Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Malemute Pk  -  13,348 feet
Date Posted:  08/14/2019
Date Climbed:   06/04/2019
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   mtnbikerskierchick, gb
 Two Bells in Three Days Part II   


South Maroon Peak

Y couloir ascent, SW couloir descent

June 2nd, 2019

Trailhead: Maroon lake
Partners: Brittany and Frank Konsella, Larry Fontaine
10+ miles, 5,800 ft gain, ~14 hours

Larry and I got to the day parking lot first around 2.30 am and said to each other: it's too warm! The temperature gauge at the car read 45 F. I tried to be upbeat, but I was putting our success rate around 50%. We'll get up there, snow will not be frozen, and we'll turn around. Wisely I kept my thoughts to myself. Brittany and Frank showed up a few minutes later, seemingly in good spirits. It's go time. To save on weight and not worry about stashing the shoes, Larry and I decided to hike the first mile in ski boots, while Konsellas both hiked in trail shoes. I love my Dynafit TLT7s for hiking - they are just a tad more clunky than a hiking shoe with 70 degree ROM, but I could tell Larry was not loving his Salomon MTN labs, but he still cruised past me :) Right out of the gate, Brittany set a grueling pace since we were starting a tad late at 3 am. The distance to the Crater lake went by in a blur and an hour later Brittany and Frank were switching to ski boots as we hit continuous snow. After a brief postholing section in the trees, the snow was supportive enough above the campsites. A familiar grind up the Bell Cord apron followed. I could see a lot more of old avalanche debris than in prior years. As the angle steepened, skis went on the packs and the crampons on the boots. While I slightly messed up my transition, the trio ran ahead, putting in a steep booter.

Heading up Y couloir
Recent carnage in the Y couloir
Y has slid (Brittany)
Brittany in Y

Just compared to 2 days ago, the snow was slowly consolidating, and there was still a foot of powder under the fresh suncrust. That is, in the section which has not slid yet. I'd wanted to check out the Y couloir for years after seeing it from Bell Cord, and here we were. The higher we went, the more obvious the scale of wet slides were. To me, skiing Y was not worth it, even if the snow would held up high. After about an hour, I finally managed to catch up to Brittany who stopped for a break. Layers off and up we went. Schooled by North Maroon, I was expecting to see some slides, and here it was. The slide of snow and rocks was trickling down the steep face above the Y couloir and into the runnel which we had to cross. Thankfully, it was easy to see and we crossed it when we got an opening in the slide activity. It got extremely hot in the last section of the couloir, I was boiling in my clothes and pretty sure it's where I burnt my lower lip.

Nearing the top of Y

Natalie in Y
Girls team

Just as Brittany and I were approaching the saddle, Frank announced: we have a storm coming this way. Darn, it's not even 8 am! We decided to hang out on the saddle for a bit to see if there was any lightning. Thankfully, the storm was passing us sideways, so after a brief break we continued on. I climbed the standard route of South Maroon back in 2012, so my memory was a little fuzzy, but I remembered following some ledges. So I led the way, but after initial scramble we ran into a very steep snow slope which obscured the standard route. We climbed straight up it with ice ax and whippets, it was steep! After topping on another ledge, we tried to find the path of least resistance, but it was not obvious. Eventually we gained the ridge, which had some big cornices to our right, and topped out around 10 am.

Frank and Larry on the Initial steep section
Brittany climbs steep icy snow
Brittany climbs up to the ridge
Frank and Larry top out on the summit ridge
Brittany (L) and Natalie (R)
Frank went to investigate the east side descent
Larry & his skis, Brittany & her skis and my skis (in the foreground) on the summit

Frank skied SW couloir back in 2006, but liked it enough for a repeat and Brittany skied the East face to Bell Cord, so this would be a new line for her. Me and Larry were game for any reasonable option :) We dropped in at 10.30 am. The top of the couloir was still a bit firm, but the snow warmed up as we got lower. After the pucker factor of North Maroon, this line actually felt pretty comfortable (for me). It felt maybe a couple degrees less steep. Snow was pretty smooth for about 2/3 of the line. We leapfrogged each other, taking photos.

Frank drops in
Love this shot of Brittany and Larry getting into the couloir
Brittany drops in
Brittany sends it
Frank halfway down the line
Natalie (photo by Brittany)
Larry starts on the lower part (it was runneled)
Frank on the lower part (after it was smoothed out by Larry and Brittany). Runnel is to the left of him.
Brittany with the line behind her. She skied South Maroon for the 2nd time!

Once at the apron, it was the decision time again - how do we get back? Jordan White suggested going up and over Gunsight couloir, but after looking at Gaia the night before, I could see a saddle which would require less vertical to reclimb and a less steep descent into the Maroon Creek drainage (which was important at this late hour of the day). It looked ok on the map, so we decided to go over that way. I actually thought it was further down the ridge with Belleview, but Frank spotted the correct saddle much earlier. We rounded the corner and started going up to the saddle when suddenly : Crack! Flash! Boom! The storm was here, along with thunder and lightning. Again, we decided to wait out the storm. For the lack of better alternative, we huddled under some cliffs, and after about 30 minutes it looked like the lightning was further away. Still, we could see storm clouds all around us.

