North Maroon Peak 14,014
South Maroon Peak 14,156 (Recon/Attempt)
January 4-6, 2012
Totals: ~30.3 Miles, ~9,200 Gain
TH: ~.9 miles below the Snowmass Creek Trailhead.
“Oh I get by with a little help from my friends” - The Beatles
Without the immense amount of effort that Dwight, Sarah and Dominic put into this trip, it would have not been successful. Thanks for your effort, recon, commitment, trench building and friendship. I owe you lots of beer.
Safe climbing options and windows are not easy to encounter in the Elks which is especially true on the Maroon Bells. A week prior to the trip, I had no idea that I was going to be climbing the Bells but I received a generous invite to join Sarah, Dominic and Dwight on their attempt at North Maroon. Since safe winter climbing options on the Bells are bleak, Dwight did a recon trip via Snowmass Creek to the backside of the Bells in November and discovered a possible “safe” option on North Maroon's north ridge.
The only problem with the Snowmass Creek approach to the Bells in the winter is the long approach with plenty of deep powder trench building. Fortunately, Dominic and Sarah had built a trench the weekend prior in an effort to gain more beta and scope out avalanche conditions on the possible route on North Maroon. Traveling to low camp had them worked and without a doubt, if I did that much trenching, I would be spanked as well.
The long approach.
In an effort to salvage their hard trench work, Dominic and Sarah wanted to return up Snowmass Creek and make a serious attempt at North Maroon. Avalanche conditions were subsiding and the weather forecast was impeccable. Too perfect not to go. Unsure of how things changed over the week, they wanted to allow 2 days for the approach.
~9.6 Miles, ~2,900 Gain.
Due to some prior evening commitments, I wasn't able to leave Denver until Friday morning. Dwight, Sarah and Dominic all drove out Thursday to get an early start on Friday. Ryan and I left Denver at 6:30 AM and were hiking up the road closure ~.9 miles short of the Snowmass Creek trail around 10:00 AM. With a trench in place, travel went quickly for everyone. What an amazing effort Sarah and Dominic did to make the 9.6 mile approach to camp manageable in a day. Without the prior trench-work, it would have certainly been a 2 day ordeal to camp.
Just before dark, camp was set up just above 11,000 feet only a short few miles away from North Maroon. Towering over camp, the Bells looked stupendous and I couldn't wait to check them out. I went to bed early and woke up at 4:45 AM. By the time everyone was ready, we were hiking out of camp towards North Maroon at 5:50 AM.
~6.3 Miles, ~3,700 Gain.
From camp, it was ~1.5 miles further into the basin to the base of the possible snow couloir that would lead us to the Gunsight notch north of North Maroon. Looking up from the basin, we could see that the couloir was filled with snow, but shallow enough in places for talus to break through. Things were looking good. We activated our avalanche beacons and continued upwards.
Dwight making his way to the west face couloir leading to The Gunsight.
In order for us to gain the couloir, we had to climb through 2 minor cliff bands to reach the base of the couloir. Nothing too difficult. We ditched our snowshoes and started our way up the west facing snow couloir. About ˝ way up the couloir, a questionable snow slab was encountered and we started up one at a time through a short 100-200 foot section of suspicious terrain. The angle eased and we reached The Gunsight. If there was any more snow in that couloir, it would have probably been a no go.
Climbing to the west face couloir.
The west face couloir.
The questionable section in the west face couloir.
Our next obstacle was bypassing “Gunsight Tower” which we did on the west side of the ridge by crossing some narrow snow covered ledges. Roach mentions climbing up and over “Gunsight Tower” goes at 4th class but with such “little” snow we were able to follow the ledges along the west side of the tower. The snow was soft and the exposure was intimidating. Dwight did excellent recon on the route where his recently traveled path made the route finding easier and quick.
Looking towards Maroon Lake from The Gunsight.
Typical north ridge terrain.
Pyramid and the north face of North Maroon.
As we climbed upwards, we navigated through some short class 4 cliff bands. For the most part, we stayed west of the ridge crest on snowy ledges until ~13,600 and at ~13,600, we gained the ridge crest. Now for the technical crux; a larger cliff band at ~13,700. At first, we climbed on the east side of the ridge for a short distance before returning to the ridge crest. We made some exposed class 4 moves along the way. The views of the north face were amazing.
Climbing on North Maroon's north ridge.
North ridge action.
North ridge action.
Once we climbed through the larger cliff band, we only had one short class 3 band to climb before reaching the final summit push. The last 200 feet to the summit mellowed out and we all reached the summit at 11:50 AM. Perfect weather with astonishing views of South Maroon and Pyramid. Unique, untraveled, and beautiful. A light breeze had picked up on the summit so our stay wasn't very long. We enjoyed the views and started down. Finally, the sun had reached the west side of the ridge and we all started to warm up. Our first hit of direct sunlight hit us for a short period at ~13,500.
First bit of sunlight over South Maroon.
Dwight on the ridge crest.
Regaining the ridge crest.
Final class 3 band before the summit.
Good view of South Maroon.
South Maroon from the summit.
We made good time back down the ridge and back to the base of the couloir. Since things on the trip had gone so well, we had an extra day. Time to get some beta on the west ridge on South Maroon. Once at the base of the west couloir to The Gunsight, I cruised to the valley floor and started trekking south to the base of South Maroon's west ridge. A north facing couloir could be problematic but as I hiked to the base, I found a safe alternative through dry talus to the ridge. We will return tomorrow. I returned to camp at 3:40 PM, ate dinner and went to sleep.
Descending back down.
Crux cliff band.
Dwight near on Gunsight Tower.
~14.4 Miles, ~2,600 Gain.
Packing up in the morning went faster and everyone left camp around 5:40 AM towards South Maroon. Within no time, we reached the north face couloir leading to the west ridge. Climbing up the talus to the west ridge was time consuming and a pain in the ass. Plenty of loose rock.
The only thing I have to say about the west ridge, is that it was significantly harder than the north ridge on North Maroon. Winter route finding was very challenging and the climbing was much more difficult. Unlike the North Ridge on North Maroon, we used a rope for a rappel during our descent. It took us 3 hours to gain 400 feet. We turned around at 11:00 AM and still had 700 more feet of complex hard climbing.
Scrambling on South Maroon.
Typical exposure on South Maroon.
Ryan hanging out on South Maroon.
Due to the nature of the climbing we turned around at a problematic cliff band with horribly chossy rock. The standard route would be solid granite compared to the west ridge. Agreement was unanimous and we bailed returning to camp. On a plus note, we could pack up and make the long haul back to the car which we did. Ryan and I packed up and left camp first and made it back to the car at 6:50 PM. One of the finest and most rewarding winter trips to date. Thanks for a solid team.
Bailing on South Maroon.
Woot. I finally GPS.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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