| A Week in the Elks: Part II
A Week in the Elks Part II
Due to an external site and link issues with photos there, I had to redo this original 2010 report which had Pyramid, Castle, North and South Maroon all together in one report. I had to split this into two reports, putting all pics on this site for easier editing and making separate reports for (i) North and South Maroon Peak and (ii) another for Pyramid and Castle.
The Pyramid and Castle report can now be found by clicking here
Short Trip Summary (2010)
Saturday 9/4 - Arrive into Aspen area from New York
Sunday - Castle Peak
Monday - Planned Rest Day
Tuesday - Pyramid Peak
Wednesday - North Maroon planned - didn't climb due to weather - went fishing all day instead and did some easier hiking.
Thursday - North Maroon attempt, turned back due to weather
Friday - South Maroon attempt, turned back at ~13,000ft due to weather
Saturday - Maroon Peak
Sunday - North Maroon Peak
Monday - Flew back to New York
Vertical Feet: 23,020ft
Distance: 63.25 miles
Maroon Peak Summary
We originally planned on doing South Maroon on Friday after turning back and getting rained out on North Maroon on Wednesday and Thursday.
This would be a longer route than that on North Maroon, so we opted to start a bit earlier. Starting out at 4:00AM, skies appeared clear, the Milky Way was shining above and we headed up getting to the bent tree at daybreak. We climbed the 2,800ft, steep hill and got to a bit above the ridge at around 13,000 feet and reluctantly decided to turn around as dark clouds enveloped both bells and the valley below us. Upon returning to the lake, the sky didn't look to great as this pic reveals.
A low pressure system seemed to be upon us and moving through. As we reached the ridge, winds also picked up to a sustained 40mph with gusts a bit higher and we figured
this was not the best day to proceed onwards.
Two turnbacks on North Maroon, now one on Maroon...The Bells were testing my resolve.
Coming back down, I was able to notice in daylight the verdant forest filled with spruce lining the road and trail up, which in the overcast morning light was stunning. I sat here for a bit and had breakfast taking the scene in.
Day four, September 11th.
We tried again for Maroon today. I was leaving on Monday back to New York, so today was T-2, with today and Sunday left to climb as what will likely be my last trip for 2010.
Starting out again from Maroon Lake parking lot at 4:00AM, the morning seemed clear again and was a bit cooler, temperatures hovering around 25*F,
light winds, each star in the sky above sharp as a tack. Being the anniversary of what I witnessed nine years ago that morning downtown, I paused for a moment to think about those lost,
what they had gone through and to those in the service now overseas doing their best to give us the freedom we enjoy to be
be able to have time to climb peaks like these. Thank you to all those having been or who are still in the service.
These thoughts motivated me to move on at a faster pace, thinking I will push myself and I'll get up this peak if conditions allow.
Somewhere near Crater Lake around 4:30AM we stopped to take a short two minute rest, when as I peered out into the darkness, the beam of my headlamp illuminated a
pair of eyes staring at me. They were about 50-60 feet away and about a foot or two off the ground and spaced fairly wide apart, indicative of a large animal.
As my light hit them, the animal became motionless. This was a bit disconcerting to say the least. The eye shine was hard to nail down, but was bright, maybe
alternating between yellow/gold/whitish/pale greenish and while I pondered what it might be, I'll never know, it didn't follow us nor make a sound. It did cause me to turn back
every few yards to see if something was keeping pace with us...
As we made our way up, I felt stronger than the days before, thanks to improving acclimatization, though was getting a bit tired from climbing every day, but was
determined to continue on. We reached the "bent tree" a full 30 minutes earlier than the day before and the skies were finally clear and winds were calm! Yippee!!
We put our helmets on and turned off to the right up the slope...again.
As if the prior day's climb wasn't enough of a cardio workout, we trudged up the 2,800ft+ climb of the east slope towards the ridge again. My headlamp died, but as it was getting light,
I didn't need it. We pressed on, wanting to summit this mountain in the finally stable weather. Skies stayed clear, cool and calm.
We got to the ridge and didn't stop to rest, but kept going until the notch. I should note that we opted to take a longer way around than going up one of the more straight
approaches from the valley and climbed more towards the left (south) before heading along the ridge back towards the notch. While it added perhaps a mile or
two both ways, I think it was a wiser choice and easier on the knees on the descent. We got to the notch and we met up with two more climbers who got there at the same time as us,
coming up the alternative, more direct route. We all took a break and all roped up here in groups of two. The weather was holding. As we thought on Pyramid, the rope gave us a few more options to climb up some more firm rock (which admittedly was hard to find anywhere on these peaks), rather than going up some of the real loose stuff, which was pretty much everywhere. For staying on the normal routes when dry, I don't think being roped was that necessary, but nonetheless we kept it on and moved up.
