From Maroon Lake TH
Friday July 15, 2010
After working all day Thursday my wife and I readied our TrailBlazer and hit the road for Basalt where my wife's niece and her husband live. Getting started at just about 5:50PM we found the traffic to be manageable as we 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 we exited and took Route 82 to Basalt arriving about 9:45. My wife would be staying here so we off-loaded her bike and some other gear at her nieces place and then I continued on to the roundabout in Aspen for Maroon Bells where I drove up the overnight hiker’s parking lot, very dark and most quiet.
Arriving I found the parking lot to be jam-packed and managed to “shoehorn” into the last available parking spot right at 10:35PM, plenty of cars but nobody around. It was still quite warm at 69 degrees and the heavens were brilliant with stars as I made ready to sleep in the back and set my watch alarm for 3:30AM and turned-in right at 11:00PM………..way tired.
For whatever reason my watch alarm failed and I awoke somehow knowing it was later than I planned for and found the time to be 4:28AM……………I was now a full hour behind schedule. Wasting little time I got up and prepared a quick cold breakfast of oatmeal bars, banana and a quart of Gatorade. The day was just starting to break and only the brightest stars could now be seen as I readied my pack and started across the parking lot for the trail to the right of Maroon Lake at 5:10AM
Arriving at the lake I was treated to a magnificent view of the glass-calm lake with two ducks swimming towards me and the surrounding peaks with the Maroon Bells directly ahead and their snowy couloirs most visible. I then made rather quick work of rounding to the right of Maroon Lake and heading right verses straight and soon found the sign for Crater Lake. I took this well-worn trail up through the forest while gaining elevation and found the temperature to already be rather warm especially for this time of day. I had perspired through my hat as I made it to a rocky opening where things flatten-out some and found a large cairn on the left. This marks the trail for Pyramid Peak.
I made the left turn from the Crater Lake trail and was now heading up into a bushy section with many beautiful wildflowers and soon started to head up a series of rocky switchbacks up into more forest with actual solid rock “stair steps” where the CFI volunteers have done a great job carving-out this trail. Gaining some higher ground I soon was rewarded with a most wonderful, alpenglow view of the Maroon Bells in there early morning splendor.
I never tire of such natural beauties and stood in awe while snapping a picture as the day was perfect without a cloud in the skies………….absolutely gorgeous.
Gaining elevation with every step as the trail climbs steadily via switchbacks and traverses and along some cobbly/rocky sections and up around one last bushy corner to where two huge cairns lead the way abruptly into a talus field. More cairns lead across the talus and to a long, snow-filled gully approach leading directly towards Pyramid Peak high, center-left. Here I could now see three people heading up the steep slope to the right of the gully along a long green section. I found the best passage was to walk directly up the snowy gully and I could clearly see where others had done the same. Before too long the three people up high to my right had advanced to the ridge and were now proceeding left and towards the Pyramid Peak summit. I, in turn headed much further up and found the vast, heavily talused, bowl know as the “amphitheater”. I could now see two separate groups making their way up the very steep, scree slope on the left side to a high notch well above. This was where I would be going.
Warm temperatures had set near records the past two days and today was no exception. Being in the shadows certainly helped keep things cooler as I followed cairns across the amphitheater with it’s huge rocks and boulders making my way to the start of the 1000’ scree ascent. I saw one couple nearing the top with what looked to be a white dog leading them up the trail, the first group had apparently already cleared the notch and were on there way along the ridge to the right. Climbing this scree slope was not a pleasant task; a steep, narrow, dirty/scree and rock passage that climbs quickly without many switchbacks and simply goes straight up the mountainside and above tree line and I knew that coming back down would be every bit as difficult as this ascent was now. I paused often but briefly to catch my breath and made a slow but steady advance along this well-traveled trail. Bearing too far to the right I found myself a bit off course as I neared the top and ended up on a goat trail of sorts and found it easier to simply scramble on all fours up over the rocks and gain the trail to the right of the ridge. Soon I began to follow some cairns leading through a rocky section and over to the left side of the ridge where more cairns along a steep ledge lead the way and here the first direct sunlight of the day shown very bright.
Route finding has never been my forte and I was becoming a bit confused as to which way the cairns were taking me, but I continued my advance and soon met two young guys coming back from the summit. These two stated that the cairns were good and if I felt I was off the trail I probably was which I found to be somewhat peculiar. However, once we parted I continued to follow the cairns as best I could and felt that I was a least heading in the correct direction and gaining elevation as I went. I wasn’t getting any warm, fussy feelings looking at my 14er.com printout as I really wasn’t discerning any of the landmarks being described but looking up ahead and higher I could hear and see the couple I’d seen earlier advancing towards the summit.
