Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Date Posted:  03/16/2009
Modified:  10/19/2009
Date Climbed:   03/14/2009
Author:  sgladbach
 Winter on Maroon Peak  

Final Winter Peak for 2009

Maroon Peak 14,156'
March 14, 2009
Route: Bell-Cord Couloir
Distance: 22.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5256'

Camp : Crater Lake, 9 miles
Car to camp: 5 hours
Camp to car: 4 hours

From camp to the summit: 9 hours
From the summit to camp: 1 hour 30 minutes

Overall, it's been a fruitful winter. In a perfect world, I'd have gotten out more often and had the opportunity to attempt a few more new peaks on my list of winter 14ers, but I didn't do too badly. I was able to climb 6 weekends and was able to summit 5 new winter 14ers (two with new winter partners). The sixth weekend, I had a chance to climb three repeat 14ers with some novice winter partners (one of my favorite kinds of climbs).

When the 2008-2009 winter officially began, the 14ers on my winter goal list were all a good distance away from Pueblo, required long approaches with a campout and, for the most part, had to be considered difficult in any season. In order to make a new summit several factors needed to align. I needed a three-day weekend, reasonable avalanche conditions, and a decent weather forecast. Most importantly, my daughters' mother had to be available to watch them for the weekend. Considering all those qualifiers, I feel lucky to have been able to get the five new peaks.

Of the five, it broke down like this:

El Diente: Solo: Longest summit day and most technical rock climbing

N. Maroon: w/ Mike: most technical snow, most avalanche potential, night descent

Pyramid: Solo: lesser known route. Believe it or not, this was the easiest this winter

Snowmass: w/ Kiefer: longest approach and worst weather

And finally the subject of this report,

Maroon Peak (South Maroon) : Solo: Caused the most anxiety.

The anxiety surrounding a winter Maroon Peak attempt stems from a fatal accident and helicopter evacuation involving myself and 5 friends that occurred June 13, 1992. Tough I'd had an enjoyable 1990 ascent of the route, this time four of us were swept down the Southeast Couloir; my friends Brent and Marcie Cameron perished. Emotionally, I don't think I'll ever completely recover from that day. It's always been a hard reality and, I ashamed to admit, I've not always handled it with healthy outlets. I've climbed the peak 4 times since then, but I've never repeated a snow route. Obviously, in winter, I knew they'd all be snow routes.

When I climbed the west face of Pyramid in February, I was evaluating the Southeast Couloir and the Bell-Cord Couloir on Maroon Peak. I was comparing them to the Southwest Ridge route that I knew best. The couloirs certainly looked in fine shape; the only signs of recent slide activity was sloughing from the warming rocks bordering the sides of both couloirs. After descending Pyramid peak, I contemplated climbing to the base of the Garbage Chute to dig a pit and evaluate the possibility of staying in camp an extra day to attempt Maroon. Tired from the day's climb on Pyramid and lacking a partner with snow expertise to confirm my evaluation of the snow, I decided to sleep in the next day and have a leisurely hike out.

A month larer and unable to arrange a partner, I leave Pueblo telling family that I'm going to Aspen and that I haven't decided which peak (Castle/Conundrum or Maroon Peak) I'll try to climb. Finally, I go for the one that I want more right now. On March 13, I returned to the Bells area with a newly built sled in tow (for those of you who've been following the sled-saga that has plagued my three trips to Crater Lake this winter.) At camp, I send my first SPOT message so friends and family will know which peak has received the go-ahead.

After three trips, this has become a familiar (but welcome) view:

And a familiar Camp!

But, here's a new sign of the imminent spring

On each trip, the nearby (15 minutes roundtrip) Minnehaha Falls have saved time by eliminating the need to melt water.

After setting camp, I began to break the 1 ˝ miles of trail west past the Bells to reach the Bent Tree near the climber's trail which marks the start of the South Ridge (standard ) route. But, I never made it that far. Passing by the enormous bowl under both the Southeast Couloir route and the Bell-Cord route, my eyes are again drawn to the direct and aesthetic couloirs above. By sight, the SE Couloir looks harder and has a narrow choke area, but the map and descriptions imply it is easier than the Bell-Cord.

From the snow apron, the SE Couloir is left of Maroon Peak and Bell-Cord to the right

SE Couloir


From Friday's high-point, a view back to Crater Lake. Camp is in a well protected grove just behind the foreground outcrop.

