| North Maroon Peak
Based on what Jen has read and heard about North Maroon Peak, she had some doubts and fears about climbing it. This made me concerned as well. But with Jeff on board to climb it with us (he's climbed this mountain before), her concerns (and mine) were eased. He's also one of those climbing partners "you can trust."
Our main concern was down climbing the "chimney," but Jeff eased that concern by bringing a short rope (and we brought harnesses), just in case we decided to rappel that section.
Saturday, Aug. 25:
Because Jen and I have been climbing so much this summer, this was our first "free," non-driving/climbing Saturday since I could remember. Unfortunately, we spent it running errands. Most of those errands revolved around buying gear for climbing, ironically enough. We also had a chance to start preparing for Kili.
Oh, did I just say "non-driving"? I forgot. In the early afternoon we picked up Jeffro in Boulder, and then we drove three and a half hours to Maroon Lake near Aspen.
Under dark skies with a bright moon, we pulled into the overnight lot and found a good corner spot. After some good conversation and beers, Jen and I crashed in the back of the Xterra and Jeff hit his bivvy, right next to the truck.
Sunday, Aug. 26:
Just as it became light enough to hike without headlamps (about 6 a.m.), the three of us started up the trail. The trail began wide and flat and easy. It then became gradually steeper, but still easy.
Jeff remembered the turn-offs, making our lives easier. We first hung a right ... and then we hung a left.
After crossing the creek, we continued up dirt and rocks along a cairned trail. The trail steepened, and it cruised through some rather large willows. Hobbits live in willows like these.
The dirt/mud trail became really narrow at times, as it passed through willow tunnels and beneath trees. Jeff joked that it was Class 3 dirt. Funny, but it was kinda' true.
Our next obstacle was the "rock glacier," which was like the Boulderfield on Longs, but with smaller boulders. At one point we passed over a creek that ran underneath the rocks. It was kind of cool listening to it flow below. It wasn't just a little water trickling below, like some talus slopes; this was a full-blown creek flowing under the rocks.
Beyond the rock glacier, we headed up the slopes and traversed around the side of the mountain on a single-track trail. The exposure to the left of this trail was kind of severe. Not a good time to trip on a shoelace.
From this point to the top (and back down) I was in full concentration mode. Every single step I took was planned, careful, precise and deliberate. Every hand hold I used for support was tested first.
Throughout the climb, gullies dropped away into nothingness below.
After passing over a rib, we headed upslope, along a faint trail with loose dirt. Near the top of this gully, we headed left and climbed across some exposed slabs of rock. Then we had to climb up another gully, and over and around another rib of rock. Exposure kept ratcheting up a bit with every gully and every rib. The mountain goats we saw weren't even phased by the exposure or loose rocks. In fact, they actually kicked rocks from time to time. Luckily, none of them were directly above us.
Continuing on into the "grassy" gully, as Jeffro put it, we found a faint trail and saw a few cairns. As we ascended, we ended up climbing the left side of the gully. At one point we got a little too far left (little red flags lured us and incorrectly marked the route), but we got back on route. Even though there were cairns and faint trails, we had to constantly make decisions about which way to go, or what to climb up. Getting way off route was unlikely, but it was almost impossible to avoid getting at least slightly off route from time to time. The three of us kept talking and refocusing/fine-tuning our aim.
Once we gained the ridge up and to our left, we sort of followed the high point for a while. Then we traversed up and to the right, in search of the "chimney." We found the chimney, but it was drenched with water, so we continued on a bit further to the right. As it turns out, we found a way up that cliff band that really didn't exceed Class 3 climbing. Exposure was no greater than the chimney, either.
Beyond that upclimb, it was pretty straightforward to the summit. Just a few more "moves."
At about 10 a.m. the three of us stepped on the summit. It was a very rewarding feeling, as it was a pretty tough summit to gain. Then, reality hit me: Many people have died trying to gain this summit.
A climber on the ridge between Maroon and N. Maroon:
The weather couldn't have been better. It was sunny and clear and warm, with only a slight breeze. The views were inspiring.
After spending some time up there, we started the second half of our journey.
Climbing back down the Class 3 Chimney Bypass:
Pyramid Peak looming high above the deep valley:
Snowmass and Capitol:
As we climbed down that upper gully, we ended up getting off too far to the left. When we realized this, we decided to traverse to the other side. Jen headed across first, and made quick work of the challenge. Jeff and I then started across. Halfway across, and directly below the fall line, I heard a faint yell from above. I didn't think anything of it, as climbers yell to one another often. To add, a breeze was blowing, making it hard to hear. Then I heard some climbers far below us yelling, "ROCK!" I looked up, above the cliff band above us, but didn't see/hear anything. And the yell was so far away, I thought it was someone below us warning people that were below them. But then the people below us yelled again, "ROCK!" And that's when my brain clicked, and I dove under a small, 4-foot cliff band. Jeffro dove in behind me. We both looked back and watched a basketball-sized rock smash and fling by at a super-fast pace, just 10 feet behind us. And then it continued to fly down the gully, out of sight and sound. From the time I heard that first faint yell to the time that boulder zinged by, only about 5 to 10 seconds had passed by. I almost crapped my pants. And I can still see that boulder smashing on the rock ledge behind us, and then flying away into nothingness.
Jen, who was off to the side and a little below, gave us the "coast is clear." That's when we boogied over to the other side, away from the heart of the gully.
When we met up with the guys below us, who were resting on the ledge, I thanked them graciously for yelling up at us. Because of the cliff bands directly above us and the wind, we couldn't really hear the yells from above us. Not to mention, they were at least a few hundred feet away.
My nerves stayed on edge for a few minutes. I just refocused that adrenaline spike to the task at hand -- climbing back down, safely.
A mountain goat, taking a peaceful rest on a precarious ledge:
Even with cairns, it wasn't entirely obvious which way to go. Some "trails" and cairns were misleading. Based on memory, we found our way back (after getting about 30 yards off-route at one time). It was really nice to have three brains working together.
At 1:30 p.m. we made it back down to Maroon Lake. Tourists were crawling like ants.
We toasted our success with some Dale's Pale Ale at the parking lot.
Some random thoughts on the climb:
- People always talk about how rotten the rock is on the Bells, but I was surprised by how solid much of the rock was on N. Maroon. Sure, there was a lot of crumbly stuff, and there was a lot of dirt, gravel and loose rock on the ledges, but the rocks we actually had to climb up were pretty solid.
- Everyone has a different perception of what is hard and what is not. And with this climb, based on other peoples' perceptions, we thought it was going to be a much more difficult climb -- technically -- than it really was. We really only encountered Class 2 and 3 terrain (although, at times, I think some of our moves flirted with Class 4 ... but it probably could've been avoided). In our opinions, the climb was still tough, exposed and dangerous.
- Rockfall was a real hazard. Be careful in the gullies.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):