| Father and Son on North Maroon
First of all, I owe a big thank you to the many kind folks on this site who provided me with beta concerning the current conditions on North Maroon, the exposure along the standard route, and how it compares to Pyramid Peak. Those that helped me are too numerous to name, but there are some wonderful people on this site, and without them this trip may not have happened.
I moved to Colorado exactly two months ago, and have climbed 14 14ers since then. Skiing, solo, some a bit more technical, and even a weekend with 6 ranked and 1 unofficial have helped me get to this point. This past weekend it came time for an annual tradition. Having grown up in Connecticut, my dad and I have made yearly summer trips to climb big peaks. These include Mount Whitney, Mount Shasta, a Blanca Peak attempt, and Mount Elbert last year. In early June, my dad told me he wanted something more than Elbert, something with the challenge of Whitney and Shasta and plenty of scrambling. With this in mind, I began brainstorming, made some posts in the forum, and came up with a list of possibilities. While I'm sure all the 14ers are spectacular in different ways, I came up with reasons to dismiss Longs (too crowded on a weekend), KC and Challenger, Lindsey, and others. I climbed Pyramid two years prior, and since then have been drooling over the NE ridge of North Maroon. After abundant research, help from fellow forum members, and thinking about our previous climbs, I decided to roll the dice on North Maroon with my dad, who would be coming from Connecticut less than 48 hours before our planned summit.
He arrived in Denver Thursday afternoon, and after getting off work early Friday, we drove over to Aspen and packed in to our campsite above Crater Lake. Despite having been here two years prior, the first view of the Bells from that corner on the Maroon Creek Road again took my breath away. I have a few ideas of what was going through my dads head as we approached these sentinels, but he did a good job keeping his cool.
We took in the enormity of the scene before us, and began the hike in.
Anticipation, excitement, and a few nerves at the lake
We set up camp shortly after the turn onto the climbers trail, a short stroll from Minehaha Creek.
Our target looms above camp
"That's Pyramid? You climbed that?!?!?! Mom would freak if she saw that!!!"
We just couldn't get over the beauty of this area
We hit the hay around 8pm, as I knew an early start would be necessary. Despite researching this route heavily and bringing along the route description, I anticipated some routefinding issues along with a chance of thunderstorms (NOAA calling for 60% for Maroon Peak). We set the alarm for 3AM with the goal of being on the trail by 4AM. As we climbed into the tent discussing our goal for the next morning, I told him "I wouldn't have brought us here if I didn't think we could do this." This decision may have seemed too bold to some, but sometimes you just have that feeling in your gut when someone is capable.
After some chocolate donuts, plenty of water, and a little instant coffee, we hit the trail and began climbing toward the basin below the North face. I will say that navigating the talus fields after Minnehaha Creek was probably the toughest routefinding of the day, simply because the small cairns were hiding well in the darkness. We lost maybe 15 minutes in this area, but soon enough found us approaching the basin for sunrise.
It was absolutely spectacular, the type of thing that makes you say "I live for this"
We navigated the rock glacier without incident, and traversed over to the base of the first gully. Dad was feeling good with the altitude and the exposure wasn't an issue yet. We came around to the first gully, and it was exactly as I had anticipated. Not TOO steep looking, with switchbacks and an alpenglow that made my jaw drop.
We're heading up there? Sweeeet!!!!!
The first gully
It was here we met two other climbers - the only two others on the mountain the whole day (that we saw, it sounds like there were some people who did the traverse). They passed us in the first gully and we followed them up the switchbacks. This gully turned out to be friendlier than I had anticipated, with many switchbacks and a good, but not severe pitch. Despite this, a fall wouldn't be good and there was some loose rock to contend with.
Sunrise in the first gully
Despite the fact we were still a long way from the summit, and below the major difficulties on the route, I was filled with a growing sense of confidence and joy. There is something about sharing a thing you love with people that just makes you happy, and makes you feel complete. I love showing people the mountains, and climbing this gully with my Dad was already something I knew I would never forget.
Nearing the top of the first gully
Despite the loose rock, I loved the climbing along this route, and thought the class 3 moves were an absolute blast to climb.
