| Maroon Peak (aka South Maroon)
Sleeping in the back of the Xterra in a parking lot was like a 4-star hotel compared to what we've been used to throughout this summer (hiking many miles and thousands of feet with heavy packs, setting up camp, eating freeze-dried food, etc.). It was cozy and warm and we had a cooler nearby. While breakfast wasn't hot, it was decadent. I had orange juice and a bagel with cream cheese, for example.
At 3:35 a.m. we started up the trail. The sky was dark and cloudy and the air was cold. My chilled orange juice and cold breakfast gave me shivers. But moments later, after we started hiking, I warmed up fast.
Just past Maroon Lake Jen was startled by a dark figure on the trail before us. It turned out to be a really fat porcupine. He waddled up the trail in front of us and didn't bother to run off into the woods. He just kept moving his fat butt up the trail, stopping occasionally to see if we were still behind him. That's when we stopped. And then he started walking again. We must've repeated this four or five times and for hundreds of feet before he finally decided to walk off trail and into the trees.
Both Jen and I felt sluggish and drag-ass that morning. Not sure what it was, but neither of us were hiking up to par. We also had some questions in our intestines. We had some green chili quesadillas the night before, which probably wasn't the best idea. (We normally have a "no Mexican or Asian food pre-hike" rule.)
At 5:20 a.m. we finally made it to the "bent tree." Based on Bill's route description, we knew the turn-off was coming soon. Like clockwork, it came, and it was well cairned.
That slope sure was a beast. 2,800 feet of vertical over a mile or so, as I recall. It felt like it, too. It just kept going on and on and on, and up and up and up. And it kept getting steeper and looser as it ascended.
Maybe a third the way up we kind of lost the trail and ended up climbing rock. Once on a rocky outcropping, we noticed the correct trail far to our right and regained it. This was about the time the sun lit things up enough for us to kill our headlamps.
Looking back down the valley:
Two hours after starting up that slope, we gained the ridge at 7:20 a.m. This is where the real challenge began: finding the correct route through a maze of rock and gullies ... and not falling! Adding to the challenge, cairns seemed to be everywhere.
We started on the most worn trail and followed Bill's route description, which was great. I think Jen had it pretty much memorized word for word.
Jen, climbing up the chimney, which turned out to be the easiest and most-solid rock of the entire day (makes good photos, too):
Before the twin gullies we couldn't find the alternate route before the first gully, so we just took the first gully up (right gully in the photo):
The gully wasn't that bad, and we just ended up clinging to one of its walls, using the solid rock like a hand rail. Without too much trouble, and maybe a little luck, we found the crossover to the upper portion of the second gully, which was a nice ledge.
My post-hike brain is a little mushy right now, and the gallons of beer probably isn't helping either, but the details of our climb beyond this point are a little foggy. Just know we kept going over ribs of rock, across ledges and around bends. Much of it was cairned, but don't completely trust the cairns (some didn't direct the best ways). We also noticed high or low routes, relative to the ones we took. Sometimes, when we had any question, we just went higher.
Jen, hiking around one outcropping:
Once on the big gully, it was a fairly easy climb to the notch (we stuck to the right side of the gully and used the stable rock as a handrail). From there, we went left across more ledges. Then we gained the ridge. Dipped off it for a bit, but mostly kept to it all the way to the summit.
At 8:35 a.m. we made the summit. Woohoo! What a relief. #56!
Up top, we ran into Hoagie (Clint) and Sherri and another couple (Vermontster and significant other?). We met Clint and Sherri on Eolus a month ago, so it was nice to see some familiar faces up there.
Some views ...
Snowmass and Capitol:
Climbing back ... this photo may give you an idea of the routefinding quandary before us, with all the ribs of rock and gullies to contend with:
Climbing back down the first gully:
Clint and Sherri joined us for the descent back to the ridge above the 2,800-foot slope. There were a couple times where we had to question the route, but overall, I think we did pretty well. On the way up, Jen and I took a lot of mental pictures of the return. Have to admit, though, it all looks the same. You really have to pay attention. Even the point where you have to start climbing down is a tricky turn, as there's a well-beaten trail that continues south from there, marked with multiple cairns.
The slope was slippery, steep and tedious. In other words, it wasn't much fun. Here was one easy section:
Near the bottom, to my surprise, we came across quite a few people that were just starting up (it was almost noon at the time, and clouds were building). They didn't seem prepared, either (i.e., no beta of the route, not enough gear, no helmets, wearing tennis shoes, etc.). Without being too preachy, I warned them to keep an eye on the weather, and I tried to give them a glimpse of what they were about to face. I even gave one guy my route description printout. I hope they all made it down OK.
I just had to jump up on that bent tree. But I think I got it excited because I got tree sap all over my shirt.
At 1:15 p.m. we made it back to Maroon Lake. Our knees were sore, our eyes were dusty and our feet were raw. But it felt really good to finish that badboy. And we were glad we got it done this year, while we were in end-of-season shape. Not to mention, snow is in the forecast for that area tonight and tomorrow.
Some of my random thoughts on Maroon Peak:
- I was nervous about climbing this mountain, with its deadly record and all, but it didn't end up being as bad as I thought it was going to be. That said, it was still long and tough, and routefinding was key. And I still give that mountain a lot of respect, as it deserves it.
- Exposure wasn't nearly what I had anticipated. Much less exposure than North Maroon, in my opinion. Not to say there weren't many places where you had to focus on where you were placing your feet.
- Loose and rotten rock? Yes. But solid rock could be found.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):