Four Pass Loop

I’ve been a runner my whole life and I have always dreamed of running a marathon. I knew I would run one eventually, but had always found a reason to avoid the rigorous training required. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. this past spring and visits to restaurants, climbing gyms, and other social gatherings came to a screeching halt, so did my excuses. There wasn’t much left to do except run.

The Four Pass Loop is described as “an all-time journey over four 12,500 foot alpine passes, circumnavigating the Maroon Bells.” Many people do the 27-mile long trail as a four-day backpacking trip to enjoy the panoramic views in the mountains and tackle the 7,327 feet of elevation gain at a sane pace of one mountain pass per day. For the less rational, it’s completed in one day. Somehow, our group arrived at this bucket list trail as an objective. 

For the duration of the summer, the numbers loomed in my mind. What would going up 7,327 feet feel like? Could my knees even handle all that descent? What would breathing be like at 12,500 feet? Not to mention the 27 miles of trail…the farthest I’d ever run. Not exactly a great choice for a first marathon. Why did I pick something with four mountains?!? Could I even do this?

The date of our run got closer and closer, and suddenly, the summer was gone and my 3 AM alarm was sounding off in my tent. Ready or not, it was time to begin the run. 

We hit the trail, headlamps blazing. The sun came up with us as we submitted the first brutal pass. I questioned if I should continue on, but I pushed the pain out of my mind and kept going. The second pass was even steeper and longer than the first, and I was burning through my food and water too quickly. At that point, I was halfway done with the elevation gain. It only made sense to keep going! By the beginning of the third pass, the lack of food had me doubled over, clutching my cramping legs giving out underneath me. There was no option to turn back, I’d have to summit two mountains to turn around, or two to finish. So on we went. We knocked out two more passes, and only at the top of the fourth pass did I know I was going to finish. It was literally all downhill from there, and despite my aching knees, the last eight miles to the finish breezed by.

runners on a trail

At the finish, we were rewarded by sunny skies and magnificent views congratulating us on our circumnavigation of the Maroon Bells. I was dripping in sweat and beaming with pride at completing the hardest physical thing I had ever done. I did it. All four passes, all 27 miles, all 7,327 feet. 

We concluded our day with some ungodly proportions of pizza and began dreaming of our next adventure. Someone suggested the Zion Traverse, a 50-mile trail winding its way through Zion National Park. It’s probably too hard for me… But I think I’m going to try it this spring.

People on top of mountain