Ring of Bells

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.

We choose #2!

http://www.stuckintherockies.com/2008/08/the-four-pass-loop/

Climbing out of the valley up to Buckskin Pass, we move through brilliant yellow Aspens, with a totally blue sky framing the 14,000′ peaks towering above, and the sound of a brook gurgling away next to us. Kristi exclaimed, “It’s like being in a Relaxation Video!”

A network of trails connect to form the loop, and each one is ideal: large enough to readily follow, but no bigger than that. Remarkably, the trails are graded right up and over the passes, making the Loop entirely runnable for the very fit. The passes are high and the valleys deep though, so we took our time and hiked most of the ups. There were little rivulets of drinking water at helpful intervals, and the weather was perfect.

Topping out on each pass one is greeted with another massive alpine basin spreading out in the distance, high mountains in every direction, a tiny singletrack trail barely visible down below, transforming the infinite possibilities into a singularity, something small and finite enough for us to wrap our minds and bodies around.

A number of backpackers complimented us for running it, but as usual I thought the opposite: our casual running/hiking pace was the easiest way to enjoy this amazing country. Instead of schlepping a heavy pack for 3-4 days, we would be showered and having a glass of wine with dinner this evening.

Anton’s description of his run on this Loop, establishing the FKT (Fastest Known Time) of 4 hours 47 minutes in 2009.  ”The pity with this loop is that it’s so scenic it’s hard to motivate to put in a focused, no-stops effort.”

Rickey Gates lowering the FKT just last month to 4:35. Rickey did the Loop with Lance Armstrong, who commented, “Last night I was swearing I’d never do again what I did yesterday. Now today I can’t wait to do it again.”

GEAR TESTING

Packs

I used the AK Race Vest, which had plenty of capacity and was uber-comfortable. Kristi tested the SK Ultra Vest, which has twice the capacity of the Race Vest, but since it only weighs 1.5 oz more, also disappeared when it was put on. She said, “I was concerned how this would work with my … cha cha’s … but this worked great; couldn’t tell I had it on.”

Bottles

I wanted to test bottles, so we used four different kinds!

  • 20 oz Ultimate Direction – the Kicker Valve never leaks, so this was the baseline
  • 20 oz GoLite – the pull valve kept dripping (onto Kristi’s iPhone)
  • 20 oz Amphipod – I wanted to test the non-round shapes.  Kristi said, “the round bottle actually feels better” (the unusual profile rotated to create a pressure point)
  • 16 oz Amphipod – This had a nice flask shape, but the round UD bottle was almost as comfortable

Shoes

I used the La Sportiva X-Country, as it has very deep, wide-apart lugs, made with sticky rubber, which provide the best grip for the least weight.

Clothes

Even though it was late September, the shorts, t-shirt, sun hat, and windshell I wore was plenty. I also carried a Buff and and Patagonia LS Silkweight for backup. Kristi wore Capri’s for the cool start.

Water

One bottle would have sufficed, but two was better for this dry time of year. There is no need to purify.

 

 

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