Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  12/05/2009
Modified:  08/25/2010
Date Climbed:   08/07/2009
Author:  jf32
 Tour of the Elks  

Snowmass - Aug 7 - partner: Alex - Route: West Slope
Pyramid - Aug 8 - partner: Alex - Route: Std
The Bells - Aug 9 - partner: Uwe - Route - Maroon via Std traverse to North Maroon

On Friday July 31st I was standing in an art studio on Pier 39 of San Francisco looking at a picture of the Maroon Bells. I could hear the sea lions barking and taste the salt on the air but I was absorbed with these 2 mountains. It was a massive shot covering a whole wall that showed the Bells in all their glory, complete with the golden Aspens and all. I called my parents over and showed them the picture and described the route I was planning on these peaks. As I described it to them, explaining some basic climbing vocabulary I drew in a few tourists too (I think I helped sell a smaller copy of the print but the salesman never hooked me up with part of his commission) I was asked the standard question from mom - "is it safe?" followed by a "you sure you don't need a rope?". I had plans to tackle these two in a week's time assuming my body would hold up to the test I was going to put it though. The next day I was going to compete in an ironman (the reason why we were all in San Fran). I spent a large part of that day and the next two hoping that my body would recover in time to get me through my planned trip to the Elks - which would culminate by finishing the Bells Traverse atop North Maroon on Aug 9th.

My roommate Alex and I left our place Thursday night heading for the western slopes of Snowmass. It was an uneventful trip out there with the seemingly required stop at a Subway. Fortunately his car was more than up to the challenge that the Lead King Basin approach would pose. We arrived and set up camp for the night. We were up early the next morning and off - my legs seemingly fully healed from last weeks effort. The wild flowers were out in full force and I believe this was the prettiest day I've spent outside in Colordao.

First view of Snowmass

The wildflowers nearly covering the trail

View looking west from midway up the slope

Alex gaining the summit ridge with Capitol as the backdrop

A look at the rest of the Elk 14ers from the summit

We had the summit to ourselves - Alex was enjoying the views and eating - something he does every 20 minutes or so it seems while I opted to take a cat nap. I was awoken by a solo climber - after chatting with him a bit he told us of his plan to climb all the 14ers this summer and his plans of biking between them. Hope he wound up making it.

A shot showing the terrain of the Western slope - A seemingly endless 2000 vertical of loose white rock

An overview of the whole slope - we crossed the rock glacier and made our way towards the grassy patch seen on the slope. We then picked our line up to the summit ridge.

Little Gem Lake

Sweet waterfall

Parting Shot of Snowmass


During the descent of Snowmass a sharp pain started developing in my right shin. I decided (and hoped) it was my first experience with shin splints. I would be proven correct in a few days when the pain subsided but from that afternoon on Snowmass through the weekend I popped an Aleve every 3 hours or so (while hiking).

From Snowmass we headed straight to Maroon Lake TH and parked in the overnight lot. We hiked up to Crater Lake to set up our camp for the next two nights. We got to Crater Lake and all the camp sites were taken so we just pitched our tent in a sheltered area 100 or so feet from the trail. We had a beer or two and went to bed early as Pyramid was on the docket for tomorrow.

This would be my second time on Pyramid and I wasn't sure if I would make the summit as my right shin still bothered me. I know I'm stubborn and I promised Alex an honest effort but I had a feeling that I would only get as high as the base of the green rock and then help Alex find a partner to make the summit.

We started out before dawn and passed a few groups on the way up to the rock amphitheater. I set and maintained a decent pace thinking that I wouldn't be doing the whole climb and Alex kept it.

Looking back at Alex in the amphitheater with the sun rising

We made good time and had perfect weather as the sun came up. Here's a shot of the moon still out over the Bells with Pyramid in the foreground (from the gully between the rock glacier and the saddle).

A look at Pyramid - I wonder how it got its name.

My shadow checking out my progress

Alex preparing for his introduction to Class 4 climbing - still before the final 1000ft push to Pyramid's summit

Once at the base of the 1000ft section the draw of Pyramid's summit and the view of the Bells that it offers overcame my concern for my leg and I committed to the climb. I arrived at the summit alone while Alex became the 1st person of an 11 member 3 group train that reached the summit about 15 minutes after me.

A look at the Bells, Capitol, and Snowmass

A close up of tomorrow's objective

Alex and the terrain below Pyramid's summit

The summit and mountain were crowded. We were the first off the summit as I wanted to get off the tougher loose part of the mountain before everyone else started their descent. We did have to wait a few times as guided groups who were roped up ascended. That said it was a pleasant hike out with some friendly chatter with other groups and some mountain goats.

A family of mountain goats checking out our trekking pole stash

Once back at Crater Lake we relaxed and drank a few beers. This is the part of the trip I was most concerned about (as far as logistics go) as the next day Alex and I were not climbing together - he was unsure if he could handle the traverse. With the help of the 14ers climbing connection forum I planned to do the Bells traverse with Uwe and Alex planned on climbing Maroon with another guy from 14ers who was attempting North Maroon that Saturday. We didn't have cell phone reception for most of the last 2 days and I had to hope we would all find each other so that our two groups could tackle our respective mountains. Fortunately it worked out. We all met and went over our plans for the next day before turning in early.

Parting shot of Pyramid - taken from North Maroon

Bells Traverse

Uwe wrote up a description that can be found here:

it's the 3rd part of that TR. If you're interested in seeing how it went check it out. My quick breakdown of the day: A ton of exposure and a lot of route finding but a truly exciting day on rock that was always solid when you needed it. Uwe it was great climbing with you - also thanks for the CD.

A parting shot of the Bells - not as nice as the one in the gallery but just fine for my tastes

When I got back to camp I waited for Alex to return (he started several hours later than I did as he only had Maroon on the agenda). We finished our beers and cooled our legs in Crater Lake before hiking out. Somehow Alex managed to pick up a young lady on the mountain - still not sure how that kid does it. A quick hike to the car was followed by some food and margaritas in Aspen. And then I passed out on the car ride back to Boulder - dreaming of next weeks trip - my first foray into the San Juans.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Fantastic TR and Accomplishment!
12/06/2009 02:37
Nice work and excellent TR - well documented, organized, and super nice photos + beautiful summer hiking weather!


12/06/2009 02:47
This is truly my favorite range, and I never tire of reading TR‘s from it! Thanks for the great report; I can‘t wait to get back there next year and climb! Great job!


12/06/2009 17:57
What a feast for the eyes and soul!
Awesome, John!
Nice write up/pics and great timing with the deep freeze currently!
Can‘t wait for JUNE and to get up there again...


Thanks Guys
12/06/2009 22:48
And I agree - although I haven‘t given up climbing this winter I am real excited for spring to roll around


12/07/2009 00:10
Great photos and enjoyable TR - thanks for sharing!


Nice TR
12/08/2009 21:20
My group met you and uwe just below the summit of North Maroon. Looks like you guys had an epic weekend.


Herd of Elk(s)
12/09/2009 16:52
Spring can‘t come soon enough!
Great report; bet you slept like a stable rock after.


12/14/2009 15:04
Hi, You have had quite the year. Really enjoyed hooking up with you on the Bells traverse. Doing all that climbing after an Ironman, WOW! Doing any winter stuff? You‘re welcome for the CD. Sorry it took so dang long. Will do better next time around. Hope we can hook up some in ‘10.


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