| N. face N. Maroon ski
The weather forecast for Tuesday May 25 in Aspen was clear, sunny skies with a 17 degree low that morning. Perfect day to do North Maroon!
I decided to hike in the day before for a high camp. It seemed like I would come to snow covered trails about 500’ above Maroon lake, so I decided to leave the hiking boots at the car and hike in in my ski boots. Sure enough, I was able to start skinning after about that much elevation gain. Monday was cold, cloudy and pretty dreary. Does this really look like the end of May?
I was planning on hiking up to the Minnehaha creek crossing, hoping to find a flowing source of water. Since crater lake was almost entirely still covered in snow and ice I figured the creek would likely be snow covered and since I didn’t bring a stove to melt some snow I might just have to camp at crater lake. But since I had several hours of daylight left I thought I’d go up and check things out for sure. I also failed to notice where the trail diverged from the crater lake trail and decided I needed to find my way to it so that I wouldn’t have to wander around aimlessly in the dark the next morning.
From Crater lake, I hiked up an avy path hoping to cross the trail. Failing to notice the trail, I ended up climbing way above it. I decided to climb further up the path then gain the ridge to the north of Minnehaha. After gaining the ridge, I could see that I was directly above the creek crossing. I was able to get a very enjoyable ski descent through the sparsely treed hillside toward the creek. Once I reached the standard creek crossing, I noticed some faint ski tracks and followed them down to the trail. I was able to ski the trail all the way down to the avy path, previously mentioned, and then down to Crater lake.
Satisfied that my tracks would be easy to follow the next morning, I decided to seek some shelter from the cold and crawl into my bivy sack and get a bit of shut-eye before my early morning start. Within minutes of hunkering down, it began to snow.
I woke up around 12:45 Tuesday morning and began skinning up at 1:15. I took a casual pace and reached the creek crossing within an hour, then started climbing up toward the bowl beneath N. Maroon’s N. face. While climbing, I noticed two headlamps heading up Pyramid. I wonder who they were. I also noticed a light heading towards Crater lake from way down the valley. I wonder what that guy is doing, I thought to myself. That’s way too late of a start to ski any of the bells safely. Maybe a photographer wanting to catch the bells in early morning light, perhaps?
I continued up the bowl at a leisurely pace and reached the right hand side of Minor’s ski jump around 4. Got up above Minor’s and below the central gully just as the sun poked its head above the mountains to the east.
At that point, I noticed two skiers just making their way into the bowl. “What are these two amateurs doing climbing this thing so late in the morning,” I thought to myself. I don’t think I’d want to ski it any later than when I reach the summit and these guys are at least an hour or more behind me. It would be nice to have some company, but there’s no way these guys will catch up to me, I thought.
I eyed two seemingly equally viable routes up through the next rock band. I decided to take the one to the left. After getting up to the notch which I thought I’d climb through, I decided that I wasn’t confident enough with my ice/rock climbing skills enough to make the move. So, I decided to down climb and traverse to the adjacent gully to the right.
After a somewhat time consuming down climb and traverse, the two “amateurs” had caught up with me! At that point it was clear to me that I might have been too quick to judge them as amateurs. These guys were hauling a$$. I think “mountain gods” would have been a better description of these guys. After explaining my failed attempt to climb the gully to the left, the lead climber, who introduced himself as Chris, assured me that the gully I was currently climbing was the standard route.
“Have you skied this peak before”, I asked.
“Yes, many times” he replied in a confident yet politely humble way. “Join the party.”
So, I began to follow in their bootsteps. Did I mention that these guys were fast? I couldn’t keep up with them even following in their steps. I swear, they were climbing this mountain like it was going out of style! They were climbing this thing faster than I can climb a flight of stairs!
I couldn’t keep up with them but I definitely enjoyed their bootsteps. I followed them to an ice/rock climb through the rock band, but being the mere mortal that I am I wasn’t able to follow and consequently decided to undergo another time consuming down climb and traverse to the left and through what later became the descent route.
Once above this rock band (the crux band), I traversed right to their bootsteps. They were out of sight by this point and I could see that their bootsteps led straight up through the punk rock band. I continued to climb upwards, very slowly. I only brought half the amount of water that I really should have. The other half was frozen solid. I was feeling quite dehydrated.
Once I reached the snow field below the punk rock band, I could see the two skiers making their descent. I chated with Chris for a moment once he got down to my level. Curious about his obvious experience and amazing fitness I asked what their last names were.
“Davenport and Mahon,” he replied.
“Hmm, well that makes a lot of sense,” I thought to myself.
Chatting with Chris
The crux of the climb was through the punk rock band. Chris suggested that I did not follow their path through the band and instead take a gully to the left. I chose to ignore his advice and soon after wished that I had listened. The climb involved 60 degree crumbly snow followed by a terrifying rock climb. One mistake at this point and it would have been game over man, game over! Fortunately, that was not the case and I surpassed the punk rock band and continued up the lower angled snow towards the summit.
I summited the peak at 10 and took a few photos. At that point I realized that the lens covers on my camera were not opening all the way and a lot of my nice pics of the climb were no good. I decided to “fix” the problem by removing the lens covers with my fingers. Unkowingly, I put a large smudge on the lens which kind of ruined my next shots as you can see.
From the summit
I decended to skiers right of the punk rock band which was filled in very nicely. Steep and tight and full of the freshy white! The face had at least two new inches of snow from the night before and up to a foot in drifted areas.
Skiers right of punk rock
looking down the face from below the punk rock
The descent was beautiful! Lots of sloughing, but not unmanageable. In fact, I like the sloughing, it adds to the excitement. Thanks to the low overnight temps and the reasonable daytime temps, the snow was super stable. Having that peace of mind really allows you to fully enjoy the descent, you know?
I have to say, this was one of the most enjoyable ski descents I’ve ever had. It wasn’t the steepest line I’ve ever skied, but it was steep enough (50 deg in several places) for an exhilarating experience. The maze like character of the face really added to the challenge/enjoyment.
Descending to climber’s right of Minor’s I took a slight variation of my ascent route, unaware of the ominous bergschrund below that was exascerbated by differential melting around some rocks. Hoping the ‘schrund added one last little thrill before being done with the face.
Just another thousand or so vert of sweet skiing down nicely softened corn snow in my tee-shirt! Beautiful.
After nearly drinking all of the water out of crater lake, I packed up my gear and headed down. I was able to ski to maybe a half mile from the trailhead, stoping briefly along the way to explain to curious tourists what I’m doing, then to convince them that N. Maroon is, in fact, skiable.
All in all, it was a brilliant day. The weather was perfect, the snow was perfect, and I had just skied a line that I’ve been eyeing for quite a while. It doesn’t get much better than that. Running into two famous extreme skiers just added to the awesomeness of it all.
ascent red, descent green
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):