Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  08/25/2015
Date Climbed:   08/23/2015
Author:  thePhoenix
Additional Members:   14erAddict, DaveWruck
 Thistle Peak - Watch those spikes.   

Ten years ago, a hurricane ravaged the gulf coast during high tides. Towns were submerged from bay to beach. Homes were swept from foundations and torn apart in storm swells. Communities were destroyed in a matter of hours. 8 days later over 300 18-24 year olds reported to Charleston, SC for a year of service with Americorps National Civilian Community Corps. I was a member of Charleston NCCC Class XII Gold 6. We called ourselves the Booty Pirates.

Back: Elaine, Holly, Kyla, Fanci, Cory, Michelle. Front: Kris, Angie, Me

The next 10 months of our lives were filled with adventure, heartache, distress, anger, love, more adventure, and more love. We bounced around in our 12 passenger van from Louisville, to Biloxi, to Atlanta, and New Orleans - driving forklifts, sorting donations, building homes, fighting over road trip music, challenging each other to eating contests, and sleeping just about anywhere a sponsor would put us. That's the life of an Americorps member.

The destruction: Strangi Street - Biloxi, MS

The Sorting: The Salvation Army Warehouse - Lourisville, KY

The Adventure: Shady's Bar/Grill and Thai Food - Biloxi, MS

I wouldn't trade a minute of it, not even a second. Nor would I trade a minute of my last adventure in the mountains (well, maybe one minute - see bottom of report). Months ago, Nicole and I signed up to volunteer with the Colorado 14ers Initiative on the North Maroon Peak trail. We met at the Woolly Mammoth lots around 7:30, and headed for Aspen on Thursday. After a short discussion with the Park Rangers in the overnight lot, we finally found the Boneyard parking.

16 of us rounded up supplies and gear, and set up the Maroon Bells Wilderness - North Maroon trail around 1pm. It was hot, and our packs were loaded down with more food than we could consume over the next couple of days...not to mention tents, bags, clothes, water, helmets, etc. By the time we reach camped, I took the first tent site I saw - no way was I walking any further with the pack.

CFI Round-up at the Boneyard Parking lot

The first night was rough, but mostly due to the porcupine family hanging out in the area. I had to shake my tent while two of them fought about leaves or god knows what right next to my head. One sat on a tree crying for about 15 minutes, while another one hummed. One volunteer,Tom, swears one of them of singing. Who knows, but at some point it all became white noise, and I was lulled off to sleep.

Two full days of trail work, well really maybe 1.5 days. Day one was restoration, but our team of 16 moved along faster than expected. The next day our crew came up with a number of projects for us to armor rock trails, rebuild walls, and close off corners. A full day of moving, throwing, tossing, and rolling rocks. By the end of that day, I was layed out on a rock, sun bathing like a marmot. All in all, the 16 of us managed to get a good amount of work done that will hopefully hold up through the seasons.

Then came day 4 off-grid. By this time, my skin had a solid layer of sunscreen, bug spray, dirt, and many other particles of the wild. CFI does not allow for summit attempts during work projects, so we waited for day 4. The alarm went off at 4:40am. Six us from our CFI project hit the trail at 5:30am with only the views of our headlamps in site.

When I told my Mom I was making an attempt on North Maroon, I also told her not to google it. This is why.

Campsite at 10,800 (Last Creek Crossing)
7 Miles - 3,400' Gain
3.5 Hours Up
2.5 Hours Down
Climbers: Myself, Nicole, Laura, Henry, Steve, and Dave

Sunrise coming over the Maroon Bells Wilderness.

The trail is well defined up the rock glacier. CFI put in a lot of hard work in previous years to make this great trail. The rock glacier is big, and it does move like a glacier, but I felt it was not as scary as everyone made it out to be. Yes, check your steps and watch for loaded rocks, but all in all it was more solid than expected. As for the trail, there really isn't one, but there are a number of cairns that are pretty accurate to the actual trail on the opposite side of the glacier. We picked a line of cairns that wound up bringing us maybe 10 feet above the actual trail. It's a very clear trail on both sides, so you can aim for it w/o cairns - it's up to you.

