A year ago, to the week, I climbed the Third Flatiron in Boulder, CO for the first time. Legendary mountaineer and guidebook author Gerry Roach stridently proclaims its standard East Face route (5.2) “the finest easy rock climb in the world”. Back in June of 2011 I had broken my leg and last Fall–with the bone finally knit but other lingering soft-tissue issues still preventing me from doing any consistent running–I decided it was time to start actually getting back on the rock (I live in Boulder, afterall, practically the rock climbing center of the universe) after letting it fade away as a consistent practice when my main climbing partner graduated during college way back in 2003. Plus, words such as Gerry’s made me think that I had to be missing out on something.
The Four Passes Loop (nicer name: “Ring of Bells”), is considered one of the best long trail runs in North America. Starting at 9,600′ at the postcard-perfect Maroon Lake above Aspen, this loop is almost exactly Marathon distance, and transects the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area while going over four big passes, each over 12,400′. The scenery is amazing. There are no signs of civilization; only a runnable single track trail.
There are two ideal times to do it:
1) Late July, when the entire route is blooming with wildflowers; or,
2) The third week in September, at the height of the changing Aspen colors.