Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Date Posted:  09/20/2009
Date Climbed:   09/19/2009
Author:  centrifuge
 Maroon Peak‘s South Slopes with A Little Added Spice  

Maroon Peak, that name conjures an amalgam of emotions in a lot of people from awe to ambition, and eagerness to terror. The Pair of Peaks, Maroon and North Maroon, stand sentinel over the town of Aspen luring thousands to the lake that reflects their visages back towards the sky. I had been in the basin twice before attempting these peaks this year, they have sat smugly on my yearly 'to do list' and have done a phenomenal job of eluding me.

In May, my buddies and I made an attempt on the Bell Cord, but were turned back by poor snow conditions then another attempt was stifled by stomach issues. This does not include all of the planned trips that were abandoned due to a car wreck, weather and a healing ankle, so when Kelly (Moonstalker) offered to join me for one last attempt on the Traverse from Maroon to N. Maroon I was nothing shy of ecstatic! I anxiously watched the weather as the weekend neared, and could not be happier with the forecast, a 20% chance of snow and rain, perfect for this late in September.

Kelly and I met up and headed up to Aspen on Friday afternoon and arrived after dark, the wet roads told us that it had rained but the full overnight parking lot let us know we would not be alone in the morning.

We hit the trailhead at 3:30am and were at the base of the South Slopes before we knew it. The soaked trail was sending us a host of clues as to what we would find above. The steep mud and wet rocks gave way to the first signs of snow at just below 12,000ft. We caught up to a couple of climbers we would spend the rest of the climb near just before first light. We speculated the conditions above, and as we got our first glimpse of the snow that provided a nice white early morning glow across the basin, we began discussing back up plans if the traverse should be a no-go. We kept working our way up the slope, slowed considerably by the snow that now graced the extremely loose rock we were ascending, when I heard "Trevor!" from not to far below. I looked back, and on the path below that worked its way further to the south before finding the ridge was my Buddy Mike. He worked his way across to where we where while we took the welcome opportunity to shoot some photos of the sunrise and take a break.

First Light coming over the horizon

He caught up in no time, and explained that they had camped below the bent tree (in the legal area) the night before, and thought he heard us pass him. We had talked during the week about my plans to try the traverse, but had not really firmed up plans to meet and climb, but after he and Wiz climbed Pikes on Friday morning they decided to head over and give the traverse a go as well. Wiz turned around on the slopes so Mike was alone at this point, and I was happy to have him along!

This would be a good time to talk for a moment about the route up the South Slopes. There are 2 ways you can do this, both start from the same point and split around 1000ft up. One, traverses the slope to the South and hits the ridge slightly (and I do mean slightly) lower then the second option that climbs a more direct line to the ridge. Both are cairned, and in the snow it was hard to see where the split occurred but if you can find it on the way up I would strongly recommend taking the route that goes climbers left. Both are cairned well, but the direct route ends up on disturbingly loose rock that with snow on it slowed us down enormously.

It took us a almost 2.5 hours to reach the ridge, where we examined the route ahead. Protection from the sun meant that the snow we now observed would be with us on the entire ascent of the route, as well as a descent if we were not able to complete the traverse. I downed some trail mix before beginning the best part of the route. Even with snow, this was a blast. The chimney was in our face before we knew it, and the solid rock instilled confidence in my heart!

Kelly near the top of the short Chimney

a photo of me coming up the Chimney, taken by Kelly

Ryan and Liz (the other climbers we ended up climbing near for the rest of the way heading up the same chimney

We had to slow down our movement frequently to adjust for the heavy wet snow that covered the rocks, which also obscured the cairned that marked the entrance to the first gully.

Kelly and mike looking at the route ahead

We ended up climbing the gully that was one past where we should have started up to the second gully. As a result, we encountered a spicy move that was given a little extra kick by a hefty dose of ice covering the only reasonable way up. A little bit of stemming had to be employed by Mike and I to avoid the icy footholds.

Mike stemming to avoid the ice entering the wrong gully, everything that is wet in this photo is ice

A look at this section from above, with Liz at the top and Ryan below

Once we were up, we slowly moved up this loose shoot that led us back to the standard route. The South gully was not nearly as intense as the guide books described, so long as we stayed very close to the southern edge of the gully.

From here, it was all about the joy of climbing, following the well cairned route and making really inappropriate comments while I got songs stuck in my head. Some of the keepers included an exchange where one the males on the mountain joked "I don't think I have a gear other than a**h*le", and I quickly replied "We're men, of course we are a**h*les". All of this was accompanied by theme songs from "Annie", the song "That's What Friends Are For" threats to begin singing the Macarena and jokes about his holiness, Steve Jobs.

a photo Kelly took of me and mike at the exit of the second gully area

Mike posing for the camera while Kelly laughs... this was when we really started having fun making fun of ourselves... singing "thats what friends are for" horribly out of tune was not far behind this

Kelly on the snowy route

The Summit greeted us with sunshine and clouds. A quick examination of the Traverse showed us that the majority of the snow was on the descent from S. Maroon. The cruxes appeared clear but the clouds were growing at an alarming rate. After discussing our options, we decided that it would be better to head down then to risk getting caught in a storm either on the traverse or on the already snow covered and slick route down North Maroon. We took a couple of minutes to enjoy the summit of this beautiful peak before beginning the long descent.

