Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Date Posted:  12/17/2020
Date Climbed:   07/21/2020
Author:  hogantheepic
Additional Members:   HikesInGeologicTime
 Soloing Maroon Traverse   

Soloing Maroon Traverse

40/58 in 2020

2/4 traverses complete

All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences as beta for others, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!

20407_20

^^Maroon Peak seen from behind, near Frigid Air Pass, from when I did 4 pass loop September 2019.^^


Week 3 of Traverse Month! Although I suffered a failure on the Crestone traverse the previous week, I knew that I just had to keep attempting on the traverses in order to see success, even in monsoon season. In week 3, as you can probably guess, I would be attempting the Maroon traverse. At this point in the summer, I had 1 traverse complete, 35 14ers complete, and only 2/7 Elks done. I made reservations for the Maroon Lake trailhead about 4 weeks in advance, but even that far out, I was unable to get overnight parking reservations, so I ended up with the early start reservation. I had to be up at the parking lot before 8 am and gone by 4:30 pm, which would unfortunately be the cause of my hiking partner to turn back.

I met up with a friend from CU on July 17, who's family was camping near Buena Vista for a few days. I camped with them for a couple nights, and on the 18th, Max (my friend), his 2 sisters, and his cousin and I attempted Harvard. I had already given Harvard an attempt earlier this year, but failed due to rain and an injured foot. I was back, in better shape than ever, with an awesome group of people to be climbing with. We would all climb Harvard together, and then Max and I would do Rabbit ridge over to Columbia while the other 3 descended back to the car.

The hike in was very enjoyable, despite there being hundreds of people hiking here this morning. The parking lot was extremely crowded, and it almost felt like we weren't even in a national forest area.

Max had previously climbed both Harvard and Columbia with his boy scout troop, though he didn't do Rabbit ridge, so he wanted to try it out. We both brought helmets, me with a climbing helmet, and Max with a bike helmet. I wasn't too worried about rockfall as it was only one short section that the route description on 14ers.com described as having potential rockfall, but we brought them nonetheless.

We finally emerged from treeline after a few miles of hiking, and were greeted by some beautiful morning views of the surrounding basin. The collegiates are gorgeous.

As we hiked higher and higher, I began noticing the little peak off left from Harvard. I checked the topo map on my phone to see what it was. It was an unranked, unnamed 13er that looked like it had quite fun scrambling, so I decided to split off from the main group and go tag it while they continued on.

People gave me weird looks as I hustled across the tundra, stepping on only the rocks, up towards some insignificant little peak. As a peakbagger, that is what it's all about. It takes lots of extra effort to see things like this through. I made my way to the ridge that runs North up to the summit of Harvard, where I turned left and headed up the little unnamed peak.

After a short and fun scramble that I would rate at class 3, I stood upon the top, only to realize that it was the shorter of 2 twin peaks that were next to each other. I picked my way down the backside of the first peak and up the other one, and was on top. Pt 13598 was done.

I went back around the first little peak and set off along the ridge line towards the trail. Shortly after I met back up with the trail, I caught up to my climbing party and we finished the last few hundred feet of the climb together.

Personally, I didn't see how Harvard's south slopes route could be rated class 2 if you include the 2 or 3 moves it takes to actually get up to the summit. I wasn't able to find any way up in this section that didn't feel like class 3, but that's just me. I guess someone else has found a class 2 route that enabled it to be called class 2. Perhaps it's considered class 2 because it's literally only like 2 moves that feel harder than class 2 and is therefore not sustained enough to be rated any higher.

We made it to the summit of Harvard! The others were super excited about the success, as was I. I was ready to get moving again pretty soon.

20407_01
Mt Harvard summit pic.
20407_02
Columbia seen from the summit of Harvard.
20407_03
Mt Yale and more from the summit of Harvard.

Max and I said bye to the other 3 and set off across the ridge. There weren't very many people coming across this way, probably because it's a longer approach. Most of the people on the ridge were folks who were doing the Rabbit ridge linkup.

We grinded for a good bit, then we decided to put on our helmets once we reached the top of the loose gully. We defintely descended the wrong way, because the route description said not to go down the gully and instead down a spine and exit to the right off the spine at some point, but it was ambiguous where exactly to exit off the spine and we left too early. It wasn't a big deal though because we managed.

We were now making our way across the boulder field that had HUGE boulders. If someone ever gets the motivation to hike a crashpad all the way up to this spot, there is a lot of potential for some awesome, difficult bouldering to be had here.

After this boulder field, we were walking across a rather pleasant high altitude meadow that was nearly flat, and we took comfort in the calmness of the location. Max somehow had reception here, and called his folks to let them know that we would be back in a few hours. We took a small water/food break.

A short jaunt up the last face and we were on top of Columbia! Super stoked!

20407_04
Columbia summit pic.

