| Solitude and Redemption on North Maroon
There have only been a few mountains that I've failed to summit regrettably, plenty I've failed to summit but there are usually good enough reasons to turn around that I know it was the right decision. I made two attempts on North Maroon this year, once turning around in the first gully because Jessica wasn't feeling well, and the second time turning around with Trevor (centrifuge) at the Rock Glacier because I wasn't feeling well. The first time I turned around when Jessica didn't feel well I have no regrets, that was her call and I have total respect for it. The second time I felt like I should have toughed it out though and regretted not continuing on, and despite how ridiculously cool Trevor was about it I felt bad for turning him around.
From my first attempt
Also from the first trip, I wonder if any Disney characters live in there?
Both trips did score some great pictures though and both were nice days in the mountains so I shouldn't complain too much, but I like to summit, especially when I'm physically capable of doing so. I'm the guy that went back to Orizaba less than two months after a failed attempt because I just wanted that summit, it's a big part of what I go out for. So I really wanted to get back to N. Maroon before winter conditions set in up high, which for the Elks looks to be sooner than later. October 2nd most likely would be one of the last nice days for the Elks before it starts getting nasty, and it looked really nice, summer temps nice. Unfortunately Trevor had some previous engagements that kept him from joining and there was no talking Jessica into coming so it looked like a solo trip.
On the drive a semi a short way in front of me hit a deer causing a gory scene on the road that required some quick swerving, and then it hit a second deer requiring some more swerving to avoid the Headless Bambi lying in the road. I hoped that would be the closest call of the trip…
Go to the light Bambi
I slept in the back of the car until 7 a.m. so the sun would have some time to melt off some of the snow and ice that was waiting to spice things up high on the Bells. I fired up the Jetboil, pressed some coffee and ate a Snickers while the alpenglow lit up the area, a familiar but no less breathtaking sight.
Pyramid's shadow cast across the Bells
This guy and me stared at each other for awhile
I set off on the trail around 8 a.m. passing the hordes of photographers and tourists surrounding the lake, I wouldn't see many other people passed here. I moved quick, for me, and got up to my previous turn-around points in short order and excitedly moved up the first gully into new terrain.
The sunlight washes down Pyramid's slopes flooding the valley
Looking over at Capitol and Snowmass
Once into the second gully I caught a glimpse of the first people I'd seen since the lake but they were almost to the top as I started. I moved up whatever looked the most solid or fun to climb and enjoyed finally climbing on N. Maroon instead of hiking on it.
There are as many ways up as you can imagine so pick your line or try to follow all the cairns, there is kind of a trail in some spots. Not too far up there is a cairn on the ridgeline, I wasn't sure on the way up so I stuck to the gully but on the way down I followed the ridge all the way to here and it was more solid and fun than the upper stretches of the gully.
Nearing the top I saw a guy coming down with no backpack and just a Nalgene in his hand moving down quickly. I asked if he was okay and he explained that he'd lost his backpack climbing a chimney higher up, "It just rolled…" Tough break, had his car keys and cell phone in there too. I let him know that I'd stashed some water lower and if he needed to he could take some. Discussing where he'd lost his pack it sounded like the standard crux but after climbing the route I don't think it was, if you lost one there it wouldn't roll far enough to be impossible to retrieve.
Looking across at Maroon and the traverse
This is a spectacular place
He headed down and I headed up, now cresting the ridge I started up the upper portion of N. Maroon, a truly surreal setting filled with awesome perches and ledges everywhere, all in a state of perpetual erosion.
Finally the snow came into play as all the north facing ledges were covered with a few inches. The couple I'd seen in the gully were moving to the right of the upper difficulties, tracks went left as well, not wanting to bypass the crux if possible I went left and encountered the chimney that I suspect the gentleman lost his pack in. It didn't look like the crux in the pictures but it looked like it would go, there was a gully below that seemed to drop all the way down to the valley thousands of feet below.
Looking down the chimney, it's hard to see the exposure lurking around the corner below...
In order to get into the chimney a short guy like me had to fully commit, swinging a foot out across the drop off and then making a controlled lean out over the exposure and into the chimney. From here the climbing was class 4—low class 5 but it was dry. Nearing the top some folks heading down from a successful traverse let me know that I was on the right track, they asked for beta for the descent but I didn't have too much, I just knew that I wouldn't recommend going down what I'd just come up.
Another look down into the abyss...
The upper ledges that make up the ridge to the top are exposed but there is no real difficulty. It is one of those picturesque places that it doesn't seem like you should be yet it allows safe passage.
Pyramid dominates the view to the east
I knew I hadn't climbed the standard class 4 chimney so I kept looking for it but was quickly on the summit, alone. I had the same pleasure on Pyramid a little over a year ago. It was just passed noon, the climb had taken a bit over 4 hours, faster than I would have guessed.
I took a little nap up top and had a small snack, the couple stopped to eat just below the summit so I had a good 30 minutes to just take it all in. I also could make a phone call or two because the reception is great, and there was no one else around for me to impose my conversation on.
My summit photo
After 30-40 minutes of napping and enjoying my perch the couple came up and we chatted for a bit, it turned out to be 14ers.com member Vailgirl. We talked about the descent options, they'd taken the standard bypass and said it was delicate going over snow covered ledges, I told them about the way I went and that I would probably head down the way they'd come and then I was off.
Shortly after getting on my way I came across the chimney I had come up and snapped the pictures above, it's pretty hard to see because of the shadows but the exposure is drastic, I suspect the backpack of that gentlemen from earlier is still tumbling down the face of N. Maroon, destined to tumble forever. I didn't want to risk this same fate so I headed toward the standard crux and quickly saw it was really snowy. Not wanting to risk that spicy of a descent I headed to the left…
I spotted some tracks and then some webbing that I suspect was from Steaky's group last week that set a rope for a handline and scoped it out. It was a down-sloping series of ledges with snow covering them, I could see the tracks from the last group and started down carefully. I quickly became uncomfortable with this option and decided to turn around and search for a better way.
Getting back up required some delicate movement and I was particularly cautious of where I placed my feet and that the snow wasn't going to slide out below me. From here I traversed across the snow covered rocks toward some footprints in the snow.
I found a route that was easy enough although still slow, careful going class 2/3 with snow and some exposure. Before too long I was passed the difficulties and could breathe a sigh of relief. Overall this made for one of the spicier descents I've done.
As I neared the top of the gully I bumped into another solo climber heading up and we talked for a minute before I continued my descent. I stuck to the ridge and then dropped into the gully much lower than I exited on my way up.
I was running out of water as I approached my stashed bottle and hoped that there was still some left, there was a bit thankfully and I got a sip before the last couple miles out.
When I got to the creek crossing I filled up one of my bottles so I would have the option to get a drink on my hike out, but only if I needed it bad enough to risk a waterborne illness. I figured I also could ask someone once lower on the trail.
When it came down to it not one tourist on the trail had more than a 20 oz Dasani so that didn't work out and as I neared the car I just didn't want to risk drinking the water from the creek. By the time I did get to the car I was probably 30 minutes passed really needing a drink and had exerted myself in an effort to get a drink faster so even the warm water I had waiting for me was a treat. Getting down took just over 3 hours, a little faster than I would have predicted.
Only the stubborn fall leaves remain
I took a nap before the long drive home and fortunately didn't see any deer get decapitated by semis on the cruise back to Fort Collins.
It felt good to finally get North Maroon after so many failed shots at it. Like most people who climb I wanted to stand on top of the Bells from the first time I saw them and was happy to have accomplished climbing one of them. Maroon is the last Elk 14er I have left but I'm looking forward to the other treasures this range has to offer as well.
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