The summit and remaining route on Maroon came into view. The mountain seemed huge and intimidating, its steep, ledges now visible against the clear blue sky. I felt good this
morning and after getting turned back by weather multiple times, was determined to keep going while conditions allowed. The route didn't seem that long, but looks are deceiving here and the dangerous terrain coupled with the tedious route finding, made it very long indeed.
We began moving across the ridge, descending often, following ledge after ledge with some moderate exposure and soon came to the chimney.
I didn't find this too hard at all and actually welcomed the solid rock for a change as it allowed a reprieve from walking and climbing on the crumbly plates and loose boulders that
comprised much of the mountain. It was also a bit disheartening to constantly keep losing elevation following the ridgeline and various ledges, but it was a necessary evil to get
up the mountain. Patience and concentration is needed here. From looking around, there are also seemed to be several ways to get up this peak, some mroe dicey than others. Sometimes we lost more elevation than we needed to and reclimbed things twice, but careful inspection would find the route up.
The one thing I noticed on Maroon vs. Pyramid was the myriad of routes and cairns present. It seemed every way led to another way up, which made it confusing to follow,
probably more so than Pyramid, as Pyramid, while hard, is more vertical, while Maroon has a lot more traversing mixed in the climbing on the route, at least the one we took.
For scale, in the lower middle portion of the photo below shows a couple of climbers on one section of steep ledges.
We soon hit the gulley that would lead us up near the final pitch - we would traverse up and around here as much as possible to avoid climbing right in the middle of it. Two climbers are in the middle of the photo.
When we reached the second gulley we stayed to the right as much as possible going up, clinging to the more solid rock to the right before crossing over to the
connecting route to move up and traverse again over. Again, it seemed there were as many ways up as there were cairns along this route. Route finding was tricky.
I got the feeling if you fell in the gulley, you would keep sliding down to the valley floor, bringing dozens of other rocks with you.
We ran into several groups of climbers, some having been on the route before some not. Several were stopping frequently to assess the route and determine the best way forward.
There are some faint resemblances of trail segments here and there but they are not to be trusted as they seem to go off into many directions. You really have to carefully assess the different ways up before committing to a line.
The route on Maroon seemed longer (and was longer), more tedious and required a methodical approach to route finding, rather than just heading up along an assumed route.
Once we left the notch, I felt the terrain was uncertain the entire way, literally with each footstep. Similar to Pyramid, and obvious to those who have been here, the terrain
was rough, loose, exposed in several places and footing was often precarious and wasn't forgiving for errors.
At last, after climbing a bit more, we gained the south ridge and after moving along some easier, lower angle class 3 terrain, exposed a bit to the right, we climbed
up towards the top and reached the summit! Finally!
We were met with grand views of North Maroon, Pyramid, Snowmass and Capitol in the distance. North Maroon beckoned from across the traverse...so close
yet so far and at least thus far, so elusive...
Descending was as tricky as climbing up and route finding again proved challenging, with several cairns leading to nowhere. We eventually made it back
down to the notch, and my stress level dropped, as the remainder of the hike back would "just be" on steep loose scree and the dangerous drop offs
and ledges with loose rock everywhere were behind us.
Coming back down into the valley crossing by Crater Lake and then Maroon Lake, I noticed that the aspen had turned a bit more during the week, though the bulk of them were a good week or two away from peak color. Pyramid stands tall in the background.
North Maroon Peak
I originally planned to climb North Maroon on Wednesday, Sept 8th, but the weather would have something to say about that.
On Wednesday, after getting rained out on the first attempt on North Maroon, I figured I'd use the day to go fishing.
Going to a spot on the Roaring Fork River west of Aspen, in the rain, I had a pretty successful day on the water, landing 11 trout, including a good assortment
of Rainbows, Browns and Cutbows (Rainbow-cutthroat hybrids). Despite getting soaking wet, it turned out to be a good day.
North Maroon was testing my patience. As I mentioned, we tried on Wednesday to no avail...
Thursday proved no better, despite a fairly innocuous forecast the night before. After starting out at 5:00AM under dry skies, we moved up the trail and it
soon started to sprinkle. We kept moving, figuring we were in a cloud and that it would likely not last through sunrise. We were wrong.
The rain started to get heavier, requiring our rain jackets. After another hour of climbing, it started to snow with sleet/rain mixed in, then the wind picked
up and soon we called it a day shortly after sunrise, thinking that if it was this bad down low, then the conditions were unlikely to improve higher up,
particularly since both summits were not visible and enveloped in clouds from around 11,500 or 12,000ft. I figured this climb would be hard enough dry
and didn't want to be higher up on the routes in ice, snow or even in the present weather. These peaks continued to test me...how badly did I want to climb them??
