Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2020
Modified:  08/08/2020
Date Climbed:   07/29/2020
Author:  triordie
Additional Members:   mikec, claybonnyman
 Serendipity in the Bells and a Flatlander's Guide to Completing the 14ers  

Part 1. The Bells.

With only the Bells left on my 14ers checklist, I made plans well in advance. Our family drove to Colorado several days prior, my daughter and I did a warm-up hike to Yale, and we were feeling good about the upcoming climb. Mike C., my daughter, and I started from the Maroon lake day parking about 3.40 am. the plan was to summit the Maroon peak, downclimb to the top of Bell Cord and see how the traverse looked from there. The directions warn about the extreme route finding on the Bells. What i did not bank on was where that route finding will kick us in the rear.

We started up the good trail in the dark and after about 20 min. cam up to a fork. It was NOT in the route description. We did the Pyramid hike four years ago, but these days I don't remember what happened last month, let alone 4 yrs. ago. Both trails looked about the same size, so I decided to take the left fork. Bad choice. After several minutes the trail started to split again, then again, then dwindled to a tiny game trail and stopped. We tried to backtrack, but the multitude of game trails must have led us astray and we got lost pretty quickly. We knew that the right fork was above us, so we started going up the slope in earnest. After about 10 min. we still had not reached the main trail. At this point my shoes and socks were wet from the dew, and we were doing some serious bush-wacking. We stopped and assessed our options. After deliberation, we decided that the only sound choice would be to go down the drainage and find the Maroon creek. That took some time, but worked. We found some trail and after taking it west in a short time we came to a bridge across the creek. I was hoping that it would be the bridge on the Pyramid trail, but no such luck. We were on the upper scenic maroon lake trail. We backtracked on it until we were back at the Maroon lake and took the trail again. When we reached the fork in the trail again, we had lost almost 1.5 hrs. Not good. Strike one.

It took us a while to get to Crater lake. The upside was that it was already light and we could see where we were going.

20485_01
Sun hitting the top of the Bells
20485_02
Bell Cord Couloir

We passed the campsites and a couple of groups of people doing some backcountry trips. At that point we were expecting to see the turn off to Maroon peak any minute. Then, a gentleman trekking to Crested Butte passed us, inquired where we were going and told us, that we had just missed the turn off. Not good at all. Strike two. Thankfully, he passed us right at the place where the old trail up to Maroon started and directed us to it wishing good luck with the "green monster". Up we went and intersected the new Maroon trail shortly.

The infamous 2800 feet of "suck" went uneventfully. It was steep but not too bad, never exceeding class 2. We followed the trail to about the middle but then lost it in the rocks.

20485_04
Mike on the Green Monster
20485_03
Christina on the rib

But it was very clear where we needed to go, so we gained the rib, turned right and were on the South ridge of Maroon in exactly two hours from the turn-off. From there, we turned right, stashed our hiking poles, and started towards the Maroon peak. Again, route finding here was not an issue, and nothing exceeded class 3. The loose gullies in the middle were not pleasant, but nothing major. Cairns would appear and disappear, but it was fairly obvious where to go. A few minutes form the summit we met a gentleman who was coming down from Maroon. He said he had been contemplating doing the traverse but did not want to do it solo. We offered to try the traverse together, and he agreed. This turned out to be much better for us that we could imagine at that point as Pony (gentleman's name) was fast, experienced, and fearless. We summited Maroon shortly, it took us 1 hr 45 min from reaching the S ridge.

20485_05
Mike, i and Christina on Maroon

After spending 15 min on Maroon, we started the traverse. It was getting late, 11 am, but the weather was holding for the time being. The downclimb to the top of Bell Cord couloir was steep, at the end we did not find the class 3 gully and had to do about 10-15 feet of a very hard class 4 downclimb to the saddle.


20485_06
Looking down Bell Cord Couloir

It worked, however, and we started the upclimb to N Maroon. I do not have many pictures of the traverse, since we were trying to focus on the moves and not get distracted. Pony was leading the way and showing us where to go. The first difficulty was not too bad, although intense. We took the line a little to the left of the dihedral described in the route. The second one was more difficult, we took the standard way up. The third difficulty seemed the hardest, of the two options described on 14ers.com the first one (on the right) had a chokestone that required some awkward moves around it. Mike tried it and decided that it was too hard. So we settled on the second option (on the left), which was longer but up a solid chimney. One could easily press the back against the left wall and the feet against the right wall for bombproof positions. The only thing that made it a little tricky was that I had two hiking poles sticking out from my backpack, and they kept grabbing at the rocks in the chimney. If one brought a thin 30-ft cord, it would be easier for the first person to climb without the pack and then retrieve all backpacks one by one. Oh, well. From that ledge, Pony and Christina did a tricky exposed traverse to the right and climbed to the top. Mike and I went straight up the last remaining 6 feet or so between some rocks wedged in a chimney that did require us to remove backpacks and pass them up. After that, as the descriptions says, the difficulties relent, and we summited N Maroon at 13.10, with a time of 2 hrs and 10 min for the traverse.


