Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  07/01/2010
Date Climbed:   06/23/2010
Author:  Nelson
 The Final Four, Part 1  

The Final Four! Part 1

On June 22, 2010 I left my Utah home heading east to finish my quest for climbing the Colorado 14ers. I define the 14ers as the 53 official fourteeners plus North Maroon, North Eolus, Conundrum, El Diente and Cameron. After four years of climbing I was down to four: North and South Maroon, Conundrum and Snowmass. The Maroon Bells would be my first stop.

The Maroon Bells

I left my Utah home at 4am and headed East. After the 6 hour drive to Aspen I headed immediately to the Maroon Lake trailhead. Image I put on the 40 lbs. pack and hiked the short 2.75 miles to campsite 11 above Crater Lake. Image At 10,200 feet this was very close to the access point to the Bell Cord Couloir, my route up to South Maroon. Image Image I had heard several reports that the standard route up South Maroon was not in good shape and difficult to navigate because of too much snow. Conversely the Bell Cord couloir was in great shape, hence my choice. I started out at 2am because I didn't want to be in the couloir when the sun hit it.Image This place is notorious for rock fall and avalanches as the day warms up. There is no trail from the lake to the start of the couloir and navigation in the dark was interesting to say the least. I put on my crampons at 11,000 feet and to my great surprise managed to get to the bottom of the Bell Cord in the dark. From here at 12,500 ft. to the saddle no navigation is required.Image You just keep going up into the ever narrowing chute. The snow was quite simply in great shape i.e. very firm and supportable. Climbing was as good as it gets. Image When I got to the saddle I took off my crampons and climbed the rest of the way pretty much on rock. Image I was on top at 6:20 and celebrating the dawn of a beautiful day. It was now decision time.Image Head down the normal route and face the navigation nightmare that others had faced a few days before or head back down the Bell Cord and face possible rock fall problems. Image I chose the Bell Cord because I was early and I felt that I could be out of harms way before things got dicey. This proved to be the case and I was back at my camp at 10am. During the entire descent there was only one rock fall which I heard and saw well in advance. I was able to be well out of the way of the baseball size rock as it went whizzing by. Image I rested for a couple of hours and then moved my camp 1 mile north to campsite 2 which is the closest one to North Maroon. Image Image Image I awoke at 4am on the 24th and headed out at 5 for my great adventure on North Maroon. I was stiff from the day before but moving well and progress was good all the way to the bottom of the 2nd gully. Image Image Image Here navigation was difficult as there was no real trail to follow. Image One problem with North Maroon is that there are cairns everywhere going in every direction and the same is true with footprints and slight trails. From this point on I was getting off route quite a bit. It was never a question of being lost but a question of taking the most efficient route and occasionally of doubling back. I gained the Northeast ridge at about 13,200 and headed up to the famous chimney which gives the route its reputation. Image The bottom was filled with snow and crampons made the going easier at the beginning. At the top I went to the left which I felt was much better than the normal route. I felt like I had the mountain licked and all I had to do was a victory lap to the top. Wrong! There was a lot of snow between 13,600 and 13,800 and it was all rotten. Image Postholing was thigh deep. It soon became obvious that the best way was to take off the crampons and stay on rock as much as possible. This went well up to the ledges at 13,800. At this point I stayed on the ledges too long and instead of having an easy 150 vertical feet to the summit I had a very difficult class 4 climb with severe exposure. As I pulled up over the last rock I found myself on the summit. Image Image The trip down was much the same in terms of navigation and I rolled into camp at 4 pm exhausted. Image Image I had intended to head down immediately but I was too tired and hungry and decided to spend one more night on beautiful Crater Lake. Image I headed down in the morning feeling much better and very much in awe of the magnificent Maroon Bells. This might have been the highpoint of my 14er experience both in terms of raw beauty and mountaineering challenge.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Wow! strong solo effort
02/05/2011 00:22
I have to say that description of your last 150ft on North Maroon sounds seriously scary. Glad you made it safely.


Well done
11/30/2010 17:28
Honestly the standard route descent or the Bell Cord descent is a gamble.
Re: the final push to the summit. I don't remember it being as difficult as you described, once past the chimney. But then again I did it in Sept.

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