| A Full Day on the Bells: Bell Cord and Traverse
Peaks: Maroon and North Maroon, Elk Range
Date Climbed: June 26, 2008
Group: Ryan (scollard) and Ben (benners)
Route: Bell Cord Couloir, South to North Traverse
RT Distance/Elevation Gain: 8 Miles, 4,800 Feet
Time: 11 Hours
About a week ago Ryan and I decided we should try to hit the Bell Cord before the season is out, I had never climbed the Bell Cord before and Ryan had never climbed the Bells before so there were firsts involved for both of us. We stayed in Snowmass wednesday night with plans to hit the trail around 3:30am, and my Dad came down from Vail to hike to Crater Lake with us (I guess it's becoming tradition). We left the trail at 3:45am and reached Crater Lake around 5:15. We parted with my Dad and began climbing the snow, which still ran a continuous line from the bottom of the valley.
Early morning light on the Bell Cord Couloir
We cramponed up the slopes beneath the Bells (I guess this area is called "The Garbage Chute"), heading left around the large cliff band and cutting right to the mouth of the Bell Cord. There were several headlamps approaching from below as well as a singular lamp above us heading for the Southeast Couloirs.
Sunrise over Pyramid:
The Bell Cord was littered with rockfall and there were several runnels and rock fall trenches running the lenght of the couloir. The snow had already begun to soften which made kicking steps a bit easier.
The upper Bell Cord
Pyramid looming over us less and less . . .
The final 50 feet steepened a bit past 45 degrees (seemingly), Ryan and I topped out two and a half hours after departing from Crater Lake.
Looking down from the top
The top of the Bell Cord, 8:00am
A beautiful day in my favorite mountains
We had initially planned to hit North Maroon first, then South and descend the standard route off of South. We found the Northwest side of Maroon to hold quite a bit of snow still and changed our plan to hit South and then North, descending off of North (and plus we would not have to do the traverse twice this way). We headed up South Maroon, summiting at 8:40. On the summit we met a solo climber, Brian, from Washington who had come up one of the Southeast Couloirs (the single headlamp from earlier).
South Maroon Summit
A nice, snow free traverse
We stayed on the summit for ten minutes or so and then headed back towards the Bell Cord. Just below the summit we talked with 2 other climbers who warned against descending North Maroon's standard route because of its gullies still holding a lot of snow. They told us about their friend who had required 8 hours to descend from the summit of North Maroon to Crater Lake because of postholing issues. Ryan and I were a bit apprehensive about this and made the decision to hit North Maroon and then return to the Bell Cord, foregoing the decision to descend off of North. We began the traverse by climbing the cliff band just North of the Bell Cord. The climbing was really fun, previously I had done the traverse in the opposite direction so climbing up these obstacles was a nice change.
Ryan climbing the first cliff band:
We continued along trying to stick to the ridge crest as much as possible. Many of the major obstacles can be skirted around by dropping off the West side of the ridge but staying on the actual ridge is a fun challenge.
Climbing the 2nd of what I would consider to be the main 3 obstacles on the traverse:
. . . and Ryan climbing the 3rd of these obstacles, a 25 foot cliff with no apparent alternate passage
South Maroon from just under North Maroon's Summit
We topped out on North Maroon and hour and a half after leaving the Bell Cord.
North Maroon Summit
We headed back towards the Bell Cord and considered either descending the Bell Cord or going back over South Maroon and descending either the SE Couloir or the standard route.
More pics of the traverse:
We reached the top of the Bell Cord (for the 3rd time) at 11:45am. Having completed the traverse twice as well as summiting both peaks, we felt the best option (though not really a good option) was to descend the Bell Cord, as doing so would be our quickest way off the Bells (as opposed to summiting South Maroon again and heading over the back where we were surely going to encounter more snow anyway). The snow in the couloir was in great skiing condition but not the greatest for glissading, so we had to downclimb the upper parts of the couloir before being able to glissade safely. About 25 minutes later we were past the mouth of the couloir and feeling pretty good about things when a we had a small (but painful) scare.
We were glissading down the garbage chute about 100 feet apart, Ryan was below me and had begun to yell that there was a rock coming down the Bell Cord. He yelled for about ten seconds and for some reason I just didn't hear him. The rock hit me in the left side just below my rib cage, knocking the wind out of me and sending a good amount of pain down my leg and through my abdomen. I looked down, a little stunned and unsure of what had just happened, and saw a rock the size of a bowling ball sitting at my feet. The damn thing had come down the couloir and hit me. I was able to breathe fine, so no broken ribs, and after 6 ibuprofin I was able to continue glissading and hike out, so no fractured hip or anything either. Ryan carried all of our gear out while I sort of stumbled back to the car at Maroon lake, arriving at 2:30pm. After being examined in Westminster 8 hours later I was cleared as having nothing more than a badly bruised hip/abdomen. Whew.
A last look at the Bells
One thing I love about mountaineering is that I feel I am constantly learning lessons. This time around I learned that having good beta on a route (especially a route like North Maroon's NE ridge) is incredibly important, apparently even in late June. For instance, knowing the beta on the NE ridge, we may not have changed our gameplan based on advice from climbers we had never met because we would have known for ourselves. After arriving at Maroon Lake, we took a look at the Northeast ridge and I really think it would have been the best option for Ryan and I as we would have been off the Bells much earlier. . . and maybe I wouldn't have gotten raped in the back by a rock descending the Bell Cord.