Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,022 feet
Maroon Peak  -  14,163 feet
Date Posted:  03/11/2023
Date Climbed:   03/08/2023
Author:  andrewhamilton
Additional Members:   Chrisfish25
 Maroon Bells Winter 2023   

Maroon Bells 3-8-2022


In 2023 Chris Fisher has spent the entire winter trying to climb all of the 14ers in a single calendar winter. I’m the only person to have ever completed that goal before, back in 2018. Just like 2018, it basically comes down to the Elks. In 2018 I was nervous about the avalanche conditions in the Elks which were terrible all season, and finally feeling the pressure of the end of winter nearing, I conceived of a pretty ridiculous idea to climb Capitol, Snowmass, and the Bells in one big 52 hour push in a desperate attempt to finish those peaks that I had been dreading all winter. By the end of that trip I was basically left in tears after a struggle to find my way down Snowmass Creek in the dark, after my phone and tracker died.

That was one of the epic adventures of my quest in 2018. I remember the stress of having to take on the Elks, so I think I know what Chris is experiencing as he attempts to finish the Elks with impending snowstorms around the corner. So I was excited to join Chris on what are some of the scariest remaining peaks. I have climbed the Maroon Bells around 20 times, and I knew my knowledge of the traverse could come in handy for Chris, who had not climbed the traverse before. But I was a little intimidated because Chris is in great shape and I was concerned that I would really slow down his pace as I am not currently in mountain climbing shape.

The Approach

I appreciated Chris’s willingness to start an hour later than originally planned because of my late arrival to the trailhead. I arrived at the winter trailhead for Snowmass Creek at about midnight and set my alarm for 3:00am. We woke up and were off around 3:30am. The forecast was calling for winds in the 40mph range all day. So I think we were both a little nervous about what the conditions were going to be like especially once we got up on the ridge.

I was trying out some new skis, Voile Objective BC, and Chris on his Hagan Ultralights. I am not the best skier, in fact I think of ski boots as modern torture devices. So the prospect of putting on my Scarpa’s for a big day of skiing is a little daunting. But it sure beats snowshoeing. And I was hoping with the skis we would quickly be able to ski out Snowmass Creek that night in what had taken me the entire night back in 2018.

Chris on the other hand, is a great skier. And his skills at skiing are what has really set him apart this year on his quest. I appreciate the elegance with which he has skied some of the toughest 14ers in Colorado, especially the San Juans. In fact from a distance he has made much of this quest seem quite easy as he nonchalantly wakes up at 7:00am, summits by 11:00am, and finishes in the early afternoon on peaks that took me well into the dark, if not until the next day.

Watching him I have been intrigued by the idea of becoming a better skier. But those pesky boots…the way they destroy my feet…well here goes nothing!

Chris did most of the leading throughout the approach, so I quickly fell in line and followed him as we skinned up Snowmass Creek. One thing he is really good at is following a GPX route without even breaking stride. He does this with a navigation watch where all it takes is a quick glance for him to make sure we are on route.

The first few hours were in the dark, and the snow was hard and icy. Despite the large snow year for the Elks, the trail-breaking was easy because the snow was quite supportive. In places we were just hanging on to some steep side-hilling with our edges, conditions that were not my favorite. Thank goodness we were going to be coming down in the light when the snow was softer. Or so we thought.

When we first noticed that it was light, we were somewhere near where the main trail heads off to Snowmass Lake, and we got our first glimpse of the objective in the distance. The Maroon Bells. Never more spectacular than in their full winter glory.

First view of the bells

We still had about 3 miles left on the approach, and at this point it feels like you are really heading into the remote part of the Elks as even in summer the area West of the Bells hardly sees any visitors. For the next hours we threaded our way through some flats and forests until finally getting above treeline. Our goal was to find the Gunsight Couloir, an obvious notch in the ridge North of North Maroon. This couloir was the reason we had chosen this route. With its West facing couloir, the avalanche conditions are much safer than routes up the Bells from the east side.

But the Gunsight Couloir is shy and doesn’t come into view until the last moment. Meanwhile the terrain had changed. Above treeline, we continued across the wind ridden slopes that formed the first steps on the west side of North Maroon, across the sea of sastrugi formations.

