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 Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
 Post Date:  08/05/2009 Modified: 09/21/2009
 Date Climbed:   07/31/2009
 Posted By:  Kevin8020

 Maroon Peak - God Is Good   

NOTE: For important information on SPOT Trackers, see this thread: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=21231

Before this report, I feel that it is necessary that I write a disclaimer. This report was written mainly for my friends and family, though I think it would be beneficial for some climbers to read. As a result, many of the terms common to people on this site are defined to help other readers.

Second, before anyone goes on instructing me on what I did wrong - I KNOW. Trust me, I may not be an experienced climber, but I'm not inexperienced either. I completely understand that I made some mistakes (mainly involving weather and then everything that happened at the top of the couloir). I also, however, know what I did correctly after screwing up. So please, I don't need anyone else telling me what I did wrong. Disclaimer over.



In my opinion, every climber and hiker has that one trying moment where they get a true glimpse of what danger really is. For some, they make the right decisions, and it keeps them safe. For others, they make the wrong decisions, and the results are sometimes deadly. At other times, however, they make only a few small bad decision, and it still ends badly. That is basically what happened on July 31st, 2009.

Image
The sign that everyone should pay attention too. Thanks to lostsheep5 for the picture. He took this on 07/31/09 at about the time I got into serious trouble

The Maroon Bells are nicknamed the "Deadly Bells" on purpose. They kill people. They are notorious for loose rock and steep cliffs. I've heard one person describe them as a pile of plates stacked on top of one another, ready to fall down. That's an accurate description. My friend Noah and I had originally planned on an ascent of the southern Maroon Bell, Maroon Peak, and they planned to attempt a traverse to North Maroon Peak. Between the two of us, we have significant experience. I am particularly good with route finding and class 1-3 navigation. Noah has good experience with the more difficult and technical class 4 hiking. The Maroon Bells, while considered some of Colorado's hardest 14ers, were not out of our range of experience. Both of us are also fairly good at weather decision making in the high country, though there is no "good" weather predicting at that altitude.

We got our early alpine start at about 2:30am and began "the approach." Most people complain about the end of this hike, for me however, the beginning is the most frustrating: 3.5 miles of hiking on flat ground. The approach was rainy, but fairly easy. After finding a "cairn" - a pile of rocks - that marked our ascent route at 5:30am, we worked our way up the most frustrating section of the hike - 2,800 feet of elevation over the course of about 1.5 miles. It's annoying, tough to follow, and according to Noah, very slippery and hard to descend.

Image
Snowmass and Capitol Peak

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Light coming in over Pyramid Peak

Image
The ascent route

At about 8:30am we reached the top of the ridge at 13,300. The final section to the summit involves playing the cairn game - moving a cross of very skinny ledges and loose gullies as lead by cairns. I love searching for cairns... and I love ledges. As a result, we finished this section, which is supposed to take about 1.5 hours for the fast climber, took us an hour total.

Image
Looking up towards the summit of Maroon Peak

The summit was great. Though I wouldn't recommend anyone get near it, the views are incredible. You can see EVERYTHING, from the dangerous looking summits of Pyramid and Capitol, to the spacious snowfield on Snowmass Mountain. It was incredible. We didn't stay long on the summit, and headed down the saddle towards North Maroon Peak. We were faced with some technical (class 4 AND class 5) down climbs before we reached the low-point on the ridge at 13,700ft - the top Bell Cord Couloir (A couloir is a steep snow-filled gully).

Image
Looking towards some climbers on the summit of North Maroon Peak.

