Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,022 feet
Date Posted:  05/29/2014
Modified:  06/13/2014
Date Climbed:   05/28/2014
Author:  bergsteigen
Additional Members:   freeinthehills, SasquatchJr, joelmpaula
 Tackling the North Face of North Maroon   

North Maroon

Route: North Face
Mileage: 8.8
Elevation Gain: 4,566'
Crushers: Joel, Nate, Sam and me

It's Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend on Independence Pass, it's clear and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. Nothing to obscure the view over to the Elks and the Maroon Bells, which are also clear and sunny. Their white faces in stark contrast to the deep blue sky. Damn!!!!! That's where Eric and I had plan B's for, but I figured with the weather forecast calling for clouds, that was a bad place to be route finding cliff bands in no-fall zones. Damn my conservative choices!

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, relaxing at my friend's condo... Joel calls. Hey, do you want to ski North Maroon on Wednesday? Me: YES!!!

Monday evening - drive home, wash ski gear, sleep. Tuesday evening after work - drive to Aspen for 1am start. And so it began.

1 am in the parking lot with various minimal hours of sleep among us, gearing up and eating strawberries. We all started off with trail shoes, knowing that the trail was half dry to Crater Lake. The snow that we do encounter is pretty frozen too, a decent freeze via Radiant Cooling - my new favorite thing in the world! Following the partially snowy trail with switchbacks in the dark is less than ideal, and we find ourselves by the lake without having seen the turn off for Buckskin Pass. So we bushwhack back up to the trail, and find the Avy debris. Only a few trees to cross on the trail, someone must have been busy in the last few days, clearing the debris! Up we boot in our trail shoes, until we find a nice open stretch of snow, where we finally decide to transition to skinning. We still carry our boots, since it's not exactly a memorable spot we think. A bit further up we find a tree, which we adorn with various gear, kinda like a skimo X-mas tree! We even sang carols in the predawn hours!

Up the slope we go, contouring over to our objective. We got on top of a high point for civil twilight, and get our first view of the route ahead. It's intimidating and big, we're excited and nervous. Only one thing to do, get closer and find out what we're made of!

Civil Twilight & our first view of the route

Sunrise at the base of the climb

Sunrise on the start of the route

A nice break while the sun rises above the mountains to the east, gearing up with crampons and axes. I decided to bring 2, one hybrid, one regular. For me it was a good call. Others went with one ax and one whippet.

The first chute is chunky from plenty of wet slides and debris raining down on it from above. Lots of ice pellets fall on us, and only one tiny rock. Still, eyes are aware and ready to yell in case of bigger rocks. The two beasts of the trip lead the way, and it's just up to Joel and me to follow in their giant footsteps.

Nate and Sam starting up the first chute

Joel in the first chute

Nate and Sam on the first traverse

Looking back on the traverse with Joel and Sleeping Sexton

The first climb and traverse go smoothly, and soon we find ourselves in the center of the face, with the hardpack runnel in the center. Easy climbing, but the rough undulating hard surface will not ski well.

In the center of the face in the middle of the breaks in the cliff bands

We get to the top of the runnel to see that it ends in a cliff, with fairly intimidating ice climbs as exits. No rope, and only 2 of us have hybrid axes - no go. But thankfully there's a snowy ledge to the left, and a tiny snowy 5' gully that leads above the cliff band. Then it's a tiny but intimidating scramble over some down sloping wet and snowy rocks to the upper face!

Working around the crux

Joel following on the steep crux

The little snow gully above the cliff band, Sleeping Sexton behind with more distant views of Snowmass and Capitol

Nate above the crux. Went up left (off photo), down center

Beyond the rocky crux, we traverse right and climb over to the next gap in the cliff bands above. Sam and Nate keep the booter staircase going. I need to invite these guys on all my climbs!

Sam and Nate climbing up to the next cliff band

After the last cliff band gap, it's the final long traverse over to the Punk Rock Band and the NE ridge. It feels like it takes forever, as we roast in the sun. Summitting ASAP is the name of this game now!