Nervous stomach and all, I decide to climb to the base of the Garbage Chute to evaluate the snow. I know the Colorado Avalanche Information Center has rated the day with Aspen's most favorable conditions of the year (literally). Low avalanche danger is predicted on all aspects and elevations (except, of course, the aspect I'll spend most of the day climbing, the E and NE facing areas above timberline. Here the danger is rated moderate. That is, natural avalanches unlikely, human triggered avalanches possible). With identical weather and slightly lower temperatures predicted, tomorrow's ratings are likely to be the same. Visually, things look good and a small pit at the base of the Chute appears to support predictions. The snow is a little softer than I'd like, but it is 3:00 in the afternoon. There are signs of afternoon sloughing from the adjacent cliffs). I'm still not willing to make a final decision, but I return to camp and devise a plan.

I set the alarm for 1AM and hit the trail at 2:00AM. I'll try to use frozen snow to summit one of the couloirs and be ready to descend before things get too warm. I'll have plenty of time to decide which couloir to climb. By 2:30AM I've reached the fan of apron and have begun to climb. I skip the Garbage Chute and skirt to the right around the basal cliffs through a wide gully that I couldn't see from the base on yesterday afternoon's reconnaissance.

Above the Garbage Chute, The shin-deep snow is softer than I had expected and the going was quite slow. Without conscious decision, I find myself drawn further and further right toward the Bell-Cord. I had made a decision, but I can't pinpoint when or why. The mind (at least mine ) is weird. As soon as I entered the Bell-Cord proper, I sent a SPOT message. Now, some people know which route I'm atempting. I was running behind schedule; it was 6AM.

5:30AM on the Bell-Cord

An 8AM close-up of the upper couloir

I found the Bell-Cord to be a thoroughly enjoyable route. It was much easier than I thought it would be. At about 45 degrees it is not overly steep, but VERY sustained. The deep kick-stepping remained slow and tedious, but the snow quality never differed. At 9:00, I send a message from the Maroon/ N. Maroon saddle.

The Bell-Cord saddle East view

View west from the saddle

The climb to the summit was much harder than I had remembered from my one summer traverse from Maroon Peak to the North Bell. I attempted once to remove my crampons and scramble, but it was too scary. I opted to wear them to the summit and let the rocks from the mixed climb chew up the expensive aluminum as much as the mountain wanted. At 11AM, after 9 hours, I was able to summit. I sent a SPOT message. I was about 2 hours slower than I had hoped. The good news (besides the summit!) is that my working mittens, though warm on the inside, are frozen solid. I won't stay long.

"Hanging out" at and off of the summit

A view of Snowmass for Kiefer who (last Saturday) climbed it, but never saw it.

The imposing west face of Pyramid. Had I seen the full route it from this angle before climbing it last month, I'd not have that one behind me. The couloir that defines the bottom half of the route to the is the one on the far left.

The astute viewer can pick out Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Coxcomb and Precipice

A foreshortened view of the climb from the Bell-cord saddle to North Maroon. Anyone unwilling to give props to Aaron Ralston?


Cathedral, Castleabra, Conundrum, Castle (Next Winter?)

Another view Southwest

A trot to a view point down the south ridge made me feel grateful. The standard route and its upper portion from the SE Gully looked much more difficult than my route today. I'm almost certain that I would not have summited had I chosen the standard route. Maybe I could have reached the top from the Southeast Gully col, but it wouldn't have been easy and I'd have been much later.

At 11:15AM, I left the summit and returned to the Bell-Cord saddle by 11:55. It took 20 minutes (with breaks and traverses) to glissade 3000' to my snowshoe stash. The snow was a perfect balance. It had softness for controlled speed and steering, but was stiff enough to self arrest on a dime. What a ride. Arriving at camp at 12:45PM, I broke things down and was pulling out a little over an hour later.

The 9-mile trip to the car took a little under 4 hours including a stop at the T-Lazy 7's Maroon Lake warming hut for a quart of spiced cider. Of course, I traveled too fast in my plastics on the well-packed road and got pretty deep blisters on the ball of each foot (though I had stopped to put on mole-skin). They hurt a lot today, but I have two weeks or more before I'll get a chance to hike again and my difficult peaks are over for a while.

The best part of the descent was meeting two of the nicest women that you'll ever encounter. Annie was skiing to Maroon Lake and her friend Amanda Boxtel was just behind. Amanda is co-founder of Challenge Aspen (a non-profit for the physically challenged who wish to enjoy the outdoors and skiing.) Amanda gushed over my climb ("You went all the way up there? What's your name? That's amazing!!!......") as if I were the in the category with Dawson, Ralston and Davenport. She was heaping such praise I couldn't help but blush.

