| Maroon Bells - Snowmass - 14ers Complete!
Needless to say, I‘ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time. After working on Colorado‘s 14000 foot peak list for six years, this was finally the weekend I was going to attempt to finish off the list! I was pretty nervous about the Maroon Bells, though, as I‘ve heard that these peaks are pretty challenging.
I met my friend Eric down in Boulder on Friday afternoon, and after meeting our friend Ali in Morrison, we headed down to Aspen. We spent a beautiful night sleeping out under the stars near Aspen. We woke before sunrise and drove up the Maroon Lake trailhead. We left the parking lot a little after 6am and met up with our friend Jonathan who had camped near Crater Lake after hiking Pyramid the previous day. The initial hike up to Crater Lake is beautiful with some awesome views of the Maroon Bells, and the remainder of the hike from the lake to the turnoff is also quite nice. The 14ers.com trail description is great for finding the turnoff. Just look for the bent tree and about 50 yards beyond, head directly up a steep slope.
The climb up Maroon Peak was quite character-building. It‘s a really steep ascent on dirt trail with occasional scree and talus hopping. After persevering upward for over 2,000 vertical feet, we finally arrived at the ridgeline.
Even though Maroon Peak looks quite close at this point, it still is quite a ways away. My friends and I took about 1 hour, 20 minutes from reaching the ridgeline to the summit. Again, the 14ers.com description is quite good for the remainder of the route. There was a mountain goat who watched us for the first part of the climb up the ridge. There are some fairly narrow ledges with significant exposure during the final ridge portion of the hike, but I don‘t think the climbing ever exceeded Class 3. We arrived at the summit and were treated with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks including Pyramid, Snowmass and of course, our next objective, North Maroon!
The ridge traverse between the Maroon Bells has had me frightened for quite some time. I had thought about climbing each peak individually, but after reading several trip reports, I felt that I could probably handle the traverse. We had all brought ropes and climbing harnesses, but I was hoping to avoid using the ropes if possible. The downclimb from Maroon Peak to the saddle was not too bad. When facing North Maroon, basically angle towards the left, and if you come upon terrain that looks too gnarly, turn around and look elsewhere. Really, that works quite well with the traverse. There isn‘t much more than a couple of brief Class 4 pitches on the traverse, if you hunt hard enough.
Our traverse took us to the left (west) of both of the Class 4 pitches along the ridgeline. Once you get beyond the second Class 4 pitch, the climbing is fairly straightforward. In general, the traverse wasn‘t too bad, and it was certainly less exposed than say, the knife edge ridge of Capitol.
I was thrilled to reach the summit of North Maroon Peak. The traverse was over! Only one more peak to go :-)
The descent off North Maroon was long and steep. We ended up taking several wrong turns on the descent and had to backtrack a couple of hundred vertical feet, as some of the cairns led to a cliff!
Finally, we ended up on the correct trail and descended down to Minnehaha Creek. After Jonathan departed for his campsite, Eric, Ali and I walked back down to our car, arriving about 10 hours after the start of our day.
Thankfully, when we reached Aspen, I was able to get in touch with my friends Dave, Jonathan and Marc who were waiting for me at the Snowmass Creek trailhead. The four of us were hoping to climb Snowmass Mountain on Sunday (9/4). If our climb was successful, it would be my last 14er!
Eric and Ali dropped me off at the Snowmass Creek trailhead around 5:30 pm, and then they headed off to Capitol Creek trailhead where they would climb Capitol the following day. With that, Eric climbed his last 14er. Congratulations Eric!
Dave, Jonathan, Marc and I left the car a little after 5:30 pm and began hiking up the Snowmass Creek trail. About 4.5 miles in, it was getting towards dark, and we found a great campsite. After enjoying a nice warm campfire for a little while, we hit the hay around 10pm.
The 6am wakeup call felt pretty early, and we cooked up some breakfast and coffee to warm up before hitting the trail. We were ready to go by around 7:30 am and started our way up towards Snowmass Lake.
About 1.5 miles from our campsite, we reached the infamous crossing of Snowmass Creek. We decided to engage in a "team building" exercise and built a more structurally sound bridge across the creek. Note... as of Sunday evening, our bridge across Snowmass Creek was holding up quite well :-)
After crossing the creek, we enjoyed the spectacular views as we continued the climb to Snowmass Lake. Snowmass Lake is a gorgeous mountain lake. The views are spectacular, and simply hiking to the lake is well worth the effort!
Up to this point, the hike had been a pleasure. Unfortunately, our trail description from Gerry Roach had mysteriously disappeared the previous evening, so we weren‘t quite sure where we were headed. I had copied a few pages from Roach‘s book and had put them in a sandwich bag. I had pulled the route description out the previous evening, and I thought I had put it back in my backpack, but apparently, I had not done so. This blunder on my part was to cost us a couple of hours. See, even after climbing 54 of Colorado‘s 14ers, you can still do really stupid things!!
We found the trail up to Trail Rider Pass and rapidly hiked up this trail. We had climbed about 1,500 vertical feet up the trail before we were informed by some hikers that this was not the route to Snowmass! Marc and I attempted to find a practicable traverse to the actual Snowmass trail, but unfortunately, there wasn‘t a very safe way across to the Snowmass trail, so we hiked back down to the lake.
Some general comments on the Snowmass trail are below:
I would definitely recommend climbing Snowmass when there is reasonable snowcover. As of September 3, the Snowmass trail is snow-free, and there is a large amount of loose rock and scree which makes the ascent from Snowmass Lake to Snowmass Mountain quite nasty.
We finally got headed on the right trail to Snowmass around 1pm. As a note of interest, for people climbing Snowmass, look for a fairly narrow, overgrown trail that follows the south side of Snowmass Lake. After reading the west side of the lake, climb up some loose, nasty scree for several hundred vertical feet. When ascending Snowmass, look for some ledges to the right that lead to slightly easier terrain. There are many small cairns that mark a dirt and scree-covered trail that climbs up into the basin beneath Snowmass.
There were many people climbing Snowmass Mountain on Sunday, and we asked one of them for some route information. Unfortunately, his route advice resulted in putting us in some rather treacherous terrain. The route he suggested brought us to the steep cliff bands directly beneath the Snowmass summit. Marc climbed some steep talus and scree to access the ridgeline, and I climbed a horribly rotten chimney that I would subjectively rate at 5.2 - 5.4. If climbing Snowmass, aim for about halfway between the Hagerman-Snowmass saddle and Snowmass Mountain‘s summit (to the left of Snowmass - when looking uphill towards Snowmass).
I finally reached the summit around 4pm, and after a few minutes on the summit celebrating my last 14er, Marc and I headed back down the ridgeline. We knew that we had to head down the ridgeline to find an easier descent option, and after heading down towards the saddle, we angled back down the scree and talus-strewn slopes to meet up with Ryan and Dave. The rest of the descent was much of the same (scree and talus-hopping/sliding). Dave took a scary fall where he literally bounced off some rocks, but thankfully, all he ended up doing was bruising his hip. Needless to say, we were very thankful when we arrived back at Snowmass Lake.
At this point, the sunlight was dwindling quickly, so we rapidly made our way back to camp. After filtering water and packing up camp, we headed back down the trail via headlamp. We made very good time down the trail. Thankfully, the 3/4 moon added considerable lighting in addition to our headlamps, and we arrived back at the car around 10:30 pm.
We quickly packed up the vehicle and headed back to Boulder. I picked up my vehicle and arrived back at Fort Collins around 4:30 am. I was certainly tired and exhausted but also quite thankful to be done with Colorado‘s 14,000 foot peaks!