Looking back on Sam during the last traverse

Nate the machine keeps climbing to the Punk Rock Band

The crux of the Punk Rock Band is fairly intimidating. With a thousand feet of exposure on one side, you have to traverse around a snowy mini cliff, with a rock poking you in the gut. Lovely! Won't like this with skis on my feet! But that's a problem for a few minutes from now...

Nate in the crux of the Punk Rock Band

Exposure on the view to Pyramid by the Punk Rock Band crux

It's a small summit with cornices and such. Glad we only have a group of 4 to manuever around to get the summit pano. Not sure what happened to my software - it must be awesome view overload problem! Too much RAM required and Photoshop shut down the blending.

Joel topping out on the summit

Summit pano!

Summit shot - Photo Credit: Nate

It's yet another short summit stay, as the snow is ripe for the picking now. So fast, that I miss photographing Nate dropping the first slope. The first part till the Punk Rock Band is pretty mellow. But oh the views!

Sam dropping off the summit

Me making my first turns - Photo Credit: Joel

Not feeling I have large enough cajones for the exposure, I safety ski around the Punk Band Crux, and stick my tongue out at it in defiance!

What I think of the crux in the Punk Rock Band - Photo Credit: Joel

Joel by the Punk Rock Band crux

Beyond that crux, it's a nice steep traverse to the first cliff band break. We all get in some good easy turns as we slide our way to the center of the face. Then it's some steep turns to get to the rock band crux of the route.

Joel skiing the first snow band

Me dropping the gap between the upper cliff bands

Looking back on the upper face, before the crux

Downclimbing the crux was easier than we had imagined. The face is so intimidating, it can be easy to make things worse than they are sometimes. But that's why you have to take it one step at a time, and with 4 people, there was plenty of time to clear the mind and find your Zen-space.

Joel down climbing the crux

Below the climbing crux, came the skiing crux... navigate the crappy runnel of doom. I would like to say I effortlessly skied through this section. But that would be a lie. Close to 50deg runnelled, icy, chunky, sh*t snow is not my forte. My awkward jump turns involved hip checks more than I would prefer. But not falling is paramount, so I don't care how I looked, I was safe. As my reward for going first down this section, I precariously perched on high angle snow and took photos of everyone skiing from above, and going down the remaining chute to the easy traverse below. Well, let's go with "easier" than what we've already done.

Jump & Landing!

Smile! It's hot out!

Nate shredding the rough runnel

Nate flys by

Nate trying to find good snow

Nate riding with a view

Sam jump turns down the gut

Joel's turn to ski down the lower runnel

Jump turn? - Photo Credit: Nate

Once at the end of the traverse, there are smiles on all of our faces! The worst is over. Now for the sloppy, junky, manky gully down to our stashed skins! At the base of this gully/chute thing, I collapse in a heap from exhaustion. This photo sums up how I feel up to this point - exhausted but ecstatic!

A smiling Sam - Photo Credit: Joel

Because I'm happy! - Photo Credit: Joel

Exhausted by exstatic - Photo Credit: Nate

We take a looooong break at the base of the north face. Eating, drinking, delayering etc. The lower snow will be a manky affair, why rush it? Then we get to shock the tourists by walking past them carrying skis. ALWAYS a fun time. Tons of questions of what we did, and how we got up there, etc. That and comments on my partners lack of clothing - I'll spare ya'll that photo It was beyond hot, and I was head to toe black and plastic.

View of our Route

View of the Bells from Crator Lake

Skied half the Colorado Postcard!

A bit of throwback music in this video, hard to choose a second song. Enjoy!


Something I've learned. Jump turning sh*t snow on steep, narrow, no fall terrain was not fun. I'm not sure how I'm going to replicate the experience and practice at a resort (since BC is too dangerous during winter), but I'm going to have to find a way. I realize I'm a perfectionist, but I know that there are harder peaks that will require more precision jump turns with confidence. Either that, or only ski bigger lines in better/perfect conditions. Patience is a virtue, right?