The fun increases at the top of the first gully
With a small feeling of success, we traversed up and around until the second gully came into view. I knew this would be more intimidating and more challenging, and when we saw it staring us down in the early morning light, my Dad took a breath and said "remember, if I get the willies we're gonna turn ok?" I was perfectly okay with this, but despite the intimidating nature of this part of the route, I insisted that we take the challenges one at a time and approach the gully confidently and cautiously. To lighten the mood, a couple of mountain goats appeared, as if to lead us on.
The second gully - it is intimidating but unfolds as you approach it
Dad following the locals
We started the traverse to the base of the first gully watching the two climbers who had passed us earlier as they ascended the route. Watching them make good progress eased our nerves, and before we knew it we were quickly gaining elevation in this spectacular setting.
A look back at the traverse to the base of the second gully. Notice the goat for scale.
Despite the fact that our nerves eased slightly while we climbed, we remained focused on the task at hand. Using the natural fractures of the Bells rock as steps, we scrambled quickly toward the notch. As the terrain steepened, I told my Dad "if you're ever uncomfortable, tell me right away. Don't keep it inside, because we will have to descend this." Despite this, he insisted he was okay with the pitch and loose rock, and before we knew it we were eyeing the third class rock beneath the Northeast Ridge proper.
Scrambling at the top of the gully. It was incredible.
As if to keep us company, the two goats had followed us the entire length of the gully, and were now above us, beckoning us to make the moves in order to gain the ridge.
Following the goats
Almost immediately after we gained the ridge, we were confronted with the famous 4th class chimney. After scouting it for a minute, Dad insisted that he wanted to go first. I agreed, as I wanted to be sure we took a line he would be comfortable with. Despite the fact that it looked difficult from afar, we surmounted it with a few "less than graceful, but they'll get the job done" moves.
Starting up the chimney
Once past the chimney, we could see the two climbers who had passed us on the summit. It was here that my heart started racing and the enormity of the climb really hit me. Despite knowing well that the summit is only (or sometimes not even) halfway, I was overcome with the fact that we were just minutes from topping out on North Maroon. Just my Dad's second Colorado 14er and his fourth one ever, and here we were, staring at the summit of one of the hardest peaks in the state. All of the excitement, nervousness, and uncertainty surrounding the choice to try this peak came down on top of me, and I put my arm around his shoulder as we crested the summit, saying "I told you I knew we could do it." I'll never forget that moment.
Pushing for the summit
High on the ridge, with the lakes below
We crested the summit just a few minutes later, and there were no words to describe the feeling of accomplishment.
Alan and Sandy - two great guys on the summit
Chilling on the summit, with beautiful weather
I will never forget this.
Goats and South Maroon
We spent about 30 minutes on top before starting the descent, as I wanted to allow ample time to negotiate the scrambling back to the top of the second gully. The chimney descent was a little spicy, and Alan and Sandy kindly provided spots for us here. Once we reached the second gully, we relaxed and had some fun while enjoying this beautiful area.
Fun atop the second gully
Dad was pumped to say the least
Dad runs ahead on the traverse between gullies to give an idea of the scale.
An idea of the scale here
The walk down was spectacular, this was one of the happiest days of my life.
Pyramid looming above the basin
From the campsite to the TH, we probably stopped to turn around every 5 minutes. I must have said "I can't believe we just did that" 20 times.
Looking back at the days work
Once we reached the trailhead, there were no words to describe my happiness.
Of course we cracked a cold one at the car.
Again, I'll never forget this.
Until next time.
All in all it was a day to remember on my new favorite Colorado 14er. During the planning for this trip, I had a feeling inside that this mountain would work out for the two of us and it did, with flying colors nonetheless. There's something special that comes with showing people you love the mountains, and it never fails to get me. It was an incredible day, and one that I'll be thinking about for many years to come.
Thank you again to everyone who provided me with beta surrounding this mountain. I hope to see you all out in the hills soon.
If you have any questions about this mountain, the route or anything else, feel free to PM me.
Thanks for reading!
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