ROCKY MOUN­TAIN HIGH

FOUR PASS LOOP MA­ROON BELLS-SNOWMASS WILDER­NESS, CO

Backpacker - - The Mountain Issue -

IN A STATE flush with moun­tains, the Ma­roon Bells’ brick-red, stri­ated pyra­mids—wreathed with as­pens and re­flected in Ma­roon Lake—still stand out. That makes the 28.8-mile cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion, which tags four 12,000-foot passes and tal­lies nearly 16,000 feet of el­e­va­tion change, right­fully pop­u­lar. But you don’t have to set­tle for crowded camp­sites. Our ad­vice: Cash in on the wilder­ness’s dis­persed camp­ing pol­icy. The conifer stands in West Ma­roon Val­ley (mile 6), the North Fork Crys­tal River (mile 15), and Min­nehaha Gulch (mile 25) all hold se­cret, A-list sites. Go in the mid­dle of the week, too, so you can also en­joy the car­pets of mid­sum­mer wild­flow­ers, roil­ing wa­ter­falls, knife-edge ridges, and teal tarns that fill the spa­ces be­tween with­out com­pany.

Trail­head Ma­roon Lake Shut­tle Re­quired; pick it up from Aspen High­lands Vil­lage ($8). Sea­son July to Oc­to­ber Per­mit Re­quired (free); self-is­sue at trail­head. Climb Ma­roon Peak Ma­roon Peak Trail (class 2); 4,867 feet in 5.5 miles from West Ma­roon trail­head Con­tact www.fs.usda.gov/whi­teriver

Good weather? Camp high (near 12,200 feet) be­neath Trail Rider Pass at mile 18.3 for head-on views of the Bells’ west faces.

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