Now the slopes became steeper, and we were sidehilling on rock-hard snow. I was struggling at this point. 13 miles in the boots and I had hotspots, bone problems, and toe pain. I was very much ready to take off my skis and put on my winter mountaineering boots. Meanwhile Chris was thinking ahead to a glorious ski down the Gunsight Couloir. So I stopped to leave my skis, and change into my Mountaineering boots while Chris continued skiing up over a small rise so that I could not see him anymore.

It is quite a process for me to change from one set of boots to another. And you would probably be disturbed by the grunts of pain and obscenities that leave my mouth as I first try to remove the ski boots, then get on the mountaineering boots. I left the skis and ski boots and boot packed up over the rise until I could see Chris already a couple hundred feet above me at the base of the Couloir.

I was winded by the time I reached him, and he started putting in some tracks up the couloir. Chris does his mixed mountaineering with his ski boots, so he doesn’t have to change boots. I wonder how I would like doing the class 4 stuff with ski boots on? For me though it is not an option because of how those ski boots mangle my feet. Heading up the Gunsight Coulor in some places was nice and in others was intense struggling through powder where the snow crust would break and you would sink in to your waist and have to bear crawl out of the hole you just created. Other spots were beautiful and he left perfect steps for me to follow. It was all I could do to keep up with Chris as he put in all that work until we reached the top of the couloir around 10:40 am.

Chris heading up the Gunsight couloir.

North Maroon

Now over the winter as I followed Chris, it was obvious that he was fast. However I did notice that for whatever reason I had been faster on a couple of technical peaks. For example, on Capitol it took me 4 hours to do the roundtrip from Capitol to K2, and it took Chris 7. And on the Wilson El Diente traverse I had also moved a little faster, 3 hours instead of 5.

I mentioned this to Chris so he would know what to expect on the traverse. In winter 2018 it had taken me about 6 hours to go from the top of the Gunsight couloir to the Summits of North Maroon, South Maroon, and back. In fact it broke down into roughly 4 1.5 hour segments. Gunsight to North Maroon, traverse North to South, traverse South back to North, and finally North Maroon to Gunsight. To be safe I used that 6 hours as the fastest that I expected us to do it. And on the slow end I figured we could do it in 9, which meant we would be pushing darkness up on the ridge.

He left his skis near the top of the couloir, and we glanced over the east side of the Gunsight. There was a large cornice hanging over the east side so it was nice that we didn’t have to deal with that psychologically on the way up the west side. We now needed to more or less follow the ridge up to the summit. The ridge though is not straightforward. Fortunately with my experience I have an instinct of where we want to go, although my memory is not perfect so I’m constantly questioning myself. For most of the way up you stick to the west side of the ridge, which is quite windblown. In fact it looked almost identical to the conditions the last time I did it in 2018 in winter. The biggest problem other than the route finding are several snow drifts that build up and block the ledges you are on. It can be tedious and tiring kicking steps and then trusting the snow to support you, and it feels like you are hanging over a cliff at times so it can be somewhat stressful.

Snowy ledge on way to North Maroon

We made our way through several snowy patches like that and then snaked our way up through the difficulties on the blocky ridge. At some point Chris mentioned that he was feeling pretty tired too. And that did lift my spirits because I didn’t have the guilt of feeling like I was slowing him down now. The winds were strong but not unmanageable. Except when they gusted. The gusts were strong enough that you would just have to bend down and hold on to the mountain and wait for the gust to pass.

We made the summit of North Maroon right on schedule at about noon, about an hour and a half after reaching the top of the Gunsight Couloir.

Summit of North Maroon with Snowmass in the background.

The Traverse

From the summit of North Maroon, South Maroon is tantalizingly close. But so far away at the same time. You get a good view of the split personality of the ridgeline, windswept and rocky on the west, and solid white and snowy on the east. I was excited as it was time for the main event! We started down directly from the summit and reached the first little notch. Here we left our poles and continued and almost immediately I screwed up the route as I clambered over a block just to find myself in a position I knew was incorrect. I Immediately yelled back at Chris to not come up, and retraced my steps. Turns out in this particular spot you have to go around the block on the snow loaded side.

