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MRA at Maroon Bells

Colorado 14er peak questions and conditions should be posted here. 14er Trip Reports
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MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby iceman » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:22 am

Would you folks who have climbed the Bells recently concur with MRA's thoughts on the Bells conditions and their thoughts about placement of cairns misleading climbers?

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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby speth » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:40 am

I climbed North Maroon in August... I personally had no route finding issues and thought it was fairly straight forward. Don't remember even seeing a lot of cairns once in the gullies, to be honest. YMMV.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby SurfNTurf » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:41 am

The second gully on N. Maroon is basically Cairn City. They're helpful in spots, but I had more success finding my own way after cairns led me off-route twice. (Stay in the gully. Don't go off to the right.) I did the same on the descent, while my partners followed cairns, and I waited at the gully crossover for 30 minutes while they downclimbed sketchy terrain. So, yeah, I agree with MRA.

If you study the route beforehand and don't rely on the cairns it's a relative cakewalk.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby MonGoose » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:50 am

I think it's good that MRA is taking this approach. As for the Bells, I felt that North Maroon was pretty straight forward through the First and Second gully, until you reached the top of the Second gully. At that point there is no route and you have to pick your way the final few hundred feet to the summit.

As for South Maroon, there exists an endless web of worthless cairns on the final few hundred feet below the summit. I remember standing in the middle of the section and counting 5 cairns in 5 different directions around me.

One aspect that I feel makes the Bell's so dangerous is that so many people traverse across on their first Bell's attempt, which means they must downclimb a mountain they did not ascend. North Maroon for example would be very easy to get off route if you were descending a route you did not ascend. Although these peaks are rated as Class III and IV, getting a little bit off route can very quickly put you into Class V terrain on two of the most loose 14ers in Colorado.

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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby MuchosPixels » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:45 am

I think it would be great if MRA or anyone else qualified would re-evaluate the route up the peak and basically take down all cairns and mark a proper route. Like most said Im sure many of the cairns there just confuse people and might even contribute to people getting into trouble. A proper route will also help preserve the alpine environment by keeping everyone on the same path and not all over the place.
Normally I would like to leave the mountain as is but one has to recognize the popularity of an area like the Bells and try to make it safer and more sustainable within reason.

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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby highpilgrim » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:51 am

MuchosPixels wrote:basically take down all cairns and mark a proper route.


You mean like painting bullseyes on rocks?

That seems misplaced. Making it easier for the unqualified to find their way on those mountains seems a recipe for disaster to me.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby Jim Davies » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:01 am

That sounds like the old "building roads creates more traffic" argument, which I've never bought into. Well-marked routes don't cause problems, IMO, poorly-marked routes do. Lenny Joyner might be alive today if there were better cairns on this route.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby CO Native » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:03 am

That's a very tricky proposal. Once MRA begins to maintain a route they also begin to take on liability for any flaws in that route. It wouldn't be long before someone sued them over an incident of getting off route and hurt.

Cairns have become unreliable at best on the fourteeners. Too many people who don't know what they're doing seem to like to pass the time by stacking rocks in the wrong places. If you trust some unknown person's stack of rocks more than your own evaluation of the the route and where you're heading then I'd say you need it's your judgement that needs to be called into question, not the stacks of rocks. Mountaineering has dangers. Accept the dangers, know them, and be prepared to deal with them. Don't try to turn the mountains into city parks. Derek's accident on the Bells was due to loose rock. Should we begin calling for MRA to haul up bags of cement and lengths of rebar to secure all the loose sections on the route?
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby highpilgrim » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:10 am

Jim Davies wrote:That sounds like the old "building roads creates more traffic" argument, which I've never bought into. Well-marked routes don't cause problems, IMO, poorly-marked routes do. Lenny Joyner might be alive today if there were better cairns on this route.


How many day hikers that don't belong there climb Longs because the sense of "safety" implied by those bullseyes?

I think Longs has the largest list of fatalities of any mountain in the state, and that's part of the reason IMO.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby iceman » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:18 am

I agree that MRA evaluating the route and making climbers aware of the issues is a good idea. Cleaning up misleading cairns and helping to identify the standard/safest route up a peak may save a climbers or a SAR members life.

Once MRA begins to maintain a route they also begin to take on liability for any flaws in that route.

Has CFI taken on liability by making the trails more accessible and route finding easier on 14ers?

I'm not saying MRA or any SAR organization should take this on, but if they are willing to, to possibly lessen the number of times they have to send members and pilots up there, it may not be a bad idea.

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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby Neil » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:25 am

CO Native wrote:That's a very tricky proposal. Once MRA begins to maintain a route they also begin to take on liability for any flaws in that route. It wouldn't be long before someone sued them over an incident of getting off route and hurt.


This. I agree 100%. Also, to expand upon CO Native's point (an certainly NOT putting words in his mounth), not only are too many people who don't know what they're doing stacking rocks, but too many people who don't know what they're doing are on these difficult 14ers. Mountaineering is a lifelong dedication to learning and honing a certain skill set, which includes route finding, wilderness survival, meteorology, first aid (at minimum), recognizing objective danger, traveling with the right equipment and knowing how to use it, snow travel, and avalanche awareness, among others, along with less tangible skills like communication, honesty (with yourself and group), critical and analytical thought, and the ability to objectively asses a wide variety of objective and subjective dangers at a rapid pace. Even on harder 14ers that many consider a walk-up, these skills require years of apprenticeship and study to learn, even longer to master. The proliferation of those hiking all the 14ers (and beyond) in a year or two without any prior knowledge, education, or apprenticesihp not only endangers such climbers, but climbers around them (less awareness of loose terrain and the consequences thereof, etc.). Just because hikers return to their car safely does not mean the hike was conducted safely. By no means am I an authority on this subject -- we have far more talented and experienced hikers and climbers on this site. However, as someone who started this sport at the age of 8 (I'm 34 now), I recognize the value -- for myself, the safety of the community, and the preservation of the mountains -- of taking the time to learn the judgment, skills, and awareness necessary to be a competant, self-reliant mountaineer.

The CFI should exist to preserve the pristine nature of 14ers (to the extent possible) and protect them from over-use by trail construction and restoration, not to replace the judgment and competency of a mountaineer or to keep us out of danger. Further, MRA (and other S&R teams) should be utilized by mountaineers in true and immediate distress encountered despite their best efforts of self-reliance and self-rescue -- obejecive dangers cannot be entirely overcome. Like the CFI, it is NOT the job of S&R teams to be a stand-in for the good judgment, analysis, and skills mountaineers should have.

My sincere apologies if this comes across as arrogant. I'm usually someone who holds my mouth, but I've become increasingly disturbed by some practices I've seen in the mountains over the past few years and simply want to voice those concerns. I welcome any thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement, or telling me to hit the road, jerk!
Last edited by Neil on Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:37 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: MRA at Maroon Bells

Postby DaveSwink » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:33 am

Neil wrote:
CO Native wrote:Mountaineering is a lifelong dedication to learning and honing a certain skill set, which included route finding, wilderness survival, meteorology, first aid (at minimum), recognizing objective danger, traveling with the right equipment and knowing how to use it, snow travel, and avalanche awareness, among others, along with less tangible skills like communication, honesty (with yourself and group), critical and analytical thought, and the ability to objectively asses a wide variety of objective and subjective dangers at a rapid pace. Even on harder 14ers that many consider a walk-up, these skill require years of apprenticeship and study to learn, even longer to master.


Well said, Neil. =D>

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