Beginners and Beyond


Aspen 4 Pass Loop : Mountain Scenery Pics (Read 65 times)

Will run for scenery.

    Last weekend I met up with some folks from the Internet for a really amazing mountain trail run. The trail is called the "4 Pass Loop" b/c it crosses 4 mountain passes over 12,000'.  And it's an out and back.  Just kidding, it's a loop !


    Besides being fantastically beautiful, it's my first ultra-marathon :  27 miles.  Cheesy, but I'l take it Big grin


    The run begins outside of Aspen, CO just below the most photographed scene in the state : the Maroon Bells. They're on my supermarket club card, a textbook I used, and I just saw them on PBS last night.  I didn't snap a pic of them so I stole one from the web :



    I never met any of the other runners before.  We camped together Friday night and met in the parking lot Saturday, at the gruelling hour of 5:30 AM.  Most of the crowd was about 25, or half my age. One woman (center in photo) came in second in the Pikes Peak Marathon a couple of years ago.  The self-proclaimed laggards included a woman who has done 7 100 milers (including Leadville) and a guy doing a 5-day self supported race across Iceland in a few weeks.



    I don't have any pics (or recollection !) of the climb up the first pass.  No coffee, no warm-up, and not enough sense to let the entire group just slip away.  I hung with them for maybe a mile, and could tell I was digging myself into a hole.  When I finally "broke free" mentally, quit panicking, relaxed, go into a rhythm, and figured out what was wrong with my camera (grrr...) the sun was coming up, and I was nearing the top of the biggest (3000') climb of the day.  The pass is at the low point on the horizon, just to the left of the snow.



    Crossing over a mountain pass is like watching a curtain rise.  Except the curtain is made of granite rubble and you have to rise, b/c it ain't moving.  Anyway, this is what unveils itself as you pass the first pass :



    Deep down in the foreground is a beaver pond, and farther downstream (above and right in the pic) is a teeny-tiny hint of Snowmass Lake.  TBH, I didn't see it there at the time.  My first enjoyable running of the day started here.  I love running down hills.  The trail goes down to the beaver pond and then within about 1/4 mile of the lake.  Here's a couple of pics of the downhill :






    The area below the beaver pond was very wet and soggy and full of willows.  No way to pass with dry feet, so I got to do my first wet crossing.  Surprisingly, it's not so bad.  Shoes dried out in no-time.


    We chose to do the loop counter-clockwise, so all day long we kept turning left, just like NASCAR.  So after coming within spitting distance of the lake (no spitting within 1/4 mile !) the trail took a hard left and began to climb again.  Here's a view looking back :



    And another :



    And another, taken by one of the young dudes.  I was a tad further downhill just then.  And no, I did not run any more uphill !



    Here's a view looking forward (and up !) towards the second pass of the day :



    And when you make it to the top, you get to see this :



    After running down the slope a bit, I turned around and took this pic, looking back up at pass #2 :



    After a nice downhill run, the trail approaches Crystal Creek, where it turns left and (you guessed it) begins to climb again.  Here's a view along the way.  We'll be skirting around left of that pine-covered hump, and bearing to the right in front of that fuzzy green slope. It's not obvious in the pic, but the fuzzy green slope is a separate ridge from the darker (maroon ???!!!) peak behind it.  Yep, that's one of the Maroon Bells, seen from a less familiar angle.



    Partway up the valley on the way to the FGS (Fuzzy Green Slope), the trail makes the second wet stream crossing of the day.  I stopped to refill my water and have a 10-minute break to eat a bit of solid food (trail mix and Fig Newtons).  The remainder of the day was a parade of Gu, shot-blocks, Cliff bars and iodine water snarfed down while on hoof.


    Just as the trail approaches the FGS, you come around a bend and see this nice waterfall.  Not that you don't hear it first !  The trail takes a hard right, climbs up to the height of the top of the falls, and a loooong green valley opens up.



    Here's pic of my intrepid co-runners making their way up-valley.



    At the far end of the long green valley lies pass #3.  Here's a view from near the top of pass #3 looking back along the valley.  That Fuzzy Green Slope turned out to be quite long.  Did you spot the group of hikers in the mid foreground ?





