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Friday, August 1, 2014

Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop

Two years ago, looking at a map of the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area, I realized that a circumnavigation of the Snowmass-Capitol group was possible via established trails. It was such awesome route that I decided to do it again this summer, with a couple variations on the route. This time I followed Ted Mahon's (Stuck in the Rockies) route that he dubbed the Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop, because it is a 37 mile run with 9,900 feet of climbing. It has some of the best scenery the area has to offer, meandering through high alpine meadows, along beautiful traverses, past gorgeous lakes, and over five passes (one is technically a saddle) with stunning views of the Elk Range. It is a cousin to the classic four pass loop, and equals its awesomeness, only it's longer, allowing for more time to enjoy the wild country of the Elks.

I ran the loop counter-clockwise beginning at the Snowmass Creek trailhead and heading up West Snowmass Creek to the Haystack Mountain Saddle. Though not technically a pass, I am giving it pass status as the ascent begins below 9,000 feet rising to nearly 12,000 feet. It sure feels like you have arrived at a pass when you top out. I began the run with an alpine start, so here is the view at dawn looking back at the Roaring Fork valley shrouded in a sea of clouds.

View from the Haystack Saddle

After descending the from Haystack, I climbed up to one of my favorite spots in the Elks, Capitol Lake and Pass. Shadowed by the impressive and massive Capitol Peak headwall, the lake is nestled in an ominous rocky basin.

Capitol Lake

After a short descent to Avalanche Creek I climbed Grassy Pass where I was treated to unique and spectacular view of Capitol Peak.

Capitol Peak
From Grassy Pass the trail contours along a series of tundra-like hanging meadows to Silver Creek Pass. It is one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. The trail up Silver Creek pass is non-existent in many places, but the route seems fairly obvious and the trail reemerges toward the top of the pass. The view from the pass is expansive, though the clouds over Treasure Mountain were a bit ominous.

The view from Silver Creek Pass
About halfway down Silver Creek, a somewhat faint sheepherders' trail traverses to the east toward Geneva Lake. This trail marks the beginning of the Meadow Mountain Traverse. The traverse is a good way to avoid dropping into Lead King Basin and dodging four wheel drive vehicles as you approach the Geneva Lake trailhead. Instead, the Meadow Mountain Traverse contours across Meadow Mountain through fields of wildflowers along cliff bands with views of waterfalls that pour out of the Geneva Lake basin.

Meadow Mountain Traverse  
The final climb of the loop, when run counter-clockwise, is Trailrider Pass, and it's a doozy. There is one long steep switchback with a short one at the very top. The view of Snowmass Lake on the other side is worth the schlep.
Snowmass Lake
The Snowmass-Capitol-Daly loop is destined to become a classic among ultrarunners and backpackers looking for a bigger and more secluded route than the famed Four Pass Loop. It is certainly one that I will try to run each summer, as it displays the best that the Maroon Bells Wilderness has to offer.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post, but I recently found this and am planning a backpacking trip based on this report (which is awesome by the way). I have several questions about the stretch between Geneva Lake and Capitol Lake, which would all be new to me:
    1. How difficult is the terrain on that trail, compared to, say, the 4-pass loop?
    2. If I have a GPS on me as well as a map, do you think this would be easily navigable for someone with limited off-trail experience?
    3. Did you by chance notice many campsite opportunities between Capitol pass and the Meadow Mountain traverse?
    4. My map shows a faint trail winding from ~1/4 mile South of Geneva Lake to ~0.4 miles NE of Arkansas Mountain. Does this sound the "Meadow Mountain traverse" that you took? This trail appears to join the N-S trail from Silver Creek pass at about the same spot that the Silver Creek Pass trail intersects with the Arkansas Mountain trail... does that sound right?