Heading for the gullies. (Photo by Dave Wruck)

The gullies are filled with thistles, lots and lots of thistles. Watch where you put your hands as much as where you put your feet. Both gullies have braided trails going through them. Practice mental mapping - take note of specific features, and this will help on the descent.

The first gully is the easier of the two. Not sure about you're preferred route. If you are following Bill's .com standard then be sure to stick with the first gully trails that continue left. The other's will take you all the way up the first gully for the alternative route (marked by a cairn at the top). On the standard, you'll eventually, traverse around the corner where the second gully comes into view. It's a rather impressive view.

The second gully has a lot of loaded rocks in it, but there is a lot of solid rock to work with too. You'll be traversing mostly over to the left of this gully, and you'll stay mostly left all the way to the ridge/notch - the right looks to get a bit sketchy. If you get to the 2nd gully, and some one else is already in it, I recommend watching them climb for awhile. The break will be completely worth it, especially if that person turns out to be oblivious to lose rock and/or other climbers. Take your time, watch your hands/feet.

Find the notch on the ridge line above the 2nd gully, and head left. The rock is more solid, but you'll see that there is still a good amount of loaded rocks. The loaded rocks on the trail are mostly avoidable. If you've looked at the photos in the route description there is pretty much no way to miss the chimney when you get to it (color photos are the best). We did almost pass it thinking it was too early to reach the chimney, but there is no denying the chimney when you see it. This is when we realized we had been climbing for three hours already.

Top of the Second Gully just under the notch - Head left.

A look back.

Nicole and I waiting for to enter the chimney.

Before going up the Chimney, memorize the holds at the bottom. It will help when you go back down, and you're trying to find footholds. If you get to the top, and you're feeling a little uncomfortable with the last move up start feeling around on the flat service. At the very top there is a great handhold, but you wouldn't see it unless you were above it. Just feel around for it on the service - it's a crack on top of the ledge about 8-9 inches long. That said, always check a hold before putting full weight on it.

Steve in the chimney. The handhold is circled in green.

In our opinion the chimney seemed further from the summit than the route description made it out to be - you have about another 20-30 minutes at an average pace. Spend some time mental mapping right out of the chimney. On the way back down there are some cairns that will take you too far over to the right on the ridge, when you really want to be just below and left of the ridge on the way back to the chimney. The story from the Chimney to the summit is the same as the gullies, both lose and solid rock only no thistles.

One more break before the summit. Steve, Nicole, and Dave.

Summit #21 with the next week's objective in the background - Capitol for #22.

Climbing Partners Summit Shot...sometimes we accidentally color coordinate.

Same rule applies for the descent of the 2nd gully - be observant of other climbers. If you meet a climber on the ridge above the gully that you don't feel comfortable with their experience/respect level, wait it out for awhile until they are well passed sending any rocks into the gully. When you are descending the second gully, stay to the right as long as you can until the traverse over to the trees (remember the first cairn/ridge goes into the 1st gully high - Bill's standard route takes you lower). In the event of rockfall, there is more protection on the right side during the descent.

Fields of wildflowers after the descent on the rock glacier. We came through before sunrise, so this was our first time to see them for the day.

Ah, this dirt trail is so nice under our feet.

The descent is a lot better than South Maroon, but you know the drill. Don't rush it - Be safe - Have fun! Honestly, I would do this mountain again tomorrow I enjoyed it that much.

"When it comes to idiots, America's got more than its fair share. If idiots were energy, it would be a source that would never run out." ~Lewis Black

Back to my comments about waiting it out if you see other climbers in the 2nd gully. We passed a group of young guys at the ridge line by the notch on our descent. They seemed "ill-prepared" to say the least. We were hesitant to go into the gully with them above us at all, but decided to proceed. We asked them to be sure and call out "ROCK" if anything let loose under them.