Mike Kelly and I on the Summit of Maroon with Pyramid in the background

Kelly pointing out the route on the traverse as we discussed options... there are a lot of people pointing photos in this TR huh?

North Maroon from Maroon Peak

By the time we were back on the ridge, a lot of the snow had softened or melted leaving the rocks more slick then they had been on the way up. Our break at the top of the South Slopes was cut short by a little bit of graupel that urged us onward.

The steep, muddy slope took time to descend, but as we dropped lower the sun provided us with some beautiful views of the valley that had been obscured by darkness on the way in. The hike out provided us with a hike through some of the most scenic Aspen groves in the world, and we made sure to join the tourists in our photographic zeal. Unfortunately we were past Crater Lake before the sun was given the chance to shine on the Bells again.

A look up to the Bell Cord on the way out

Pyramid from the Crater Lake trail

Kelly in the Aspens on the way down

A look at the bells from Maroon Lake

Looking back, it's clear that we could have made it across without getting caught in a storm… but it would have been luck. Really, given the clouds and their rapid build I am amazed we mad it out dry. Aside from that, it gives me an excuse to come back to the area. The only thing I can say is I do not think I will climb Maroon Peak with the intent to descend the Southern slopes again, but it is well worth the climb to have fun on Maroon's upper stretches.

Kelly and I at Maroon Lake

a Black and White I took from Maroon Lake

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
MUni Rider

09/21/2009 12:13
That first photo is simply ammazing. --and my new wallpaper on the work cpu. Thanks for posting this great report.


09/21/2009 13:55
That first pic is stunning !


09/21/2009 14:18
thank you!


09/21/2009 15:04
That first pic is incredible, and the others are great too! Nice report.

moon stalker

Those pics are awesome!
09/21/2009 15:21
I can‘t believe I took pretty much the same shots you did and my pics don‘t look nearly as good! I guess it pays to carry around that huge camera you have. That first one is sick.
Awesome climb, whenever you get to do the traverse, you will enjoy it. It will be a lot better dry. Great climbing with you guys, we sure did have fun, on the rock and due to the company. I‘m just glad I never got the Annie song stuck in my head as you did, and thank you for NOT singing the macarena!


what a difference in 24 hours
09/21/2009 16:31
Awesome TR! We were on the same route 24 hours before you guys, and it was bone dry. I would concur with your last statement about not doing the S. slopes route again... that made for a very long day. Our round trip from the parking lot was 11 hours, most of which was consumed on the steep grassy slopes to the ridge and then route-finding on the back side.

Great pictures too! Thanks for sharing.


09/21/2009 17:33
Is that first one and a few others an HDR photo? I have been experimenting with HDR photos and some of the effects are really stunning.


Very nice
09/21/2009 17:38
Beautiful pics! What kind of camera are you using? I‘ve recently picked up a Canon G10 and it takes similar quality pics. Outstanding job


09/21/2009 18:17
traderaaron: photo #‘s 1, 13, 14 and 17 are HDR. I saw one in the summer photo contest and was duly impressed with the quality. After having a debate with myself and someothers about it as a processing technique decided to try it in earnest. Really it was a pain because I did not use a tripod so the one of Maroon Lake and the Bell Cord I had to manually align before ever getting to the HDR process. I always thought HDR was cheating, but these are really my first serious attempts using the process, and its a whole lot more work than I ever would have thought. It was a cool learning experience and I highly recomend trying it. Mad Respect goes out to the master of this process... its definitly an art form and I have a long way to go at learning it.

Yog - thanks! I use a Nikon D80 with a Tameron Super Wide Angle Lens as well as a Canon Powershot that I use for the action shots (that one lives in my pocket during the climb).


it was
09/21/2009 19:32
great climbing with you Kelly! Your knowedge of the route was extreamly helpful with the snow onscuring the cairns on the way up, and it was a blast talking to you. I look forward to climbing with you again sometime! btw, your photos were really good, I was just in a hurry to get this up,I plan on adding more since you had some good ones of the descent as well as some others of the climb up


Dionne Warwick would be proud
01/19/2011 03:38
Strong work!!!
Friends help friends make summits.
S. Maroon with ice is not something I‘d like to try. That‘s really an accomplishment.
You take some nice photos, too.
How‘s the Jeep Liberty doing?


thats the idea!
09/22/2009 02:37
I was thinking about trying out for American Idol but decided to climb instead and make my partners suffer!

The Liberty went the way of the dinosaurs... ;)

moon stalker

American Idol - not
09/22/2009 03:54
You shouldn‘t try out for American Idol, what‘s that other one, the Next Rockstar, or something like that?
The climb was great, you and Mike sure made it funny! You can tell we had a good time from all the pics of smiles and laughing. I‘ll climb with you guys again anytime!
The way of the dinosaurs .....


09/22/2009 08:46
Great TR and, without trying to sound redundant, fantastic pics! I LOVE the HDR shots!


Sweet pics
09/24/2009 13:38
you have some truly beautiful pics. I would submit that first one to the photo contest.


11/16/2009 17:27
While the first photo is amazing, the one of North Maroon from Maroon is dandy as well.

Nice TR


sweet pics
06/02/2011 14:59
nice pics

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