Heading up for the saddle with Belleview
Heading up towards the saddle
Larry waits out the storm - after a few minutes our skis got almost completely covered
Brittany hikes to the saddle
Frank and Larry at the transition point

I ate a large portion of gu and it was a go time - skin to win! Larry and Frank sped up uphill, while Brittany and I tried to keep up. Almost at the top of the ridge and I hear: Cornices! Shoot, I didn't think of that. Thankfully, after hiking along the ridge for a bit, we found the reasonable entry (granted, under the car-sized cornice). Frank and Larry skied down while I waited for Brittany to transition. And off she went. The snow was very sloppy, but no major releases. Whew. We got to the bottom of the basin, kicked off a couple of small sluffs (expected) and were finally on flat ground. On any other peak a 2,000 foot line would be a highlight, but on Maroons, it just another line off the ridge :)

More skiing (Frank)
Brittany finishes it off
Looking across the valley at Pyramid and Thunder Pyramid

The storm continued to intensify, but we were in the trees! We were able to pole and push all the way back to the Crater lake, where guys transition into shoes. I decided to plod along as I was getting anxious to get out of the wet ski boots. Touchdown in the parking lot @ 5pm where light beers awaited :) I still couldn't believe we pulled it off, but I couldn't have possibly had better company. Thanks so much guys.

Malemute peak

NW couloir

June 4th, 2019

Trailhead: Cathedral lake
Partners: solo
6 miles, 3,800 ft gain, ~7 hours

The next day was spent recuperating in Basalt :) I parked next to the Whole Foods and had a few helpings of food from the bar :) I wasn't due back to work until Wednesday, and overnight freeze looked surprisingly good on Tuesday. Well, with 14ers taken care of, I wanted to show 13ers some love too. Malemute has been on my radar for a long time, and I thought it would be a great year to ski its steep and rocky NW face. So I positioned myself in Ashcroft for the Tuesday attempt. I wanted an early start, but with a great freeze and NW line, I wasn't super motivated. I finally rolled out of Cathedral lake TH by 7am. I started in trailrunners, but not even a mile in on mostly wet trail, I switched to ski boots. Very soon I ran into the avalanche debris from this past winter, but in the daylight the trail was fairly easy to find (and I've been there before). So I hiked the dry trail in ski boots for a while. After the little bit of skinning, I had to carry skis again to get up the steep pitch before the lake. Once at the lake, I could start skinning again, and as the lake still looked solidly frozen, I crossed it :) On autopilot, I stashed the skins and started booting up at 10 am. The snow on this aspect was already soft and it got me worried about the descent.

Finding my way through the debris
Malemute (on the right) makes an appearance - what a beautiful peak!
Malemute from the lake - the NW face looking awesome

While Cathedral looked great as well, I was certain both the East face and Pearl couloirs had already slid in the last few days. While NW facing line on Malemute was still smooth. I accidentally left skins back at the lake before the initial headwall, so the flat section before the NW face took a bit longer than it should, but the snow was still firm. I saw an opening in-between cliffs and headed up. While everything around in the basin has softened up by now (11am), the NW face was still icy. Moreover, after a bluebird morning, the clouds decided to come in and the sun disappeared. I was starting to have flashback to El Diente and skiing the breakable crust. NW lines seem hard to time well. Nevertheless, I continued, and had fun figuring out the complex face. There were many options, and the one I took avoided the rocks and cliffs for the most part. I think it was around noon when I finally made the summit (legs definitely didn't recover fully and I was moving quite slowly that day).

Getting closer
Icy NW face
Heading up the line
Black Crows on the summit with Castle in the background
Pearls and Oysters

After texting Brittany, I started skiing well past noon. The snow was still firm, but edgeable (good thing I still had decent edges on my 4-month old Crows). I took the exact ascent line for the descent since I knew it avoided the cliffs and I could also see my bootpack in the flat light. One steep section that made me a bit nervous on the way up turned out to be fine on skis. The line very much reminded me of Polaris on Northstar, similar in steepness and iciness. Of course, once past the steep section, everything was warm and I had to ski fast through the last steep section to stay ahead of the wet sluff.

The initial less steep section (outline of the lake below)
Following the rabbit
Looking back up
Booked it there, but not much has moved

Feeling great about the ski and the new Elk 13er, I took the far right exit from the basin, and unexpectedly released a good-sized wet sluff (at the late hour of the day everything was very saturated). Elks always keep you on your toes! Thankfully, the rest was very uneventful, as I skied till the end of the avy debris, and then rejoined the summer trail. Malemute got overshadowed by its bigger 14er cousins, but it ended up a lovely ski in a great basin.

Hot snow
Milking the snow till the bitter end

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

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