| Maroon Peak: Classic Elks!
Maroon Peak: Classic Elks!
Day One: Wilson Peak, Mt. Wilson
Day Two: El Diente
Day Three: Maroon Peak
Routes: Standard, except El Diente via Kilpacker
Dates: August 7-9, 2011
Length: 37 miles RT, total
Vertical: 16,100 feet, total
Total time incl camping/driving b/t peaks: 56 hours
Ascent Party: Solo, except El Diente with Oldschool
The Maroon Bells are seen at mid-morning from Crater Lake.
(Note: This report describes Day Three of a three-day trip. Days One and Two are described in separate reports.)
Monday night, August 8, 6:00 pm, Kilpacker TH.
Mike ("Oldschool") has just taken off to head home, after fine day on El Diente. I'm chatting with Jodi a bit, giving her some last minute beta, and reassuring her that everything will go fine for her, Joey, and the crew tomorrow when they attempt El Diente.
We say good-byes and I head down the road. I'm a bit tired after the last two days of peak-bagging, but if I can get Maroon tomorrow, I come home with everything down but the finisher. I've got a sleeping bag, time off, and perfect weather. It's a deal I can't refuse.
The drive to Aspen is a bit longer than I expect - once again, I'm getting to bed shortly after Midnight. No matter, this is the last one, it's short, and the weather is good, so sleeping in is ok.
Tuesday, August 9, Maroon Bells.
Looking back down-vally to Crater Lake.
I've got the place to myself on this remarkably beautiful hike in. I begin to wonder if there is even anyone else on the mountain today. By the time I get to the "bent tree" turnoff, I bump into Tracy. He's from Wyoming, doing the twenty-year finisher plan, a couple a year - but he's staying with it. He's prepared, too, with axe and crampons, though his plan is the standard route. I take a photo for him at the bent tree and continue on.
The Bell Cord Couloir.
Stopping to delayer, Tracy passes me and I realize he's not as slow as he purports to be. Maybe we'll partner up on this trip.
Nearing campsites and the "bent tree" turnoff.
Hiking up the 2800 vertical foot east face can be deceptive. While one wants to aim for the notch, the notch is not visible most of the trip. In the image below, the trail cuts over to the snowfield at left, then up and right to the notch at far upper right of the photo.
Tracy starting up the 2800 vertical foot "ante" required to get the summit ridge.
As we're moving up the face, I see two more hikers ahead. He has no pack and no shirt; she has a tiny pack and a sweatshirt tied around her waist, and she's moving fast. I'm thinking to myself, elite Aspen athletes out for a quick run up to the ridge? I wonder what their primary sport is. I'm curious, so I pick up the pace to see if I can catch them.
Soon I encounter the only snowfield on the trail. They cross. I have my axe, but I don't feel like taking the time to get it out, so I climb the rocks around the snowfield. In retrospect, crossing the snowfield is a mistake - I assume because they're fast, they know the route. The route actually continues along the right side of the snowfield, and then scrambles up some rock back onto trail above.
I find myself in a loose gulley. I'm thinking we're too far left of the notch, though you can't see it anymore from this perspective. Sure enough, after a bit the trail appears off to our right. They traverse over; I follow. It's kind of sketchy through here. I check on Tracy; he's holding up very well. His mountaineering boots are cutting the dirt and loose stuff a little better than my approach shoes. I wait for him at the trail, then move on to catch the two ahead.
I'm pleasantly surprised to learn their stories. Candice is here working in the Aspen area for the summer. She'd never done a 14er before, so decided to try some of the local ones. She soloed Pyramid and North Maroon. She figured she better get a partner for Capitol, and found Jared on Facebook. She had tried Maroon two or three weeks earlier (more on that later.) As you can imagine, this is one talented gal, knocking out the Elks 14ers for her first ones. She's fast, and moves very smoothly on rock. Jared is also here for the summer, visiting his folks.