I gingerly made my way around the corner, trying not to look at the 3000 foot drop to my left. Chris asked me if I thought it would go, as it was quite intimidating. This was a critical moment, if we had felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to go on that could have put Chris’s entire quest in jeopardy. But the snow felt great so at that moment as I came around that block I knew that we were going to make it. I didn’t know how long it was going to take but I just knew we would pull it off.

Prelude to the hard stuff on the ridge.

Now that we were back on the route I recognized, we slowly made our way through several more difficulties as we approached the 3 cruxes of the route. Since we were right on the ridge we were fully exposed to the strong winds.

We made it to the first crux. There are options, but my favorite way of handling this section is going down through a little chimney feature. It is awkward though in big boots with crampons. The chimney itself was almost totally dry and windswept except for some ice. But I awkwardly downclimbed it. I really didn’t enjoy it and I am sure my gruntings and cursings didn’t instill Chris with much confidence.

When I reached the bottom Chris decided to rappel it instead. I forget to mention that he had carried up a rope for this section. Actually the second crux is the one I really thought we would want a rope for, but since he had carried it up, might as well make use of it. Unfortunately I had the slings in my pack, so he just threaded the rope around a big boulder and proceeded to descend the rope. The only problem was that once at the bottom, he couldn’t pull the rope down, there was too much friction around that boulder. And while he was descending the rope I had gone ahead and scouted out the second crux and I knew we would definitely want the rope there as there was much more snow covering the holds there.

I offered to climb back up and retrieve the rope. I climbed back up through the chimney, which based on my grunts of pain and anguish climbing up I figured we could rename it the birth canal. It is pretty embarrassing how noisy I am when I am hurting. Once at the rope I decided to set up a proper sling and rappel down, only as it turns out I had forgotten my own rappel device, fortunately Chris was able to pass his up to me.

To tie in the sling to rappel on I had to remove my mittens and of course in those winds that made the hands instantly cold so it was time consuming to get it all figured out. But once the sling was acceptable I was able to quickly descend down to Chris, and he was able to pull the rope down without incident this time.

From there it’s a short walk to the top of the second crux. The top of the second crux was completely covered in snow so I wasn’t sure what we would use for an anchor. So we ended up working together to dig out the top of a large rock, I remember ducking down and waiting for some strong wind gusts here, perched at the top of the second crux. Those are the memories I know I will cherish. We carved out a slot all the way around the rock that we put the rope around and just rappelled off that sketchy anchor. I didn’t think we would need the rope after that so we didn’t have to deal with retrieving it, instead we tied the bottom part of it down so it wouldn’t blow away in a gust of wind.

Pyramid from base of second crux.

There was one more crux remaining. I know of a class 3 bypass for this crux so that’s what we went with. That was one spot I think I helped out Chris a lot because without me he might have needed a rope on the last crux and then getting back over the second traverse would have been much more difficult. Instead it was more of a dry, windswept class 3 downclimb.

Windswept 3rd crux
Near the 3rd Crux

Finally we reached the low point in the traverse at the top of the Bell-Cord Couloir, then had about 500 feet of tiring trudging, sometimes wallowing up the snow to the summit of South Maroon. It was 3:21, so we knew we had our work cut out because we had to get back across that traverse. Our new goal became to just get back to North Maroon by the time it was dark.

The Sunset

After some pictures and a big hug on top of South Maroon we stopped and enjoyed the view and the accomplishment. You can’t help but develop a bond with someone after an experience like that. But now we were only half-way done. Time to head back!

I was very thirsty at this point and when Chris offered me some water I greedily obliged. His energy mix tasted amazing!

I think maybe one of the reasons I was feeling so tired today was I really didn’t eat or drink much at all on this day. I drank about 20 ounces of water, but by now my second bottle was frozen. I had tried to eat a gel earlier for some energy, but it was too hard so I only got about half of the gel out and the rest ended up making a sticky mess inside my pack.

We turned around and retraced our steps. It felt about the same as on the way over. We were tired so moving through the snow was slow. Back at the second crux the rope was fortunately still there, so I used it as an extra handhold as I climbed back up and then belayed Chris up through the cliff. Then back at the first crux I climbed back through the chimney and set up another belay.

