| Southwest Face
South Maroon Peak's southwest face looms off in the distance over Scarps Ridge here.
Halbakken and I tried for a snowboard descent using the Bell Cord Couloir, but the conditions did not hold the line to the summit. So this trip was a rematch.
It was quiet around town, with the ski area closed, and the classes over. Lots of people had left town, making finding a partner difficult for this trip. But the solo mission would let me approach this mountain with a yielding and deliberate mentality.
So much for noble ideas. Matt worked the next day, and as I stood alone, watching his headlight disappear into the woods I could remember hearing Tom Waits: "suckers always make mistakes when they're far away from home".
- Sunday, May 8th -
10o p.m. Emerald Lake was shadowed from the moon by Mount Baldy. Traversing through the debris around the lake was a chore.
11o p.m. 10,710 ft. Schofeild Pass required a bit of commitment; the entrance to the dark timber of the White River National Forest. There's some confusing places at the switchbacks. The snow was deep and soft, leaving very few clues of the road beneath.
Midnight: 10,360 ft. Schofield Park opened the view of surrounding peaks. There was a small opening in the creek to refill with water. The trailhead for West Maroon Pass is just on the other side of the creek, and contours of an old road flow through open timber into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. This is the East Fork of the South Fork of the Crystal River. During the first mile of this section the road-cut turns to trail, and requires climbing out of the bottoms to avoid a bad sidehill through willow patches and over an open creek.
1o a.m. The valley opened. The snow route is about the same as the summer trail. It just stays on the valley floor, sometimes crossing snow bridges to avoid side hills. I found several enormous moths frozen there.
2o a.m. The head of the valley has some ridges rolling out and to the north, towards Frigid Air Pass. The last one before a deep gully seems to be the best. It is mellow and easy to avoid avalanche terrain to gain the huge and barren basin running almost parallel to the valley below. At the head of this upper basin is Point 12,648. Frigid Air Pass is on the next convex hump to the southeast, to the right. There is also a short gully in the corner that is not as steep. The summer route would be better with less snow.
3o a.m.: 12,400 ft. A very intimidating and mentally confrontational moment at Fridgid Air Pass where I had my first view of South Maroon Peak. The southwest face, while smaller than the grand east face, is no less fearsome. The couloir cuts through the sweeping moonlit anvil, all the way from the summit. It is difficult to gage how steep it is. It looked awful from there; it maked me a little sick to my stomach. "I don't have to climb it, I could just camp down there and take pictures." I told myself. I assembled the snowboard, shouldered my pack, and followed the tiny spot of my headlamp over to the dark side of the ridge for run down to my basecamp location.
4o a.m.: 11,360 ft. Fravert Basin basecamp was set up. I crawled deep into my sleeping bag, listening to the eerie sound of coyotes down in the trees.
- Tuesday, May 10, 2001 -
1o a.m. Awake, and realized my solitude once again. The heavy silence that can be unbearable at times. A strong sense of anticipation; I occupied my mind with preparations.
2o a.m. Skinning up to the base of Maroon is like climbing a huge staircase of frozen waves. Wish I brought my home made splitboard crampons for the steeper sections.
3o a.m. I'm in the hanging basin, getting a fully foreshortened view of the face. The route's deviations can be spotted from here. Initially, the only break in the lower cliffs of the face is an icy, steep, and generally dirty looking slot. That must be where some mountaineers have mesured the slope at 70 degrees. While more aesthetic in its continuation of the line implied by the upper couloir, it is not the course of running water. It is a spur, used by ice climbers. While I would not rule out a ski or snowboard decent by belay, I am sure it would be time consuming, and disrupt the flow of the upper couloir descent. Anyway, aesthetics aren't everything. Thankfully, the main couloir becomes visible while working to the left of the base. It intercepts the upper section from the left about a third of the way up, and continues on its own less prominent track, out onto the upper flanks of the southwest ridge. Other than the upper couloir itself, it has no options to the left. I noted: stick to the cliffs on the left when in doubt at the junction a third of the way up.
4o a.m. The apron on the left ascends to a cradle under the cliffs, and the main couloir entrance opens to the right.
