Thursday, September 15, 2016

West Maroon Pass

This past weekend was so incredible, it calls for a post.

I told Mr HaHa, I never want to forget this weekend and after all the rigmarole to coordinate it, I hope this will help other hikers as well.
I don't remember where I stumbled across the West Maroon Pass Trail hike, but once I did, it was immediately added to our bucket list.  The idea of hiking from Aspen's Maroon Bells (a place so stunning in itself) to Crested Butte (which has become a favorite mountain town of ours), couldn't be beat. 11 miles didn't sound that bad and living in Vail, Aspen is just two hours away. 

However, there are quite a lot of logistics to figure out:
  • Where to park in Aspen? How to get to Aspen trail head?
  • How long would it take? (Aspen to CB is slightly harder due to elevation gains; the hike trailhead to trailhead is 11 miles with ~3,000ft gain)
  • Should we camp?
  • How could we get from the CB trail head (located at Schofield Park, approximately 13 miles from CB)?
  • Should we hike back from CB to Aspen the next day?
  • If we don't hike, how should we get back to Aspen from CB?
While Google is great, I couldn't easily find all of the answers to my questions.  We originally settled on the general plan of hike, camp, hike back.  Then I realized that Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area currently requires bear canisters and it was a unanimous decision that we would just get a hotel in Crested Butte.  

So, Saturday, September 10th, we were on the road at 5am, to get to Maroon Lake by 7am. During the hours of 8am - 5pm, the only vehicles allowed to drive directly up to Maroon Lake are shuttle buses, which be picked up at $8/person from Aspen Highlands ski area and parking lot (which is $5/day). However, outside of these hours, there are an allotted number of day-use and overnight parking spots for public. At the Aspen Ranger Welcome station we were told that overnight parking was full; which I had anticipated but hoped to squeeze in. Because the shuttle doesn't start until 8am (and we wanted to be on the trailhead before), we drove back to Aspen Highlands and called High Mountain taxi for a ride (I'd confirmed the day before that they would be available). 

They took about 10 minutes to arrive and 20 minutes after that (and $41 later with tip, youch!), we were at Maroon Lake trailhead, departing at 7:40am and ran into this big guy.
Can you see him in there? We were scared to get to close; but there he was. A beautiful (and huge) male moose to start the beginning of what would be a wonderful hike.
This is only our third fall living in Colorado and we typically make it a priority to get out a weekend or two and drive from Denver to the mountains for fall colors; but this year living in Vail and watching the action in progress is what I've been looking forward to since I signed my apartment lease last December.
Of everything we've experienced living in Colorado, for me, you can't beat standing in the middle of a forest surrounded by a golden glow and magical flutter of aspen leaves. It is the bee's knees!
I'd been to Maroon Bells only once before, last July. We'd hiked to Crater Lake, which is 1.7 miles one-way from Maroon Lake.  It's listed to have 629 ft of elevation gain; but it warmed us up quickly (which is good because it was about 37 degrees!)
Looking at Maroon Bells from Crater Lake
We progressed on from the lake, making really good time (about 22 minute miles) towards the valley. We passed several campsites and made mental note of how cool it would be to wake up with this kind of views. Next summer!

The farther along we moved, we'd occasionally look back at the views we'd left behind. Absolutely stunning!!

 A few hours in, at 9:30am, the ground was still frozen solid and covered in frost.  We were in jackets and a comfortable temperature, but ready to get in the sunny meadow that laid ahead.

We hit the sun just before 10am and immediately were ready to remove some layers.  This part of the hike had gorgeous yellowing bushes and several small streams to cross over.  Thank goodness for waterproof hiking boots!

Looking ahead, it was hard to see exactly where we'd summit the pass but there were inclines to be seen and a few switchbacks to get us there.
The final ascent
When we made it to the summit of West Maroon Pass my Garmin watch clocked us at 6.47 miles in three hours, which is a pace of 27 minute miles; not bad considering the approximate 3,000 ft elevation gain. The views were 360-degrees of pure natural beauty!
The trail up the valley from Aspen
The wind on the top was a little brisk, but there are enough rocks to block it for a comfortable sit for a snack and to take in the views.  After a fifteen minute break, we were on our merry way down.
The trail from the Crested Butte side is less steep and also shorter (4.5ish miles from trailhead to summit instead of Aspen's 6.5) and in itself is breathtaking.  We were a bit late in the season for wildflowers, but caught a few on their way out.
While going up was shy of 3 hours, coming down took about 2 hours.  Very easy terrain and almost all sun exposure to the sun. At the base/trailhead, there was a parking lot (and if you are desperate for a portapotty, there's one another half mile at a second lot), a stream and some logs for a shuttle "waiting area".

There are two shuttles allowed for pick ups: Dolly's Mountain Shuttle and Alpine Express.  Both run scheduled group pick ups ($15/head to get back to Crested Butte, drop off location of your choice).  I found a lot of recommendations for Dolly's but found their communication (lack thereof) to be terrible, so we ended up booking at 2pm pick up with Alpine Express. Another option is to pay to have your car driven over for you by Maroon Shuttles, but this is pricier than other methods of getting around/back.

We got to the base at 12:30p. We'd planned on the hike taking six hours and it took us under give. With plenty of time to spare before our 2p pick so we relaxed by the stream and in the shade of the trees.  There's no cell service so we used the time to just chat and unwind.  By 2pm; we had plenty of other hikers waiting with us for a ride.  (We'd joked at 12:40p about hitchhiking into town and while the lot was full, we didn't see anyone leaving to ask).
Alpine Express dropped us off directly at our hotel, Elevation Hotel and Spa.  I booked the hotel two days prior to our hike using  I would highly recommend using them as there are limited hotel options in CB/Mount CB area and with Hotwire we saved $30 off the nightly rate compared to other sites.

The room was awesome and the hot tub views couldn't be beat.  We were skeptical about staying on the mountain base instead of downtown, but the town's shuttle, Mountain Express, runs every 20 minutes and is a quick (10 minute or less) ride downtown. As always, Secret Stash was a must-have with the appetites we worked up!
The next morning we were picked up by our driver and headed back to Aspen via Kebler Pass.  To get back to Aspen, Dolly's, Alpine Express and Travel Crested Butte all offer shuttles, at $60/person. Some have minimum people or price requirements. We booked with Travel Crested Butte, primarily because we could book online but it turned out to be a convenience that we didn't have to worry about meeting a minimum price. We entirely lucked; no other travels had booked so we had a pimped-out Yukon to ourselves!

The drive back to Aspen Highlands took around 3 or so hours. We took the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the views!
The majority of the other hikers who got picked up with us at trailhead were hiking back the next day.  Honestly, neither of us had thought of this.  As mentioned above, we had originally thought about camping (which I'm glad we didn't, we didn't see any sites near Schofield Park) and hiking back; but we never thought about hike, hotel, hike. Another option to consider next year! 

Overall, this tops the charts as one of our favorite hikes,. It was gorgeous from start to finish.  I'm so glad it came together last minute (Although I'd done my research, I did all of our booking Thursday and we hiked Saturday). I'd highly recommend adding this hike to a bucket list!

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