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Capitol Peak in the distance

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Noah in the bottom-right on his way over towards North Maroon Peak

We searched for the route up North Maroon and quickly realized it was more of a challenge than we expected. As we sat at the top of the couloir trying to decide what to do, a storm blew in. Now, I've been on 26 different expeditions, and summited peaks over 30 different times, but I have NEVER seen a storm behave like this. From clear skies at our summit time of 9:30, conditions changed. At 10:45, it was thundering like crazy and snowing (not actually snow, but a pellet like substance known as grauple) hard. Noah and I pulled our space blankets and hunkered down at the top of the couloir to wait out the storm. As the storm slowly began to taper off and the fog surrounded us, we realized just how bad our situation was. The climbs up to both South and North Maroon Peaks were wet from the storm AND technical AND exposed to long deadly falls. The couloir was filled with a very thick icy snow. Neither Noah nor I had packed for a snow climb - our crampons and ice axes were at home. The left and right edges of the couloir had melted out, creating intermittent and very deep cave-like openings that apparently are known as "moats." Thus, down the couloir was not an option either.

This is where things got VERY dangerous. We knew we needed to do something, as sitting was not an option. In a decision that neither of us were comfortable with, I began to slowly traverse across the snow. And I tripped. In a normal situation, I'd have my ice axe to arrest with, stopping the fall. This time, I had nothing but a hiking pole. I did my best to arrest without any success at all. I was being flung left and right through the couloir on a very speedy downwards trek. At least I was going the right direction. After a few HUNDRED feet of downwards movement, the scariest thing in my life happened. I finally "exited" the couloir on the left (north) side, headfirst, into the cliff wall on North Maroon. My helmet took the full force of the fall and turned me around enough that my feet hit snow. I had basically slid a few hundred feet down at high speed into a cliff and didn't break a single bone.

Admittedly, I was NOT in good physical condition. I was bleeding from somewhere (apparently my nose, as it's a nice scar now). I was scratched and scraped everywhere, and my right leg was exceptionally painful (I'm guessing it was second after my head to hit something hard). My first thing was to scream up to Noah not to try ANYTHING, but to stay put. He agreed. At this point, I realized how badly my luck had turned. My SPOT tracker, a small GPS/satellite device that allows me to tell home that I'm "OK" or notify 911 that I was in trouble, had come off of its harness during the fall and continued down the couloir. I had just lost my last connection to help. But things improved slightly. I searched (slowly) around the area, and as I looked further down the couloir, I realized that the moat I was in continued downwards for a VERY long time. I had a chance to get down by crawling through the moat. I yelled up to Noah that I had a chance of getting down, but no SPOT tracker. I told him to stay put as I continued down.

From here, the two of us were split up, with no way back to one another. I started down as the fog FINALLY started to lift. While I wasn't sure what Noah did at this point, he later told me that he worked his way back uphill to the summit of South Maroon to attempt a standard descent - a very dangerous prospect going solo. Meanwhile, I worked my way down the couloir, using some ledges along North Maroon get down as far as I could. At 13,300ft, I was VERY surprised to discover my SPOT tracker in the middle of the snow. Unfortunately, it was in a very steep section, and I had no way of getting to it. Once again, God intervened in a huge way. The loose rock, that the Bells are famous for, started to slide and a number of huge rocks hurled down the couloir. After chatting with Noah later, I realized that it was about then that Noah was on the side of South Maroon, and probably started the slide himself. One of them bumped my SPOT tracker out of the couloir down into a moat on the side. I was a few ledges above the mote, but could see a ramp down from my ledge into the mote. Within 10 minutes I had the device.

With the orange box in my hand, I knew the next move would be tough. I had to press the 911 button. While I was in pain, I was not in any significant danger anymore, but I still though Noah was still stuck up top. I knew pressing the button would mobilize the search and rescue (SAR) teams that were necessary, but I knew it would cause panic back at home. I pressed the button.

The next few hours were some of the most tiring. After activating the SPOT unit at 2:30pm, I realized that there was no way down the lower, steeper part of the couloir. I began to traverse a set of ledges across the south and west faces of North Maroon Peak. I was confident that I could make it around the peak to the north face, where I hoped to join the normal route down. However, at 4pm, I reached the end of the ledge system - there was no further way across. It was clear that the next task was to work my way downhill to try and reach the approach trail back at 10,500ft.