As we neared the summit of North Maroon, I suggested a short cut to avoid going back up North Maroon, because honestly I would have done anything to avoid any more ups. But Chris felt more comfortable sticking to what we knew would work. So we split up for a few minutes and honestly I was a little disappointed in myself…I did find a way through but I was a little jealous as I looked up and saw Chris on the Summit of North Maroon getting one more look around at the beautiful surroundings.

We now enjoyed a spectacular sunset from just off the summit of North Maroon. Its probably not the best idea to be on the summit of a gnarly 14er in winter for sunset. But you can’t beat the view!

Looking west from North Maroon
South Maroon in the beautiful light.

Now in the dark we threaded our way back through the maze of North Maroon’s northwest ridge to the top of the Gunsight couloir.

Cutting back across the snowy ledges

Since Chris was going to ski I just headed down and had an amazing glissade straight down the center of the couloir. I had some trouble finding my skis and boots in the dark, and then had a ridiculously tough time get my ski boots back on. Somehow on a really windy day, I managed to pick the windiest spot to leave my boots and poles. As I struggled to put my boots on wind gusts would try to blow away all of my gear, and thankfully Chris was there to hold it all down while I screamed at my boots. It literally took all the strength I could muster to get them on. Thanks Chris for putting up with me there…

The Never Ending Trail

Pain, torture, agonizing, cruel, excruciating, harrowing. Its hard to pick the right word for how I feel about the descent out of Snowmass Creek. But hopefully those words give you the right idea. At this point I gave Chris permission to leave me behind, as he would easily save an hour by just skiing on down without me. But he stayed with me and led the way down the icy wind swept slopes until after a few miles we were protected from the harshest winds. Sometimes we even had patches of soft snow…but for the most part it was rock hard and very difficult.

We both fell quite often but I think I definitely won the award for most crashes, and again I appreciate Chris’s patience as I struggled with my bindings and tried to keep up as best I could. The 13 miles drags and drags like something out of a nightmare. Little did I know at 9:30 when I felt like we must almost be done that we still had over 3 hours of skiing out to go, and now I can honestly say I know why I cried the last time I spent an entire night hiking out this trail back in 2018. By the time we finally made it to the trailhead, it would probably be easiest to describe what wasn’t hurting on my feet, maybe the top of the second toe on my left foot. I don’t know how Chris puts those boots on day after day after day.

Anyway thanks Chris for a great adventure, this was one of the good ones!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 8 9 10 11 12

Comments or Questions
What a trip
03/11/2023 20:42
I enjoyed reading everything you wrote here. You have a talent for story telling!

Great trip report
03/11/2023 20:43
Thank you for the detailed write up of an amazing adventure. Great work to both of you.

Thank you for paving the way
03/11/2023 21:03
I love how I felt the adrenaline while reading this. Hats off to you two studs for doing the damn thing. I cant imagine the difficulty of grinding this one out.

03/11/2023 21:15
I've been following this rad, beautiful and sketchy adventure since it started, I'm so impressed with the speed , distance and lack of injuries that could have crushed all hopes of finishing, I feel so much awe in how sincere and invested Andrew was in making sure this goal was accomplished!!!

Wow! F*%#ing wow!
03/11/2023 22:00
So awesome to hear the story behind the moving blue arrow! What an inspiring duo! The sportsmanship and camaraderie is amazing to witness and watch from the sidelines!

03/11/2023 23:24
Andrew, which Scarpa boots do you have? Scarpa F1 LTs are the most comfortable in that line. They really hike like trailrunners.
P.S. Traverse around Gunsight looks epic, so steep! It turned me around the 1st time I tried North Maroon, but the snow was crappy and I couldn't quite trust it.

Scarpa F1s
03/12/2023 07:49
Actually i do have the scarpa f1s. If they hike as good as your trail runners, maybe you should find some different trail runners, haha! Seriously though i think if you have a narrow foot Scarpa makes a great boot, when i first tried them on i was amazed at how freely my foot could move in walk mode. But if your foot shape doesnt work with Scarpa you are going to be sad. I even use a size larger than recommended and have had them punched multiple times. I think next year Im going to splurge for a wider boot and then go from there. Thanks for the input though, i wish they would work for me!