I was running out of days and despite building in two backup days, only had one day left. So...after successfully summiting Maroon Peak on Saturday,
I repeatedly checked the weather for Sunday and it looked good. Sunday was going to be my last attempt at North Maroon and completing the Bells at
least in 2010. I put a lot of mileage on my feet this week with a good amount of vertical gain and I was hoping my strength would last another day.
My fingers were crossed ...as were my toes.
Sunday Sept 12
Arriving at the Maroon Lake trailhead on Sunday, I was having a bout of Deja vu and felt like I was living through Groundhog Day. Again, I saw another porcupine....
maybe the same one every day and today, three red fox, and another mouse. The weather still seemed stable, skies clear, calm and my altimeter was reading low,
alluding to a high pressure system coming in - all good signs. It was 4:45AM. Temps were a bit warmer, in the low 30s and without the wind, seemed a lot warmer straight away.
Now back on the other side of the valley, we made our way down the same trail as I had done nearly every day this week until the turn off to North Maroon towards
Minnehaha Gulch. Soon, sunrise was upon us and turning around to the East, we were met with a stunning red/maroon sky..a.fitting color for the day and I was hoping a good harbinger of things to come...
We made our way up the long, easy trail steadily gaining ground until the trail became steeper and wound through brush and shrubs as it moved higher.
The northern flank of North Maroon dominated the southern skyline, and due to its height and steepness, creating a canyon effect as we inched closer.
The northern wall was covered in icicles. As we made our way to the start of the more steep climbing, a grand view appeared across the valley.
We came upon the first section to climb over; a small wall about 20 feet high mixed into the tight bushes - a sign of things to come.
The terrain soon turned steeper and soon led into a boulderfield, some call the rock glacier.
This was long and tedious with every other boulder loose and teetering on the verge of sliding over as I stepped on each one. Not much vertical was gained here as we
moved across the talus to a faint trail on the other side of the rocks which would be the start of the ascent of the cliffs towards the first of two large gulleys,
taking us around and towards the eastern slopes.
As soon as we moved around the corner, the terrain became steeper and more loose, with rockfall now a concern as some rocks already were tumbling past us,
having been dislodged from unknown sources. We put our helmets on here. Noises of
rockfall in the distance continued every few minutes. The mountain felt like it was coming apart.
The first gulley came into view closer now. I found this very steep, and while there was somewhat of a trail through here, it was very loose and slippery nonetheless.
Occasional rocks would roll past us, as pika made their squeaking noises all around. We passed a family of four marmots on the way. What I thought was the
summit fooled me and was only a large outcropping straight up.
We moved past this to the left and then the second gulley appeared, which was visibly steeper than the first and mixed with some steep rock and sloping ledges,
which from a distance give the Bells that cool unique sloping look. Viewed from close up, the ledges are grand geological features, cold and intimidating. The mixed grass and rock ledge systems here were steep and loose and required a bit more route finding, though was not as tough as Maroon Peak, at least at this point. Some more difficult pitches were encountered
here and there. The ground was unstable at best. Below is a shot of the gulley, where upon heading up, before hitting the top, you turn left.
After aiming for the ridge, we start to encounter more rock rather than dirt/grass ledges and the climbing begins in earnest, though again, there seems more than
one way up depending on the route. We soon reach the crux of the route; a chimney of sorts in the middle of the route. Some folks were going straight up it, some
were moving to the right, we opted to go to the left, which was where the rope came in handy to secure this choice as an option. After coming out from this section,
we walked onto the start of another outcropping, a visually stunning area, particularly when taken in with Pyramid in the background. What a cool place.
The summit now was in view and seemed for the first time within reach! Maybe just a few hundred feet more. Along the way, the rugged beauty of North Maroon's
terrain filled views in every direction. Below is a closer shot of the ledgework, which from a distance, create that slanted look of the entire area. The photo
below that is a shot of the summit of Maroon Peak to the left, with the east flank of North Maroon in the foreground.
The remaining few hundred feet was over steep rock and some faint trail over loose scree/rock which felt as though it would give way at any moment. I felt much of the
route on North Maroon was even more loose than Maroon - possibly just my perception. Despite their rugged beauty, both Maroon and North Maroon felt like they
would disintegrate at any given moment, falling on top of themselves, becoming an even larger pile of rubble. Unstable was an understatement.
Moving up after the precipice we just reached, and after a couple of more Class 3/4 pitches, the terrain became more manageable, lower angle and was more boulder
hopping near the top with one more steep pitch near the top. Soon, after some heavy breathing, we made the summit! Again, the views were spectacular from the top.
South Maroon seemed so close, dominating the view to the south.
Coming down was getting very familiar on the Maroon Lake "deproach" which I'd done five times this week! I never grew tired though of walking through the Aspen.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):