| Bell Cord Couloir / Traverse to N. Maroon
Mountains: Maroon Peak (14,156'), N. Maroon (14,019') and Traverse
Route: Started at Crater Lake (10,100'), climbed Bell Cord Couloir to S. Maroon and traversed the ridge to N. Maroon. Descended the NW Ridge to camp
Elevation Gain - 5000' (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 10 miles (approx)
I was planning to post this report on summitpost instead of here since Brian (Lord Helmut) had already done a terrific job of capturing conditions on the Bell Cord, but then our traverse route was quite a bit different so this report might still have some value here
Joe (doumall), Debbie and I set out from Boulder with a plan to ring the Bells before heading over to tag Pyramid on Sunday. We left Boulder right after work at 2PM on Friday and were at the Maroon Lake TH at about 7PM. The route descriptions on Roach and Dawson's guides did a pretty good job of getting us excited. We decided to backpack to Crater Lake, set up camp for the night and start hiking early. We went to bed at around 10PM and arose early. We were on the trail by 4:20AM and quickly got to the basin between these two beautiful peaks. Once there we saw at least two groups of headlamps ahead of us (one of them was Brian‘s group… it was good to run into you on the mountains again man…) and two groups behind us. We started making our way up the rock glacier towards the headlamps above us. Finding the Bell Cord was pretty easy. Sunhit was at 5:58AM and we were close to the base of the couloir at that point.
We'd brought ropes (Joe has a 30m 8mm rope) and harnesses and decided to rope up for the couloir climb. Although the couloir didn't really call for the precaution, this would be a nice way of getting familiar with roped travel.
Crampons and axes came out and we were ready to start up the Bell Cord by 6:15AM. We set out with Joe in the lead, Debbie in the middle and I brought up the rear. This was by far the longest couloir I have climbed in my limited experience, but it did not seem like it since the snow conditions were near perfect. Roach describes the couloir as averaging 42 degrees, maxing out at 45, but it seemed easy because the snow was nicely runneled. We did not need to front point a great deal and were able to switchback across the runnels with flat feet. Our calf muscles were spared.
We entered the rather long chokepoint and the slope angle increased slightly with no added difficulty.
At this point I lost my crampon and managed to climb 60 feet without noticing the loss. I then turned to look back down at a shiny object, turned back to Joe and Debbie and ventured an obtuse "Du…u..hh… did you guys, umm… lose a head lamp or something?". Half way down I looked at my right boot and realized I had no crampon on it. I quietly hauled my stupid @$$ back down to the piece of equipment and continued with as much face as I could save. We lost about 20 minutes here. The rest of the climb up the couloir went smoothly.
If you're climbing this couloir, turn back once in a while and breathe deep. The scenics are killer.
We topped out with glorious weather and magnificent views of Pyramid across the valley.
Here we stopped for some chocolate and trail-mix to build energy for the ledge system that was to follow. IMO, the ledge system from the saddle up to the S. Maroon summit is straight forward with no significant difficulties. There was ice on some of the ledges and there's always that danger of rotten rock that the Bells are famous for, but overall, this last section of the hike won't take a whole lot of time, and cairns are easy to find.
We summitted at approximately 10:45AM and ate some food. This was going to be one very long day but the weather was just fantastic. There was not a cloud to be seen. We would have plenty of time for the traverse… or so we thought. We set off down the ridge at about a quarter past 11. The down-climb went pretty quickly and we were down at the saddle in a ½ hour. The first difficulty up the ridge to N. Maroon is this delicious class 4 wall…
There are two roads to N. Maroon's summit from the saddle… you can choose to stay on the ridge crest and climb several class 4 and 5 pitches or you can stay low on the west side and by pass much of the 'gnarr'… If you have ropes, good weather and are comfortable with exposure I highly recommend the former. Joe brought out his entire arsenal…a sweet 30m 8mm rope, a small rack of tri-cams and a 'healthy' set of slings (his exact words…, none of my 'gobbledygook'). He was pretty thrilled at the opportunity to lead Class 5 and I was cr@pping myself with excitement at just being able to climb solid Class 5 on an actual mountain.
There were several opportunities for class 3 / 4 scrambling and we finally approached the sections with the real difficulty. We stayed on the ridge crest the entire time. Joe marked out the route we took in the following pictures… (Thanks dude)
The yellow and blue lines mark the class 3 and 4 sections, and red marks the three class 5 pitches we climbed… each was between 30 - 45 feet in length. The horizontal bars on the red lines mark our belay stations. We needed to set protection on the first and third pitches. Joe did a perfect job leading his first Class 5 climb outside.
This was a pretty easy pitch really and folks may be able to do it without ropes except that there was some serious exposure below the ledge.
Joe went first and set pro…
with Debbie at the belay station…
Debbie went next and cleaned up the pro…
I tied Joe and Debbie's packs to the rope and sent them up first and followed at the end. At the top of this first pitch we were under the false impression that there was only one Class 5 pitch on the route but we walked a very short distance before realizing that this was a load of tripe. We found our second class 5 pitch here…
I thought we could back track a bit and use the following Class 4 section to get back to the ridge crest, but there was an overhang above me that I couldn't get over easily.
Anyway, the second Class 5 pitch I was talking about before I interrupted myself was a sweet chimney with very decent holds. We did not need to set protection for this climb. It was a vertical climb with bomber holds and exposure at the bottom.
Debbie climbs this section…
Almost at the top of this second pitch we found our third 5th Class section. There was no stopping the fun!! This one had a single move that felt a bit like a 5.8, the rest of it was very straight forward. Joe set anchors at three points for this one.
I climbed next and cleaned up the anchors. Debbie climbed last.
It was 3PM by the time Debbie joined us at the top of the third pitch. We looked past the point and there appeared to be one more class 5 pitch to navigate across if we decided to remain on the ridge crest. This was where we decided to give up and climb low and follow cairns.
Joe marked out the route we followed from the top of the third 5th class pitch.
Here we realized how much time we would have saved and how much cool climbing we would have sacrificed by sticking to the cairned out route on the West side. This part of the trail is a Class 3 graveyard of loose junk and debris. Compare this to the beautiful solid conglomerate rock on Crestone Needle and it's no surprise I've not removed the Needle from my 'favorite 14er' field despite the sheer amount of delightful scrambling on N. Maroon.
We painfully made our way up the final pitch to the summit. It had been a long day and we had the entire down-climb to look forward to. Here's looking back over the ridge towards S. Maroon
This was Debbie's 49th 14er…
Here's looking down at the lakes in the valley below…
We decided to head back down the Northwest Ridge on N. Maroon and it was simply delightful (I am being very sarcastic) although we had no opportunity to complain about any lack of views.
There were a few Class 4 walls to be down-climbed and several Class 3 sections.
Beyond that it was steep dirt, scree, talus, rock glaciers, bushes interspersed with talus, stream crossing, traverses across boulder fields and several other delightful experiences. It was freaking BRUTAL!!!!!!!! Anyway we got back down to camp at around 7PM for a round trip time of just under 15 hours. Good weather played a huge part in our successful summit. Here's one last look at the mountain…
We stayed at camp overnight to see if a good night's rest would allow us to lay siege on Pyramid the following day but that was not to be, so we broke camp and headed back to civilization and several tons of burritos. Here's one more look at the mountains from Maroon Lake… Pictures do NOT do them justice.
The checkout lady at Qdoba watched us order and asked if she could watch us eat. The bells tolled for us… and it was a sweet sound.