| What a bunch of Maroons...
Trip Report - North Maroon Peak via Northeast Ridge
23 July 2008
Ryan - "COmedic04"
Ryan Warwick (not on this site)
Bluebells and Maroon Bells
Since the time I was 6 and took a trip with my family to Aspen and drove up to Maroon Lake, no other mountain landscape has captivated me more than that of the Maroon Bells. Their fierce beauty is such that it has drawn climbers, photographers, and awe-struck tourists from all corners of the globe. And it stirred within my young heart the desire to not only climb these peaks, but to be connected to the mountains for the rest of my life. When I did begin climbing mountains, I always had the Bells in my mind as a personal goal; spurred on by their enchanting beauty, and yet anxious about their reputation:
"A National Park Service sign on the access trail refers to these mountains as "The Deadly Bells" and warns would-be climbers of "downsloping, loose, rotten and unstable" rock that "kills without warning". Unlike other mountains in the Rockies that are composed of granite and limestone, the Bells are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened into rock over millions of years. Mudstone is weak and fractures readily, giving rise to dangerously loose rock along almost any route. The mudstone is responsible for the Bells' distinctive maroon color. The Bells got their "deadly" name in 1965 when eight people died in five separate accidents."
This summer had been somewhat disappointing so far, as I had been slammed with work and had not been able to climb nearly as much as I wanted to...so when my buddy Ryan proposed the idea of climbing the Bells, I flung all my anxieties aside and responded with an emphatic "HELL YES!" Not only would this provide just the escape from the mundane that I needed, it would fulfill my life-long dream and would also be Ryan's 14er finisher! (He had previously climbed South Maroon).
Ryan came to my house and picked me up Tuesday afternoon and, after having to return to my house to get my forgotten camera and a couple stops for food, we hit the road at around 4:30pm. After the drive over Independence Pass and (re)pouring over trip reports, we felt eager to hit the trail!
We got to the Maroon Lake parking lot at approximately 8:30, just in time to catch the last few sparks of sunset:
We passed a group of elderly hikers who wanted to know where a couple of strapping young lads like us were doing heading up the trail in the dark. Needless to say, we made tracks to Crater Lake, set up camp, and enjoyed some late-night camp food before trying to sleep. We both decided on a 3:30 a.m. wakeup time, even though we didn't hit the sack until almost 11. Between the fact that I work nights and am used to staying up all night, and the excitement of the climb ahead, I wasn't able to fall asleep until closer to 12.
Needless to say, the morning came quick, and even though I was drowsy and bleary-eyed, my excitement outweighed everything:
After some soapy-tasting oatmeal, which I attempted to improve with some dried cranberries and fruit PowerBar, we gathered our things and hit the trail around 4:30.
All was going well, we almost turned left too early, but after checking our elevation, deduced we had further to go. On our way down, it appeared this false left turn was halfway blocked by a couple branches, and the cairn at the real turn-off was partially knocked over. We were making good time when we came to the stream crossing. It was still quite dark, and we were eager to get up to the peak itself, so we didn't take the time to look for a good crossing... Needless to say, we both ended up flat on our butts in the stream with wet feet:
We changed socks and tried to dry out our feet as much as possible and then pressed on, having lost some valuable time; the sun was starting to peek across the valley, giving us an incredible view of Pyramid:
After a grueling hike up some muddy terrain, we neared the "rock glacier" at the base of the peak:
Soon, we were on the peak itself! We ascended an easy gully, then crossed the first ridge, which gave a breath-taking view of South Maroon:
We ended up quite a bit lower than we should have been, and in turn, had to climb the next gully for quite a way before we found the cairned route again:
We met up with two others who were climbing from Brighton, and climbed behind them for a while, being careful not to climb to closely so as to avoid falling rocks. Finally, after ascending this 2nd gulley, we found ourselves on something of a plateau below a few crux moves below the summit.
Clouds were beginning to look rather ominous, but we pressed on for the summit, and finally summitted around 9:30!!
(Bill, I was wearing my 14ers.com Patagonia shirt...where were ya?!? )
We were both ecstatic to have gained the summit, but were wary of the clouds gathering. We didn't want to be caught on the connecting saddle in the middle of any storm, so we decided against it and spent a little more time on the summit enjoying the incredible views!
Capitol and Snowmass in the distance
After getting (close to) our fill of the incredible vistas, we began the downclimb, vowing to return to the traverse very soon! I felt the downclimb was a deal more difficult than ascending, especially when lowering myself down off of the headwalls and feeling for footholds!
But it also provided incredible views, including the stunning ledge below the summit:
We were RELENTLESSLY followed on the way down by some goats who, at times, got as close at 10 feet away! We couldn't tell if they were looking for food, or were perturbed at us trespassing on their "turf". We managed to make it off the exposed parts of the route before it started to rumble and rain, thank goodness! The muddy, slippery slope above the stream-crossing proved quite tricky, but we slid our way down.
We made it back to camp just as it was starting to rain, but we decided to quickly break down camp and head back to the car and get to Aspen for a post-climb beer and meal! This proved to be a soggy hike back down, but the rain felt great after the difficult climb. We stopped to take a few pictures back at Crater and Maroon Lakes:
We dragged our soaked, tired selves back to Ryan's truck, loaded up our gear and bid adieu to these incredible mountains. I can't wait to go back...this was simultaneously the most difficult and rewarding climb I have made so far in my climbing career, and it lived up to every hope and expectation!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):