| Illinois Gathering at the Bells
Route - Maroon Peak (South Ridge Ascent), Traverse to N. Maroon Peak (Northeast Ridge Descent)
Vertical - Approximately 4,900 feet
Left TH at 3:55
Summit at 8:30, left at 9:00
North Maroon Summit at 10:30, left at 11:00
Car at 1:55
Group - Carl (Wesley), Nick (SkiBum1287)
Carl had a partner bail Thursday night for their plans to do the Bells Traverse on Saturday. He started a thread trying to find a partner, and luckily (for me) I saw it. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but only a few of my friends are hikers, and none were up to this. Add the fact that I've read most of Carl's reports in awe and amazement, and it was a no-brainer. We were to meet up at 5pm Friday night, crash in the overnight lot, and start at 4am. His wife and her sister were going along for the ride and hiking around Maroon and Crater Lakes. On the drive down, I learned that all three of them were from Illinois, where I'm from, and that the sisters know my Aunt and Uncle! Small world.
We arrived at the nearly full parking lot just before 10pm. While the three of them set up camp in the back of the SUV, I set up my pad and sleeping bag under the stars. It was a gorgeous night to sleep outside, fairly warm and calm, all the stars shining brightly. I slept well except for a car pulling in around 1:45am, and again about 3:20am. We had hoped to get up and ready around 4, but after all the traffic, we got up about 20 min early and left the parking lot at 3:55. Carl, who is at least 3 inches taller than me, set off walking super fast through the parking lot, eating a banana nonchalantly, while I'm trying to just breathe. I usually start off a little slower until I'm warmed up, then speed up. Carl's method warms you instantly. A couple minutes later I caught my breath as we started putting up the very mild elevation past Maroon Lake. We continued cruising on at a fast pace, and made the turn-off in about an hour and twenty minutes. Unfortunately, we had 2800 ft up to go now, instead of the easy 3.5 miles previous. Carl, who'd been at sea level for two weeks, let me take the lead on the slope. We shortly passed a couple who had a GPS out, saying we were at 11,000 feet. Maybe 30 minutes later we passed a second group of 5 who read out the GPS elevation of 12,000 feet. Finally, the sky began to light up and headlamps were stowed.
Pyramid stands tall, reminding us we still have a ways to go to reach 14,000 ft
Rays hitting the valley
As the sun lit up the South Ridge, I thought we were almost there. A long fifteen minutes later, we popped out at the ridge, while a much welcome sun lit up Snowmass and Capitol in the background.
Alpenglow on the not so maroon Elks.
We took a good long break to recover from our 1.5 hour ascent of the slope. Time for the fun stuff. I may have been setting the pace for the slope, but Carl is a beast at scrambling and talus hopping. I'd look at my feet for two seconds and Carl would be 40 feet further. The ridge and ledges leading to the first class 3 section went quick, and I got my camera out to take a picture of Carl in the chimney, but he was out of sight before I hit the power button. We rounded the next corner to find more ledges.
With minimal elevation gain, plenty of cairns, and stored adrenaline for the traverse, the ascent to Maroon Peak went by quick and painless. The class 3 sections were fun, and towards the top, we elected to gain the ridge early to spice things up.
A simple ridge walk led to an empty summit at 8:30. It was much colder at the summit in the sun than it was at 4 am in the parking lot.
Towards the South and East
Looking North and West
The early morning sun was making for great shadow pictures.
A preview of what to come.
We arrived earlier than we'd planned, so we spent a full 30 minutes on top warming up and re-energizing. The group of 5 joined us 15 minutes later, full of excitement. We took some more pictures, said goodbye, then headed off for the traverse. The downclimb from Maroon is described as much simpler than the ascent of North Maroon. I must have downplayed its tediousness as I prepped for the class 5 pitches. I found this part to be the only time I wasn't having a blast above 13,000 ft. Again, Carl was flying right along, while I tried playing catch-up within reason. The last 20 foot downclimb was a bit tricky, but we think we were a little off the main route. Nonetheless, this whole section fulfilled the reputation of "climbing on downsloping dinnerplates."
Carl ready to go
The climbing begins immediately above the Bell Cord, and makes for fun scrambling.
The exposure is significantly increased as well.
Long way down
Where the abundance of cairns helped us before on Maroon Peak, they only lead you away from the more direct ridge route described on this site. We followed some to the West side for a bit, only to retrace our steps back to the ridge. A short while later, we found ourselves at the 2nd crux. It was about 30 feet with a couple low class 5 moves.
Photo by Carl
On top we worked our way over the the 3rd crux. While shorter than the others, it provided one tricky move that I felt was harder than the other cruxes. Now that the difficulties were over, it's just a simple walk up, right? While the mandatory hard stuff was over, the optional fun stuff had just begun. I'm reaching to pull out my camera, and look up to barely catch Carl leaping over a 6-7 ft gap like it's nothing! He looks back with a big smile on his face, and I look at him and think, "Holy S#!@".
I walk up to it, see the nasty downclimb 15 feet below, and he asks, "You gonna jump?!"
"Wait, let me get my camera out!"
Whoa! (Photo by Carl)
After that, we elected yet again to follow the ridge for some fun scrambling.
At the top we met Richard, who was kind enough to take our picture with where we came from in the background. He hit the summit right as Carl did, from opposite sides.
It took us right at 1.5 hours to do the traverse, and we were again the first group at our second summit of the day. The climb was a blast, and the views weren't too shabby either.
Richard, who was very outgoing and friendly, asked if he could join us for the descent, and whether or not we had duct tape. Carl had some in his emergency kit, so Richard was able to fix his shoes.
The downclimb was uneventful for our group but we tried to make it interesting.
Ridin' the wave to Pyramid
We hit plenty of groups on their way up, including a group of 4 that was having trouble getting up and over the dihedral. We waited about 10 minutes, contemplating heading west and finding the bypass. Finally, they made it and we continued our way down.
Our new friend, Richard, downclimbing the crux on North Maroon
We exited from the 2nd gully over to the 1st a little too high and ended up with a fun 30 ft downclimb, a little less difficult than the dihedral and certainly not as exposed as anything on the traverse. A group of 2 who also did the traverse passed us, and ended up splitting up on accident. The trailing member missed the exit of the 1st gully, and continued descending, while Carl saw his partner follow the correct trail a few minutes earlier. We tried whistling and yelling at the guy, but he didn't hear us.
At the rock glacier, I gazed up at the North face, mesmerized that just 4 months ago, Carl skied it! From both above and below, it looks completely vertical! He probably got sick of my interview-like questions about his quests in the mountains, but each had an awesome story to follow.
The North Face of North Maroon
We arrived at Crater Lake to meet the girls at about 1:15 after battling some willows and very loose rock for a short while.
Now with plenty of daylight, the trail back to the car was much prettier, though slower going with all the tourists. I guess I'm no better than them as I shot as many leaf pictures as possible while still hiking.
At the lake, I took even more pictures.
Finally, back at the car, the flip flops went on immediately. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at the Sky Hotel where Carl eased his sore legs in the hot tub, and we both rewarded ourselves with a few beers.
A big thanks to Carl, his wife, and sister for letting me tag along!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):