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29 Sep 2016
Colorado Backpacking 2016

It was a pleasure to hike the Maroon Bells four-pass loop with this crew.

Four pass group photo

I can’t imagine a set of more stunning American vistas than those found on this 25-mile loop located near Aspen. They are straight from the Coors can.

Four pass group photo

We spent five days hiking this loop at a leisurely pace. A committed hiker can finish it in three nights. Amazingly, we were overtaken daily by trail runners, who were seeking to complete the loop in one long day. This feat is a marathon on a rocky path, over thousands of meters of elevation, at high altitude and lacking roadside tables full of paper cups (I guess they stop to purify stream water and carry Cliff bars). Some runners even carry Epipens, which can apparently provide a lifesaving adrenaline boost to a runner faced with exhaustion-induced hallucinations or a bum ankle while still deep in the wilderness.

The ferocity and pace with which storms come through mountains is frightening. On the final night of this trip we were surprised by a storm and went from a card game around a fire to running for our tents in mere minutes. A gale and deafening thunder put us to bed that night. I hope to never be climbing a pass when a storm like that one comes through.

For fauna all we saw were deer, so strong that they could almost have been a different breed than the chubby WI variety, and marmots. Why name a perfectly good gear brand after those things? No bear or moose and I should really stop getting my hopes up about finally glimpsing either. While cleaning up after the hike, we heard from a ranger that a bus full of tourists saw a black bear while driving to the trailhead and then a moose near the trailhead as soon as they disembarked.

On the shuttle ride back from the trailhead a scruffy filmmaker began chatting us up. He was producing a documentary on the overcrowding of Colorado wildernesses and asked us to give short interviews. I shared several thoughts with the filmmaker. The population of the West is surging, as is the popularity of outdoor adventurers with it. Modern gear is making backpacking in relative comfort easier and more affordable than ever. Even though most try their best to leave no trace, their efforts inevitably, at times, fall short. An accumulation of tiny traces left by well-meaning hikers exacts a toll on once pristine wildnerness areas. Wrappers here and there. Shallow cat holes with TP sticking out near well worn campsites. A squirrel more accustomed to humans than it should be. How can we best balance protecting wilderness with visiting it, an experience that is needed to understand why they must be protected? While hiking this loop I saw many, many more people than I had on any other hiking trip. The filmmaker informed us that in the near future this loop will be permitted, to limit damage.

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