| Point 13,039: Solo Ascent in the Maroon Bells Wilderness
Peak: Point 13,039
Route: North Ridge
Round Trip Distance: ~8 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3,400 feet
This was my first solo summit higher than 13,000 feet.
I got up that Saturday at 0430 at the Maroon Lake TH. Sleepily, I gathered a few things, stuffed them in my pack, took a swig of water, and headed out at around 0510. It was already light enough to see by and no additional light was needed. I cruised around Maroon Lake in this twilight and followed the easy, but rocky trail into the woods in the direction of Crater Lake. The views were already good; the morning alpenglow on the already maroon Maroon Bells was pretty fantastic.
Just under an hour later, I arrived at a junction in the trail about 1.75 miles further, just in front of Crater Lake. Here, I hung a right on the trail marked for Buckskin Pass. Now the trail gets a bit steeper, though still not bad. The trail switchbacks a lot as it goes through the trees and into Minnehaha Gulch. A little further I crossed a stream without difficulty, and the terrain opened up. I slowly left the trees behind as I continued to follow the trail.
Being unfamiliar with the Elk Range, I was having a little difficulty figuring out where exactly Buckskin Pass was, or where Point 13,039 was for that matter. Unconcerned, I continued to follow the trail. After a while, the saddle where the pass is became obvious. It was, however, covered in snow. I decided to worry about that later. I arrived at another trail junction at 0740 and turned left to continue towards Buckskin Pass. As I started up the switchbacks, I noticed that the snow on top of the pass shouldn't be an issue. Either I could climb it or there would be a way past. I continued up and arrived under the snow at 0830 (I was taking my sweet time). The wall of snow was about four and a half feet tall, so I just chopped a step in with my ax, and then climbed up and over it.
Now it was just a question of climbing up the North Ridge to the summit. I could already tell where the crux was, as there is an obvious cliff band barring easy access upward. I walked up the ridge and approached the cliffs. I'm not so sure that I took the easiest route, as there seemed to be a possibility of a way around the cliffs to the right, but it looked loose and I decided to go with the more solid rock. As it turned out, this meant some class four and possibly easy five climbing, and though there wasn't much of it, I was definitely a bit uneasy. I steadily pushed my way up and over the cliffs and got back on easier terrain within 15 minutes.
After a few ridge bumps I arrived under the summit block. The block holds a little more class four to easy five stuff, but it was shorter and a bit easier than the cliffs. I arrived on top at 0945 (again, I was taking my sweet time.) The views are astounding. From here, you can see both Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak and its dramatic south ridge, Snowmass Mountain, Capitol Peak, and uncountable other mountains in the Elk and Sawatch Ranges.
The way down went a lot faster, though the two difficult bits were a little scary. I went around the snow on the pass this time and got back on the trail. It was easy sailing all the way back to the trailhead, though a good deal hotter and more populated. I arrived back at around 1400.
The worse of two creek crossings
PT 13,039 from the Northeast
Approaching Buckskin Pass Summit
PT 13,039's North Ridge
Close up of the North Ridge Difficulties
An easier route?
The summit ridge
Summit block difficulties
Pyramid Peak from the summit
Maroon Bells from the summit
Capitol Peak from the summit
Snowmass Mountain from the summit
My summit shot
Google Earth Image of the upper route. Pyramid, North Maroon and Maroon in the background
To see more pictures from this climb, please visit my online photo gallery: http://picasaweb.google.com/ColoradoClimberGuy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):