Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  07/17/2019
Date Climbed:   05/31/2019
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   JulianSmith
 Two Bells in Three Days Part I   

For the longest time (like years), skiing the Bells was a pipe dream for me. Maybe some day, when I am a better skier, stronger and don't have other easier peaks left to ski. Well, the time finally came this spring. I felt pretty comfortable on the Needle, and more or less comfortable on Wilson peak (once past the traverse), and El Diente would have been totally fine if we had better snow. So I guess, it's on. Except the short weather window for the Bells over Memorial Day weekend disappeared before the avalanche conditions settled and the wind forecast didn't look good either. I only had less than a week left before I was due back at work. And what's in the forecast? Several more days of rain in the valleys and snow up high. And then I got sick - at first it didn't look like much, but even a few days of head cold wasn't welcome when you're trying to ski some of the hardest peaks in Colorado. I hanged out in Grand Junction and waited some more. Finally, I got good news - Julian was going to join me for the North Maroon and Larry was game for South. I just didn't know what order we should ski them. My instinct was to ski South first and North second, but after consulting both Brittany and Jason K, the plan was hatched. North Maroon first, South Maroon second, and sounds like the CB team was joining me for the South (a repeat for both of them). I couldn't believe my good fortune, if only the stupid cold would go away! After several days of being sick, I went on a little conditioning hike in Grand Junction and didn't feel good at all. Not ideal to spend 2 weeks at low altitude with little to no cardio and catch a cold at the end. But nothing could be done and it was a go time! I made the drive to Aspen on Thursday, gawking at all the avy debris along the Maroon Creek road, got all my stuff ready and went to sleep in the overnight parking lot.

North Maroon Peak

North Face (Stammberger Ledges)

May 31st, 2019

Trailhead: Maroon lake
Partner: Julian Smith
8 miles, 4,500 ft gain, <10 hours

Julian and I met at the Maroon lake TH and launched shortly after 3 am. The trail was dry for the first mile, so we started in trail shoes. Even though I had scouted the Crater lake trail before, we still got briefly bogged down in the avy debris above the lake. But I had Jomah's gpx track loaded into Gaia, so after a few minutes of uphill we found the summer trail above the debris. Soon after I stashed my trail shoes and we started skinning towards and then across the Minnehaha gulch. I've been there a few times before in dry conditions, but boy, does it look different covered in snow!

North Maroon at sunrise
The look of someone trying to keep up with Julian on his ultralight skimo gear (and feeling about 80-90% of normal)

We skinned to the bottom of our route and transitioned there. Couple of things were of note - the Gunsight couloir had a big cornice, and the apron of our route had avy debris (already?). It only stopped snowing 2 days ago! We started climbing the apron which already had a runnel and we quickly learned how - around 7 am we got pelted by rocks and melting snow coming off the Gunsight tower. There was a foot of new snow on the slanted ledges and it only took the sun a few minutes to warm it up. At the turnoff to the main ledge, as Julian started going up the face, I suggested we take the ridge instead. The upper face looked deep and I expected the booting to be laborious and time consuming, while putting us in the line of fire from the melting snow coming off the ridge. Julian agreed and we fired up the runnel and then deep snow up to the ridge which we reached around 8 am. My secondary consideration was to check out the NW ridge as the winter route, since I didn't get to see it this past winter.

Starting up the line
Julian in the runnel created by the Gunsight tower to the right
Me in the runnel
Top of the couloir
Gaining the ridge (photo by Julian)

I wasn't sure what to expect of the ridge, but in the nutshell, I loved the route. For starters, we weren't pelted by the rocks from above, the snow on the western aspect was still firm and consolidated. We traded leads, did some route finding, navigated a couple tricky sections, and ran out of the ridge to climb by 9.30 am or somewhat ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, the North face looked sobering.

Julian on the ridge
Sobering look of the North face - we're skiing this?
Running out of the ridge to climb (photo by Julian)
The next objective - we're skiing this too? (gulp)

After spending some time on the summit, it was time to ski. The first few turns were nice for getting us back in the groove. But then, it was the Punk rock. I could barely recognize it with all this snow. Once getting around the Punk rock I hit the traverse to the center of the face.