F1s vs F1 LTs
03/12/2023 08:00
are 2 different boots, haha. They sure make it confusing with names.
I had F1 LTs (which is a hybrid between Aliens and F1s), but switched to F1s as they ski better. But LTs definitely hike better, but their last is only 100 mm, which is considered narrow-average.
You may want to try Dynafit boots then. TLT8 series have last of about 103+, pretty wide.
Another option is to punch your boot in the tight fit areas.
Dynafit TLT8s

03/12/2023 08:12
Yeah i think thats the line Im interested in, the Dynafit TLT8 line. Next year Ill get some and then i was thinking Ill be persistent about punching the problem spots. Hope it works!

03/12/2023 10:55
Thanks for taking us along to give us a glimpse of this amazing effort.
Chris is killing it. I'm sure your experience and fellowship have been great for him to have along.

03/12/2023 12:18
Legend and legendary are way too often overused. NOT HERE. Legendary effort! What a day and a night. So cool to read the first person account of the day I watched the garmin tracker almost to the very end. So glad you guys made those peaks and got out safely!

Wow!!! is An understatement
03/12/2023 15:25
Great story. Thank you for the write up. And stopping long enough to pull somewhat warm fingers
out of your gloves to take the photos. I felt like I was right there. Good stuff

That picture
03/12/2023 16:59
of south maroon bathed in the setting sun, is Wonderful.

03/13/2023 06:09
Good stuff, Andrew. You guys are amazing. When I saw that ”ski boots” photo, I might have chuckled to myself. I won't give you any advice on ski boots because it's really a personal fit issue and you need to find what works for your feet. Once you have boots you can tolerate for short to mid climbing->ski days, turn up the pain dial. Because nothing beats a long ski off the mountain!

Dream Team
03/12/2023 19:48
Great report Andrew. You should consider taking the time to put together some more write ups. Seeing the picture of an actual person on the snow traverse really adds some perspective. It was great running into you guys. Hard to believe Chis skied the couloir, because when I was there just a few hours later you would of never knew anyone was up there. The high winds just swept everything away. I actually wondered for a second if I was in the correct couloir. Best of luck to Chris. Really hoping he can squeek out these last 2 routes.

Crux Bypass
03/13/2023 09:48
Thanks for sharing Andrew and great report! You mentioned ”I know of a class 3 bypass for this crux so thats what we went with.” Is there any more info you can share about this spot of the traverse? Photos, other reports, etc. Guess you're implying something on the west side of this crux but I don't recall seeing anything class 3 to top out on that crux going S->N. Thanks in advanced!

Crux Bypass Response
03/14/2023 07:01
Ok well let me try to describe it as if you were going from South Maroon to North Maroon. From the top of the Bell Cord Couloir, there are 2-3 hard class 3- easy 4 ”steps” maybe 20ish feet tall that you ascend before you get to the base of the first crux. So not too difficult but you are feeling like you are climbing. Then you get to the crux. The 3 cruxes are obvious because they are much more difficult/exposed than anything else on the traverse. If you stay more to the right where you can see to the east then it becomes class 5 or I would say hard class 4, and basically goes straight up and is at least a 50 foot pitch of vertical class 4 or 5 I would say. This is the way I went for several years. However, if you stay alert, after those 2-3 ”steps” I mentioned, if you keep your eyes on the lookout to your left (west) you will hopefully see a cairn that leads you across a ledge to your left, then up a short class 3 climb. In my images above it the one labelled ”windswept 3rd crux” where Chris is descending it is the short class 3 climb. Honestly that picture makes it look much scarier than it actually is. The holds on that are nice and big its like climbing a ladder. Once to that cairn you go around the corner, hop over a little gap, and then head back up to your right. I don't know maybe most people find that nowadays but I still remember that crux being a hard one because I didn't know to go around the corner instead of going straight up.

Great Report
03/14/2023 21:21
Chris is the nephew of a very close friend, so I have been following his exploits this winter very closely. This was a great write up and the pictures are awesome. Thanks so much for posting this.

03/15/2023 15:33

Great write-up!
03/19/2023 11:09
It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Congratulations to both of you!

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2023®, 14ers Inc.