Intro/StatsMaroon Peak (14156')- CO Rank 24
N. Maroon Peak (14014')- unranked
via South to North traverse
July 29, 2006
~9.4 miles RT, 4850' gain
Participants: John and Renata Collard, Sue Personett, Bob Callahan, and Kevin Baker
After a successful climb of Capitol last weekend, I felt like finally tackling the Maroon Bells was in order. The traverse between the two peaks has interested me, but after a month of searching I couldn't find someone to lead us. Layne Bracy had done the traverse from south to north and told me the crux climbing was easier than the Peak to Needle crux on the Crestones. That gave me confidence that I could handle the climbing. I brought a 30m rope along just in case anyone wanted to rappel off the steep downclimbs.
We met at the Maroon Lake trailhead at 8:30pm Friday and set 3am as our goal to start. I wasn't too optimistic in completing the traverse as there was a 40% chance of storms, but if we could move well to Maroon we would have a shot. I slept a little better in the car this time, but 2:30am still came too quick. We parked at a parking area about 1/4 mile below the day use parking area on the right. This worked well as we had a quiet half night of sleep and no cars pulling in.
Maroon ClimbWe set out at 3:15am in anticipation of a long day of climbing. We made decent time in the dark to Crater Lake, passing a group of climbers getting ready to leave at Crater Lake. It turns out that group was none other than 14erworld members Bob Dawson, Dwight Sunwall, Sarah Thompson, and Jill Salva. They caught us as we were breaking at the bent tree intersection at 10560' just below the West Maroon Creek crossing. This trail has a small cairn, and it is a couple hundred feet beyond the tree. We let them lead the way as most of them had already been up Maroon, keeping them in view all the way to the ridge. This took the routefinding chores off me!
The next section of the climb is a brutal 2800' grunt in one mile to the south ridge at 13300'. This is steeper than the Manitou incline! The trail is broken in spots but is surprisingly easier to follow than I thought. We topped out on the ridge at 7am and were rewarded with an imposing view of the summit and Fravert Basin below. The climb to the summit from here is an enjoyable series of ledge traverses, corners, and gully climbs (OK the gully climbs were annoying).
It is hard for me to describe in detail what we did, but I think we were only briefly off route once. We topped out at 8:37am and the weather thus far was looking great. Just after we topped out a group of high school cross country runners and an older guy from NM blasted up the slopes and joined us. They were also going to do the traverse, so now we had two groups ahead us that we could follow! Maroon was a special climb for me as it was my 50th ranked 14er. The views over to N. Maroon are intimidating to say the least, but I knew that looks are deceiving in the Elks. We took a nice 30 minute break on the summit as no threatening clouds were building. As we were preparing to leave, a plane buzzed us no more than 200 ft overhead! I couldn't get out my camera out quick enough. Must have been a local checking out the climbers.
The Traverse to N. MaroonAs we began the descent off Maroon, Sue Personett and Bob Callahan were about to summit. I knew that both of them were going to be on Maroon, but didn't know exactly when they planned on leaving their camp at Crater Lake. They asked if they could join us if we waited for a few minutes, and we obliged. This worked out well as we now had five sets of eyes for routefinding. The descent down to the low point of the ridge was mostly straightforward as we downclimbed the west side of the ridge at the steep class 4 section. The only difficulty for me is I bashed my knee hard into a boulder that caused some sharp pain but quickly subsided. I hate it when that happens! The views over to crux #1 were daunting on the descent to the saddle.
We watched a couple guys downclimb this, and they primarily stayed on the west side. Bob chose a short but awkward low class 5 section of maybe 15' that I had to do a back stem on to get up.
John took a short 5' fall on this pitch, but fortunantly fell on a ledge with his pack taking most of the blow. He chose to climb a loose gully around a corner and met us back up on the ridge. We were so glad to see he wasn't hurt! The next crux comes quickly and we waited while Bob checked it out. I watched as Bob climbed a hard class 4, maybe low class 5 exposed tower which looked like it involved some awkward moves for him.
John and Renata had already chosen the lower route on the west side across ledges, so I told Bob that Sue and I would go that way as well. The lower route was more time consuming as Bob made it across 30 min before us, but was less exposed. We regained the ridge through a couple loose gully climbs and I was inspired by how close the summit was! We then stayed on the ridge proper, popped through a keyhole, climbed some loose junk to a notch to climbers left of the summit block.
This notch dumps you just below the summit and we topped out at 11:39am, not exactly speed demons but it works! I would rate the Bells traverse as being easier overall than the Crestone traverse. The crux on the summit block of the Needle is harder and more exposed than any of the moves I came across on the Bells. I would say that the route is more dangerous on the Bells though. With a successful summit of N. Maroon, John Collard is now down to Lindsey as his last one, a fun climb to finish on! Sue and Bob are also very close.
The Painful DescentOn the summit of N. Maroon, we met a couple of women who had topped out via the standard route. Just our luck as now we had somebody to lead us down the route we didn't come up! We took out time with kudos, pics, and eating, finally heading down at 12:18. I knew the descent would be tedious and there was no rush as the weather was awesome. The descent down to the dihedral crux went smooth as April and the Jenn did well. One of them took a couple brief tumbles on the descent, so be careful on this pile of rock! Bob summed it up well as he said they are both two big cairns ready to topple!
On the dihedral, Bob found an easier way to downclimb it on climber's left that had some better footholds. I downclimbed this face out, then flipped around when I got halfway down. John, Renata, and one of the other women elected to rappel this section so the rope was not dead weight in my pack! We did make one routefinding error after this as a cairn led us around a corner too early. It quickly cliffed out and we turned around and found the correct way. After that it was pretty much smooth sailing but this mountain beats your knees to a pulp as there's an annoying rock glacier, a beautiful meadow, another steeper rock section, followed by some steep willow bashing. I'm not sure if I was still on route as the trail was very faint around Minnehaha Creek, but I found a trail on the other side that led us back to Buckskin Pass Trail and to Crater Lake.
Some decided to pump some water at the creek, but Sue and I kept going because I wanted to get off my feet. I ended up getting back to the trailhead amidst the hoard of tourists at around 5:20, basking in the world class view of the famous Bells. I'm glad to get those bad boys out of the way!