We were about 500-600 feet down the gully when we heard a boulder, when a group of people started yelling rock. Large boulders came rushing down the gully opposite us slowly making their way more towards the middle. After what seemed an eternity the rock fall stopped short of us, and then entirely, and the skies were quiet. A bit shaken, we took a breather to pull it back together.

We were told it was in fact the group of young, ill-prepared, idiots that dropped the rocks on us. Their response was to look at each other and say things like, "Dude, that was awesome." and "Cool!" If it had not been for the group of 3 other climbers immediately below them yelling "Rock", we would have had no warning or place to shelter from the idiot storm.

If you cannot respect the mountains AND other climbers, DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT go onto technical routes.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Great job!
08/25/2015 14:41
Nice report, Sarah! Coming down Holy Cross earlier this month I had the pleasure of being able to thank a couple of hard–working CFI’s in person too. If I were about 40 yrs younger, I would’ve loved to have done something like this had I known about it. Good luck on Capitol! It is a total blast!


Rocks no bueno
08/25/2015 14:47
I feel your frustration about the rocks and other climbers. Unfortunately, the only assured way to avoid this problem is to get an earlier start than the other climbers. Anyone can cause a errant slide. Yelling "rock" helps only if you have a area you can hide under. When climbing Pyramid a few weeks ago, my more experienced friend basically told me to that you have to be the early bird to avoid this issue.

Nice trip report! Can’t wait to do the Bells soon. Looks like you guys had a good time. How loose is the infamous rock? Where did you guys camp? Boneyard? There is always so many people up there.


08/25/2015 15:02
Glad you guys didn’t get hit!! In about that same location Chirpich almost got his head crushed in by rocks kicked down by goats. However, the goats were more courteous than those asshats!


Re: Rocks no bueno
08/25/2015 15:02
We weren’t necessarily upset about the rock fall happening. They happen and it seems almost inevitable on some peaks...especially on a weekend. Really, we were upset about the reaction of the guys thinking what they did was awesome without any care in the world for climbers around them.

The Boneyard parking is closed to the public. You’ll have to park at the overnight. We camped just past the last creek crossing in a patch of trees. Don’t forget your bear canister because 1) they are required now, and 2) a momma bear and cub made a couple of visits to our camp.

There is a lot of loose rock. I tested every step, even in the rock glacier. Just spend sometime looking at the path you’re about to take up. A couple of times we had more than one option, but it was clear which one had more solid rock to gain.


Re: Rocks no bueno
08/25/2015 15:27
(quote)I feel your frustration about the rocks and other climbers. Unfortunately, the only assured way to avoid this problem is to get an earlier start than the other climbers. Anyone can cause a errant slide. Yelling "rock" helps only if you have a area you can hide under.(/quote)

While I agree with you to a certain extend (i.e., sometimes rock fall is unavoidable), there are still things both the people above and below can do to stack the odds. First, the person above can be extra careful with their movment so not to knock anything loose. Sure, sometimes you cannot prevent a rock from falling, but I bet these guys in the TR were tramping around without a care in the world, where someone who was more careful would not have caused any rock to fall. Second, even if you think the person below has nowhere to hide, yelling "rock" will still give them a fighting chance. Move to either side of a gully, huddle close to a rock, crouch into a smaller target, any of these is better than standing like a bowling pin without the benefit of a warning.

Sarah, glad you all are ok!

Michael J

Mama Googled it anyway!
08/26/2015 23:11
If your Mom is anything like I am, I bet she Googled the Bells anyway. Gotta check up on the kids and make sure they are safe! Nice report Sarah! North has always been a pretty special peak to me. When you summit this one, you know you’ve earned it. It brought a smile to my face when Laura said you texted her to let her know you were just across the way from us! Looking forward to future adventures!

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