Being alone and tired in the wilderness can be a trying experience. I had trouble keeping moving at times, as taking breaks often seemed reasonable. Route finding and searching can be tough, especially when there is nobody to backup you decisions. I prayed constantly, knowing that God would hear me. And he did. One of the biggest blessings was the overwhelming sense of calmness that overcame me - so much that it was almost difficult to worry, as so much of my mind was focused on getting down safely. I also found a strength, which, given my condition and circumstances, made very little sense. God is good!

It was about now that SAR sent out an airplane to try and spot Noah and me. Unfortunately, wind kept him from circling as low as he wanted, but it was encouraging to know that they were looking. I found a set of... well... I don't know what to call them. Basically, there was a "staircase" of ledges with short sections (maybe 15-20 feet high) class 4 and low class 5 cliffs. I worked down this staircase to 11,700ft where a 300 foot cliff face stopped my descent. At this point, it was 4:40pm, and I was getting frustrated. My next option was a set of grassy ledges south of the staircase. I had to re-climb almost the entire staircase back to 12,100ft before working down to the grassy area. At approximately 6pm, I reached a wide grass ledge and realized there was no way down any further. I was cliffed out - stuck here with no chance of getting down.

I did an inventory on my pack. I still had my entire lunch, a number of cliff bars, gorp, and some other random food. I had another jacket and an emergency bivy sac (basically an emergency sleeping bag) - I was prepared to stay out all night if necessary. But first, there was one final surprise for me. At sometime around 6:30pm, I heard a noise that sounded like the SAR plane making another attempt. I quickly realized however, that the noise was not a plane, but in fact, the SAR helicopter. I cheered VERY loudly, excited that finally Noah and I had a good chance. I hoped they would track down Noah first, but still pulled out my large space blanket to try and signal the copter. After a number of passes, they finally spotted me, and with some help from a flashlight, we made first contact.

By 7:15, an Aspen Mountain Rescue team was on the ground and in contact with me. I conveyed Noah's last known location. I was surprised to hear Noah's whistle as I sat there, very happy to know he was alive... somewhere. Steve, Johnny, and Jeff worked towards me while the copter headed back to SAR Operations back at the trailhead. As Steve and Jeff setup protection to rappel me off of the cliffs, Johnny climbed (or tried to) up the snow (one of the many things blocking my descent). His Grivel crampons weren't doing so great for him. It was about here that I was very excited to receive word that they had found a hiker down at the bottom of South Maroon near Crater Lake. The SAR team asked me what colored jacket and helmet Noah was wearing. I was able to confirm that it was him, and was extremely glad that he was safe. They hiked Noah back to the trailhead and got him fed and taken care of while they continued with my extraction.

I'll shorten the hike out. We worked down the cliffs on belay, and then Johnny setup a snow anchor using his ice axe, and belayed the rest of us down the snow as well. We used a snazzy self-rappel thing - it was a mechanical descender. I like it... sorry for the lack of specific details. After getting down the snow, we hiked down for another section before running into the garbage chute area. I don't think we climbed down the actual garbage chute, but as I understand it, took the next set of cliffs to the north. Johnny and Jeff setup another rope station, and Steve and I setup to repel down with Jeff doing a fireman's belay below us. I tell you, there is nothing as annoying and... wet... as rappelling off a waterfall. Of course the fun wasn't over yet. Another 1,000 feet of hiking down steep loose rock to the trail was painful. As we reached the trail, a thunderstorm that rolled in earlier decided to dump a TON of rain on us. The trail quickly became a lake, basically. Steve and I moved fast - faster than I've ever hiked out in my life - to get back to the trailhead as soon as we could. Drenched from head to foot, at about 11:30(ish) we reached the trailhead.

Image

Jeff drove me back to Aspen, where Noah and I were reunited at the Mountain Rescue cabin. The sheriff and SAR directors talked to me to get a feel for how things went and how I was. We got some food and drink, and before long, were at a hotel that thankfully my dad had booked for us. Finally, after almost 22 hours in the field, we got some much needed sleep.