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Dave B
Epic ski
05/29/2014 23:34
is epic.

Nice job, what a sick line. I hope to one day grow up to ski a line like that!

Super Jealous
05/30/2014 00:08
Seeing the weather, the big smiles...

05/30/2014 00:39

Hip checking
05/30/2014 01:34
...just means you're pushing your limits and being safe in this case. Both are deserve applause. Nothing like seeing passionate people progress. Cheers!

Why so early?
05/30/2014 03:46
1am start? Were you looking to ski by sunrise?! North Maroon is a quick access line, especially in the spring. Last time I was up there (four weeks ago), we started at 5am and were back down to the snowmachines by 11am. Either way, nice work. Good to see that you are now tackling some of the more fun 14ers. Wish they all were like the high peaks in the elk range. Snow looked like chunder city. Props on tackling the cruddy snow.

Nice work!
05/30/2014 03:53
Great TR for a great run. Congrats!

05/30/2014 13:04
Otina, I'm amazed at how you're getting after it this season! I wish I had that kind of drive.

You'll be ready for Pac's N Couloir in no time!!

Awesome job guys!
05/30/2014 20:41
Great write up Otina. I wish I could have joined you guys! Joel invited me but I had class that I could not miss. Oh well another time. I must say I am quite jealous but I enjoyed the write up and pictures!

05/30/2014 20:57
this is awesome! great shots in there too. nice work gang!

Thanks everyone
05/30/2014 21:20
Dave B - Does that mean I'm a grown up now? I was the oldest on the trip

rickinco123 - Big smiles are easy when the tough parts are done!

Taillon75 -

Dan - Definite push of my limits, just enough to feel it in the gut. Progress is slow, but worth it in the end!

Nat - Yup, a test piece. There's no way I could ski this line with my Koflachs like I tried on Quandary that first time. I would have been terrified! Amazing how gear that fits (#1), appropriate equipment and development of skills can get you on some big lines!

goreskier - Early because we're not as fast as you, it would seem! Big lines mean patience and timing, they will happen when they happen. Chunder was taxing...

RobertKay - Thanks, I can only hope I did the line justice!

Bill - If the season was longer, I wouldn't have to get after it so hard! Pacific... so many icy deadly lines.

Zach - More classes? Hopefully those end before the snow does!

Dillon - Thanks Skiing groomers will forever feel boring now!

Way to go
06/02/2014 01:58
Good write up on a big line, I realized after skiing north maroon that there were some peaks that I would never ski and it took me 40 years to be ok with that

Great report!
06/03/2014 22:27
This is a dream line of mine... thanks for the great report and video, this info is priceless. Congrats all of you on the day!

this is
06/04/2014 03:04
nasty. great job otina and company

Great report! A few questions...
06/04/2014 05:53
Hi- I am new to Loved your post a/b this cool trip! I have visited this area several times but have never attempted a climb- just hiked through the valleys. The video of the trip down was super cool! I have a beginner's question to throw out- how stable is the snow on a trip like this? It seems like there would be a threat of avalanche any second. Is there some way to know you are safe on a trip like this, or is the possibility of avalanche just part of the risk you assume? Does the time of year or time of day matter? Thanks!

spring usually has stable snow
06/13/2014 21:38
In spring there is a time where the snow is stable in the early morning, and then warms up with the sun and temps. So you summit very early, and wait for perfect corn. Wait too long and it can be dangerous. Taking an Avalanche class or two and going out with solid partners gains experience to be able to call these type of trips.

04/02/2015 19:45
This is so awesome! Huge kudos to you for skiing a BIG line - what do they call it - a test piece? And this is from a girl who failed on Quandary on your first ski!. You've come such a long way - it's amazing! I hope to grow some day to be able to ski something like that - thanks for the inspiration! Enjoy the aftermath

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