we made it across in one piece and sat down to put our boots back on.
From here, the trail got insanely muddy. At one point, both my boots were totally submerged and had an extra 2 pounds of mud on each of them (I didn't take any pictures because I was trying not to fall over into the mud...). Poor Logan HATES mud, so it took him a long time to work his way across these parts, picking his foot placement carefully. My strategy is to just go for it and deal with the consequences later.
After another hour or so of hiking we reached another creek. Logan was able to go across on a log and not have to take his shoes off again, but my footing isn't as sure as his, so I still changed into my sandals and waded my way across again. It was just after this crossing that I came to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to be able to do the whole loop. It was a hard decision, and I think it's going to bother me for a while, but it was the right decision. It would have been terrible to get over two passes and just be shot - not be able to go any further, but have two passes in either direction. And I genuinely think that's what would have happened. I know my body pretty well, and I know where my limits are, and I know that the place to push those limits is not the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness.
We turned around and headed back across the creek (I made it on the log this time!) to a campsite that had caught our eye on the way in. It was absolutely gorgeous, and while setting up our tent I knew I had made the right decision. We laid around a little bit, hammocked, read (I'm a librarian, I don't go anywhere without a book), and ate dinner.
So, even though it wasn't at all what we had planned, it was still an incredible trip. I feel like I can do almost anything.