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 Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
 Post Date:  05/11/2011
 Date Climbed:   05/07/2011
 Posted By:  pioletski

 SW Couloir Ski Descent   


Big Ideas in the Maroon Bells



Climb and summit ski descent of Maroon Peak, 5/7/2011
Crew: Jordan (Jcwhite), Ari, Anton, myself (pioletski)

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Photo: Caleb Wray


The Southwest Direct couloir on Maroon Peak is one of the lines that caught my attention when I first began to think about skiing the 14ers. It is a steep and exciting line that drops into Fravert Basin, of which I have fond memories extending all the way back to childhood. (To pronounce "Fravert," put on a beret, take a sip of wine and say "Forever.") The prominent difficulty is its remoteness. Getting there is relatively straightforward, there are several efficient routes. Getting out is the problem; any way you go, it is a long way home. Choices include going west to Lead King Basin, south over Frigid Air pass toward Crested Butte, or traversing to West Maroon Pass (there is a variation of the latter that crosses a saddle north of the pass, but it involves descending a steep east-facing slope late in the day). Choosing a route involves a daunting tradeoff of distance and avalanche exposure.

Jordan, naturally, had other ideas. He's not given to thinking small. His solution to the problem was to climb over a notch just west of the base of the couloir into the head of the Snowmass Creek drainage... then climb the west side of North Maroon and ski the north face, thus taking in both Bells in a single day. Well, we almost pulled it off, and in the process explored another exit route from Fravert Basin.

After solving the sticky logistical challenge presented by Maroon Creek Road, we left Maroon Lake at about 3:30 am. Dawn found us climbing the apron above Crater Lake. L to R: Ari, Anton, Jordan:

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We ascended the (climber's) left-hand Garbage Chute while discussing the route options:

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In retrospect the Bell Cord might have been the faster route, as the snow might have been firmer... but we chose the right-hand Y couloir:

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The Y couloirs face northeast. The astronomically astute will note that, at this latitude and this time of year, sunrise is not due east, it is significantly north of east, at a perfect angle to blast these slopes with solar radiation as soon as the sun is up. In no time we were stripping off clothing and dodging showers of slough coming off the east face above our heads:

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Photo: Jordan White


At 13,750' we attained the saddle at the top of the couloir, gaining a view into Fravert Basin:

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When we turned the corner onto the relatively shady and breezy southwest face, conditions changed in a hurry. Clothes went back on as we took a quick break, then set to the more technical mixed climbing up the south ridge to the summit:

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Some photos of happy climbers on a perfect spring day. Ari and Anton:

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Anton:

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Jordan:

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Ari:

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Snowmass and Capitol shone like jewels in the sun:

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We lingered at the summit to allow a party of two to ski down; they had come up from Crested Butte.

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Photo: Jordan White


The skiing was spectacular, although the snow in the couloir was crusty and tricky. Me:

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Photo: Jordan White


Jordan:

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Anton:

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Ari:

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At 12,800', just above the foot of the run, we exited to the right onto an apron and traversed to our chosen notch. This part was pure exploration; we didn't know if it was feasible or not. It quickly became apparent that it was. We crossed a little bare scree on the north side of the saddle, then put our skis back on and traversed onto the base of the wide west face of North Maroon.

After another break we began hiking up the middle of the face, hugging old slide tracks for firmer and safer snow:

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Photo: Jordan White


We continued for about 1000 vertical feet as the hot afternoon wore on and the snow gradually softened under our feet. Knowing that our progress would slow considerably once we got into the mixed climbing on the upper face, we decided to call it off at about 3:30 pm, at about 13,400'. Our escape route was a slightly dicy descending traverse to the north until we were below the notch in North Maroon's northwest ridge, just south of the Gunsight (we chose this over the Gunsight for better skiing). Climbing through the notch, we put our skis back on and descended on hard snow to the Miner's Ski Jump; here's Ari:

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Below the Miner's Jump, the snow was perfect spring corn. Of course it gave way to sloppy mashed potatoes as we descended toward Maroon Lake. Jordan took this beautiful picture below the north side of North Maroon:

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Photo: Jordan White


Dept. of Useful Information: Our trip demonstrated a way of doing the SW Direct that is, shall I say, no worse than any of the others: ski the couloir to 12,800'; traverse right and over the notch into the Snowmass Creek drainage; traverse below the west face of North Maroon until you are directly west of the Gunsight or the adjacent notch; climb through your chosen notch and descend. Safety depends on being early enough that the snow on the west face is stable.

My general advice for skiing the Bells or Pyramid, by any route, is threefold: First, solve the Maroon Creek Road approach problem ahead of time. Second, get up early, and third, bring your A game. The Elks have some of the most rewarding ski mountaineering on earth, provided it is done safely.

Cheers, thanks for reading!

(Addendum) Here is the video of the descent:


Thanks again!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions (9)
Jcwhite


Nice Matt     2011-05-17 17:30:07
It was a good day out there. Scary a bit, but fun.

I posted a TR as well.
http://www.elksandbeyond.com/south-maroon-sw-couloir/


benners


Nice Tour     2011-05-11 10:51:04
fellas. The beta and routefinding advice is much appreciated. Nice job getting another, Matt!


Carl


Both Bells in a day!     2011-05-11 11:08:57
Way to get close and show everyone how it can be done. What a day. Now, Matt, if you could please head to the Sangres and let me know if Crestone Needle is in I would very much appreciate it . As for the road, Frank told me he heard from Jordan it's melting fast. You think it's dry for more than 1.5 miles now? Thanks!


pioletski


Thanks Ben, anything for you Carl.     2011-05-11 13:29:05
Yes, the road is melting fast and I'm sure there are more than 1.5 miles of bare pavement now. Unfortunately we're in an awkward phase where the clear areas will be covered with verglas early in the morning, and falling off your mountain bike with a full pack on is not as much fun as it sounds. I'd guess it will be totally clear within about a week.


Carl


Thanks Matt     2011-05-11 13:46:53
On one hand, I'm disappointed we haven't skied together this season, but on the other hand, it's nice to have someone go ski all the lines I'm considering a week or two prior and provide all this great beta! You're rocking it this season (no surprise there). I'll email you about the Needle.


otherbrotherdarryl

The orange turtleneck rides again!     2011-05-11 14:10:49
Awesome TR and very fashion forward there, bro.


gb


Nice!     2011-05-11 17:25:29
I was waiting for this one. SW is one of my favorite routes, and Fravert is one of my favorite places (probably only 2nd to Pierre Lakes). Who were the guys from CB? I wonder if they camped out or did it in a day via sleds through Paradise basin (no small feat for sleds)


SchralpTheGnar



nice route     2011-05-11 20:10:18
I remember looking down on that couloir from the summit of Maroon last year, it looked amazing. I'd like to do that route too, but overnight it in fravert basin since it just looked like such an amazing place to camp.

That's an adventurous day that the Bells are known to deliver.


Dancesatmoonrise


Right on...     2011-05-13 21:41:26
...And done right.

Another great tick. Matt, what can I say, dude. Congrats on yet another fine line. Can't wait for your finisher!



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