| Labor Day on the Bells!
Labor Day has become a tradition for my wife and me to get away for a long weekend of great climbing together. This year we were truly blessed with a beautiful weekend for an attempt on Maroon Peak.
The photo below captures the majesty of the Bells and is a perfect place to being this report.
You would assume the sign below has been shown enough in reports. I believe it bears repeating and is a very concise warning for these peaks.
Although the above sign has been repeated in many reports, the sign below was a new one for me. Our plan was to camp two nights, so we found a nice spot a 1/2 mile above Crater Lake. As we entered the gate and paid our ten dollar entrance fee, the ranger warned us of the bear problem and gave us a flier on how to bear proof our camp. Something we already do as I have a terrible fear of bears. I'll expound more on the bears later in this report. We do have a bear story that resulted from this trip.
Ok, enough with the warnings and on to the fun stuff. We left camp at twilight with headlamps on.
Below, the sun is peeking out from behind Pyramid, hitting us for the first time that day. Something I always look forward to on climbs.
In the following photo my wife was working her way up the East Slope. This slope is deceptively steep and makes for a very tedious ascent.
We ran into the infamous Maroon Bells goats. I called one over and just like a dog it came right for me. It got so uncomfortably close that I raised my hiking pole in defense. We had a stare down, and she decided to move on. Whew!
This one was less intimidating, but I'll never call a goat again regardless of size.
At this point, we faced our hardest decision. My wife was experiencing vertigo. We couldn't understand why; she has been on much harder terrain up to this point. We would later find out it was because of her new transition lenses in her glasses. With the steep terrain and her constantly looking down, she could not focus. Knowing that the tent was fairly close, she insisted I go up; she would head back down. The weather was great and there were a lot of people still coming up.
I'm sure many have faced this tough decision. I continued as my wife (climbing partner) went down.
After a lot more climbing up the South Slope, I reached the small saddle and got my first glimpse of the other side. At this point, I was glad my wife made the decision to turn back. From here on you need to be on your game.
After starting out, I took a quick look back at a climber on the South Ridge.
Here was one of the many ledges. The views on this side were awesome. I have one piece of advice to offer; follow the altitude suggestions on the route description. I decided to ascend the second of the two gullies. Going up the second gully, there are two ledges with cairns that exit to the left before the correct exit. I stopped at the first, and it was clear the ledge went nowhere; and above the ledge, the climbing was way above class 3 and 4. I checked my GPS; I was at 13,300ft. The route description put the exit at approximately 13,550ft. This proved to be very helpful in getting me to the correct exit point. Thanks Bill!
As you get closer to the top and look back to study the terrain, you realize routes are scattered every which way. Below, left of center, you can see a climber in blue working through this.
When I got to the summit, there were roses set up nicely. With Snowmass and Capitol in the background, it made for a really nice summit shot. I had to ask, “what was with the roses?” Someone went on to explain that a guy climbed up yesterday and left the roses and a ring (that was hidden) on the summit. The plan was to bring up his girlfriend and to propose to her on this day. I thought how exciting this will be. They never showed, and no couple ever came up the route as the day wore on. Maybe the proposal was a day off. If anyone knows the rest of the story, I would love to hear it.
Here is my summit shot. Jill, who I met on the summit, took my picture. She told me to pose like superman. So…this was my best superman pose. Hey, it got a good smile out of me, as corny as it was.
This is what I was pretending to fly over. It would take superman to come up this way.
I met Jill, Marty, and I believe, Mike on the summit. They let me join their team on the way down. This was a blessing as both Marty and Mike were very experienced and had both been up here before. I learned a lot from them on the way down.
A look back at the beautiful summit of Maroon Peak; it was awesome to see the top of the Bell from here.
If you look left of center in the picture below, you can see a faint trail segment. It gives you idea of the terrain you have to cross.
Here was a climber crossing over.
The section below was a bypass to the chimney you encounter shortly after starting out on the South Ridge. I went up and down the chimney. The climber below elected the bypass to come down. Going down the chimney was a bit challenging.
I love this shot of the South Ridge. This is right at the small saddle that brings you back to the East Slope. The East Slope was nothing short of miserable to descend after a long day. But the thought of a great summit and seeing my wife again made it bearable.
Speaking of bearable, let’s go back to the bear story. We now entered our second night of camping with the reminder of a bear advisory in the area. We hung our bear bag in an old tree high above a small talus field. That night after the long climb I was awoken by the sound of a rock fall coming from Pyramid way in the distance. Then, I heard something closer. Something large was moving the talus in the area of our bear bag. My wife and I were nervous; then, we heard a very distinct growl. We knew the bear was trying to get our bag. I was now scared. I got my light, opened the tent, and yelled as loud as I could. We never heard another noise.
The next morning our bag was safe, and so were we. We passed a ranger on the way out and told her our story, and she said they had already gotten the bear that was causing the problem. I asked how do you know you got the right bear? She said we had a good description. I had to ask, “ let me guess it was 450lbs, black, and wearing a blue hoody?”. She told us to tell the ranger at the trailhead. We did and this ranger was a little more realistic saying, “we think we got the right bear”.
Anyway! Here is my wife enjoying a parting look from Crater Lake.
We got this great shot at the trailhead, and it makes for a perfect end to this report. It was a great weekend together, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast in Aspen before heading home. I look forward to Labor Day next year and to the adventures my wife and I will embark upon.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):