    And another shot from the pass looking over at the Maroon Bells again :




    By now you'll be expecting to see a grand vista open up as we crest the top of pass #3.  Not to disappoint :



    That rocky groove at lower right is the trail, and it descends at a crazy 30% slope down to where those hikers are.  I used trekking poles and my feet were still slipping out from under me !


    You may think the trail crossed that snow-covered ridge and goes right.  but you'd be wrong.  the rules say : go downhill and take a left.  So let's just stick with that.


    Here's some sweet gentle downhill action :




    And a couple of things I saw along the way :










    And finally :



    That was on of the last pics I got before my batteries died.  So these photos cover a bit over half of the trip.  You'll have to take my word that the other half was scenic as well.


    The final pass was easy to climb; that's the big advantage of the counter-clockwise loop.   But after crossing it the trail became very, very rocky and a real PITA to run on tired legs; that's the disadvantage of the CCW loop !


    When I finally made it back to the parking area, I had been going for 11 hours.  The loop is 27-28 miles long, with about 8000' of climb.  As of last August, the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the loop is around 4:30, held by Rickey Gates.  In all fairness, though, he didn't have to wake up as early as I did and you can bet he got to have a cup of coffee !  I'm just sayin...

    Stupid feet!

    Stupid elbow!


      Looks absolutely stunning - thanks for sharing!



        Wow, and holy mother of God!   Thank you for sharing this amazing run with us.


        "We do not become the people who this world needs simply by turning our backs on anyone we don’t like, trust, or deem healthy enough to be in our presence. "  ---- Shasta Nelson


          Wow!  you totally photoshopped all that. Seriously beautiful!




          Bad Ass

            So beautiful!  Thanks for sharing.



            "The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."

            It's always fucking hot in Miami!


              What a gorgeous run, thanks for sharing!



                Dandelion greens help boost NO2 levels in the blood, hopefully you ate them after shooting that pic.  I would have!


                Seriously, I cannot say that I have seen better images on a running forum and I have seen some good ones.  What was the temperature like?


                Smaller By The Day

                  I want to go to there.


                  Weight 100 pounds lost

                  5K 31:02 Sept. 2012 / 23:36 Sept. 2013 (Same Course)

                  10K 48:59 April 2013

                  HM 2:03:56 Nov. 2012 / 1:46:50 March 2013

                  MARATHON 3:57:33 Nov. 2013

                  Will run for scenery.

                    Thanks, Ric.


                    At the risk of getting stuff chucked at me, all I can say is the temperature was just right.  No cell/data coverage so I couldn't check.  I started the day with a long sleeve base layer top and took it off after a mile or so, then was fine all day.


                    There were forecasts for significant Tstorms, which was a little scary for a run like this where you can't just head downhill and quit.  So I carried a rain jacket as well, in case I had to hunker down for a while.  Luckily, no rain all day.


                    I don't know about dandelion greens, but a lot of those mountain plants get used in herbal liqueurs.  When I finally caught up w/ the gang we headed for the "cheapest" Mexican restaurant in Aspen and had Margaritas.  I got mine w/ a splash of St. Germaine.  Awesome stuff.


                    Dandelion greens help boost NO2 levels in the blood, hopefully you ate them after shooting that pic.  I would have!


                    Seriously, I cannot say that I have seen better images on a running forum and I have seen some good ones.  What was the temperature like?

                    Stupid feet!

                    Stupid elbow!



                      I don't know about dandelion greens, but a lot of those mountain plants get used in herbal liqueurs.


                      I watched Bear Grylls for a few episodes until he came across a dead elk once.  He Spoke about the water and nutrient content in the things eyes, then plucked one out with his knife, and ate it.  That was the last time I watched that show lol!


                      running is bad for you


                          Great report and pics. Sounds like a good time. Keep up the good work.

                          ”Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

                          “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”



                            Gorgeous!  I've hiked in that kind of country, but never run it.  Wow.

                              Incredible pics, jjs.


                              What a beautiful place to run.


                                Now that is a course that I would love to run. Great pics and report! Thanks for sharing.