Day 3: (About 7 miles)
If you missed Day 1 or 2 of Backpacking the Four Pass loop than start here.
After breakfast and packing up camp we continued on our adventure of backpacking the Four Pass Loop. Today we would start in the Fravert Basin, climb steeply up the North Fork Cutoff Trail, visit Geneva Lake, cross over the Trail Rider Pass, and finally descend down to Snowmass Lake. All of this while taking in the views of several of Colorado’s famous 14ners.
Hiking up the steep North Fork Cutoff Trail
We first headed back to the #1976 intersection and started the steep ascent towards Trail Rider Pass through small clusters of Aspen forest. After climbing 1,000′ of elevation in a mile, some of the most grueling switchbacks I have ever been on, we reached another intersection. This is where the North Fork Cutoff Trail ends and intersects the Geneva Lake Trail (#1973).
Detour to Geneva Lake while Backpacking the Four Pass Loop
Here we took a detour to visit Geneva Lake and headed to the left. I believe this added about 2.5 miles to our journey, but the lake is gorgeous with stunning views of Snowmass Mountain so I highly recommend it. The trip down to the lake does add some elevation, but for the most part, it is fairly gradual. If you intend to hike the lake as we did I would recommend getting an early start.
Options for Geneva Lake & Lead King Basin
I would even recommend planning on an extra day to camp out on Geneva Lake if you have the time. It also might have been easier to continue on #1974 and skip the climb up to #1976 as #1974 heads into Lead King Basin where it intersects with the Geneva Lake Trail (#1973).
There is also a popular rough 4×4 road here from Marble, Colorado so don’t be surprised if you see a few vehicles in this remote area. Since we didn’t take this path, it is impossible to know if it would have been easier, but I have a hard time believing it could have been harder than the North Fork Cutoff (#1976). There is also a trail from Geneva Lake that summits Snowmass Mountain so if you are really spry (or have a death wish) you could use the lake as a base camp for bagging the 14ner while backpacking the Four Pass Loop.
Continuing towards Trail Rider Pass
Once we had explored Lake Geneva we quickly returned to the intersection and continued our climb towards Trail Rider Pass. Immediately after the intersection is a bouldery area that climbs up a small ridge along a dry creek bed. It probably had water in it earlier in the season.
Once at the top of the ridge the trail heads east and drops into a small alpine valley. Here we skirted the eastern edge of an unnamed pond while traversing this high alpine valley. The trail reveals ever-increasing views of Mount Hagerman Peak and the final stretch of trail up Trail Rider Pass.
At the far end of the alpine valley, we started the final half mile of steep ascent up to Trail Rider Pass (12,415′). We were lucky and had amazing weather. For those who arrive late to this final accent and weather looks questionable the alpine valley does have some spots for camping near the pond, but there is very limited tree cover.
Atop Trail Rider Pass
We stopped at the pass and had a late lunch and took in the final views of the Fravert Basin far below. We also took in the views of the north-western side of the Maroon Bells as well as the first views of Snowmass Lake. In my opinion, this is the prettiest of the four 12,000′ passes found while backpacking the Four Pass Loop.
Continuing the Four Pass Loop towards Snowmass Lake
After taking in the views we headed down the long switchbacks covered with alpine flowers of all kinds towards Snowmass Lake. It is about 2 miles to Snowmass Lake and drops about 1,400′. Once off the switchback, the trail traverses a large Alpine bowl before skirting a boulder field above the eastern edge of the lake.
Before long we arrived at another intersection where the spur to the left led us quickly to the campsites located on the eastern edge of Snowmass Lake. There are a lot of well established, large, open and flat camping areas. This was by far our best campsite while backpacking the Four Pass Loop. The views of the massive 14,092′ Snowmass Mountain rising over the lake are simply stunning. I believe I could have happily spent several days here had we had the time.