| Dodging weather for the second Bell
Participants: cftbq & trishapajean
Words can't tell one much about this trip. If you've been there, you probably know. If not, then, as we determined, even the most detailed route description can't answer all the questions which will present themselves to you as you climb. We printed out, and took with us, and consulted several times, Bill's excellent route description (including his great photos), and it helped, but we still had to rely on our accumulated experience to negotiate this amazingly convoluted route to the summit.
That's my first observation: The thousands of tourists who enjoy the iconic “picture post card” view of the Bells from Maroon Lake see a tantalizingly simple shape, but, up close, one realizes that this mountain has a surprisingly complex shape. Here's what the north side of the mountain looks like, from the last place where the climber can (sort of) see the summit before almost getting there:
The trail junction where the Maroon-Snowmass Trail breaks off from the (West) Maroon Creek Trail no longer sports the large signboard shown in Bill's photo #3. For now, there is only the smaller sign directing climbers to the right (west), and, note, it does not say that this is the way to North Maroon Peak.
After switchbacking up (generally going west) from this junction, you should fairly easily find the trail junction where a smaller trail leads down to Minnehaha Creek. Note, however, that there is no sign, and no cairn.
There are several cairns to guide one across the “rock glacier,” but you will have to look carefully to find them all. Rule of thumb: stay high. (This is even more important on the way down!) You will finally arrive at the ledge where the route turns into the “first gully.”
The second gully is similar, but higher and even steeper. Here, we witnessed some rather inept climbers knocking down numerous rocks by descending the wrong side of the gully.
Of course, there were mountain goats.
Getting out of the second gully is not self-explanatory. We finally found a big vertical step left of the prominent notch at the top of they gully which led to two small but distinctive cairns which confirmed that this was probably the easiest way up (finally!) to the ridge crest. Sorry there are no pictures of this, as it turned out to be a crucial decision-making place.
We finally reached what is generally regarded as the crux: a steep fourth class chimney which offers a way through a cliff band. Just as we were attempting to climb it, we got the biggest surprise of the day: Lightning struck! It must have hit about a quarter of a mile away, since we both felt it in the rock, and there was a very shark crack of thunder about a second later. At this point, we figured we'd been beaten again. Sad but determined to live, we retreated.
We dropped about 500 feet and sat down to consider our options. We ate, drank, and watched the sky. After half an hour or so, we looked over the ridge and decided that the weather really did look as if it were passing us by. So, rather than condemn ourselves to yet another whole trip to this mountain, we agreed that we should make a second attempt on the summit, provided that the thunder did not return.
Fortunately, it turned out to be the right decision. The storm did roll by.
Back at the crux, we began looking for the alternative, 3rd class route, to the right. Aided by a couple of cairns, we finally found it. Here again, words mostly fail. We couldn't see the final climb which got us above the cliff band until we were right at its base, since we ended up turning back to the left very sharply to make that final climb. Since it is, as advertised, hard to see from above, we decided to mark it with a red mitten on a prominent rock, which helped immensely on the way down. We could finally see the summit.
Snowmass (snow missing) and Capitol to the west.
The route comes over the saddle to the left of this promontory.
Maroon Peak from North Maroon. The photo doesn't do justice to the spectacular nature of the actual view.
Pyramid across the valley.
On the way down, we saw the Bells casting their shadow in the late afternoon sunlight.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):