Looking back, it was clear that with only a few exceptions, we made the right decisions. For one, despite the fact that my personal weather forecast/prediction said I was safe and NOAA said we were safe until afternoon, weather is unpredictable - I shouldn't have taken the chance of heading for North Maroon even though we were ahead of schedule. Second, I shouldn't have set foot on the snow to begin with. It resulted not only in injury, but in separating Noah and I - one of the biggest problems with the entire day. Other than these things, the decisions both Noah and I made were solid, and resulted in a successful rescue. Personally, I would have been much happier without having any rescue at all, but in the end, it all worked out.

The Aspen Mountain Rescue as well as the Pitkin County Sheriff were all great to Noah and I, and I can't thank them more for the work they voluntarily do help people like us caught in unfortunate circumstances. It's amazing what they did. Also - for any hikers out there - this rescue would have cost that search and rescue team tens of thousands of dollars had it not been for the fact that I have a CORSAR card. Basically, by donating to this fund, the SAR team was able to divert the costs of my rescue to the CORSAR fund - saving them tons of money. Check it out here: http://www.dola.state.co.us/dlg/fa/sar/sar_purchase.html />
Second, my SPOT tracker turned out to be the real life-saver. It (almost) provided the copter with a fix on my location, and it was enough to get my family informed and also helped to identify me. Thanks to the way the system is setup, they could also tell I was moving downhill, which relieved my parents (some). Between that and my gear, I couldn't have been safer (given the circumstances... of course, not needing rescue would be nice).

Above all else, I can't state more how much God blessed us with safety. Considering I've been through two snowstorms, two thunderstorms, a rainstorm, fell down a couloir, lost my spot, found my spot, and was roped off of cliffs, waterfalls, and snowfields, I am blessed to be alive. As Noah and I prayed constantly from the mountain, the prayers from those in Denver were heard too. If it wasn't for God's protection, I probably wouldn't be here. I felt his strength inside of me too - as I was somehow able to stay very calm and collected even after being awake for 20 hours in dangerous locations after only a few hours of sleep. Many people might attribute these things to luck, but I can truthfully say that God undoubtedly was there in all the details, even the bad, to make this work out. When death seems inevitable and yet God pulls through, it's really hard not to have faith in our great protector.

 


  • Comments or Questions
Perea


God Is Great!     2014-04-18 13:27:32
Yes he is. Wow what an adventure. Thanks for sharing your story so others hopefully learn from what you did right and wrong. I‘m buying my Corsar card now and hope I never have to use it. kevin I‘m glad your alive and able to climb another day.


MUni Rider


Wow!     2009-08-06 03:56:05
Glad you made it out of there, and in such good physical condition, considering your fall and slide.


Wish I lived in CO


Amen!     2009-08-07 06:46:30
Dramatic story, glad you‘re OK. God is indeed good!


wesley_j


Cheers     2009-08-06 08:31:49
Wow, thanks for sharing your story. God is very good and glad that you are ok!


mountainmicah83


God Bless     2009-08-06 11:53:39
Kevin- I am glad you made it out ok. I think your story is very important to other climbers. As much as we thank God for the scenery, we trust in him to protect us from the mountains that we cannot control like we do the rest of our lives. I am planning on doing the bells with the traverse in a couple of weeks (weather pending) and will now bring my ice axe, maybe crampons, and might even buy a spot! Praise the Lord you made it out ok. If you ever get the gumption to go out climbing in, maybe we can hook up for a peak!

See you at the top!


skier25


Thank Goodness     2009-08-06 13:52:43
I am thrilled that everyone made it out alive and ok. It‘s amazing that you lived through that nasty fall. Thank you for sharing your account, and good luck on future endeavors - it‘s a good thing you had that Corsar card, eh!