After meeting and chatting, I'm getting that alpine second wind, and itching to get into the heart of the route. I say good-bye to Candice, Jarod, and Tracy, and take off for the summit ridge. Putting down the hammer feels very good; before I know it, I'm looking into the Fravert Basin on the other side.
The other side.
Maroon Peak is supposedly one of the hardest 14ers in the state as far as route-finding. The description is certainly consistent with that supposition, so I'm prepared to stop and study the route on this gorgeous blue-sky day. As I sit just beyond the notch looking at the route ahead, I think back to Pyramid Peak, almost exactly one year ago today: Eric's finisher weekend.
While we had many more competent members on Pyramid than me, I'd asked to lead the alpine section above the notch at the ridge, just to get a sense of how prepared I might be for soloing other hard mountains. It went well. Here's some photos from last year on Pyramid:
Thinking back to Eric's finisher weekend on Pyramid last year...
We were cruel to Jodi, making her jump the "leap of faith" three times to get photos. But she was a great sport, and gave us a great shot.
Eric himself, on the "diving board" at Pyramid's summit.
Eric was just 16 last year when he finished the 14ers. Pyramid was a great trip. I'm here on Maroon today because I just couldn't hack the thought of climbing Maroon with Eric and the gang last year, the next day, after seeing the helicopter coming down off the Bells as we neared Maroon Lake on our descent of Pyramid. The Maroon Bells had claimed Spencer Nelson, a 20 year old CU Boulder ski racer. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Snowmass and Capitol are seen from the notch on Maroon's summit ridge.
From the notch, looking back down to Crater Lake.
Boy, that is some complex terrain ahead...
I'm sitting beyond the notch at the first views of the route ahead, studying the elusive twists and turns that thread the steep ledges to the summit. Perhaps more than casually, I wonder how in the world I'm ever going to get this peak in winter. No matter now, I've got work enough cut out for this bluebird summer's day. Somehow winter manages to take care of itself... Still, being here at this moment, I have profound reverance for those who've scaled this lofty height and it's northern twin in winter - not to mention the few brave souls who every year seem to write these death-defying trip reports of skiing North Maroon. I have no idea how these guys do it.
OK, enough musing. I put on a light windshell, finish lunch, and start the fun that summertime dry alpine rock can be. Before long, the twin gullies are in immenent view, and so are Tracy, Candice, and Jarod. I stop, they catch up, we chat.
The crew: Candice, Tracy, Jarod.
Just before the twin gullies, the three ask if I will guide them to the summit. I kind of chuckle and reply that it depends if I make it to the summit. We hike to the gullies, and see a clear trail leading to the second gully, so I choose it.
As we hike, I begin to muse about how I'm often out here solo, and charging to the summit like I'm on some kind of mission. There's no mission here, and we've got one of those all-day weather windows. My thoughts wander over to Steve Gladbach, and all the generous help he's bestowed on so many of us. Here's a man who's done every 13er in the state, and every 14er in winter. The fourth person to do all the winter 14ers and the only person in history to complete both the 13er list and the winter 14er list. And the guy is so humble. Here, at the cusp of my 57th unique 14er, can I learn something more from Steve than how to climb a 14er in winter? How about, how to climb a 14er in style: These three people are asking for my help. I can't refuse. I put down the solo baton and the mission and pick up a team.
I tell them it's not cheating to have a route description and photos along, particularly on a route like this. Staying on-route can be a big key to safety. We look up at the gullies. There are some ground rules. On a section like this, it's strictly one at a time, due to the potential for rockfall. I'll go first; when I find the cut left in the mid-portion of the gully, I'll get on the next rib, and call out an all-clear - then the next person comes up and does the same.
I've got pretty good compliance from the crew, though Jarod is full of energy and chomping at the bit a little. Soon we're threading our way around to the southwest, and get to the last face and rib system on the left side of the summit ridge.
After the twin gullies, one ascends another gully with snow on its east flanks, to reach this notch. (The snow is 100% avoidable this time of year.)
