| A Snowy Day On The Bells
Started out Saturday, September 25th as a group of three. Set out from Maroon Lake at ~0630 or so. Due to the recent snow, we were going to call it by ear whether to do N Maroon or S Maroon first. N. Maroon definitely had snow on it, but not enough to really scare us.
After playing leap frog with another pair of climbers intent on doing S. Maroon first, and because we figured the south route up S. Maroon would be dry, we decided to do S. Maroon as well and consolidated our group into 5 total.
The standard route route up S maroon to the 13,300 saddle was uneventful, save for a family of goats and plenty of loose rock.
From the saddle, we began the scramble to S. Maroon Peak. After one route-finding error where we went too far past the correct couloir, we made it to the summit at 1245. No real snow or wet encountered thus far.
From the summit, the traverse to N. Maroon looked good, so we decided to give it a shot based on that, because nobody wanted to go back down the scree garbage that comprised our route thus far, and because there were people standing on the summit of N. Maroon.
Coming down into Bell Cord Couloir was sketchy. Full of powder up to 6", but generally less than that, and lots of ice, water, and generally slick terrain. Several very short but nonetheless bad 4th class downclimbs.
From the Cord, there were several sections of 4th class climbing, but due to the south-facing nature of the rock, it was dry and solid.
Going up what I believe was the second spire, we lead-climbed and set a top rope for a 30' wall that was 5.0-5.2 at worst. This took quite a bit of time.
Shortly thereafter we encountered a 25ft wall that had a 5.5ish option, or a fourth class ledge around the east (shaded) side, though the 4th class option had incredible exposure. One of us took the 4th class option while the rest of us thought the snow, ice, and water on that ledge looked to be too dangerous, and free soloed to the top of the ridge.
From that point on, the route stayed at 3rd class around the east side, which meant snow, water, and ice, but nothing too bad.
We summited N. Maroon at about 4pm, very concerned about impending darkness. The route off the NE ridge, from summit to about 13,500, had a surprising amount of snow that is not visible from the parking lot. The going was slow, aggravating, and cold. We set a handline for a 30' wall somewhere between 13,750 and the summit that probably would have been Class 4 in dry conditions, but was far too sketchy for us to pull off safely.
From there, we kept descending and had some problems picking up the trail until somewhere in the mid 12s, well below snow line. Found the trail to the south of the long scree gully and took it to the boulder field, where we lost it again and tried to take a direct line down to the tent city at the base of N. Maroon. Ended up thrashing through the brush, getting cliffed out,splitting our group up, and three of us ended up traversing N all the way into Minnehaha Gulch, fording the river, and scrambling up a dirt slope to get onto the Four Pass Loop Trail, while two managed to thread a direct route through the cliffs.
We all made it back to the cars at about 915.
It was a fun time. Aside from the obvious issues of a loose, ready-to-kill-you pair of mountains, the snow, water, and ice made things pretty interesting. While we discussed that we could have done a better job internalizing the route descriptions which may have saved us some time in route-finding, I'm not sure the route lends itself well to that sort of thing. We were careful, cautious, and thoughtful all the way up to regaining the climbers trail at 12-something on the NE ridge on the descent.
A rope was necessary for our group (if only for the 30' handline) which I would consider skilled mountaineers. If there are 40 great opportunities or someone to die on that route in good, dry conditions, there are 50+ opportunities right now. YMMV.
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