| North Maroon Peak - Northeast Ridge (attempt)
This is the story of a two-day trip that I made this week with my wife Carol and daughter Teresa. Our plan was to climb for a couple days from a campsite at Crater Lake, but as it turned out, one climb was enough (I need to be more realistic about these plans sometimes...one epic a week is enough). We first drove from Colorado Springs to Golden to pick up Teresa, then on to Aspen. We arrived at the Maroon Lake trailhead at 6:30, getting the last spot in the overnight lot. Since it was getting late and we needed to hike 1.5 miles before camping, we got on our way quickly. Arriving at Crater Lake, we found that the first eight of the eleven campsites were already occupied, but fortunately #9 was open, so we got set up in the fading light and hit the sack. Figuring out which campsites were available was kind of a hassle, probably taking 30 minutes of hiking up and down the access trails. Next time I think I'll start at site 11 and work my way backwards...
Tuesday morning we woke at 5 and were on the trail at 5:45. It took about 45 minutes to reach the turnoff and Minnehaha Creek crossing. After this point, it was an uphill grunt pretty much the rest of the way. The first mile or so had much slippery mud and wet rock scrambling, finally leading to the rock glacier below the North Maroon-Sleeping Sexton ridge.
After crossing the rocks, the trail contoured around the mountainside, then up and over a ridge into the first gully. I had two slightly contradictory route descriptions for the next portion: Roach says to ascend the gully to a class 4 rock band at 12,800', but a Forest Service description of the route says to exit the first gully at 12,400'. We found a clear trail heading to the lower exit just at the point the gully was getting steeper, so we took that path over into the second gully. As we entered the second gully, clouds were beginning to form over the summit of Maroon Peak.
We continued up the second gully mostly along the left edge, scrambling up to a notch at the right side near the top to look over the back side of the mountain for the first time. A few tricky ledges above the notch finally brought us over to the face below the summit, but by this time (about 11:00) clouds were moving in for real, and some light rain began to fall.
At this point we started to run out of options. Although the clouds were smooth and generally not threatening lightning, the wet rocks and more difficult climbing was becoming a problem.
We finally reached a wall, about 100 vertical feet below the summit, where we judged it wasn't safe to continue. It was disappointing to turn back, but the rain was settling in, and we really wanted to get down safely. So, we collectively made the call to get out. So close....
The descent was long and tiring, but the mood definitely lightened up once we were off the summit pyramid area and going back down the gully. The rain was now varying from light to medium, and the clouds were swirling in and out, but we were able to stay on our route despite the occasional whiteouts.
Sometime around this point, we mutually decided that we would head home once we were down. Wet sleeping bags and dehydrated food weren't sounding all that great after such a long soggy day. But, you don't have to summit to have fun, says Teresa...
As we crossed between the gullies, the clouds had moved in to cover the summit completely.
A group of old goats laughed at us as we staggered down the first gully.
Despite not summitting, we had spectacular views as the surrounding valleys and peaks went in and out of the clouds. Pyramid's summit played peek-a-boo at one point.
We got back to our camp about 4:45, packed up and were back at Maroon Lake about 6:00. A long day and no checkmarks for the big list, but "upon reflection" it's best to be safe.
Next stop was New York Pizza for a huge meal, then the long drive home. I slept well. It's good to be home sometimes.