| Maroon Attempt, Bellcord Couloir
The road to Maroon Lake was still gated, so motorcycle was a quick way up. We waited as Halby took the first load up the road.. After about fifteen minutes we heard the engine again. He came flying around the corner into full view -- Halby dressed in full snow gear, goggles and helmet, slobbery cigar sticking out of a mad grin...
It took three laps to get all our gear to the summer parking area and trailhead. With the short approach, we could afford to take a ridiculous amount of shit. I shouldered a maxed out pack, climbed on the back, steadied, and hung on for dear life as he gunned it up the road. At the lake, Kari looks at us like a couple of idiots. She is just here on an outing, and wants nothing to do with the summit bid.
It's only a couple miles to Crater Lake, but with the load it was a sweaty slog. We also had an extra pack we took turns carrying in front, like a fat baby.
Matt previewed conditions after dinner. He said we we could get started since the moon and stars were out. I agreed, but needed sleep (still recovering from bar the night before).
I woke just before dawn, smothered the little watch alarm during the night. I jab Matt, and he made some scary sounds about coffee, and rolled over. We are not in the couloir until sunhit, and the snow begins to thaw when we're about halfway up the chute. The snow had recently avalanched, so only surface hoar is thawing -- but point release slides are still somthing to remember for later in the day in this confined chute.
We needed crampons and ice axes for the climb, but only used our rope to exit the top notch of the couloir. The snow is mushy at the top -- I was concerned about patches of concealed ice. Fortunately, high clouds moved in and the temperature drops. Matt shouted at his thawing hands after scaling the icy rocks without gloves.
We made a mistake here. Anticipating a windscoured ridge, we left our crampons and axes in the col at the top of the chute. But there was still plenty of snow, and at 14,000 feet we were stymied. Retrieving our equipment for another try would have taken too long, as spring snow climbing in Colorado is always a race against the sun. So, still convinced that an entry to the Bell Cord was possible from the exact summit of South Maroon, we turned back. Our retreat turned out to be the key to our safe escape.
We rappelled into the notch and strapped into our boards. The summit seemed arbitrary at that moment. Halby dropped in first, while I spotted for him.
He cut to the right, away from the cliff walls, ice, and bergschrund, onto softer snow, linked couple dozen beautiful turns, pulled out at the first bench on the right side, and planted his axe to spot for me.
The first turn was the hardest, or most confined. I stayed centered in the chute with our footprints to stay on the lowest angle. The snow was soft enough to really carve a signature, but a scrape here and there assured me that there was still something firm under the rotten applesauce. I passed Halby, and continued with a chuckle to the next pull out on the right, planted my axe, and wave for him to start.
We didn't say much each other, being paranoid about sound triggering rockfall. We continued without rest for several pitches, through the narrows, to the first apron above the cliffs. The snow there was dirty and wet. Ugly avalanche rubble with a little breakable crust for fun. A snowboard really shines in those inconsistent conditions. We went left from the debris through another small chute to pass the cliffs, then opened the throttle to West Maroon Creek.
Our trip was a success without reaching the summit . I was surprised we made it to the trailhead. Matt droven from Gunnison to Denver without an alternator in the van, using the motorcycle to get a new battery when the old one went dead, then installed a new alternator in a friend's driveway. We were not even sure the motorcycle would help on the approach, since recon of Maroon Valley is difficult from home in Gunnison. It was an epic trip, but snowboarding the Bell Cord Couloir was worth it.
This report can also be found here:
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