| Maroon Peak‘s South Slopes with A Little Added Spice
Maroon Peak, that name conjures an amalgam of emotions in a lot of people from awe to ambition, and eagerness to terror. The Pair of Peaks, Maroon and North Maroon, stand sentinel over the town of Aspen luring thousands to the lake that reflects their visages back towards the sky. I had been in the basin twice before attempting these peaks this year, they have sat smugly on my yearly 'to do list' and have done a phenomenal job of eluding me.
In May, my buddies and I made an attempt on the Bell Cord, but were turned back by poor snow conditions then another attempt was stifled by stomach issues. This does not include all of the planned trips that were abandoned due to a car wreck, weather and a healing ankle, so when Kelly (Moonstalker) offered to join me for one last attempt on the Traverse from Maroon to N. Maroon I was nothing shy of ecstatic! I anxiously watched the weather as the weekend neared, and could not be happier with the forecast, a 20% chance of snow and rain, perfect for this late in September.
Kelly and I met up and headed up to Aspen on Friday afternoon and arrived after dark, the wet roads told us that it had rained but the full overnight parking lot let us know we would not be alone in the morning.
We hit the trailhead at 3:30am and were at the base of the South Slopes before we knew it. The soaked trail was sending us a host of clues as to what we would find above. The steep mud and wet rocks gave way to the first signs of snow at just below 12,000ft. We caught up to a couple of climbers we would spend the rest of the climb near just before first light. We speculated the conditions above, and as we got our first glimpse of the snow that provided a nice white early morning glow across the basin, we began discussing back up plans if the traverse should be a no-go. We kept working our way up the slope, slowed considerably by the snow that now graced the extremely loose rock we were ascending, when I heard "Trevor!" from not to far below. I looked back, and on the path below that worked its way further to the south before finding the ridge was my Buddy Mike. He worked his way across to where we where while we took the welcome opportunity to shoot some photos of the sunrise and take a break.
First Light coming over the horizon
He caught up in no time, and explained that they had camped below the bent tree (in the legal area) the night before, and thought he heard us pass him. We had talked during the week about my plans to try the traverse, but had not really firmed up plans to meet and climb, but after he and Wiz climbed Pikes on Friday morning they decided to head over and give the traverse a go as well. Wiz turned around on the slopes so Mike was alone at this point, and I was happy to have him along!
This would be a good time to talk for a moment about the route up the South Slopes. There are 2 ways you can do this, both start from the same point and split around 1000ft up. One, traverses the slope to the South and hits the ridge slightly (and I do mean slightly) lower then the second option that climbs a more direct line to the ridge. Both are cairned, and in the snow it was hard to see where the split occurred but if you can find it on the way up I would strongly recommend taking the route that goes climbers left. Both are cairned well, but the direct route ends up on disturbingly loose rock that with snow on it slowed us down enormously.
It took us a almost 2.5 hours to reach the ridge, where we examined the route ahead. Protection from the sun meant that the snow we now observed would be with us on the entire ascent of the route, as well as a descent if we were not able to complete the traverse. I downed some trail mix before beginning the best part of the route. Even with snow, this was a blast. The chimney was in our face before we knew it, and the solid rock instilled confidence in my heart!
Kelly near the top of the short Chimney
a photo of me coming up the Chimney, taken by Kelly
Ryan and Liz (the other climbers we ended up climbing near for the rest of the way heading up the same chimney
We had to slow down our movement frequently to adjust for the heavy wet snow that covered the rocks, which also obscured the cairned that marked the entrance to the first gully.
Kelly and mike looking at the route ahead
We ended up climbing the gully that was one past where we should have started up to the second gully. As a result, we encountered a spicy move that was given a little extra kick by a hefty dose of ice covering the only reasonable way up. A little bit of stemming had to be employed by Mike and I to avoid the icy footholds.
Mike stemming to avoid the ice entering the wrong gully, everything that is wet in this photo is ice
A look at this section from above, with Liz at the top and Ryan below
Once we were up, we slowly moved up this loose shoot that led us back to the standard route. The South gully was not nearly as intense as the guide books described, so long as we stayed very close to the southern edge of the gully.
From here, it was all about the joy of climbing, following the well cairned route and making really inappropriate comments while I got songs stuck in my head. Some of the keepers included an exchange where one the males on the mountain joked "I don't think I have a gear other than a**h*le", and I quickly replied "We're men, of course we are a**h*les". All of this was accompanied by theme songs from "Annie", the song "That's What Friends Are For" threats to begin singing the Macarena and jokes about his holiness, Steve Jobs.
a photo Kelly took of me and mike at the exit of the second gully area
Mike posing for the camera while Kelly laughs... this was when we really started having fun making fun of ourselves... singing "thats what friends are for" horribly out of tune was not far behind this
Kelly on the snowy route
The Summit greeted us with sunshine and clouds. A quick examination of the Traverse showed us that the majority of the snow was on the descent from S. Maroon. The cruxes appeared clear but the clouds were growing at an alarming rate. After discussing our options, we decided that it would be better to head down then to risk getting caught in a storm either on the traverse or on the already snow covered and slick route down North Maroon. We took a couple of minutes to enjoy the summit of this beautiful peak before beginning the long descent.
Mike Kelly and I on the Summit of Maroon with Pyramid in the background
Kelly pointing out the route on the traverse as we discussed options... there are a lot of people pointing photos in this TR huh?
North Maroon from Maroon Peak
By the time we were back on the ridge, a lot of the snow had softened or melted leaving the rocks more slick then they had been on the way up. Our break at the top of the South Slopes was cut short by a little bit of graupel that urged us onward.
The steep, muddy slope took time to descend, but as we dropped lower the sun provided us with some beautiful views of the valley that had been obscured by darkness on the way in. The hike out provided us with a hike through some of the most scenic Aspen groves in the world, and we made sure to join the tourists in our photographic zeal. Unfortunately we were past Crater Lake before the sun was given the chance to shine on the Bells again.
A look up to the Bell Cord on the way out
Pyramid from the Crater Lake trail
Kelly in the Aspens on the way down
A look at the bells from Maroon Lake
Looking back, it's clear that we could have made it across without getting caught in a storm… but it would have been luck. Really, given the clouds and their rapid build I am amazed we mad it out dry. Aside from that, it gives me an excuse to come back to the area. The only thing I can say is I do not think I will climb Maroon Peak with the intent to descend the Southern slopes again, but it is well worth the climb to have fun on Maroon's upper stretches.
Kelly and I at Maroon Lake
a Black and White I took from Maroon Lake
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