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Pick Stickers: Darrin (kansas), Chris (cbauer10), Marty (akmpolsen) & me + 6 other amazing climbers met on the cord (Al (Alby426), Ryan (BAUMGARA), Chris (crossfitter), jamie, Dave, John (Highfisher) )
Ascent Route: Bell Cord
Descent Route: Southeast Ridge - with many improvisations
Camp: Base of Bell Cord - campsite 12
Elevation Gain: 4,712'
A dream realized:
Ever since Darrin began his journey in the mountains, he has put climbing the Bell Cord #2 on his list (Just behind Mt Rainier - climbed in 2008 ). So with us both trying to finish the 14ers this year, and Maroon left to be done by Darrin, a snow climb was being planned and plotted since probably February. I'm not sure how excited I was about this, as 'what goes up, must go down'. The ascent on Maroon via the cord, would be great, but what about the descent? I had been down the standard SE ridge route before, and the 2,800' from the ridge to the trail was something of nightmares, not pleasant dreams. We thought about the traverse as an option, so that we could descent off of North Maroon, a trail we both knew (and which is much nicer). So after meeting a few climbers (many from the N Maroon & Pyramid climb last year) with the capability of doing the traverse with us, we put this up as the 'preferred option'. Now we just had to wait for the snow conditions to be right.
We put off the trip by 2 weeks, as late spring storms dropped new snow, and couloirs were not solidifying as quickly as we would like. Plus snow on the peak itself would pose additional issues. Then, after a family emergency took away one of our most experienced climbers at the last minute, we doubted that the traverse could be done. That left us with the dicey option of a cord descend, or the SE ridge. We planned for both.
Striking a sweet cord:
We got to Maroon Lake as soon as we could on Saturday, so that we could scout out the entrance to the cord, as well as rest as much as possible beforehand. We took a leisurely stroll up the trail, and found one of the 2 campsites at the base of the cord open. The other was occupied by a couple that had tried the SE couloir route, and descended without the summit, having found the imposing cornice above too much. We saw them coming down the route, and were eager for their beta on the snow. They had overslept their alarm, but found the snow to be good, if you get up early.
Even with a bit of nerves, we all got more sleep than expected. 1am came quickly, and the night temperatures were not too bad. A test of the snowpack the day before, showed that the recent cold spell had done wonders to keep the snow refrigerated. So we didn't need to worry about the snow being to warm. In fact, after reaching the base of the snow, our axes barely made an impression! Good for crampons sticking, not so good with axe plants.
Ascending in the dark is quite the experience. Headlamps only shine so far, and the route almost has to come from memory. With the clear skies, we were able to turn off our headlamps and use the lack of stars to profile the peaks and ridges above. Marty had put some waypoints into his GPS, so we could at least aim as best as possible for the base of the climb. The lower section of snow was much steeper and harder than the cord above. It was a relief to get to the base of the cord, as the terrain was easier on the overall.
Halfway up the cord, I decided it was time to break out the second mountain axe I was carrying. While my crampons were holding nicely, my axe plants were less than comforting. So after a short break, Darrin removed it from my pack, so that I could increase the number of stable points on the snow surface. My confidence in my ability to stick to the couloir doubled. It was also a point of jealousy for others around, as they saw the ease and speed that I could now travel at.
The sun gained on us, much faster than we would have liked. Watching the sunrise from our vantage point was quite spectacular. We could see quite clearly where we were and where we needed to go. The darkness before was beneficial to hide the ugly truth of the steep approach. Now the eye candy we all hunger for, was coming into view. For a short time, we were IN the alpenglow. The snow around us gave off that rosy glow.
The sun also spurred us on, to get up and off of the couloir before it warms up to much. We had already witnessed spontaneous rock fall. As we neared the top of the couloir as the snow was just starting to get softer. Our two groups gathered at the end of the cord to take a much-earned break, celebrate our accomplishment and to get to know each other a little bit. It almost felt like Quandary, with 10 people on that narrow strip of snow.
After the top of the cord, we just had a few hundred feet left to go to the summit, on mixed terrain. I have gotten more used to traveling on rocks with crampons, but pulling class 3&4 moves on snow/verglace rock cliffs with crampons on is quite unique. It took a little while to get used to, but after a while I could see the extra benefit they provided. Thankfully with our large group, we had plenty of eyes spotting moves.
Photo Credit: Chris
Getting to the summit was only half the battle, and we all knew that, but it sure was sweet!
Off the summit, I was hoping to recognize the route that I took last August. But loose rocks covered everything! I could only recognize the general direction/path and the specific class 3 moves. Winter took its toll on the "trail" and the mess of cairns all over were disconcerting to many. We had 20 eyes pealed to spot the next cairn, from the mass of nature piled rocks. It wasn't until we encountered snow blockades on the trail, that we started to realize that Jamie's and my previous experience with the route would not be enough, and that those 10 sets of eyes would be so valuable to our safe descent.
Photo Credit: Chris
A look back at the summit
Photo Credit: Chris
Photo Credit: Chris
The standard route involves descent down two loose gullies and traversing ledges in between. These gullies are effectively impassible at present. Snow fills both to distressing levels, but the ridge top proper was also not an option. So we skirted and descended and backtracked, and worked out the puzzle the mountain was placing before us. We put on crampons, took them off, used axes, ropes, just about everything in our mountaineering tool kit was used this day.
