| Stayin' High on the Bells Traverse
MOUNTAINS: Maroon Peak (14,156'), North Maroon Peak (14,014')
ROUTE: South-->North Traverse
RT GAIN: 4,850'
RT DISTANCE: 9.5 miles
RT TIME: 11 hours (1.5 hours on the traverse, 2 hours on summits)
CLIMBERS: Zack (SeracZack), Emily (Emily), Jeff (SurfNTurf), Matt (I Man), Ryan (kushrocks)
The past few weeks have been filled with ups and downs. Most of the ups I have y’all to thank for. The Happy Hour last Thursday was the most fun I’ve had in quite a while; I’m not sure a picture from it exists where I’m not laughing my ass off.
The Bells Traverse was one of Rob’s favorite climbs. He absolutely glowed whenever he recounted it, and I was always more than a little jealous. With South Maroon among my final three 14ers, I had to return to the area, but I wasn’t sure what how my nerves would be and honestly I was planning on a boring jaunt up and down the 2,800 Feet of Suck.
Emily (Emily), Ryan (kushrocks) and Matt (I Man) were having none of it.
Sometimes everyone needs a little kick in the ass. They were happy to provide it. A few Happy Hour beers later, I finally agreed: the plan for Saturday was, without a doubt, the Bells Traverse.
Emily and I met Ryan, Matt and Zack (SeracZack) at 3:30 a.m. in the Bells parking lot. The start time was a compromise between Ryan’s suggestion of 12:30 or 1 a.m. and my suggestion of Ryan, you’re f’ing crazy. We had a bit of trouble locating the S. Maroon turnoff past Crater Lake in the dark as the cairn had been knocked over, but eventually we were on the 2,800 Feet of Suck.
The ascent to S. Maroon’s ridge lives up to its name. I’m just thankful we did it in the dark and I couldn’t see how far we had to go. It’s loose, there isn’t much of a trail, and it goes pretty much straight up. I had one of my closest calls ever as Matt and I hunkered down against an outcropping while a laptop-sized rock whizzed over our heads at full speed. We finally reached the ridge at the same time as the sun.
Sunlight greets us after the 2,800 of Suck.
The upper route was fairly easy to follow, as we’d studied the route and Ryan had been up it before. Before long we were within a couple hundred feet of the summit. The trail obviously snaked around low on loose rock, but given our plans for the day we decided to get warmed up. Staying as high as possible, we climbed a Class 4 wall and walked the ridge proper to the top, which we reached at 8 a.m.
Emily and Ryan leading the way.
Me, climbing a short Class 4 wall to reach the ridgetop.
Emily and Ryan nearing the summit of Maroon Peak.
Pyramid Peak, bathed in sunlight.
Me, Matt and Ryan, honoring lost friends.
“Staying high,” which again was kind of a joke/challenge Rob and I shared, became somewhat of a theme of the day. Looking back, it doesn’t only pertain to climbing. After so many downs and lows in dealing with the deaths of two friends, it’s important to keep your head up and embrace the abundant happiness remaining in all of our lives.
The sun was fully risen, but either the still-chilly morning or the sight of the Bells Traverse left us shivering. We fueled up, had a few conversations, took obligatory goat photos and dropped into the traverse at 8:45 a.m.
The Bells Traverse.
The initial descent is straightforward, but it’s loose and a few short Class 4 downclimbs must be negotiated. We didn’t see many cairns. Before long we’d reached the top of the Bell Cord and were staring up at the first crux.
The first crux, the way we did it, required a few Class 4 moves and one Matt rated at 5.0. It wasn’t very exposed and didn’t pose much of a problem. We did end up below the ridge proper on the left, following sparse cairns and trail segments. I’m not sure, but I believe we were slightly off-route as the first crux didn’t immediately yield to a catwalk like in the route description. We eventually realized we were too low and found a Class 3/4 scramble up to the ridge and the second crux.
Ryan below the first crux, after crossing the top of the Bell Cord.
Emily scrambling around to the left of the ridge crest.
Terrain where we regained the ridge crest, between the first and second cruxes.
The second crux, in my opinion, required the hardest climbing of the day. We had to link a few Class 5 moves up a nearly vertical chimney, though the footholds were huge and the handholds were solid. It got our adrenaline pumping, but again, no real problems were posed. Anyone on the summits of North or South Maroon may have heard a few yelps of joy when each of us topped out.
From the top of the second crux we walked on the ridge proper toward the third and final wall. A group traversing from North to South met us here, and we watched them rappel as we tried to pick our own ascent line.
Me about to follow Emily up the second crux.
Image #13 (not yet uploaded)
Matt watching the North-->South group rappel near the third crux.
Matt found a face climb he called 5.5, and Emily followed him with only a few seconds’ hesitation. Ryan, Zack and I instead found what we believed was the “standard” chimney around a bit farther to the left. It was short and probably Class 4, but as it tightened toward the top it got a bit awkward for us bigger guys.
The "easy" way up the third crux.
From the top of the third crux we each took a slightly different line. Some went lower on exposed ledges to the right, while I tried to stay ridge proper whenever possible where the rock continued to be quite solid. The exposure lessened the closer we got to North Maroon’s summit. A short Class 3 scramble later, we were done. I beat Emily in the race to the top. She isn’t a very gracious loser, and continues to insist she didn’t know it was a race.
Matt and Zack negotiating an exposed notch.
Emily on the solid ridge crest.
Zack nears the end of the difficulties.
Looking back at South Maroon, from North.
The North Maroon summit, which we reached about 1.5 hours after leaving South’s, was a party. Marcia’s group was already on top, and as soon as they left they were replaced by the CMC group for the Centennial Climb. Just as Zack, Emily, Ryan, Matt and I were beginning to soak in our accomplishment, someone gasped and pointed out a shirtless dude running across the traverse. It turned out to be Anton Krupicka, who ran the South→North Traverse from car-to-car in 3:07:58.
Our climb was no longer cool.
Anton completes the traverse in something like 25 minutes.
Still, seeing as how the day was perfect, we lounged for more than an hour. Dale’s were consumed. It was odd to see Hagerman Peak for the first time since Rob’s accident, and Ryan and I sent it our “regards.”
The crew (L-R Matt, Emily, Jeff, Zack, Ryan).
We approve of the Bells Traverse.
Fall Is Coming.
A toast to Rob.
Ryan and I had both been up North Maroon before, so the descent was fairly straightforward. I’d been only a month ago, and I was dreading the eroded trail and final willow bushwhack. Thankfully, the CFI has almost finished its improvements. The cruddy trail low on North Maroon has been replaced by a glorious rock path complete with "stairs" that completely avoids the surrounding willows. We took time to say Thank You to the still-working volunteers about 100 times.
The new CFI trail rocks.
We got back to the cars at 2:30 p.m., approximately 11 hours after we set out, including two hours on the summits. More Dale’s were opened as we soaked our feet in Maroon Lake, which was astoundingly lacking for tourists. Not that we were complaining.
It’s easy to see why recounting the Bells Traverse made Rob so ecstatic. What a fine route, one that I will definitely repeat in the years to come. Just not ever in 3:07:58 from car-to-car.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):