If you have never been to or spent much time exploring the southern Rockies, you're missing out. My first visit was just a quick weekend trip. I drove 25 hours to spend a few hours biking a night under the stars. It took a week to catch up on sleep, but it was worth it. The scale and beauty had me planning another trip as soon as I got home.
Two months and some amazing adventures later, I was headed back to Colorado with a friend to hike the Four Pass Loop: 30 miles and four high altitude passes, all around 12,500ft. We approached Four Corners as the sun approached the horizon, so I suggested a detour through Monument Valley. The shoot delayed us by an hour, but it was worth it! We arrived at the trailhead well after dark, then moved everything into the front so we could sleep in the back.
Even after a night of acclimation, we still had headaches before the first pass. Phoenix low-landers... But elevation wasn't the only thing stealing our breath; the towering mountains and deep green valleys take you to another world and they certainly made the frequent breaks near a pass more enjoyable. We made it to Snowmass Lake with 90 minutes of light to spare and nearly debilitating headaches. The flies and mosquitos didn't help much either. We ate, or at least I did. Alex's head ached so bad that he only managed two bites before mumbling something about wanting to hike back tomorrow. Then he passed out.
I rose early the next morning to photograph the sunrise and refill my reservoir at the lake. Alex was awake and feeling much better when I returned. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and continued toward the 2nd pass. This one was a lot easier, as expected. We set a steady pace and stopped frequently to snack and enjoy the views. Coming over the second pass was as stunning as the first - which I didn't expect. Each valley was so different from the last. It was unbelievable.
We began the descent from the second pass and discussed our plans for the night. Would we attempt to summit the next pass or camp somewhere on this side? A decision was made to play it by ear and just enjoy the hike for the time. The flies were particularly bad in this valley, but it was probably my favorite stretch of the trip. It started to sprinkle a little, so we stopped for lunch under some pines at the bottom and decided that we would attempt to summit the next pass before nightfall.
After food a quick poop, we began the 3rd ascent. We came to a wide stream an hour later that was exactly cold as fuck. I couldn't feel my feet by the time I reached the other side. We laughed about being babies and put our shoes back on before pressing onward and upward. The soft sound of a distant waterfall teased us for a while before revealing itself between two groves of pine. We climbed up the switchbacks with the waterfall roaring nearby and swatted at flies until we broke the treeline and entered a gorgeous valley.
The sun was setting fast, but we stuck to the plan and hiked through the massive rolling hills of the valley until we reached the base of Frigid Air Pass. True to its name, we had to stop and bundle up since the sun was now eclipsed by the ridgeline. After another challenging climb and another hour spent hoping there would be a flat spot to camp on the other side, we were rewarded with what may have been the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. The sun burst through from a valley to the northeast, misting the valley in front of us with a warm glow. Better still was the sight of a huge flat area less than 30 minutes away!
We made it down and set up camp on a hillside overlooking the entire valley as the sun finished setting. We ate a delicious meal of dehydrated chili and tried not to kill each other with farts. The third and final day came with no headaches and just one pass to go! We took some time for photos and watched the sun rise as we ate breakfast. Packing was a little bittersweet, but soon we were walking through enormous wildflower fields and all our worries were forgotten once again.
The trail didn't drop too much in elevation between passes 3 and 4, so we were genuinely stoked to see the final pass. We made it to the top without much trouble and stopped to enjoy the view and have snack. The descent was nice and easy with a great view of the entire valley and dark rain clouds ahead. I hoped it would miss us, but we covered the packs anyway. The rain hit 15 minutes after stopped to cook a quick lunch and take some photos. It was nothing more than a steady drizzle and kind of nice since neither of us had showered in three days...
Feeling so close to the end, we hit our second wind and powered through the shower. It rained for nearly an hour, maybe more. Time was hard to mentally track and largely irrelevant in this wonderland. As the ground dried, we really got into a solid stride that rivaled elderly mall-walkers. Somehow, we made it back to the car by 2PM. We were both surprised, sore and smelly. We gave our gentlemen bits a quick wet-wipe bath and grabbed two cheap pizzas on our way through Aspen. After 11 hours on the road and Alex's first warning for a speed violation, we were back home and ready for good night's rest.