North Maroon Peak
From Maroon Lake TH
Friday July 24, 2010
After working all day Friday I readied my Jetta and was on the road by 5:10PM. I drove out of Louisville and south on Route 93 took a right on Route 6 through the canyon to I-70 to Glenwood Sprgs where I exited and took Route 82 to the roundabout in Aspen for Maroon Bells where I drove up to the alleged “FULL” (gate half closed) overnight hiker’s parking lot; dark and mostly quiet with one other vehicle finding it’s spot with spaces being of a premium. I actually found a mis-parked Tundra/trailer and snuck in along side and in between another car around 9:50PM…………Nice, small car; cool!
I saw plenty of cars but nobody around; with things being quite black I could now hear an owl making it’s screech up in one of the trees as the nearly full moon was casting a growing light from the East.. I made ready the Jetta for a night in the passengers side, folded-down, front seat and was rather pleased with the comfort I found as I dosed-off about 10:35pm……….Nice surprise!!
I awoke and immediately checked my watch and saw 3:50AM as I had set it for 3:56 and waited for the alarm as I was getting my boots on……….It sounded right on time. Moon glow was now heading down to the West as I and prepared a quick cold breakfast of oatmeal bars, banana and a quart of Gatorade. A lone planet to the West and the brightest stars also shown above and made for a nice celestial view in the early morning skies. I readied my daypack, donned my headlamp and started across the parking lot where others were making ready to start hiking and on to the trail leading to the right of Maroon Lake at 4:35AM
Darkness…………My nemesis! My vision is less than poor at these early hours and although I’ve been here before I found things to be barely discernible as I followed this familiar trail along the right side of Maroon Lake and up, right and onto the “beaten path” to Crater Lake. I could see the headlamps of others ahead and behind as you are never alone on a weekend 14’er and before long a group of six appeared heading down and soon I passed another group of eight before reaching the sign for Crater Lake heading left and what-ever-its-called heading right with a tall guy standing smack-dab in front of the sign. I asked where he was going and he stated “North Maroon today”……I would not see this person again.
Heading-up (straight) to the right I found a solid trail and gained elevation rounding a few switchbacks and up into heavy forest where I could now hear the sound of someone behind me with hiking poles. Still quite dark but lightening I saw a couple of guys camped on the right side where I stopped and saw a trail left with logs on the ground; I asked if this was the cut-off to N. Maroon and they didn’t know. Soon the person behind me arrived and we figured this trail was blocked and the cut-off was further along; which it was. His name was Grant and talked up a storm as we progressed to the same destination and soon found the left cut-off for N. Maroon Peak………I asked to hike together and the response was affirmative.
Grant was most welcomed as first light was breaking and we found the trail left and down to the creek crossing at Minnehaha Gulch. Above we could see others advancing through some heavy brush and up a steep/brushy/overgrowth incline. The trail here is way overgrown heading-up this steep section was the first challenge of the day as the trail cuts directly through the growth and we passed a guy and girl couple and on up to a solid rock wall. Here we climbed up and over the wall and proceeded behind the group in front of us just as daylight was breaking……….way sunny and quite warm.
We soon advanced across a talus traverse and then up through more bushes and a sudden, steep climb around and through a rocky portion and climbing left on a good trail where we passed the three guys of the next group and proceeded on up to a short down-climb across a minor ledge and up to a level opening. Here we started up to the right and didn’t actually realize right away that we were indeed heading up the “1st Gully” where we found the trail to be constant but with more than one way to go. Grant lead the way which was fine by me as my route finding isn’t the best and we made good progress up this section and then soon stopped for a much needed rest. The three guys we’d passed prior soon caught up and we shared a brief pause together as the mountain goats peered down on us from above………….nice.
Here we peeled-down into short clothes and applied sunscreen and took in some food & drink as the day was becoming quite warm with this gully/trail being in direct sunshine; we then each donned our helmets. We now parted from the three guys and made a non-stop passage up the steep ascent of this gully often avoiding precariously loose/crumbly rock and over left through and below a prow of sorts to the approach and entrance to the “2nd Gully”. On the ridges to our right were juvenile mountain goats checking-us-out and keeping an eye on us.
Goats watching our progress
Here again we paused and stood in awe of what lay before us; this next gully climbs a bit steeper and longer than the first and high above a “gun sight” looking notch most present high above on the ridge.
From below the 2nd Gully with Grant in foreground
Although we “aimed” for this gun sight looking notch we found the cairned trail to actually take us to the right and into some much welcomed shade but then back into the sunny gully. We paused often and briefly to catch our breath as we climbed much higher and well over left up this steep and rather treacherous gully with plenty of rocks begging to “cut-loose” as missiles dropping “bad news” on those below. Each step was up and we were surprised at how quickly and carefully we progressed to just below the ridge where the cairns lead to the left and up to a wet/drippy cut through the rocks. Grant made a bad step here and to our astonishment a complete recovery from a certain serious injury while grabbing-hold first right-hand then left and finally holding firm.
I’d witnessed a full-gainer back flip with his feet in the air backwards and all I really heard was a “whoa” and a major “whew” from Grant afterwards as we each looked at each other in silent amazement. Grant had banged his helmeted head and his shoulder pretty hard but considering the consequences had come away very much unscathed…….. Thank God! My 1st Aid/CPR card is quite current but not having to use either was very much preferred and appreciated as we resumed the climb and headed up left and onto the ridge approach with much more work to be done. Looking below we could see the three guys somewhat separated and another solo guy coming up fast with numerous others farther down.