All this amazement for my physical prowess while she nonchalantly sat in a specialized X-country ski chair having skied up several miles up to her meditation viewpoint of the Bells while using only arm-power. I've seen paraplegic downhill skiers, but I had no idea there were people strong enough, physically and mentally, to ski miles uphill without the use of half their muscles. There can't be many. What an amazing person to make you feel so special while you know that you're the one actually in the presence a far more elite athlete. Her able-bodied friend Annie was equally as gracious and delightful. It was such a blessing to meet them. Of course once they finished their meditation, they turned downhill and beat my socks off getting to the car.

Well, I'm closing these reports for winter 2008-2009. Now that I won't be so goal-driven for 9 months, I hope to climb with more of you while you work on your goals. Please post for partners for all peaks and I'll try to tag along when I have open weekends. I enjoy meeting new climbers.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
I was thinking you were going to get this one over the weekend. An all star winter you had Steve, Congrats!


11/30/2010 17:28
That was an inspiring report. Makes us all think about--"why we climb"


Great job Steve!
03/17/2009 01:28
Steve, congratulations on your successful and safe winter climbing!
I‘m always amazed by your determination & perseverance.

Great photos too. ;-)

Now...about helping others with their goals....;-)


Great Job!!!
03/17/2009 01:41
Yet another exciting report. Great climb Steve. You never stop amazing the 14er climbing world.


Hell yeah...
03/17/2009 02:31
Congratulations on a fantastic winter Steve. Which ones do you have left now? Under 10 I presume? Hopefully I can join you on some of your last ones next Winter.

Prairie Native

03/17/2009 04:42
again you amaze.


Amazing Trip Report
03/17/2009 13:50
Very inspirational - thanks for posting. Congrats on a very successful winter.


03/17/2009 14:29
Incredible!!! Nice job!!

Chicago Transplant

Great winter Steve!
03/17/2009 18:36
And a great way to wrap it up for sure! I‘m looking forward to taking you up on your offer for repeating, if there are some traverses or alternate routes you didn‘t get the first time through the 13ers, even better


07/13/2009 02:15
...tenacity and success on these difficult summits. Congrats!
...writing & photos.
Thanks for the enjoyable reading and opportunity for me to live vicariously through these reports!
Steve, I think you could publish these. Your writing is excellent (and riveting/entertaining!)


You still da man!
03/17/2009 22:56
What a great winter you had. Great report on your last 2009 winter climb.


Kudos and accolades.
03/18/2009 12:22
way to go!


03/18/2009 19:07
Steve, your winter accomplishments never cease to amaze me. Your trip reports are so impressive. I still hope we can get out for a climb sometime. You‘ve had one hell of a winter.


03/19/2009 21:23
Wow, it‘s been a ride following your reports this winter! Thanks so much for sharing this trip with us!!! The beauty of the Elks never cease to inspire me. Loved the shot of the Castle/Conundrum/Cathedral/Castleabra. Cathedral and Castleabra are two of my favorite, most memorable climbs, mostly due to the people I was with!

Eagle eye 1

Holy Cow Man
03/20/2009 00:10
What an absolutely, awesome, incredible, outstanding, inspiring, trip report!!! This is by far the BEST I have seen in a long time. It got me really excited to start climbing this Spring and summer. Fantastic pictures of my old stomping grounds. Two thumbs up!!


03/20/2009 00:53
Those were some pretty hardcore climbs. My wife frets if I hike Flagstaff Mountain solo; it takes cast iron balls to winter solo Pyramid and El Diente.

What could you tell us about your Eureka! tent? Is that a four-season tent, or just a pretty decent three-season tent?


03/25/2009 17:35
Congrats on the climb. Those are absolutely amazing shots! Glad you had such clear weather.


03/20/2009 21:34
You‘ve had quite a wild and successful ride this winter, Steve. Five of the state‘s hardest peaks in calendar winter is spectacular.
Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment!


03/21/2009 16:01
Sounds like that was a fun glissade. Congratulations.


A solemn close
03/23/2009 03:50
I don‘t know if I could have gone back, after losing friends on a peak. But maybe that heals the heart, a bit - saying good-bye, again.
You‘re a bigger man than most, Steve. And one hell of a mountaineer. Hey look - it‘s Spring!


08/29/2011 19:08
I find myself reading this for like, the sixth time.


” if I were the in the category with Dawson, Ralston and Davenport.” (Welcome to the future!) Congrats again on finishing, Steve.

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