20485_07
Pony leading the way on the traverse
20485_18
On the thin ledges
20485_08
Mike topping up on one of the traverse sections
20485_09
Christina looking at Mike navigating a spire


20485_10
on North Maroon

The views from N Maroon were beautiful, but the weather was starting to deteriorate and we did not linger at the summit for too long. The initial downclimb from N Maroon had several tricky class 4 moves, as we did not climb this route. But we did not want to look for class 3 lines at that point. The standard route says there is one class 4 chimney going up. We had to downclimb two more class 4 sections, one prior to the chimney, one after that. Afterwards, we turned right and started descending gully 2.


20485_12
Looking down Gully 2
20485_13
Pony taking a break with Pyramid in the background, he climbed it the next day

It was loose and steep, just as in the description, and we did not take any chances on kicking rocks on one another and took it very slowly. Pony and Mike went first, Christina and I were following them when they moved out of the rock-fall danger zone. After a while, we traversed to gully 1. It was also steep and loose, but better than gully 2. After climbing down the gully, we turned left and traversed on some narrow ledges to the top of the rock field. It was also steep at first and very loose, and we took our time slowly descending it. it was there where we saw a family of friendly and curious mountain goats.


20485_14
The end is near, Mike and Christina after descending Gully 1.
20485_15
Goats!

Just before we hit the treeline, small hail descended on us, followed by a faint rainbow over Crater lake. Eventually, we got to the Maroon Snowmass trail, and after a short while Pony went right to his camp by Crater lake, and we went back to the parking lot. Speaking of route finding, i was looking hard to the Pyramid turn offs (there are two supposedly) and could not find any. And when we got back to the fork where we took the wrong turn in the morning, the park rangers have already placed logs across it so other hapless hikers do not venture there. better late than never. We came to the car 4 hrs after leaving the N Maroon summit and almost 14 hrs for the day. All in all, I have to agree with Gerry Roach, N Maroon may be the toughest single 14er, not because of the technical moves, but due to its steepness and looseness. And while it really sucked to get lost at the beginning of the hike, if we did not, we would not have met Pony and, most likely, not completed the traverse. Pony called that "serendipity". We call it "luck".

And just like that, I have completed my 14ers. Surprisingly, I did not feel any joy or sense of accomplishment. Climbing mountains is not a destination, but a journey. I will be back climbing more 14ers and other peaks for as long as I am in shape to do so.

20485_16
My daughter and I at the end of the hike
20485_17
Sunrise on the Bells the next morning

The next morning i returned to the Maroon Lake with my wife and we met the sunset there. The Bells looked amazing. As my daughter put: "so beautiful from afar, so ugly up close".

Part 2. Acknowledgements.

I need to thank many people who made my journey a successful one. First, I owe an enormous gratitude to my father who introduced me to the mountains when I was three years old and took me there every summer until I went to college. Mountains were his passion. We did together our first 14er (Longs) in 2007, and a couple more, including the Crestone traverse in 2012, when he was 71. Sadly, he passed away several months ago. My best friend and long-time hiking partner, Alex, with whom we climbed 33 14ers, could not join us on this trip. We started climbing 14ers with him in 2008 and I remember how gatorade froze in our bottles on top of Bierstadt. My daughter Christina joined us in 2011 and climbed her first 14ers, Yale, at 10. She had good times in the mountains, including Crestone traverse at an age of 11, Halo ridge loop on Holy Cross at 12, the best of all - glissade from Castle/Conundrum saddle at 13, the Chicago basin four in one day at 14. By now she has 40 14ers under her belt. I met some wonderful people during our exploits in the mountains and hope that some of them will remain my friends for life. We met Andy T. in 2014 while climbing Lincoln and ended up doing all four LBCD that day. Five years later we reconnected to do Culebra together. I met Mike C. at the Snowmass trailhead last year, and we ended up doing three 14ers last year together, and the Bells traverse this year. And, as I mentioned, without meeting Pony we would not have been able to complete the Bells traverse. I was extremely fortunate to have my daughter or my friends next to me at all but the three 14ers summits.

I would also like to thank Gerry Roach. I used his book to do 14ers for the first six years. it was only later that I found out about 14ers.com and started using them. I am gratefully acknowledging Bill Middlebrook and the vast resource of information he has put together on his site. I virtually received help from several 14ers.com members - leggaj5, flying magpie, alwetend and wentzl, whose descriptions of non-standard routes gave me a chance to explore roads less traveled. Thanks to CFI for constantly improving the trails.