In a light-hearted moment, Candice puts on her best "badgirl" pose.
This peak is no different from most - it has a face climb to a summit ridge, a summit ridge, and a summit. The difference is, the summit ridge has lots of bumps - very large bumps - which must be bypassed mostly on the left (SW) side, and therein is the route-finding task.
Jarod is hot to climb every hard-looking boulder en-route to the summit. Candice is moving very quickly, and prefers the path of least resistance, or the more solid rock, as do I. Tracy is taking up the rear. We are careful not to be above another member of the party, and to yell "rock!" as loudly as possible, if a rock is inadvertently dislodged, and for as long as the rock is moving. It soon becomes evident when to move back to the summit ridge. We see others on the mountain for the first time today - a few folks leaving the summit. They are directly above us, and graciously wait for us to gain the ridge before continuing. We chat for a bit, then Candice takes off like water moving over stone.
The final section of summit ridge.
A happy girl.
The summit party.
Snowmass and Capitol.
North Maroon graced by the Mountain Goddess.
We spend a good hour on the summit in fine summer weather. Jarod gazes into the Bells traverse and is certain it will be easy. I suggest he give it a shot. He declines.
Candice tells the story of her first Maroon attempt, two or three weeks ago. She's with a young man who challenges her to glissade down a large snowfield. Without an axe. She's smart enough to decline, but as she stands up at the top of the snowfield to leave, she slips and ends up trying to self-arrest with no axe. She does a good job with her elbows but takes a hit at the right elbow on rocks below, causing numbness in her right hand. I notice that her right fifth finger is not fully extended and ask about it. The injury resulted in an ulnar nerve palsy. It's improved over the intervening two to three weeks, but the little finger will still not extend fully, and grip with the last two digits is still poor.
I listen to her story. And then tell them the story of David. Candice vows to have an axe on her next ascent.
At the "second gully" on the descent.
Discipline gets a little lax as I'm a bit surprised to see Candice coming down while Tracy is still in the gully, and even more so to see Jarod traverse across the upper gully while both are still coming down. Jarod heads over to the steep rock on the right side of the gully, while Tracy and Candice make way to the left turn onto the ledge at the bottom.
We wait for a bit and wonder where Jarod is. A few small rocks pattering about our feet give us the answer, as we look up to see him descending the steep rock above. I think my comment is something like, "Jarod, it's ok to be a badass, but please don't dislodge any rocks." Things go fairly well till we get past the notch and the steep east face.
At the notch, I'm revelling in the fact that I just summitted #57 - although I don't consider it a summit till I'm back at the car - in one piece. The gang wants to continue on. To be frank, I'm a bit nervous about rockfall, and they're pretty fast, so I figure I'll be a big chicken and take up the rear.
This idea doesn't work too well, though. Jarod keeps trying to find hard rock to descend. Candice appears confused as to whether to follow him. Tracy is out ahead. I catch up to Jarod and Candice. Right then, Jarod accidentally dislodges a set of rocks; they pick up speed and hit a slab, catapulting them into the air above Tracy at incredible speed. We're all shouting "Rock!!" at the top of our lungs. We wait till the dust settles, and see Tracy below, hiking on, and know he's safe. Jarod is a great guy, and he's being careful, but rockfall on steep loose slopes can happen any time. The key is to make sure you are never directly above or below another party.
Tracy is moving pretty fast, and already most of the way down. I'm a little surprised to find that he was not even aware that there was rockfall. We get off the hill together and over to the bent tree, where we part ways. Tracy is continuing a multi-day trip. I'm headed back to the car and home tonight.
Back at Maroon Lake, the afternoon is brightly buzzing with activity. Kids are playing, old folks are focusing their SLRs. The sun is waning, and so am I. It's been quite a long three days. I look back up to the Bells, thankful for another safe trip.
It feels good to head home with #57 in the bag.
Wishing all of you a safe return from all your journeys....