A few hours later, we were back at camp, enjoying some food and relaxing. My reservations didn't start till the day after next, so I had no commitment to be driving to a trailhead that night, and could hang out with Max and his family.

The next morning, they took off, and I drove on out to Aspen, where I had a brutally tough time finding somewhere to disperse camp. I first drove up the Maroon Bells road to see if I could camp up there, but a forest ranger stopped me. Meanwhile, Kornblum (HikesinGeologicTime) met up with me, and we tried to find somewhere to camp. We ended up having to drive about 45 minutes away from the trailhead in order to find somewhere to camp. Even so, I am pretty sure that we weren't allowed to camp where we did, but a forest ranger never caught us, plus we weren't doing anything that would've damaged the environment or anything, so it's all good.

The next morning, we woke up at 2 am. We were at the trailhead at about 3:20, and hiking by 3:30 am. We were moving pretty good, and after we passed Crater Lake, I kept checking the 14ers.com app and it's pictures every couple minutes to make sure we didn't pass the cairn that signaled us to begin ascending the peak. It was still pitch black out and our headlamps were only so bright, and after a while, we realized we had passed the cairn. We turned back, by which point the sun was starting to light things up around us, and we found the cairn easily now. Onwards with the ascent.

The trail kinda dissipates into eroded paths that sort-of start and end randomly. We just had to keep moving in the same general diagonal-ish direction up the mountain in order to reach the ridge. After a while of grinding up this steep and sometimes kinda loose slope for a thousand feet, we were on the ridge. It took us a while to make it up to the ridge as the mountain was steep.

After making it to the ridge, we hitched right up the ridge and reached the notch at 13250. By now, it was about 10:30 am, and Kornblum was worried that I was getting held back and was worried about not making it back to the car by the 4:30 cutoff time as per my reservation. It was decided that I should continue on and try for the summit, and Kornblum would head back down to the car.

I put my helmet on and set off into the loose, confusing terrain of Maroon peak.

20407_05
South Maroon, Snowmass, and Capitol seen from the notch at 13250.
20407_06
Pyramid from the notch at 13250.
20407_07
Upper Maroon Basin. The contrasting color is amazing.

In general, I thought that the 14ers.com route description and photos are adequate enough as far as route-finding goes to make your way to the summit of South Maroon via the South ridge route. While there are a couple of places that could've been improved/more clear/more pictures could be added, I was able to figure out the terrain with patience and constantly looking at the photos.

20407_08
The chimney.

When I reached the section with 2 gullies, I looked at the pictures and instantly knew exactly where to go. I noticed there was a guy on the other side of the chute that was extremely off route, and I shouted to him, offering to partner up with him to summit. We made our way to each other, and got back on route. He said he was following 2 other guys who were way further around the mountain than he was. Wow, they were EXTREMELY off route, which was pretty dangerous, or they were climbing it via some other route I'd never heard off.

We climbed up gully 2, and headed left and saw the robot rock. So far, we were on route.

20407_09
Looking out from gully 2 (I think).

After this, the cairns became very difficult to find, but when we would find them, there would be multiple indicating different ways to go which made the terrain even more confusing. We basically just took the path of least resistance, and found ourselves at the top of South Maroon.

20407_10
Snowmass and Capitol from the top of South Maroon.
20407_11
North Maroon, I'm coming!
20407_19
South Maroon summit pic.

The guy I met up had never done a class 3 peak before South Maroon, so it would be unwise for him to attempt the traverse. He headed back down the way we came up. I, on the other hand, had the traverse ahead of me. It was Traverse Month, after all. There wasn't much holding me back. The weather forecast was predicting impeccable weather all day today and Tuesday, and the horizon supported this hypothesis. There weren't crazy winds, I didn't have a headache or anything, there wasn't much in the way of conditions and afflictions to prevent me from doing it. The only way failure would happen is by a catastrophic fall, which there would be plenty of opportunity for on this traverse of traverses. I made the executive decision that she goes. And go, she did.

While the 14ers.com route description for the ascent of South Maroon was about 90% clear and easy to follow, the route description for this traverse was absolutely not clear at all. Pretty much, all it helped me with was the little down climb from the South Maroon summit to the Bellcord notch, and that there was 3 sections of class 5 climbing on the route. Other than that, the route description was full of complete uncertainty.

I am writing this report like 6 months after I did this traverse, so I am not going to try to describe the route to you, nor describe the feelings of fear that is enticed by this route. Other trip reports done a much better job of this than I will be able to, so I will say this: it wasn't easy. My stress level was an all time high during this traverse, and I am even feeling stressed out by this traverse right now just thinking about it. That said, perhaps someday I will do it again. Maybe even next summer when if I accompany my dad up the rest of the 14ers on his list.