Grant continued to lead the way and had a good eye for the cairns as I often don’t as we proceeded just left of the ridgeline and towards the summit across some loose/heavy talus and boulders. Before long we came to a spot where the cairns went left and also right…….confusing? Yes. Grant found a short down-climb on the North side with a dark/shaded cut to the right and a walled climb up. We then reviewed the 14er.com printout I’d brought and Grant decided to proceed where I took Grant’s hiking poles and went back about 20-25 yards to what I found to be the base of the “chimney” where I planted Grant’s poles upright in the dirt. Now the guy coming-on fast and one of the three guys caught-up to me and showed me the way through this precarious, vertical shoot and up to where I then hooked-up with Grant once again up above…….cool.
Following behind these two made for a rapid advance over the cairned, talus/dirt trail with Grant getting a ways ahead of me as I found this ascent to be a bit torrid and most tiring as we cleared an angled/precipice before coming across and over to the North side and a ledge system heading left. I could no longer see the younger/faster guy and the one guy from the threesome stopped here as I saw Grant go across the ledges. Since Grant’s route finding had to this point been spot-on I did not hesitate but to following with the one guy from the threesome staying put.
Summit fever was setting-in as I followed behind Grant but soon lost sight of him as he seemed to vanish into thin air. I then found myself to where I could hear voices on the summit above but could no longer see the way and I simply got on all-fours and defying my better judgment and Newton’s laws of gravity I “clawed/clambered” up and over one last portion of caving/decaying rock and then walked slowly up and onto the summit at 8:51AM………Made it; in silence I immediately thanked the Lord above for allowing me passage over the last 20 yards of decrepit rock that gave-way under me as I gained the last approach. Make no bones……..this mountain is a dangerous place and I felt blessed and privileged indeed to be standing firm on this summit.
This small summit is very rewarding as the views are awesome in every direction with at least 10 immediately recognizable 14’ers in view with South Maroon and the connecting traverse appearing close enough to touch with many people standing on the S. Maroon summit letting out some hoots & hollers.
South Maroon Peak
Snowmass Mt & Capitol Peak
I too felt like letting out some hoots but refrained as I’m quite a bit more dignified than that………..Probably not!! However, I did curb my enthusiasm and greeted Grant and the younger/faster guy (Alan) with a brisk hand shake and congrats. Not long to follow were the one guy from the threesome and then the other two a bit later and two more young guys as well as we all seemed relived/thankful for making it to the top this fine morning……Good stuff!
We all started taking photos as the day was very nice with plenty of sun and only partly cloudy in all directions. Small-talk and taking each others photos with one another’s cameras
Myself & Grant
The Three "young guys"
followed and we all signed the summit registry in order of who arrived when which only seemed like proper protocol. Apparently Grant and I had gotten off course right near the top and came up a different much more difficult way than all the others and we would not make this same mistake going down. Some more food/drink and photos
Conundrum & Castle Peaks
Maroon & Crater Lakes
and we started to exit this fine summit pretty much in the same order that we had arrived as we could now see others just below and things were getting a bit crowded. Grant and I left right at 9:26AM……….
Right from the start of our descent it was rather clear that Grant and I were moving slower than the others and soon the three guys caught up and passed us which was good as they showed us the way down through the tricky route finding sections near the top. We stayed right with these guys down through the “chimney” where we paused briefly and picked-up Grant’s poles and here the three then got well ahead of us back and over to the 2nd Gully. All along the way we passed numerous people on their way up as this was a very popular place this beautiful Saturday and upon reaching the top of the 2nd Gully there were lots more coming up and taking extra care not to kick down loose rock became a real issue. Several did indeed cut-loose and the shout of “rock!!” went out more than once as it is nearly impossible to prevent this from happening on your way up or down. Luckily, all escaped back down through to the exit left where we all stopped and took a good rest as this route is taxing both physically and mentally.
Here Grant and I sat down with the three young guys again and found that one had somehow lost his shoe; we each thought that he was just kidding but soon learned it had tumbled down a couloir as he lost his grip while removing stones. Unbelievable!! Anyway…….he had already walked down the 2nd Gully and was now to proceed down the remainder of this mountain while wearing only one shoe and with a sock with some Gorilla Tape that he had gotten from another person on the other foot.
"Shoeless Joe" self-portrait
His buddies were kidding him the whole time and he was certainly taking it better than I would have but he made due and kept on moving. What else could he do? Making our way back down the 1st Gully and back down through the talus went uneventfully and although we stopped briefly to allow “shoeless Joe” to catch-up this kid showed to be one tough hombre as my feet were getting tired/sore and I was wearing full lug sole boots. This is one that he’ll have to tell his grandkids about………Heck, I’ll have to tell my grandkids too (when I have some). Truly amazing!!
Back down to tree line, through the brush and across the creek crossing where we again waited for “one shoe”and also Grant as he had paused to peel-down into more comfortable clothes and remove his boots for a bit. I waited some, took some pictures of the beautiful flora with columbine and Indian paint brushes and many other wildflowers through this particularly pleasant section
and then separated from the group and headed back down to the Crater Lake trail juncture. I again waited a bit thinking they weren’t far behind but then continued on down with heavy crowds now on this trail as I made my way through some congestion and then back to Maroon Lake where I took one final photo of the Maroon Bells.
"The Deadly Bells"
Along Maroon Lake and back across the parking lots to my car at 1:24PM.
I waited around some more as I changed clothes, got out of my boots, took in some food & drink in hopes of seeing the group again but they must have been farther back than I thought. I had a long ride ahead and was pretty tired but felt great overall. My 51st 14’er and a few new friends along the way……….sweet!