Pausing to apply some sun lotion and lip balm I was soon overtaken by a young guy making a rapid advance and seemed to know exactly where he was going so I felt a bit better about where I was at on this mountain. I followed his lead for a while but couldn’t keep up and lost sight of him and continued my plodding along from this cairn to the next until I came to a dead end. Looking around I could now see the young guy above nearing the summit and could hear the voices of others as well; so close to the summit yet not seeing the way was a bit confounding but I finally decided to backtrack a bit as Roach’s book described and soon found a cairn leading off to the right a bit and followed more cairns up and around and whalaa!! onto the final approach to the summit proper. One last gradual climb across a short ridge and finally onto the summit at 9:42AM..........I’d made it!
As I’d read before; I too found this summit to be very rewarding as the views are breath-taking in every direction with at least 10 immediately recognizable 14’ers in view. I removed my pack and started taking photos right away as the day was perfect without a cloud to be seen in all directions.
Snowmass Mt & Capital Peak
Conundrum & Castle Peaks
The two persons I had seen earlier were on the summit (a guy and a gal) as well as the young guy who had passed me (Gabe) and soon three other guys reached the summit from the other side. These were the three persons I’d seen much earlier heading up the right side of the snow gully. Before long a lone mountain goat also reached the summit from the same way as the three guys; he moseyed-on up and across the summit just a few feet away from us all and we all took photos as this goat had been with the three guys all the way from the ridge on up……..funny goat.
Summit Mountain Goat
Turns-out the supposed “white dog” I’d seen the one group following up the scree slope was indeed a goat as well……….duh!! Good thing this peak has a large summit as there was plenty of room for all creatures great and small……..nice.
Two of the three guys had ropes and harnesses and the one was free-climbing. We all enjoyed some small-talk and photo opportunities
Myself on the Summit
and soon the guy and gal departed and Gabe as well down the way we had come. Upon further conversation, two of the guys were guides with their client and were heading down the way I had come to complete their tour-de-Pyramid. I asked the one guide if I could follow them down since my route finding sucked and they knew this mountain so very well………..No problem, cool! So after a few more minutes, donning my helmet, taking-in some food/drink, two aspirin and signing the summit registry we all departed with the lone goat a bit further ahead seeming to be keeping his eye on these three guys……..funny goat.
Going back down was rather interesting as I observed the one guide “tied-off” with the client and the other guide free-climbing as I was. The reason I didn’t recognize some of the 14er.com print-out on the way up was because I hadn’t ever reached the “green rock” section and totally went a different way as had others.
Pyramid Peak on the Descent
We progressed down much the way I had come up and moved very deliberately through a few sections and the free-climbing guide took my photo (upon my request) crossing the steep ledge area.
I didn’t want to get too chummy with the guides and client as I’m sure the client was paying good money for such services and here I was “mooching-along” with them. Anyway……they are Aspen Expeditions and are great people to be with; there I dropped their name as I know them to be professional, pleasant/courteous and genuine with their abilities towards their clients and the mountain itself. It took about an hour to reach the top of the rather “goaty” (several more along the way, big & small) ridge above the scree slope and here we parted company and I’m very glad to have made their acquaintances.
Here I stopped to get into short cloths and apply a good lather of sun screen as the day was very warm and the sun really hot. Back down the scree slope seemed to me to be the hardest part of this whole day although going back down after reaching a summit is most definitely my preference. Skidding, slipping, stumbling along was an unpleasant grind and getting down to the amphitheatre was a welcome relief……..Thank God!
Crossing back over the talus and to the snow gully went quickly and I could see where the three guys had again hiked right on the snow as did I; this too went fairly quickly and I was soon onto the cairned talus field
Pyramid Peak from below the snow gully
and back through the huge cairns and on the CFI trail. Weather remained ideal as I paused briefly to take a shot of Maroon Lake
and then back down into the forest and back onto the trail to Maroon Lake uneventfully. Crowds of people where now on this trail and negotiating through the congestion seemed to be the only drawback as I soon reached Maroon Lake and turned for one last photo of the signature Maroon Bells set in the brilliance of this spectacular day.
Back along the lake and across the parking lots and to the car at 2:40PM sharp. I was tired and my feet a bit sore but otherwise I felt great and gifted to have started my trek later than planned and thus meeting some dynamite people along the way this fine day. My 50th 14’er………..sweet!
Tomorrow trout & whitefish fly-fishing on the Crystal River…………. especially excellent!
...on bagging such a challenging Bells peak. I'm heading to the Maroon Bells in less than a month...with much less ambitious summit plans, but no less beautiful scenery I'm sure. I just hope the weather is as nice as your's was.