While hiking Citadel with my friend in 2010, we met a couple of guys from Boulder. One of them, after finding out that we are not local, told us: "For you, it is a hobby, for us, it is lifestyle". I almost said: "Thanks for rubbing it in, man". I was told of a man who back in 1960s climbed 54 14ers in 54 days. Good for them. But I am proud to join the club of 14er finishers from outside Colorado, who hold "normal"jobs, who have families, and who can't simply take 54 days to do the 14ers. My journey took me 13 years and 1 day and 14 trips to Colorado, all between five and 10 days long. I am sure that some people can do it faster, some more slowly, but the beauty of the mountains is the reward and the 14ers are a great goal to keep enjoying this beauty. Here is the breakdown of my 14ers journey:

2007 - Longs

2008 - Torreys, Grays, Bross, Bierstadt, Evans

2009 - Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Sherman, Quandary

2010 - Elbert

2011 - Yale, Handies, Redcloud, Sunshine, Wetterhorn

2012 - Crestone Needle, Humboldt, Sneffels

2013 - Princeton, Shavano, Tabegauche, Bedford, Oxford, Missouri, Massive, Holy Cross, Torreys(2), Grays (2)

2014 - Huron, La Plata, Columbia, Castle, Conundrum, Sheridan (2), Quandary (2), Elbert (2), Lincoln (2), Bross (2), Cameron (2), Democrat (2)

2015 - Harvard, N. Eolus, Eolus, Sunlight, Windom, San Luis

2016 - Pyramid, Capitol, El Diente, Mt Wilson, Wilson peak

2017 - Crestone, Challenger, Kit Carson, Lindsey, Huron (2)

2018 - Antero, Tabegauche (2), Little Bear, Banca, Elligwood

2019 - Snowmass, Capitol (2), Uncompahgre, Culebra, Pikes

2020 - Yale (2), Maroon, N. Maroon

Happy climbing, everyone!




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

Well Done!!
08/03/2020 16:07
Congrats on doing them all!! And nice finisher!


claybonnyman

Right on!
08/03/2020 16:39
Great report, Victor. You captured more detail of the traverse "difficulties" than I frankly even remembered. I think my brain was swamped by adrenaline the whole way across.

I fist-bumped you atop North Maroon, but kudos on finishing the 14ers Γ’‚¬ especially since, unlike us Boulderites, this isn't a "hobby" (supposedly).

By the way, the guy who summited 52 14ers (the full list at the time) in 52 days in 1960 was my dentist, Cleve McCarty, also co-author with Pat Ament of "High Over Boulder." For all the incredible feats of people like Cave Dog and Andrew Hamilton, "Dr. McCarty" was a true pioneer, a guy who had the nutty idea of doing them all in record time for the first time. He died a few years back, but man, what a character!

You asked me on email about Pyramid. I definitely missed the turnoff in the dark, and was seriously annoyed, because to be honest, I think I had an "adrenaline hangover" from our Maroon traverse. I found it, I climbed it, I found it loose and steep and super irritating, but the view on top was great, and honestly it was just so much easier than Maroon>N. Maroon. If I had been fresh mentally and physically, I think it might have been almost a sprint, despite the ugly looseness and steepness.

Christina's quote Γ’‚¬ The Maroons are "so beautiful from afar, so ugly up close" Γ’‚¬ cracks me up. I found a lot of beauty up there, including the "luck" of meeting y'all, but I know what she means. Seriously, though Γ’‚¬Γ‚Β and I've been pondering this Γ’‚¬ the simple fact of meeting three fantastic humans was enough to make me feel like Superman. To have done it alone would have been stupid and dangerous, particularly since I hadn't prepared as I had for El Diente-Mt. Wilson. But in one of those bizarre human mysteries, the simple fact of having you there with me gave me courage and boldness and excitement that I could never have summoned if I'd been silly enough to try it by myself.

You, Mike and Christina are permanently seared into my 14ers mental movie as the "good guys" on what, I feel confident, will remain my most memorable day on the peaks to date (and probably forever, given that I have only Snowmass left). I considered tagging Snowmass, but chose to leave it until next season, in hopes that I can coax a friend or two to haul the champagne bottle to the top and celebrate with me ... we shall see.

Thanks again to all of you for an exhilarating day. Y'all made me feel like I was 25, not 58!

~Pony


claybonnyman

P.S.
08/03/2020 16:40
I don't smoke. I found a pack of American Spirits atop Mt. Wilson a few weeks back and chewed on one vigorously the whole way down to ease my stress about lightning, snow, etc.

~Pony


jahselassie
Nice words
08/04/2020 20:06
I really appreciated your words at the end. The beauty is the reward.

Congrats and welcome to the club!


Will_E

Awesome
08/04/2020 20:43
Great story, and congrats on finishing!


saxlover

congrats
08/04/2020 21:02
nice!


shelly+

well done!!
08/04/2020 22:13
strangers are magical.


mikec

congratulations
08/05/2020 08:59
What a great way to finish your list of 14ers
Best of times!


Trotter

nice
08/05/2020 17:35
We did the traverse the day after you. The same mama and baby goat were there


triordie
Goats
08/05/2020 20:57
Yes, we just climb the mountains. They live there :-)
Trotter, were you the only group on the traverse that day? I was shocked not to see more people doing the traverse given the good weather forecast.
Congrats on your Bells traverse.


CaptCO

congrats on the successful day
08/08/2020 14:51
and finishing the 14ers!!


sueincos
Congratulations!!!
08/21/2020 08:49
so beautifully written report especially for the finisher and I felt I journey the bells trip with you. Hope could have a chance to see you on mountains someday. Congratulations on your bells traverse and finishing your 14ers journey at the moment.



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