The weekend weather forecast was looking horrible all week. Several people bailed on the plan to climb the Bells, but I had already canceled two trips this summer due to a poor forecast and was anxious to climb something. Len (msianmama) and I decided to "damn the torpedoes" and go for it. We were mentally prepared to turn around at the first sight of bad weather, but I figured an attempt was worth the drive to Aspen (and far better than sitting at home wondering "what if?").
We arrived at the Maroon Lake parking lot on Friday evening. The overnight lot was a ghost town so we figured we would have the place nearly to ourselves. After a quick two mile hike up to Crater Lake, we set up shop at camp site #3 and had some dinner before retiring.
Nice view of Pyramid on the hike in
My iPod woke me up promptly at 3:25. Contrary to the gloomy forecast, I looked outside my tent to see a brilliant starscape. After some breakfast we were on the trail by 4. The trail up Minnehaha Gulch was easy to follow by headlamp. Along the way we saw a few other sets of headlamps moving up the trails to Pyramid and Maroon, but for the moment we were the sole occupants of North Maroon.
The sun is still thinking about rising...
Just below the "rock wall" feature on the trail, I was pausing to catch my breath when I heard Len yell out my name in a very alarming tone. I looked back to see a headlamp (still attached) tumbling backwards down the trail. She had lost her footing on a steep and muddy section of the trail. Fortunately she was none the worse for wear and we continued (carefully) up the trail.
Crossing the rock glacier it finally became bright enough to see without headlamps. At about this time we were passed by a speedy lone climber. I suspect he was a local who does this climb for his regular morning workout.
After the glacier we followed the trail around the "shoulder" of the northeast ridge to reach the first gully.
The climbing through here was not too bad and we reached the traverse ledges to the second gully fairly quickly.
The second gully required a bit more scrambling and route finding. This rock was probably the loosest we found on the entire route.
Once we reached the top of the gully, we had to consult the route description frequently to find the correct line to the ridge.
Top of the second gully
Once on the ridge we again met the climber from earlier who assured us that the summit was near. The main obstacle now was the class 4 "chimney" with the reputation of being the crux of the climb.
The first few blocks are the most "interesting" as they are slightly overhanging. We discussed a few different options, but eventually I decided to jam a foot into the center of the "V" and pull my self up to the first platform. From there the moves seemed more obvious. I guided Len up behind me and after a few minutes we were at the top of the crux.
Climbing the chimney
From there about 300' of easier scrambling remained. We topped out at about 8:00. With no threat of impending bad weather, we took our time on the summit.
Almost to the top!
Summit panorama looking west
On the descent, we were able to locate the class 3 bypass of the chimney. It was about 100 yards to the climber's right (downclimber's left) of the crux and marked by several small cairns. This proved to be a much easier way to cross that cliff band. I'm actually surprised it's not the standard route.
Len downclimbing the bypass
The descent of the gullies took lots of careful foot placement to not dislodge any rocks. Along the way we met 4 other climbers on their way up. For a Saturday in August, sharing a 14er with a total of 5 other people is a pretty good deal! 8)
Wildflowers below the Sleeping Sextant
We made it back to camp at about 11:30. Satisfied with our accomplishment, we broke camp and headed back to Maroon Lake. Some rain started up at around 1:00, but I never heard any thunder. Along the trail we talked to a ranger who was headed up to investigate reports of a rockslide on Pyramid - hopefully no people were involved!
North Maroon has easily been my difficult climb to date, but also the most rewarding. I'm glad we chose to disregard the National Weather Service and attempt the climb anyways - it turned out to be some of the best weather I've experienced on a 14er. I'm looking forward to Pyramid and Maroon in the (hopefully) near future!