Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  06/27/2008
Modified:  05/03/2010
Date Climbed:   06/26/2008
Author:  benners

 A Full Day on the Bells: Bell Cord and Traverse  

Peaks: Maroon and North Maroon, Elk Range
Date Climbed: June 26, 2008
Group: Ryan (scollard) and Ben (benners)
Route: Bell Cord Couloir, South to North Traverse
RT Distance/Elevation Gain: 8 Miles, 4,800 Feet
Time: 11 Hours

About a week ago Ryan and I decided we should try to hit the Bell Cord before the season is out, I had never climbed the Bell Cord before and Ryan had never climbed the Bells before so there were firsts involved for both of us. We stayed in Snowmass wednesday night with plans to hit the trail around 3:30am, and my Dad came down from Vail to hike to Crater Lake with us (I guess it's becoming tradition). We left the trail at 3:45am and reached Crater Lake around 5:15. We parted with my Dad and began climbing the snow, which still ran a continuous line from the bottom of the valley.

Early morning light on the Bell Cord Couloir

We cramponed up the slopes beneath the Bells (I guess this area is called "The Garbage Chute"), heading left around the large cliff band and cutting right to the mouth of the Bell Cord. There were several headlamps approaching from below as well as a singular lamp above us heading for the Southeast Couloirs.

Sunrise over Pyramid:

The Bell Cord was littered with rockfall and there were several runnels and rock fall trenches running the lenght of the couloir. The snow had already begun to soften which made kicking steps a bit easier.

The upper Bell Cord

Pyramid looming over us less and less . . .

The final 50 feet steepened a bit past 45 degrees (seemingly), Ryan and I topped out two and a half hours after departing from Crater Lake.

Looking down from the top

The top of the Bell Cord, 8:00am

A beautiful day in my favorite mountains

We had initially planned to hit North Maroon first, then South and descend the standard route off of South. We found the Northwest side of Maroon to hold quite a bit of snow still and changed our plan to hit South and then North, descending off of North (and plus we would not have to do the traverse twice this way). We headed up South Maroon, summiting at 8:40. On the summit we met a solo climber, Brian, from Washington who had come up one of the Southeast Couloirs (the single headlamp from earlier).

South Maroon Summit

A nice, snow free traverse

We stayed on the summit for ten minutes or so and then headed back towards the Bell Cord. Just below the summit we talked with 2 other climbers who warned against descending North Maroon's standard route because of its gullies still holding a lot of snow. They told us about their friend who had required 8 hours to descend from the summit of North Maroon to Crater Lake because of postholing issues. Ryan and I were a bit apprehensive about this and made the decision to hit North Maroon and then return to the Bell Cord, foregoing the decision to descend off of North. We began the traverse by climbing the cliff band just North of the Bell Cord. The climbing was really fun, previously I had done the traverse in the opposite direction so climbing up these obstacles was a nice change.

Ryan climbing the first cliff band:

We continued along trying to stick to the ridge crest as much as possible. Many of the major obstacles can be skirted around by dropping off the West side of the ridge but staying on the actual ridge is a fun challenge.

Climbing the 2nd of what I would consider to be the main 3 obstacles on the traverse:

. . . and Ryan climbing the 3rd of these obstacles, a 25 foot cliff with no apparent alternate passage

South Maroon from just under North Maroon's Summit

We topped out on North Maroon and hour and a half after leaving the Bell Cord.

North Maroon Summit

We headed back towards the Bell Cord and considered either descending the Bell Cord or going back over South Maroon and descending either the SE Couloir or the standard route.

More pics of the traverse:

We reached the top of the Bell Cord (for the 3rd time) at 11:45am. Having completed the traverse twice as well as summiting both peaks, we felt the best option (though not really a good option) was to descend the Bell Cord, as doing so would be our quickest way off the Bells (as opposed to summiting South Maroon again and heading over the back where we were surely going to encounter more snow anyway). The snow in the couloir was in great skiing condition but not the greatest for glissading, so we had to downclimb the upper parts of the couloir before being able to glissade safely. About 25 minutes later we were past the mouth of the couloir and feeling pretty good about things when a we had a small (but painful) scare.
We were glissading down the garbage chute about 100 feet apart, Ryan was below me and had begun to yell that there was a rock coming down the Bell Cord. He yelled for about ten seconds and for some reason I just didn't hear him. The rock hit me in the left side just below my rib cage, knocking the wind out of me and sending a good amount of pain down my leg and through my abdomen. I looked down, a little stunned and unsure of what had just happened, and saw a rock the size of a bowling ball sitting at my feet. The damn thing had come down the couloir and hit me. I was able to breathe fine, so no broken ribs, and after 6 ibuprofin I was able to continue glissading and hike out, so no fractured hip or anything either. Ryan carried all of our gear out while I sort of stumbled back to the car at Maroon lake, arriving at 2:30pm. After being examined in Westminster 8 hours later I was cleared as having nothing more than a badly bruised hip/abdomen. Whew.

A last look at the Bells

One thing I love about mountaineering is that I feel I am constantly learning lessons. This time around I learned that having good beta on a route (especially a route like North Maroon's NE ridge) is incredibly important, apparently even in late June. For instance, knowing the beta on the NE ridge, we may not have changed our gameplan based on advice from climbers we had never met because we would have known for ourselves. After arriving at Maroon Lake, we took a look at the Northeast ridge and I really think it would have been the best option for Ryan and I as we would have been off the Bells much earlier. . . and maybe I wouldn't have gotten raped in the back by a rock descending the Bell Cord.


 Comments or Questions

Bell Cord
02/05/2011 00:22
You‘d think it be nice to have skies right now on the Cord, but actually, those runnels and rocks and 15-20 foot deep holes make for some rough going and some creative manuevers.

Speaking of, your encounter with that rock is the exact same thing that happened to Carl last weekend on our descent about halfway down the Cord. I yelled about 5 times, he heard me, looked back and got out of the way at the last second. It wasn‘t at full speed, but was headed for his ribs/leg region and could‘ve done some damage. And the luckiest part about it was I randomly looked back up the Cord and it just so happened when a decent sized rock was heading down, the only one of the day, but it was headed right at Carl. I guess sometimes you eat the bar, other times it eats you.


Yup . . .
06/27/2008 20:20
this was the only rock of our day also, kinds sucks we couldn‘t avoid it but I‘ll live. And nice trip and report from last week Brian, that was a pretty wild line across the East face!

top pin

06/27/2008 23:55
Benners, Great trip report. We spoke with you coming off S. Maroon. Unfortunately, we didn‘t go down the Bell Cord but instead went down on the south ridge - which I wouldn‘t recommend now - the west side is just wet and rotten. Of course, we didn‘t get hit with any shooting rocks! Glad to hear you‘re ok.


South Couloir
06/27/2008 23:57
You mentioned the S couloir a couple of times, but FYI, that leads down into Fravert Basin. I think the couloirs you mention are the NE couloirs, AKA the Y couliors. Just thought that should cleared up for people seeking beta. Glad you didn‘t get too hurt, sounds like a little bad luck.


11/30/2010 17:28
Roach calls them the "Southeast Couloirs" although I have heard them called the Y couloirs also. I changed "South" to "Southeast" throughout the report. Thanks.

top pin

Learning Lessons
06/28/2008 08:20
The information we passed along to you while you were heading down Maroon was, in part, from Scott on Sunday and is attached here for your review. Additionally, we reviewed the NE ridge ourselves at length through a high-powered spotting scope late Wednesday. Given current conditions, I still agree with Scott as the whole north face is soaking wet making for rock calving like you experienced in the Bell Cord. Having said that, unless descending while it is still frozen, like possibly under moonlight, the Bell Cord is not the answer either as you, Carl, and lordhelmut found out. The southeast/Y couloir is probably the best descent route now and is actually what we recommended. Sorry you feel we gave you ”bad beta”. I guess we both learned a lesson. Take care.