PolishPete

Thanks for sharing...     2009-08-06 14:05:59
Thanks for sharing your story, and truthfully, thank God you guys are OK!! You‘re right, all the details had to line up and thank God they did!!


unclegar


Glad you are both o.k.!     2009-08-06 20:22:53
Looks like we have a similar amt. of peaks done and I have been considering taking a week and knocking out some Elks. Always good to have a reality check. This is truly potentially dangerous fun we are all having. My brother-in-law (14er finisher) also took a fall and hit on the helmet at the bells. I can also relate to your dependence on God and His faithfulness. Thanks for sharing your story.


d_baker


wow....     2009-08-06 21:21:13
Glad you‘re ok man. That‘s a heck of a slide to endure and walk away from.
Must have taken a lot of guts to post this, and I think you did a good job writing about it.
Be safe out there and keep climbing!


Kevin Baker


Glad you are OK     2009-08-06 22:58:12
It took a lot of guts to post a TR like this. Sounds like you were well prepared for anything and the weather snuck up on you. It could happen to any of us. At least you and your partner had the fortitude to hang in there and not let things snowball on you. Godspeed, brother.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber.

Psalm 121:1-3


globreal



Wow Kevin!!!     2009-08-07 08:10:27
From looking at lostsheep5‘s photo, it‘s incredible you didn‘t slide/fall 2000 more feet down the Bell cord! Praise God you‘re alive and that you both made it out safely. Thanks for sharing your story. It‘s a good reminder of the dangers out there and how quickly things can change.
And thanks for sharing your faith in God. He answered you prayers that day.


MountainHiker


Amazing     2009-08-07 10:06:00
Glad you made both made it down safe. Thank you for sharing.


skibrendan

Glad you are ok     2009-08-07 10:16:53
I agree that reverence is a part of mountaineering that is often overlooked. While we can‘t all agree on matters of religion, I agree that the mountains are a blessing so beautiful and powerful that words do no justice. Things happen for a reason; and the mountains do humble you.
Some would criticize you; if not for the disclaimer. But I believe this is primarily a coping mechanism used to make people believe that they are somehow above having this happen to them (that they are somehow too smart or skilled). Something like this could happen to anyone at some point in life. We are not in control EVER in my opinion.
Thanks for sharing. Appreciate the honesty. Appreciate that you are grateful for rescue. What a Story!!!!!!! So glad you made it out. That said, of course you can do much better. Hope to hear of many SAFE trips in the future!


Schroder

Watching, waiting...hoping and praying.     2009-08-07 14:17:43
Kevin - So glad to know you are alive! KPetering, his son, and I were at Campsite #4 at Crater Lake that day preparing for the next day‘s Traverse from N to S. Both of us are pilots, so from the first plane in, it was clear there was a search effort going on. The hardest part was not knowing where you were in order to provide some sort of support. Our prayers went out as well. Im really glad you are ok.
I also appreciate you sharing your story...now we know what happened, and that you and Noah are ok. I can only echo Skibrendan‘s comments. The sound of the chopper stuck in my head throughout our traverse experience the next day - as a reminder to me of how careful we needed to be.


Lucky


Thanks for sharing     2009-08-07 20:50:05
Glad you made it out, and thanks for sharing. It is important to tell the not-so-good and even bad stories, too, or everyone starts thinking it is a piece of cake and forget how things can get real bad, real quick. The good news is that you not only made it, you shared it, and you are undoubtably a much safer climber for the experience


cftbq


A harrowing tale     2009-08-07 23:24:45
Thanks for sharing this. I might disagree with your analysis, but I can‘t fault your courage. Glad you made it through and lived to tell the tale!


Kevin8020


Thanks!     2009-08-09 22:24:24
Hey - thanks all for your comments and for being respectful about this too. Had one guy on an unmentioned site get angry at my climbing partner... frustrating for both of us.

Happy (and safe) climbing!


ossie322


God is good!     2009-08-10 13:41:45
Kevin, so cool to read a story where the Lord‘s faithfulness and providence are so powerfully demonstrated. I am glad you are safe and sound. It really is incredible you didn‘t slide further. But that is the kind of God we serve, right?


