West Maroon Creek to East Snowmass Trailhead
(17 miles, +3,800/-6,200 feet).
Okay, let me apologize right away. There are over 90 pictures in this post! I spent a lot of time deleting pictures, but this was one of those days where I just couldn’t kill my darlings.
We awoke to crystal clear skies and a bone dry campsite. A light breeze overnight erased all evidence of yesterday’s storm, and now we are ready to go.
One thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that we had to cross Maroon Creek before reaching our campsite. It was high because of the rain, so we all had wet shoes and socks to deal with this morning. Fortunately, our second crossing was easier and we made it across dry.
The route down to Crater Lake was cool, gently-sloped, and flower-filled.
Crater Lake itself was nothing special (and full of people!), but it did offer up wonderful vistas of the Maroon Bells.
It was a steep climb the first mile or so above Crater Lake so we stopped for a longish water break at a nice stream in Minnehaha Gulch.
Slowly but surely we made our way up to Buckskin Pass.
Buckskin Pass has perhaps the best dual view I have ever seen. It’s no wonder it’s so popular.
Instead of heading all the way back down to the Buckskin and Willow Pass trail junction, I got a crazy idea to hike cross country to an additional unnamed pass which sits at 12,600 feet about a quarter mile north of Buckskin. Forrest Service maps actually mistakenly name this pass “Buckskin”, but that one is clearly the one to the south.
So we had to give our pass a name. And we gave it a silly one.
At the beginning of the trip, Chia told us a story about a connection the serial killer Ted Bundy had to the town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It was incredibly detailed, so we teased him about it, accusing him of being obsessed. And like any good hikers who spend hours together, we kind of drove the joke into the ground.
It became a theme. It became a meme. And then eventually it became the name of our new geographic challenge: ‘Bundy’ Pass!
From Buckskin we headed up a beautiful grassy slope, traversing around point 12,733 to a ridge on its west at about 12,600 feet.
The ridge itself was spectacular, giving a view down its barrel that aimed straight for Snowmass Lake.
Bundy Pass itself was a gorgeous flat meadow lying below an elongated snowfield
When we peered down the other side of the pass, we discovered that a large snow wall blocked our way down into the valley below Willow Pass. Chia explored the cliffs to the north and I got out on the snow to see how high up the wall went. From my new vantage point, I could see that the snow wall thinned to a point higher up near the summit of point 12,733.
The way down was steep but grassy and unexposed.
About 200 feet down from the pass we took a break by a tasty snowmelt stream
It was an easy stroll to the lowest switchback of Willow Pass, saving us lots of elevation change we would have needed to do if we had backtracked on trail.
Willow Pass was extremely steep. I got a sense of vertigo when I occasionally stopped to take a photo.
We took a long time to enjoy Willow Pass. It definitely had a more remote feel than Buckskin Pass, with many fewer people on the trail below either side. And then sadly it was time to move on to yet another pass!
Unlike all our other passes (they have each been unique!) the approach to East Snowmass Pass crosses vast talus fields in red and white.
Soon we were on top of our eighth and final pass.
There were really neat rock formations on the east side of the valley, including an arch.
We took another nice long break at the first stream we crossed.
We eventually made it below tree line where we wound in and out of meadows and stands of trees.
We had a final break in a breezy meadow and talked about how great this trip has been.
Once again the Colorado monsoon kicked into motion around 3pm. Thunder gradually started filling the valley, moving closer to us as we hiked.
It started to rain and the wind really picked up too, forcing me to hold on to my umbrella sometimes.
We were on a couple of exposed ridges that made me nervous as we hiked. I would count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to keep track of how close the storm was. It was never closer than half a mile, and I suspect at that point lightning was hitting the mountain tops lining the valley, but I always felt better when we made it back into the trees.
The aspens in particular were gorgeous in the wind as they swayed passionately with each gust.
We got to the end of the wildernesss, and then in a series of switchbacks that were not on the map we eventually made it back to our car and to civilization.