There were 8 of us on this epic trip from the Hampton/Richmond/Roanoke/VA Beach areas of Virginia and Washington State. (Chupa, Sherpa, Scout, Hardrock, Joe, Sandi, Geardog, Biscuit). Seven of us flew into Denver, 1 drove, so we only had to rent 1 additional car.
We all linked up at the Hertz rental pavillion at Denver International Airport around noon on Sunday 29 July, 2012.
Here was our plan:
Sunday 29 Jul – Arrived Denver Airport, rented car, drove to Difficult campsite near Aspen, Co. CAMP Zero
Monday 30 Jul – Drove to Trail Head at Maroon Lake (9580), Hiked approx 4 miles to elevation approx 10,600 to acclimatize. CAMP 1
Tuesday 31 Jul – Crossed West Maroon Pass (12,500), Frigid Air Pass (12,415), into Fravert Basin, camped above waterfalls, North Fork Crystal River, approx 6 miles (10,400). CAMP 2.
Wednesday 1 Aug – Hiked to Geneva Lake (10,936), approx 4 miles. CAMP 3.
Thursday 2 Aug – Cross Trail Rider Pass (12,420) Hiked to Snowmass Lake (10,980), approx 5 miles. CAMP 4.
Friday 3 Aug – Cross Buckskin Pass (12,500), hiked down to Crater Lake(10,060), approx 6 miles. CAMP 5.
Saturday 4 Aug – Hiked down to Trail Head at Maroon Lake (9580), approx 1.5 miles, into Aspen, ate at the “Hickory House”. Drove to Denver.
Sunday 5 Aug – Return Flights/Return drive
From Denver we drove to the Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs to purchase fuel and extra munchies for the hike. We ate a late lunch at a greasy mexican restaurant about 1 block north of Wal-Mart, it was pretty good; the place was packed with local latino’s, a great sign!
From Glenwood Springs we drove to the ‘Difficult Campground’ outside Aspen, with a brief stop at Maroon lake to take some pictures and get our first ‘gasp’ view of West Maroon Basin and the Maroon Bells.
Sunday morning we skipped breakfast in order to beat the toll booth on the road to Maroon lake. However, the booth did have a ranger, who only took our $5 per vehicle and waived us through. The overnight lot was already full so we parked in the overflow lot.
We spent about an hour with final pack arranging and were off. About a full 10 minutes later we were having breakfast on the shore of Maroon Lake. It had rained briefly that night so we had a chance to unpack and layout the tents to dry in the early morning sun.
In the overflow parking lot, getting ready to Hike!
Around 9 or 10 we took off towards Crater Lake, took a break there, then headed up the trail to find a campsite. This was our “acclimatization” day so we weren’t in any rush. Most of us were really feeling the difference in altitude, huffing and puffing up the trail.
– no bears – anywhere on actual hike (old reports of bears in minihaha gulch, but we didn’t camp there.)
– There is (was) a current bear warning at Difficult Campground, with a threat of a $350 fine if food was left out; we stayed there 1 night, thank god no bears!
– hiked above crater lake to about 10,600 for acclimatization day, visited by a porcupine at night, each tent was visted, apparently just visiting, no issues. note: Joe left his hiking poles out and apparently the porcupine chewed on the handled (we speculated for the salt?). This same type of incident was also relayed to us by another hiker later in the trip.
Rich at Camp 1, above Crater Lake; Joe approaching top of West Maroon Pass.
– Frigid air pass is really worn down and slick with tough footing, but is pretty short. Watch out if wet. We were really huffing and puffing at this point due to the altitude (we came from sea level)
– No water sources after going over frigid air pass into fravert basin, creeks dry, almost up until the lower forest treeline, but everyone had water, we only needed to carry a little over the 2 passes into fravert’s. Plenty of streams in West Maroon Basin, however, headed towards West Maroon Pass; I counted at least 10 (from crater lake).
– Once into fravert basin we were pretty beat (at least I was) due to the higher than expected heat (low 80’s ?) and camped in a good flat spot about a quarter mile before the tree line, next to the stream (Chrystal River). We had to bushwhack from the trail thru scrup brush to get to the creek. Kudo’s to Sherpa for making the initial recon. Next morning all the tents were soaked outside from a small rain shower and inside from the humidity from the stream. Sun hit over the ridge line by 0800 and tents were dry by 0830-0900.
North Fork Chrystal River; I got a visit from “Mr. Tent”
– Once we hit the tree line we found 2-3 excellent designated sites we could have stayed in had we walked on for 20 more minutes. So we followed the switchbacks down below King Falls and thru the 2010 blow down area, destination Geneva lake.
– the 2010 tree blow down just past King Falls has a new path cleared thru the debris.
– The water crossing just past the Hasley basin trail cutoff was low, could have crossed by jumping rocks, most of us changed shoes to wade across the freezing water for the relief. Further, the creek in W Maroon Basin was pretty low and the crossing easy.
Note: I thought it was interesting that the trail sign in this area did not point back to what I call the Hasley Basin ‘cutoff’ trail. When you’re on the trail from W. Maroon Pass going towards Frigid Air Pass, the there is a trail junction and a sign where you take a right turn off the trail onto a well defined trail going to to Frigid Air Pass. The first trail continues on, a little fainter than the main trail, and is clearly indicated on maps as going into Hasley Basin, and linking up with the mail trail coming over Frigid Air with both trails crossing about in the area of the ford.
– (above) Geneva lake
Biscuit and Scout on way to Trail Rider Pass. Biscuit on Trail Rider Pass looking back towards Hasley Basin.
Sherpa on Trail Rider Pass, looking down at Snow Mass Lake; Biscuit taking the plunge in Snow Mass Lake.
Eating dinner on the shore; Early morning photo at Snow Mass Lake.
Biscuit signals VICTORY on Buckskin Pass, the final pass. Sandi looking AWESOME!
– Morning temps in my tent fell to 39F for 3 nights, 41F for 3 nights, between 5-6 am.
– Daytime low 80’s, which felt VERY warm and impacted our energy levels. BTW we had one gal carrying a 53lb pack (we weighed in in the parking lot) she made it the entire trip, no problems, though lagging a little behind the group, I thought for sure she might bail out before the first pass. She gets the award for shear determination and awesomeness! Anyway, sunscreen and a hat and sunglasses HIGHLY recommended.
– Unfortunately very few wildflowers.
– About 11 designated sites just at crater lake if a party needs to stay there.
– We stayed at crater lake day 6 for an early exit and drive to breakfast in Aspen, ate at the hickory house, just on the left on the highway into town – YOU MUST STOP THERE FOR BREAKFAST -OMG, a highlight of the entire trip, ENORMOUS portions, great price and atmosphere, perfect for a post-trip victory celebration!
– We also stopped 1 night at Geneva lake, great call, was beautiful, if you do that, from Fravert basin, take the lower (to the left) trail junction which is a flat beautiful walk but with a 900′ up the last mile, but excellent views so you don’t have to re-cover that same walk when heading for trail rider pass;