Winter8000m


Thanks Everyone     2009-08-10 18:38:11
I appreciate all the comments also. We are definately safer climbers after this experience. And indeed God is good. He has a way of always letting you know that he is there. Sadly, I wish it would of been through another situation. What‘s important is that we came out of this wiser and with a better head on our shoulders by learning from the mistakes.


benners


Wow     2010-11-30 10:28:48
Kevin I can't tell you how relieved I am that this ended up alright for you guys. Praise God for his protecting hand over a situation that 9 times out of 10 would have ended badly. Take the lessons to heart but don't forget to get back on the horse either, you're a good climber. Hopefully we'll see you out there again soon buddy.


unclegar


haha reminds me of this     2010-11-30 10:28:48
From your TR:"Considering I've been through two snowstorms, two thunderstorms, a rainstorm, fell down a couloir, lost my spot, found my spot, and was roped off of cliffs, waterfalls, and snowfields, I am blessed to be alive."

Reminded me of this Bible passage written by the Apostle Paul.

II Corinthians 11:23-27 and 32,33
"...I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus 1. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, bandits, my own countrymen, gentiles; in danger in the city, country, at sea, and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked."..."In Damascus the governor...had the city...guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands."

Sounds like they had pretty good SAR people back then too.

Had to laugh when I was reminded of this. Glad to hear you are ready to hike again!


rob runkle


Keep it up!     2009-08-21 09:58:25
Great story, and lots of gutz for telling it...

One comment. Don‘t take as criticism, just something that might make your future climbing adventures more fun...

You said, ”We searched for the route up North Maroon and quickly realized it was more of a challenge than we expected.”

I‘ll assume that this was reviewed at a distance. I‘ve found that in MOST all cases, the upcoming route looks MUCH MUCH worse from distance than it does once you are on it. So, when it looks nasty from a distance - but you know that you are still on route - continue to approach. It will look better as you get closer.

But, most importantly stay safe!


Kevin8020


Route     2009-08-21 12:24:44
Actually, it was the exact opposite for us - we were at the bottom of the traverse and about to work back up. I‘m anxious to get back up there and find what the route up right there is, because we just found a gully we weren‘t prepared to climb... yeah


warg


All the time...     2009-08-22 21:48:26
God is good!

I went up that couloir in June this year. It‘s not pleasant just picturing the fall you took.

Along with giving God the praise for your safety, I also thank him for every climb where there are no incidents. At times it seems like that is almost more of a miracle!

Thanks so much for sharing and making it a learning opportunity for us all. I also appreciate the info about the SPOT that came out of this (having your username / logon available for SAR to find you). I will be putting that info to use. (Tip - I also learned the hard way: whatever you want to keep, make sure you have it tied or clipped on, or inside your pack. I have had to hike back up to retrieve a GPS unit, and also a snowshoe that fell off my pack!!)

I was blessed with some amazing Elk adventures this year - Capital, Pyramid and the Bells. Check out my trip reports.

Each of us is only one small mistake from a big fall. But that is where I find that life has the most meaning - when every detail matters.

Grace!


sgladbach


Glad you‘re around to hike with!!!     2009-10-19 08:10:52
I hadn‘t met you at the time of your accident, so I‘m very glad to have had the opportunity to hike with you the past two weekends.

One last lesson: Between your story here and what you told me on the trail, that helmet took a whallop!. Be certain to retire the helmet and get a new one. Unlike bike helmets, they are designed for multiple minor impacts. However, an impact like you describe could leave the helmet with micro-fractures which , although invisible, compromise the strength of the helmet.

It‘s been good to hike w/ you the last few weeks.

Steve


Kevin8020


Helmet     2009-10-19 08:47:28
Thanks for the comment Steve! I‘ve retired that helmet... It was one of the first things I did. I like my new one a lot better anyhow.


mattpayne11



wow     2010-01-01 19:53:25
great tr - glad you are safe.

So it sounds like the weather just came suddenly then? That‘s the absolute worst. Thanks for sharing this with us!



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