It was another good one, and not just due to the fact that we had perfect weather, but that we put together a loop of trails and passes we had all seen individually many times before, but had never linked up in this fashion.
It came together after Christy, Neal and I were planning a long run together, but being a Saturday in August with a good weather forecast we realized our standard “go-to”, the Four Pass Loop, would be pretty busy. So we opted for a different linkup– slightly shorter, with a bit less elevation gain and one pass fewer yet still in the same neighborhood and hitting some trails that don’t see as many people.
Starting at the East Snowmass Creek Trailhead, the three of us (all sporting Hoka’s), and Keena jogged a hundred yards up the road and started on the Snowmass Creek Trail towards Snowmass Lake. Eight miles into it, as we neared the lake, we turned south and joined the Four Pass Loop, following the trail up towards Buckskin Pass. About three miles and some thirty backpackers later, we were up on the popular saddle and had the brunt of the days climbing behind us, about 4,000 feet. We descended towards Crater Lake a short bit, eventually leaving the trail and climbing up towards Willow Pass. After taking a break to fill bladders and bottles and grab a quick snack, we crested the pass, and began down towards Willow Lake. Before reaching the lake, and after losing a few hundred vertical feet, we turned left off the trail again, and began up towards the third pass of the day, the one that divides Willow Creek from East Snowmass Creek. From there it was all downhill to East Snowmass Creek Trailhead and the car. Here’s the GPS info for the route:
We measured it at 22-23 miles and and elevation gain (and loss) of about 6,200 vertical feet. A couple things stick out as to why this linkup is worthwhile:
- It’s a loop and there’s no car shuttle or bus required.
- The steady climb up at the start and descent at the end let you get in a good rhythm for about 3/4 of the miles. Because the three passes are all pretty close to each other, you don’t have change gears all day like the Four Pass Loop. Instead, you run for a couple hours, then do a bit of up and down, and the run for a couple more hours. Neal, who actually hit the Four Pass the day before this, commented on how much more running he did here.
- We only came across a half dozen or so hikers on the entire back end of the day, the Willow Lake and East Snowmass areas just don’t see as many people.
Check it out.