Re: Conditions around Maroon Bells?
by Scott Rogers on Sun Jun 22, 2008 10:09 pm

If you‘ve been down the normal N. Maroon route before, you‘ll probably be fine. If not, you‘re in for a treat. It took my friends and I 8 hours to descend from the summit down to the car, mainly because the route was damn near impossible to find. We couldn‘t find any footprints, and half of the cairns were buried. If you are really skilled at routefinding and keeping your cool, taking it slow will get you down fine. I have to say though, the snow was intimidating, as at times we were descending sections steeper than 60 degrees. The main problem was, anytime you get off track, you run into a vertical cliffband. There‘s really only a couple ways you can actually get down, so if you get to an impasse, just backtrack and try another way. I think if you follow our footprints through the snow, you should be good to go though. It was just tough for us because it didn‘t appear that anyone had been on that route for quite some time and we weren‘t able to find so much as a posthole from someone else on the mountain. You will run into some trouble after you get off the mountain too... The creek is absolutely raging right now, making crossing it almost impossible. We ended up glissading down the 2+ feet of snow still there in the trees and bushwhacking our way back to crater lake.


top pin!
11/30/2010 17:28
I didn't mean to insinuate that you gave us "bad beta" so much as I was commenting on my own error in not doing my own research. I have been on the normal route on N. Maroon before and, even after reading Scott's caption above, still think it would have been the best option for Ryan and I given we were two to two and a half hours behind you guys (we ran into you with the entire travese ahead of us, the entire traverse twice plus summiting S. Maroon again ahead of us if we were to descend the SE couloir). In other words the beta you gave us was fine and accurate, but out of a slew of not-so-great options in the face of much different circumstances than you were facing, I still think a descent off of North would have been best for Ryan and I as we knew the route and theoretically would have gotten off the Bells much earlier. Your beta was fine, we should have looked into it more. You guys take care as well, nice meeting you.


thank you!
06/29/2008 00:49
This is just what I needed for conditions! I‘ll be on the Bells July 5th. Thanks!

top pin

No Worries
06/29/2008 01:18
Thanks for the comments. I know you really wish you had gone down the northface but I‘m glad you didn‘t - here‘s a bit more detail as to why. We found ourselves in some wet areas on the southwest side of Maroon. This is obviously due to the heavy snow on the peaks this year. A significant amount of the boulders on these mountains are held in place by soil as is evident by the mountain‘s green color upon snow melt. The wet seeping snow is eroding this soil and causing the need to question every hold and foot placement. In my opinion, these are by far the most dangerous conditions on the mountain. (In fact, the Bell Cord and traverse both ways were relatively straight forward.) As an example, we pulled off a huge rock (3‘x2‘x5‘)that initially we felt was safe in one of these wet areas (These wet areas are behaving like the couliors normally behave). Fortunately we got real lucky. As you could tell from Maroon Lake, the majority of the northface is wet - it is literally shining with seep all over the face. With hindsite of crossing minimal wet areas, I truly think you avoided a huge risk that exists now but normally doesn‘t. Anywho, glad we‘re all back in one piece and that you‘re ok. I look forward to seeing you again out there. Take care. Peace!


nice report
06/29/2008 16:00
thanks for the report and the photos. when we climb Maroon and N. Maroon I want to hit it via the Cord, so its nice to see photos of it ahead. How much snow is remaining in the coulior? 2-3 weeks left of good climbing, or less?


06/29/2008 20:44
Thanks for sharing your adventure and photos of the route.


06/30/2008 13:23
Nice report and pics, sucks about the rock.

What camera are you using?


11/30/2010 17:28
centrifuge - There was quite a bit of snow still, prolly at least 2 or 3 weeks left up there although it is collapsing into massive, 10 to 20 foot deep sinkholes near the mouth of the couloir. You would be fine just going around them but really try to hit it earlier than we did.

MountainMatt - I'm using just a 6 megapixel Nikon Coolpix S3. It's just a little point and shoot but I love it, perfect size too.

Skier25 and krz2fer - No prob!


Scott Rogers

06/30/2008 17:25
Didn‘t mean to get in the middle of this, but I‘m glad everyone made it down. Sorry my beta ended up being a pain in people‘s asses/hips/ribs/whatnot. I was just trying to relay as accurately as possible the conditions on N. Maroon‘s standard route. It is definitely doable by a competent and cautious climber, cautious being the key word. Looks like you all had a great day though, congrats on the summits!


Great climb, great report
08/04/2008 02:24
Nice work. Sprru about the rock incident, glad to hear you weren‘t hurt too badly. That‘s exactly what scares me about those mountains. Your account of the traverse makes me want to get back up there and do it.

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