| The Maroon Bells: Bell Cord Couloir and S-N traverse- Maroon Lake TH
Date: Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Team: USAKeller, Jcwhite, thebeave7, and Tyler (Jcwhite's friend)
Route: Bell Cord Couloir to Maroon Peak, Maroon Peak to North Maroon Peak traverse, Northeast Ridge of North Maroon descent
Total mileage: 10.25 miles
Total elevation gain: ~5,000ft.
Total time out (including stop time): 13hrs. 30min.
I left Boulder at 3:00pm and picked up thebeave7 at Copper Mountain- we headed up to meet Jcwhite in Aspen. I've never seen the Maroon Bells before- when I saw them, I was immediately in awe and had to walk to Maroon Lake, being careful not to expend too much energy! Tyler met us at the Maroon Lake TH and we all slept in the back of our cars.
thebeave7, Jcwhite, and USAKeller in front of the Maroon Bells:
We woke up at 1:00am (ouch) and started up the trail towards Crater Lake at 1:40am. Near the lake, we left the trail at the "intermittent" stream that both Roach and Dawson describe (10,280ft.), and headed west into the basin between both peaks. It took us just over 2 hours to reach the snowfield at the base of the couloir- we put our crampons on here (at 11,100ft.) and started up the Bell Cord at 4:00am. It was a pretty neat feeling to climb this couloir in the dark. I had heard mixed reports from a few people recently and didn't know what to expect of the snow conditions. We did see a few headlamps 700-900ft. below us- we would only find out later they took the standard route on Maroon Peak. As it turned out, the snow was in good crampon condition, despite the lack of overnight freezing lately. I followed Jcwhite and Tyler's steps, while thebeave7 picked his own line up to the long chokepoint. Once in the choke, there was one primary runnel that we all stayed in. The angle increases slightly here.
Jcwhite and thebeave7 climbing in the long chokepoint of the Bell Cord (5:30am):
It was really cool being able to watch the sunrise from the Bell Cord!
thebeave7 and USAKeller nearing the top of the Bell Cord Couloir:
Jcwhite and Tyler topped out at the couloir at 6:50am; thebeave7 and I around 7:05am. The snow was much softer the last 50-100ft. of this climb, but steps from previous climbers made this part no problem. We all agreed that we would not have wanted to hit the Bell Cord any later. The couloir is around 1,800ft., but with all of the snow still left below the couloir, this climb ended up being a 2,700-foot snow climb- the longest for any of us. After leaving crampons and ice axes at the notch, we started what took us a 40-minute class 3 scramble heading south up the ledges to Maroon Peak's summit (7:40am). As mentioned in previous trip reports, this section is cairned and pretty straightforward- the rock is loose and rotten, but isn't extremely bad. We didn't run into any snow patches that posed problems, however, we did find some wet rock that was easily avoided. The weather was great, as it remained that way throughout the rest of the day.
Tyler and thebeave7 climbing through the ledges:
USAKeller, Tyler, thebeave7, and Jcwhite on the summit of Maroon Peak with Snowmass and Capitol to the right in the distance:
Our next objective- North Maroon Peak from the summit of Maroon Peak:
We started back down 25 minutes later, picked up our crampons and ice axes, and began making our way over to North Maroon. Initially, we stayed on the west (left) side of the ridge, following the sparse cairns. About 1/3 of the way into the traverse, Jcwhite decided he wanted to take the ridge direct route, so the rest of us followed. (We bypassed the first few cruxes that maverick_manley posted in his trip report).
This photo shows some of our route (which is somewhat cairned) and where we turned to climb up to the ridge:
Once on the ridge, there were two cruxes that Jcwhite wanted me roped up for where he and thebeave7 set up belay stations. I have to admit that I've never used ropes before and I was excited. The red arrow in two photos above shows this first crux. Jcwhite, Tyler, and thebeave7 all free-climbed it without ropes. The photo below shows the first crux- thebeave7 is almost up, Tyler is waiting for his turn, and I am at the bottom.
The first crux along the traverse (taken from a different angle):
I get ready to climb up the crux- this photo looks directly down the crux:
The second main crux (where I used rope again) was another low class 5 scramble. Jcwhite climbed straight up the wall in the left portion of the picture (the wall sticks out).
The second crux- Jcwhite shown climbing:
Once we all were up safely, we continued along the ridgeline- this was anywhere from class 2 to mostly class 3 and 4 work. Taking this ridge direct route is definitely more time-consuming (setting up the belay stations) than dropping below on the west side of the ridge.
The final pitch to the summit requires a few class 4 moves (this photo looks straight up):
From summit to summit, the traverse took 2.5 hours- we arrived on the summit of North Maroon at 10:45am and the weather was still warm and sunny. In my opinion, the traverse was less than I expected it to be- there is exposure but it can be limited by taking different lines. I never once felt like I wanted to turn around or felt uncomfortable; in fact, the two cruxes were the toughest parts for me, despite being roped in. There were hardly any hand and foot holds that I did not test before I used them- I strongly recommend testing all of them. We saw the people who were below us early in the morning just summiting Maroon Peak when we finished the traverse (Bell Cord Couloir = fastest way to climb them!).
USAKeller, thebeave7, Jcwhite, and Tyler on the summit of North Maroon Peak, with Maroon Peak and part of the traverse behind:
We had a well-deserved snack and started down the northeast ridge of North Maroon. Where do I start with this?! This descent is nothing but steep and tedious, and seems like it takes forever after climbing both peaks. It consists of lots of class 3 downclimbs, some class 4 moves, and a little class 2 at the end of it. There is one main crux we came across on this route, located near the "black rocks." We all downclimbed it, but I was nervous without ropes.
The crux of the downclimb- the left picture is at the bottom of the crux looking up;
the right picture shows Tyler downclimbing from above:
Once we got past this section, a trail became more visible than it had been from the summit- there are cairns. We followed the trail as it passed a few boulder/talus fields to Minnehaha Creek at the lower end of the basin below the north face of North Maroon. It took us just under 4 hours to return back to the cars (at 2:00pm). If there was one piece of gear I wish I had brought, it would easily have been trekking poles to help ease the pain on my knees coming down the steep ridge of North Maroon. We originally planned on the early start to include a climb of Pyramid Peak, but by the time we arrived at the Pyramid trail junction, it was too late to be starting that mountain, even though the weather was still gorgeous. We will save the "Triple Feat" for a different day! We definitely "rang the Bells", and were pleased with that as a way to spend our July 4th.
Jordan, Tyler, and Eric- thanks for helping me through this climb. I couldn't have done it without you!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):