Snowmass to East Snowmass, a 3 Pass Loop

The overview, click to enlarge.

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.

Neal, enroute to covering 50 mountainous miles in two days out here, on the East Snowmass Trail, with the backside of Snowmass Ski Area looming before him.

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.

Willow Peak is to the left and the 3rd pass tucked in out of sight in front of it, and Willow Lake is to the right. There were hundreds of people spread around the Maroon Creek Valley behind us, yet for the most part, it was just us up here.

Check it out.

4 comments to Snowmass to East Snowmass, a 3 Pass Loop

  • Ann

    Nice! Thanks for the trail stoke – I’m just getting back into running after a couple of months injury enforced layoff. To do that loop before the winter sets in would be an excellent goal.

  • ted

    Definitely give it a go Ann. Wildflower season seems to have peaked in many parts but fall colors in Snowmass Creek would be pretty cool too.

  • You guys just keep tempting us. Guess we tune up our “game” another notch and go for this on our next visit!!! Of course, after reading your previous post, we’re much farther down the age decline than you are, so upping the ante may not be in the cards… 😉

    How are those Hokas on the technical footing like the run you did? We did a little curiosity snoop at Ute – definitely an interesting shoe.

  • ted

    Glad you had a good day out there Steve. I was actually on North Maroon that morning, it was perfect running weather.

    We all thought the Hokas were awesome out there, it was Neals second day in a row on those trails and he reported no knee soreness and in fact couldn’t believe how good everything felt. You just have to be mindful of footplacements when going downhill on the rockier sections. The shine on the smoother downhills on the well defined trails.

    We’re starting to realize they may be a shoe you selectively use when the trails/conditions fit it, and not your everyday trail shoe. Which is a bit different that we’re all used to, that is not just having a single, do-it-all trail runner.
    Christy wears them everywhere non-paved though.

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