5o a.m. The lower couloir quickly became a constant pitch of about 50 degrees, and probably exceeded it just before the junction a third of the way up. I stayed right for another hundred feet to favor the frozen avalanche debris, then traversed back left, to meet the upper couloir.
6o a.m. In the upper upper couloir I worked solid snow and rocks on the right side, then crossed the middle to work up along the cliff wall. At this pitch, there are two vertical feet for every foot of snow perpendicular to the slope. Not a swim, but slow going.
7o a.m. The flanks offered some relief to the confines of the couloir. It was wind stripped and rocky terra at a less severe angle. Rock ledges offered protected rest spots and better views. Maroon cast a shadow into the western sky between predawn tints of red and violet. Sundogs glimmered above a cairn marking the southwest ridge route. I began to slow down, realizing the summit. This was a walk in the sky to be savored. The gaps in the ridge's cornice showed the first views of Pyramid.
7:3o a.m. 14,156 ft. At the summit, the panorama opened to Snowmass, Capitol, and North Maroon.
In review of these photos, I rolled down the Punchbowl, and made a long trip into Pierre Basin from Geneva Lake, just to get a better look at the slot separating the Cap and the knife ridge, including a climb of "The Plug" just below and right of Cap's Cleaver Ridge. The Plug is scary pile of large loose (rock). As I neared summit the rock shifted, and a large piece of it slid off!!! The secret slot later became the standard route for skiers. I have yet to ride it. Perhaps I never will.
The sky was clear, the sun was warm, and there was no wind. The silence was strange, and peaceful. I spent a little time walking the north ridge to the Bell Cord. It only took about fifteen or twenty minutes to return. That is where Matt and I turned around the previous year. Lounging on the summit, taking pictures, adjusting things, and watching the sunrise, I started to get chilled.
8o a.m. The descent off the exact summit of this peak was very nice. Soft powder on a mellow slope allows about a dozen casual warm up turns before the couloir entrance. At the entrance the snow and the slope stiffened to a frosty 60 degrees. Another hour or so would soften the snow, but my concern is more with safe snow? I dropped in with a very slow turn to the toe edge (for a better self arrest stance), and carved up to the transition to initiate the heel edge. Steep, but it relents to 50 degrees after the first couple turns. The difficulty was the frozen avalanche debris: rough and noisy. My board took a real beating as I exited the couloir. I took a moment to loosen up, and let the blood back into my feet again, then rode smooth open slopes from the apron, into meandering ravines and many terraces to the valley floor.
- Escape, Wednesday, May 11th, 2001 -
4o a.m. Shouldering my pack, I headed towards Bellview Mountain at the head of the basin.
5o a.m. A dark wall stood in place of the mellow little slope I had seen from camp. I thought this slope would be a shorter and less threatening option to the way I entered Favert Basin. It was closer, but too steep at the top for skins and backpack. The drift was too steep to skin and too soft to side step. Sitting on a shelf beneath the cornice, I wrap crampons, draw an axe and pull out a 36" snow picket, deciding to just shoulder the pack and snowboard and go. I attacked the cornice for about thirty heart-pounding seconds, finally mantling over the top.
6o a.m. -- 12,400 ft. Descending from the pass.
It is more than a thousand feet to the East Fork of Crystal Creek, and it doesn't stop there. With a little help from my poles I was able to cruise down valley for another mile or so. I put the skins on one more time in the timber to gain a little more vertical on the last section into Schofeild Park. This maked a better run than the side hills and willows.
7o a.m. -- 10,360 ft. Schofield Park
8o a.m. -- 10, 710 ft. Schofield Pass was a huge welcome. I assembled the snowboard and headed for Emerald Lake. There were more great turns from the lake down a narrow gully to my starting point.
From there I spent the day traveling back down to Gothic. I used some kick wax and klister, but it does the trick where my skins would have got soaked and dirty.
11o a.m. I arrived in Gothic, napped on a picnic table, eat a lunch, dressed down again.
1o p.m. The road from Gothic to the Snodgegrass trailhead was almost completely melted out. I strapped everything to my pack, and toiled up the last three miles in my soggy snowboard boots.
4o p.m. Back at the Snodgrass Trailhead.
RT: 25 mi
Times are aproximate with 1 mph.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):