Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bells Day 2 - Buckskin Pass

On Monday -- day 3/3 of my long weekend -- I revisited the Maroon Bells trailhead to hike and run the Buckskin Pass trail.

Buckskin Pass is another of those trails that looks more innocent on the map than it actually is. Even so, I recognized it wouldn't involve much running due to steepness, and for me at least, I was right. It was a long, beautiful slog uphill at a decent hiking pace.

Pyramid Peak from next to the T-Lazy-7 Ranch

Because it was so cold the prior morning and because it was supposed to be sunny, I got a more leisurely start to the day, starting out around 11 AM.

Because I saw the trail ascend into the pine forest from previous outings, I imagined a path through dense woods up a steep valley. It was steep, but weaved in and out of the woods, so the views were open and sweeping almost the entire way. It was pretty wintry too.

Although the lake areas are busy, I only saw 5 people above the lake: a young couple near the bottom, who warned of snow (good! carried my spikes both days) a 65-70-ish guy around 11,000 feet who was coming down (gotta give him credit), and a biker type couple looking beat just below tree line as I was running down.

As long as the trail was in the trees, it made pretty good progress uphill, with few switchbacks. However, once I got above tree line I saw a basin criss-crossed with huge "Z"s. The formula for the proper number of switchbacks must be something like slope x altitude / the home elevation of the average hiker. There were a lot, and the top was at 12,400 feet. At altitude, in snow, I knew it was going to take a while.

I really enjoyed the basin above tree line, but I have to admit it was pretty trying going 1/10 of a mile left or right on the switchbacks. I could have shortcut straight up, but I don't like to do that.

You can just barely make out the trail to the left of middle, going down towards the pine trees in the upper middle:

Getting near the top:

Pyramid (left) and North Maroon (right)

The home stretch

Below is the crest of snow right on the ridge at the pass itself. I could have gone in up to my thigh if I had really wanted to. I walked down to the rocky area to take stock and get some photos.

I took a couple of zoom shots from the pass:

Capitol Peak

Hagerman Peak and Snowmass Mountain

Below is one more shot of Pyramid before starting down. Temperatures were just high enough that slush was forming, so the first part of the descent was messy, and I couldn't get any kind of firm footing or rhythm. Every other step my foot would slide unpredictably, throwing my balance off. It wasn't until I got down to the little waterfall that I could start jogging.

Being used to several months of warm weather, the fluffy white coating on everything was new and different, and it looked and felt like spring snow, with big globs falling off of branches in the sun the whole time.

It wasn't until I got down to the aspens below Crater Lake that things were reasonably dry again.

A last view across Maroon Lake before calling it a day:

Hike/run distance was 9.63 miles, moving time 2:47 (total 4:40), and elevation gain/loss 3,073 feet. Total time to the pass was around 2:40, downhill 2:00.

Afterwards I got some 'que and a Ranger IPA at Hickory House, and walked it off briefly before hitting the road.

Eponymous aspens

I drove straight through to Denver to save time, since I had to work on Tuesday. The drive wasn't bad, with the usual rogue's gallery of drivers: the Eight Percent Over, the Itchy and Scratchy Lane Changer, the Yo-Yo, the Adrenaline Junkie and the Luxury Vehicle Exemption. In spite of this, there were even a few others driving at the speed limit, and traffic was light and pleasant. I have to say driving at the speed limit of 75 in the dark, over bridge seams and uneven pavement, was "interesting". I slowed down a couple of times.

What a great couple of days. Even living in Colorado, as great as my home area is, the Aspen trips have been among those where I regret having to leave. So many great places, so little time.


  1. I love the Aspen area, too...haven't been there in a few years and yearn to go back. My PT was just there the same weekend as you, you could have gotten that knee looked at up there - haha :). Glad you had a fantastic trip and didn't get caught in any holiday cluster traffic!!

  2. Fantasic looking day! Great photos. I still can't wrap my brain around all of that snow. Hiking and running in it... Ready or not, here it comes.

  3. CB - Thanks, the look up high was not what I expected! The snow really added a lot to the trip.