After reading about everybodys great hiking/climbing/mountaineering adventures this summer, I felt that it was time for me to embark on some adventures of my own by trying some of the more challenging routes on Colorado's 14ers.
Before starting I would like to thank everyone for their great trip reports of the traverse. I particularly used Andy's and Ryan's extensively while checking on route beta. Since these great trip reports exists, I will keep my report fairly brief. I am also not submitting any pictures (as of now), since plenty pictures of the Bells and the traverse exist on summitpost.
Ding, Dong: Well, I somewhere read a report labled "Ringing both Bells" but could not relocate it. Since I did not want to be a boring copycat I went for Ding, Dong.
Planning: Originally I had planned to do all 4 14ner traverses this summer. Since it is already August (I am running behind!) I decided that it would be time to get started and picked the Maroon Bells for a wide variety of reasons. I recruited a friend, Rob, to come along, collected route beta, and decided to leave my climbing gear/rope at home -- why? speed, weight, summitpost trip reports/route info, climbingboulder comments.
Having never been to the Maroon Bells (rotten rock) and having never done a Class 4 or Class 5 14ner route I was not exactly sure what to expect from this adventure. However, I was ready to give it a try.
So Friday night at 8:00 pm Rob and I left Boulder and arrived at the Maroon Lake trailhead around midnight. We briefly talked to two climbers that were going to attempt the N - S traverse (and I believe that they succeeded??). We woke up at 2:50 to get a 3:00 start since we wanted to be first on the mountain (rocks) and wanted to have enough time for the traverse (30% chance of thunderstorms at 2pm).
We quickly headed down the trail towards South Maroon's South Ridge. Around 6 o'clock it finally became light enough that we could turn off our headlamps and see some of the beautiful scenery around us (we would have to wait to see the Maroon Bells until later that day when we returned to the trailhead!). Finally at 7:00 we reached the South Ridge at 13300feet, now the "slog" was over and the fun could begin.
Routefinding along the South Ridge did not pose a problem due to plenty visible cairns and a fairly obvious path of least resistance. When we reached the couloir we considered Ryan's suggestion to scramble up the rock on the right side. However, we were ready for some Class 4 stuff and scrambled up some of the rocks on the left side of the gully. Eventually we then had to follow the left side of the gully - which was not too bad - until we reached the cairned ridge. Soon we neared the summit of South Maroon and it looked as if we could reach it within 5 hours and 30 minutes from the trailhead. We thought we were doing pretty well, ahead of our schedule! However, 5 minutes before reaching South Maroon, we were brought back to reality by a couple from Boulder that zoomed past us. They made trailhead to South Maroon in 4:15 and then did the traverse in about 1:15, never having done it before.
Well, after a short summit break with beautiful views, but some remaining morning clouds covering the top of North Maroon, we continued and I soon found out that the biggest adrenalin rush and the largest danger on this climb would not be the exposed Class 4/5 moves, it would be Rob (no pun intended!). It turns out that he has a special talent at picking big, loose rocks and dislodging them as a deadly target towards me. One such target was launched right after I climbed down a ledge on the descent from S. M. to the saddle. I could not see Rob and soon after I completed the down climb I heard a distressed "rock" coming from Rob. Since he was close behind me above the ledge, I knew that the rock would be coming for me. Without looking at the coming rock I sprinted out of the way, being barely missed by the rock which then continued towards/past the couple from Boulder and down several 1000 feet on South Maroon’s west side. I then found out from Rob and the couple that the rock would have hit me straight on, had I not reacted as fast as I did.
Following this event, the rest of the traverse was a breeze. My heart was already beating at 200, so in comparison the exposure was a piece of cake. Getting back to climbing …
I had prepared myself for a traverse much more difficult than what the Maroon traverse turned out to be. The exposure was not bad, the route-finding was fun (and we did not follow the Boulder couple, they were way too fast), the views were incredible, and the scrambling/climbing was fun and challenging, but not too difficult. We reached the summit of North Maroon at 11am where we met the group of 2 that was going to attempt the N – S traverse.
With respect to route finding, my conclusion (in hindsight) is as follows. Follow the cairns which are usually (except for one place) on top or on the west side of the ridge. If you loose track of the cairns gain the ridge crest, that’s where you will probably find them. Most likely at a place on the east side of the ridge where the path leads you towards an inviting ledge that seems to be the obvious way but ends in a drop-off (this is described by Andy), turn left just before reaching the ledge and climb to the ridge crest where the cairns continue.
With respect to climbing, I remember the 3 cruxes (all of which have belays). The first one is easy class 4. The second one is pretty straight forward (probably has a couple low Class 5 moves), but has significant exposure. The third one consists of 1 overhanging move (low Class 5) which seems intimidating at first, but has great holds above the overhang. Since we did not have any problems with the climbing (and would have preferred more of it), we did not spend much time looking for easier passages, however, at it looked as if both Class 5 sections might have easier Class 4 alternatives if one continues slightly further on the west side of the ridge before climbing to the top of the ridge.
Once we reached the summit of North Maroon we expected to be able to descent in about 3 hours. However, these 3 hours turned into 4.5 due to several reasons. First, except for 1 Class 4 down-climb through the cliff-band at 12800feet, the descent is not technically difficult, but steep. However, having never climbed up the trail, the route finding was challenging at times, but it was always possible to find cairns. In addition when Roach writes about a “Climber’s trail”, that’s exactly what he means. At times there seems to be a nice wide trail, but before you know it, the trail disappears, goes straight down a slope, or passes through a thicket. On top of the challenging trail, both Rob and I had knee problems (Rob always has them when descending and I flipped my bike last week and apparently must have hurt something), which does not match well with this trail.
Despite our problems on the descent, we still had a great time. The weather stayed beautiful (no thunderstorms) and once we rejoined the West Maroon Trail close to crater lake, we had beautiful views of the Maroon Bells. We could now finally see that mountain(s) that we climbed and during the trip back to the trailhead we followed the example of the many tourists and snapped countless pictures.
As you might have noticed from the trip report, I only mentioned 4 other climbers. So only a total of 6 people completed the traverse this day (no traffic jams), 4 from the south and 2 from the north. In addition we saw 5 people on the summit of South Maroon - a fairly quiet day for a beautiful Saturday in August.
Thanks again for the great beta in all the trip reports. We had a perfect day and I recommend this climb to anyone who feels up to the challenge.