A meeting of the minds
Photo Credit: Chris
A lot of time was spent above 13,400'. With a summit time of ~8am and a ridge arrival time of 12:30, we were all exhausted. We wanted it all over with. Fun climb, but time for camp. I had gotten some advice before the last trip about the best descent option. But the wind picked up to gale force strength and making it over an exposed ridge to where the easy trail was proved too much for me. I also needed a break and some food. I had hit that level of exhaustion where thinking is difficult. So after a break, Darrin managed to convince me that we needed to find that trail. Descending where the rest of our group was going, is a nightmare. But in order to get to that trail from where we were, involved dancing across and actively sliding talus field. I do not possess this skill. I may be a seismologist, but I don't like the ground moving beneath my feet. It took longer than desired, but once across the moving talus field of death, the nice trail was magically in view. From there, it was finally one foot in front of the other. Throw in a couple glissades and we were ambling down the trail to camp. Pack up, hike out, and thinking about a tiring but successful day on the mountain.
A tale of 2 tracks, one easy and fun, the other a complicated challenge.
Blue: June 2010
Red: August 2009
A day of remembrance:
This was a day where remembering those who passed before us on this mountain could not be avoided. I did not know Kevin Hayne well. A couple brief encounters at the trailhead, on the trail, and one spaghetti dinner with the CMC (after a failed attempt to ski Elbert this year). From those brief meetings, it was plain to everyone what an energetic, enthusiastic young man he was. It was a very sad night, as I watched the thread/news. Dumbstruck is what I would call it. On this day, Kevin was certainly on all our minds as we climbed the cord and safely descended from the peak.
It was also Fathers Day, and we had a few fathers in the group. For me, and a few of my friends and climbing brethren, this was the first Father's Day that we would be without our Dad. The firsts are always the worst. No more phone call home, or day with Dad, doing what he wants to do.
Congratulations and Thank You to everyone:
All 10 of us brought a different set of skills and abilities to the mountain that day, and I would like to think that we all learned at least one new thing from this experience. The level of cooperation within our large group was also remarkable. With each new obstacle faced, we teamed together to discuss and evaluate our options. Conservative decisions won out, as safety was highest rated. We made sure that we left no one behind, taking a head count frequently. Some energetic folks, like Chris (crossfitter) Marty, John and Al, would go out of their way to scout all possible avenues of escape. We pointed out moves, got axes off of packs, helped each other across exposed jumps, encouraged, congratulated, and just were there for each and every one of our teammates. I couldn't imagine a better group to get off that mountain with, and everyone is in agreement on that as well!
1. 2 axes are better than one, on terrain over 35/40 degrees
2. Crampons are useful in scrambling
3. Carrying a lightweight 8mm x 30m rope, with some pro, is worth the weight
4. On difficult routes, the more (competent/skilled) eyes the better
Agree with the comments : great TR, Otina! And a great group of folks to climb with... I, too, am both amazed and grateful at how cohesive the decision-making process was. It was really a great day of mountaineering! The glissade-dominated descent with John (chasing the elusive North American Chris-Crossfitter species) made for a memorable closure of the kind of adventures that make for lifetime memories.
group climb and TR. Both are exceptional. Otina, your writing is a joy to read, and what a coming together of a team! Kevin‘s passing has brought the realization of what a unique group this mountaineer community really is and this TR is proof. Photo 14...it looks like reaching the top of the Bell Cord is like reaching a summit all to itself as you stopped for a group shot there! Nice. And photo 19 is my fav....looks like somewhere in Switzerland. Beautiful!! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.
BAUMGARA - I‘m glad you were able to complete one of your dream climbs! No worries on being quiet, it happened to me as I ran out of energy as we descended down the ridge...
Al - Wow... thanks
Highfisher/John - Sorry! Very good with faces, just not so much with names. I recognized you from your avatar when Darrin said that was your screen name.
To the glissaders: Looked like you guys had some fun!
SkiAndClimb - Great to meet you at camp! Too bad you weren‘t able to summit, but it will be there for next time. Crampons on the way up were useful, even on rock. Crampons while going down the ridge from the summit... not so much. I felt like I was on 4” high heels. The entire group took them off for the descent (on for the major snow crossings).
Hey I was thinking of trying the cord couloir without crampons. I‘ll have ice axes for self arrest though. Any comments on how the boot pack is right now? I usually roll pretty minimalist and find I can blaze up faster with a nice approach shoe and gator. Thanks!
Well done group and great write up! I really wish I could have joined you for this and not had to go to Kansas last minute. I have been wanting the cord and traverse for a long while. Thank you for writing the rememberance part of your report, it is touching and true. Maybe we can all work out a climb or two sometime in the near future. Happy trails
I had been dreaming of this climb forever as well. Al and I were spooked off the Cord at 13,000' last year for lack of a confident exit strategy; I'm glad we bailed on that.
-You said this in the TR "The ascent on Maroon via the cord, would be great, but what about the descent?" I was consumed by this thought at the top of the cord and thus pretty quite, sorry about that.
-Incredible pictures, mine didn't turn out that well.
-Chris and Marty. Killer job on the route finding. We all came together as a group on the descent.
-I'm astounded that there no accidents for what the descent was.
Great report I couldn‘t have detailed it any better.
What a great group of people to spend a few leisurely hours together in the mountains. Otina, great report and pictures. I usually don't get verklempt reading these but one of my first calls when I got cell coverage was to my Father to tell him about my day. Al, thanks for your experience and good catch. Ryan, great route finding in the dark. Marty, thanks for sharing your campsite. It worked out great. Kris, I knew you'ld be the first one asleep on the way home. John, thanks for bringing the beer. Chris, you have a great looking helmet! Let's do it again soon. Dave
I think you did a great job writing this one up Otina. You are right the people coming together on this trip was really something else. It made for a great climb. I will mention, that I think the other guy that was out in front with Chris and Marty was John. I thought that was his name. Al was the one with the rope hanging back in the middle of the pack, and I don‘t recall their being a Kevin there. I could be wrong though as I am bad with names. Great write up hough!!!
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