I was at the top of North Maroon, where I had caught up with a party of about 8 guys who had just done the traverse ahead of me. We were all greatly ecstatic about our success, and were all joyous at the thought of being done with such a stressful event. We got to talking, and I found a partner to do Pyramid with the next day.

We all headed down North Maroon together, which didn't take too long, and we reached the camp the other guys were based out of near Crater Lake. I split off from them and began running down the trail once I got to Crater Lake. This was probably a mistake, as there were literally hundreds of people hiking in this stretch of trail. They all gave me funny looks, as nearly all of them had masks on and I didn't, and because I was running down an extremely rocky trail pretty fast past a bunch of people. Yes, I do feel a little guilty about not wearing a mask and about possibly posing a danger to these people, but what's done is done. I ran because I was full of the greatest thrill of energy of such a vibrant and famous traverse being over with, and also because I was trying to catch up to Kornblum in order to not make them wait at the car for so long. I ended up catching up on the trail, and we finished the last half mile or so together.

We got back to the car, and took off down towards Aspen. I dropped Kornblum off at the car with a good luck on the 14er journey, and went to get lunch.

The next morning, same thing. I woke up at 2 am and drove back up to the trailhead. I began hiking around 3:15, and met up with Paul (the guy I met on North Maroon yesterday) at Crater Lake. We backtracked a little bit to the turn off for Pyramid Peak and began up it. There was one other party climbing that we had seen so far, but we ended up ahead of them, and we were on our own for a few hours thereafter.

We were making good time, heading up the talus field. We made it to the top of the talus field and cut left towards the headwall. It was very loose, quite steep, and long. We made good time going up it though, and were at last on the ridge. Our calves were burning pretty good from the steepness and length of the gully, so we took a little water break and I looked at the pictures to see what the rest of the route entailed.


20407_13
Maroons and Snowmass Capitol from the ridge.

We set off again. After a short while, we were to the green wall, which turned out to be very loose and steep. A goat appeared above us just as we were about to the top of it, and we quickly exited left out from under the goat, who are known to kick rocks down.

From here, it was simply picking our way up to the top of the mountain via the path of least resistance. The goat followed us, along with some other climbers that were catching up with us. I guess we took a rather long water break.

20407_14
Paul near the green wall.
20407_15
Me near the green wall.
20407_16
Climbing the green wall.

And we were at the summit! Paul and I were finished with the Maroon Bells!

20407_18
Pyramid summit pic.

We chilled for a while at the summit, while a couple women from Aspen summited, a climber from Texas with a guide summited, as well as the goat. We set off back down the mountain, taking care not to kick rocks down the peak, for more people were coming up still. The green wall proved to be particularly challenging to not kick rocks down.

We were both ready to be off the loose mountain, and we were moving quite quick to get off of it. We got down the loose wall under the ridge and into the upper basin rather quick, and all we had left was to go down the talus field. It wasn't too hard going down this, just tedious as hell. Believe me when I tell you that every single 14er has at least a little bit of talus to deal with at some point, but not many have a big field of it like Pyramid Peak does. It is a long, slow grind to make it out of this talus field.

We split off at the connection with the main trail, where Paul headed back up to Crater Lake to pack up his stuff, and I headed back down to the car. It was 1 pm when I got back to the car, and I decided to rinse off in the creek and enjoy the awesome views of the Maroons with the rest of the tourists.

It only exists in my own head what I had done over the last 2 days. Mountaineering is really a curious thing; we prepare immensely for this struggle, we suffer through a great struggle, and we (hopefully) survive the struggle, and then, after everything is said and done and completed, the world is truly no different for it. Mountaineering seems to be a very personal, perhaps even selfish, hobby, but then again, isn't everything? How could one really justify the worth that any particular human behavior or activity is worth to society? What does that even mean? How could one argue that professions like doctors even contribute to society when there are many, many people in need in countries with a lack of doctors, and yet there is an oversaturation of doctors in big cities, showing that in large part, 'useful' professions are plagued even with controversial philosophy about what it even means to be contributial to society? Nay, mountaineering, as selfish as it is, can be no more selfish than the next fool's errand of any mans hobby. As I sat, looking up at the Maroons, sucking sweetly on the tangy and delightful memories of the past couple days, life continued on around me, unaffected by my travails. Who's to say that these peculiar activites of man of risking their life over something as socially basic as wishing to reach the top of something is any different from any other dastardly, daring endeavor one might embark on?

20407_17
Thinking of the adventure of the past few days.


As always,

Risk is for managing, not for chance.

~Hogan Warlock~




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
ltlFish99
nice report
12/18/2020 21:31
That was another nice report with wonderful photographs. I
love the view from the top. I have only been on south maroon so far, and the view of the valley towards snowmass and Capitol is delightful.


hogantheepic

Yah its super awesome
12/18/2020 23:28
@ltlFish99 the entire elk range is honestly just so awesome



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