Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Post Date:  06/02/2010
Date Climbed:   06/02/2010
Posted By:  SchralpTheGnar

 Maroon Peak - Bell Cord and East Face Climb and Ski   

For some people a trip up and down Maroon is just another day in the mountains, but for someone who skis only about 10 days a year now, mostly on groomers with my kids, it is a full blown adventure out on the edge. That's what I thought it was going to be and it ended up the same. Each year mortality sinks his teeth in a little deeper, but happiness and a fullness of life increase with even greater speed. The source of motivation for heading into mountains comes under closer scrutiny. Is it for the challenge and beauty or the pictures and the tgr tr, maybe its just to get away from the daily grind of work and do something different? Obviously it's some combination of all those things but one thing becomes clearer as the years go on, I don't want to die anytime soon. So with that in mind I have one goal every trip, come back alive, everything else is secondary.

For an intermediate ski mountaineer Maroon Peak packs all the challenge you need, 10 years ago we started the Memorial Day weekend ski tradition. We climbed and skied the Y couloir on Maroon but never summitted. The Crater Lake area of the Maroon Bells is simply a perfect place to camp and ski, so the tin anniversary would find us back where it all started.

We had a group of friends camping up near Independence Pass but my brother and I wanted to camp by the lake, so that's what we did. The original plan was to climb and ski Maroon on Saturday and N.Maroon on Sunday. However, while packing up the night before I noticed that one of the rivets on my boot had broken. We decided to do a test climb and ski first before taking it any higher. So on Saturday we climbed up to the entrance to the Bell Cord, kicking steps in soft snow. The missing rivet was imperceptible and we had a nice morning out.

Kicking steps

Climb2ski taking the lead.

Back in camp around noon, our group of buddies hiked up some beer and we had a nice afternoon reminiscing over the the past ten years. A lot has happened in that time, we skied 30 fourteeners on these trips over the past 10 years. However, nothing can touch the marriage to my beautiful wife Becky and the birth of our three amazing children. Nothing else even comes close. I have a permanent picture etched into my minds eye of them and they are with me on every kicked step and jump turn. With those thoughts in my mind we called it a night around 7pm and drifted off to sleep. At 1 am the alarm went off and we were on the trail by 1:30am.

As we climbed higher a full moon lit the valley below but the east ridge of Maroon kept us in the dark. The temperature was perfect and the previously kicked steps welcomed.

The eastern glow languidly crept into the sky, entering the Bell Cord couloir the magic hour was upon us and climb2ski headed higher.

We knew that at some point we were supposed to leave the Bell Cord and traverse out onto the east face of Maroon, as this provides a complete snow climb to the summit and is the preferred ski route as well. There are several shelves that leave the Bell Cord and they all look equally probable so we picked one and started climbing it.

At this point I was concerned about how steep the route was getting for a ski descent of this tricky traverse.

After climb2ski lead a nice pitch over a small cliff band we got up onto a small ridge on the east face. The views were opening up below and the exposure increased with each step.

Fortunately after about 200 feet of climbing we saw the traverse that is usually used for the descent, it looked much more like a nice ski traverse than a certain death slope, so I was relieved. The climb up the east face was outstanding, perfect snow, perfect weather, perfect partner. I couldn't have asked for more, so rather than asking for more, we just kept on climbing. Here climb2ski is just moments from the summit.

Happy brothers on the summit, but those are nervous grins as the exposure on the summit was intense and the summit ski was going to require all of our nerve.

Geared up and ready to go.

After making some turns down the east ridge to the start of the steep snow, I headed out onto the face but didn't like the feel of the snow. It looked rotten and soft for about 100 feet above a small cliff band. At this point I climbed back up to the ridge and prepared to downclimb the 100 feet to the main face. While taking my skis off I lost control of one of the skis and watched in disbelief as it flipped and headed to the abyss. Miraculously it stuck in the snow just a few feet from the edge of a large cliff. It had stopped but getting down to it wasn't going to be easy. My bro climbed down to me and we set up an anchor with a couple of ice axes and he belayed me as I downclimbed about 40 feet to retrieve the ski.

It's not clear from the picture but the ski was perched in a bit of snow only a couple of feet wide with loose looking rocks to the left and right. I had to gingerly climb down to the ski so as not to accidently dislodge it. I really didn't feel like hucking a 200 foot cliff on one ski today. Fortunately it all went well, the belay was solid and we were soon below the small cliff band. At this point a couple of skiers were heading up and they reaffirmed that the correct entrance into the couloir was not the way we climbed up but the ledge just above it. The day was getting better already. Now clicked into our skis, the turns on the upper east face must have been amazing, but I honestly don't recall them. We didn't get any pictures up there because we were both probably a little gripped from the experience, but once we finished the traverse the Bell Cord felt oddly safe and comfortable.

Ireallyliketoski in the bell cord couloir. I really do.

climb2ski enjoying the 2nd half of his board name.

Half way down the bell cord we could see the traverse ascent route that we took up.

The views down valley on this route are incredible.

climb2ski about to enter the garbage dump

Ireallylike2ski getting spit out of the other end.

The unexamined life is not worth living and it is in these moments of introspection where most of our personal growth occurs. It was a successful trip and there will be more, just probably not Capitol.


  • Comments or Questions

hell yeah     11/30/2010 17:20
We took that exact route a few "summers" ago, it was actually the first day of summer. To date, I'd say that was the steepest snow route I've climbed. Fun route on a steep mountain, good to see the Bell Cord wasn't too runneled out. Thats some dirty ass snow, hopefully mother nature will be able to control her explosive diarrhea next season. Oh, and thank god your ski didn‘t take a ride off the face, I‘m not sure what the outcome would‘ve been had it did.


Good stuff     06/02/2010 23:36
”The unexamined life is not worth living and it is in these moments of introspection where most of our personal growth occurs.”
Regardless, great quote.

Nice TR, and fantastic outlook on your trip.


I can feel the suspense...     05/02/2011 14:23
in that shot looking down at your ski! The shock and relief when it stuck in that precarious spot at the last second had to be pretty sweet. Congrats on rocking another sweet line together.


Profound thoughts     06/03/2010 13:29
An excellent report and some profound thoughts from a young man.

The Bells are still on my ”to do”list and your report helps immensely. Thanks.

Easy Rider

Good writing     06/03/2010 15:54
I wish more reports took the human factors into account so concisely.


thanks     06/03/2010 16:36
The quote is actually a mix of Aristotle and SchralpTheGnar, a mixed blend if you will.

There is plenty of snow still up there, I would say the route will be very good this weekend. The upper cliff band will probably be melted out, but that‘s a minor obstacle.


Awesome!     06/03/2010 17:16
Good work on Maroon, the more I see of that line the more I‘m looking forward to it. Thanks for the report!


Love it     06/03/2010 18:42
Well written report. Pretty intense you losing that ski! Can‘t wait to climb the Chord and do the traverse...thank you for posting


Nice     06/04/2010 01:04
Still on my ”to do” list. Looks like travel in that area is no easy task. Way to get it done! Luckily you‘re not really an ”intermediate,” that‘s hardly a blue run. Anyone gotten a look at Pyramid‘s Landry Line lately by any chance? Still time?

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