Julian off the summit, with Pyramid behind him.
Me navigating the Punk rock (photo by Julian)
Traversing the face
Looking down the line
Julian on the upper face

Conditions were good, in fact, probably too good, with 6-12 inches of fresh powder on top of the stable base. I was worried the jump turns could move the snow, but it stayed stable for us. After a few tentative jump turns, I skied to the top of the lower cliff base and consulted the gpx. More traversing left. And then I hit the mental block. Typically, I ski couloirs. I even stumbled or fell in the "no fall" zones in the couloirs a couple of times (not recommended obviously), but I rarely have a chance to ski above the cliffs. If it happens, it's usually brief, and it's over before you have time to freak yourself out. But not here. Here on the face you are skiing above the cliffs the entire time. And the consequences of blowing a turn are very high. After trying in vain for a few minutes to make a turn, Julian came to my rescue. Making a jump turn he said, you see, it works. And it did. The snow was unbelievably good. I was expecting more of 45 degree skiing, but it really felt more like 50 degrees to me (and Gaia seems to agree).

Julian going for it
Julian's 2nd time skiing North Maroon
Me

We skied down to the choke only to realize it didn't go. It looked pretty thin on the approach, but I was still hoping that after so much of new snow it would be covered. The reason became apparent quickly - as we were debating on the best course of action, a sluff came down the ridge and directly through the choke. Another option was to traverse the 50 degree icy slope to the right (this was the only icy section on the entire mountain), and luckily, the next gully looked doable. After 3 jump turns we traversed back towards the main gully just as the next smaller sluff came by. So far our timing was impeccable, the gully was hit when we were not in it :) The downclimb was steep, but nothing beyond what we've already encountered. I carefully sidestepped my way in, and after a few more jumpturns, I was on the main ledge and the most difficult part was over.

Julian just past the choke
Me
Julian on the main ledge

Once in the exit gully, the snow quality deteriorated - the snow became heavy, with more avy debris than before. I almost fell there, but recovered just in time :) We skied down to the skin stash, took a delayering break, and cruised down heavy corn down to the Minnehaha gulch. Once I found my shoe stash, we hiked down to the Crater lake on top of the avy debris where we ran into other hikers. They were really nice and genuinely seemed to be as happy for us as we were. We ran into many other hikers on the way out who congratulated us on the successful ski. This was probably the most difficult ski descent I have done to-date. Once back at the Maroon lake, we had a beer (well, Julian had a double IPA while I had a couple sips - I'll bring some Sunshine Wheat next time), and it was time to get back to Aspen and figure out the next steps...

Independence Mountain (12er)

June 1st, 2019

Trailhead: switchback off Independence pass
Stats: ~1,700 ft, <2 hours

I drove back to Aspen, the cell reception and the real life. From not being at the altitude for awhile, I developed a splintering headache and decided to go to sleep early. I was out around 7pm without clear plans for the next day. I simply didn't know how I would feel. I knew I wanted a rest day before the possible ski of South Maroon and I was still recovering from a head cold, but Brittany's offer of skiing the Indy pass with them on the opening day was too enticing. I woke up the next day around 6 am and felt sort of ok, the cold didn't get any worse. I texted Brittany that I was in and would meet them at the top of the pass, but they were already out of the cell range. But first things first - I needed breakfast! After a stop at Starbucks in Aspen I was on my way up the Indy pass. Just as I was passing a busy switchback with a bunch of cars, I spotted Ann, then Larry, and they told me Brittany and Frank were also here. Woo-hoo. In a group of 6 we skinned up the Independence Mountain (me waaay in the back and cursing my sore legs). But I made it :)

Morning skin
In search of corn
Ann harvests the perfect corn

While 4 of the gang went for the 2nd lap, Ann and I cruised down the main gully in the most perfect corn conditions. Skiing somehow felt easy for a change :) Down by the car around 10 am and ready for some refreshments, I could start getting worried about the South Maroon ski the next day. It was great to catch up with Ann who I did Holy Cross in winter a couple seasons ago. After the rest of the gang got back, we moved the camp up the next switchback to meet with Lou Dawson and his Indy pass opening day party. After saying hello to Otina and Josh J , it was time to relocate once more, this time to Red Onion Aspen to meet with Jordan White and his wife. On that particular day I got to meet 6 14er ski finishers and near finishers, I guess it makes sense when you're in a little place called Aspen, where 14er ski finishers flock instinctively like the salmon of Capistrano :) The next day forecast didn't look promising at all (poor freeze and high chance of thunderstorms starting early), but Frank and Brittany seemed to be positive we could pull it off. After dinner, Larry and I relocated one more time to the Maroon lake parking lot for another early start...

TO BE CONTINUED


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




 Comments or Questions
cottonmountaineering

Nice!
07/17/2019 10:05
This year was awesome to send some of the hard ones, great TR


Ridge runner

great photos
07/19/2019 10:40
You have some really beautiful scenes captured in your trip report! Nice job on a successful ski descent!


SnowAlien

Thanks!
07/20/2019 07:15
That one definitely was tricky, even with great snow conditions, or maybe because of that. Bells are in the league of it own.



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