Nick sitting just below the ampitheater and the north face of Pyramid.
So the plan was to climb the Maroon Bells on the 8th. I had pulled all the beta I could find to do them including the traverse and checked the weather forecast only to be disappointed by the typical Colorado forecast of T-storms in the afternoon but, Tuesday's forecast called for a 50% chance of "heavy rain" and was to arrive earlier than your typical Colorado afternoon forecast. Oh well! We were still determined to climb something so we headed west around 8:30 Monday night and camped out in the back of the Xterra at the Maroon Bells overnight parking area.
We arrived to a thunderstorm that was producing alot of rain and wild lightning strikes that I could've sworn hit the trees right outside the vehicle. We did'nt get to sleep until around 12:30 which is a really late time to bed down if you plan on getting on the trailhead at 3 or 4am. With the all night rain and storm we were getting more and more disappointed and figured there was no way we would be able to climb anything above timberline let alone the Bells.
Well, I guess you could say we got lucky around 6am when we finally started waking up after a long rainy and noisy stormy night when we woke to see that there was no more rain or thunder or lightning. We got out of the truck and saw that there were several clouds above but they appered to be burning off a little with the sunrise. We drove up to the day use area and just started gearing up for a hike like we knew we were going to do something while we were up there no matter what. I asked about the Bells and my partner (Dude That Must Hurt, Nick Lysek) said "no way, not with this late of a start". I had all the beta from SP on Pyramid in my truck from a couple weeks before this trip when I was going to climb it and picked Antero instead due to my then-partner having a pulled hamstring. So when I made that aware and the fact that the trip would be a few miles shorter than the Bells route, we decided to climb this awesome fourteener!
Not having been in the gym between the trip I did the previous week and this trip and with the beer and fatty food consuption over the weekend I was feeling it really bad on the hike up. I wish I had started a little earlier though with cooler temps to avoid the swarms of flies and mosquitoes in the area though.
We broke out of treeline and made our way up into the ampitheater around 8:15. Once we made our way across the big boulder field to just under the north face of the peak we looked to the east and saw the steep, talus infected gulch that would bear access to the northeast ridge. We made our way over to it and started up well, with me several yards behind the younger and much bigger stride having "Dude That Must Hurt". More regrets for the fun over the weekend I guess.
Once "Dude That Must Hurt" gained the ridge, I started to get off route a little by taking a right just below the ridge proper and let me tell you, what they saty about this range is true to it's reputation. Very loose scree and talus on this steep slope is an understatement. Stay in the gulch until you hit the saddle to avoid a sprained ankle or a tumble down the slope. I had now gained the ridge and was on my way to catching up with my partner. We had noticed that there was another climber ahead of us a couple hundred yards or so. We were already in communication with him and it was nice to have someone leading the way and not sending rocks to us in the process. After a few hundred feet of class 2 terrain came the class 3 stuff along the ridge and over to the back side of the peak where we came to a very exposed ledge. This was definately the pucker spot for me considering the shape I was in that morning. 3 or 4 steps and it was over and I was getting my nerve back and adrenaline pumping and ready to get this summit bagged! The route is very messy. You have alot of loose crap up there and better be sure that what you choose to put your feet on is'nt going to say "laters" after you put your weight on it. The whole section above the exposed ledge is solid class 4 climbing and very fun if you don't rush it and are fairly good at route finding. We had noticed the members of the "14er Initiative" working on the trail on the way up so kudos to those guys for the new cairns. They really helped.
We reached the summit at around 11:00. I though we did alright considering the profile of the climb (over 4500 feet in less than 3 1/2 miles). But "Dude That Must Hurt" said that we were too slow. Guess I have to work out more! We were greeted by not just the climber we saw ahead of us on the way up but also another climber named John who had just climbed the northwest ridge up solo and said it was a really slow moving climb. Looking at it I thought he was a little nuts myself but had to be a good climber to do it. After 10 or so minutes and a few snapshots on the summit we decided to make our descent.
Descending this stuff was almost as time consuming as ascending it. You really had to be sure that what you were landing on was solid and most of it was not! At one point, I heard a loud rockslide and looked back to see that "Dude That Must Hurt" and John were nowhere in sight. They had set it off. Scary just hearing it. We made our way down and around the saddle where you end up back on the north side of the mountain and finally to the gulch where we had come up. The whole time we were wondering when this "50% chance of HEAVY rain" was going to ruin our day and it never did! I have to say after two incorrect forecasts in two weeks that I don't think I will be bailing the day before anymore.
Descending the gulch was just as miserable as I though it would be. LOOSE, LOOSE and LOOSER was my description of it after taking several slides and picking myself back up. It did rain all night so I guess I should've expected it. Once we got back down and on the trail back to the car I took a shot or two of the impressive peak we had just climbed. I guess the loose talus and scree, the confusing st times route on the upper half, the exposure on the ledge that I failed to mention we had to traverse on the downclimb as well, and the horrible forecast pushing us to run our buts back down made this one of the BEST climbs I have done on a fourteener in Colorado. I am really pleased with our decision we made that morning to climb this mountain. I am looking forward to climbing the Maroon Bells and the Crestones very soon. I would have to say that this has been one of my favorites right up there with Kieners on Longs Peak and Kelso Ridge on Torreys. I would recommend climbing this to any peak bagger. Just bring your brain bucket and alot of gels!
A look back at an awesome peak. A shot of the Bells on the way down. I could'nt resist. Our descent. Watch your step! "Dude That Must Hurt" sitting on a very exposed ledge on the summit! Look for me on there too on his page maybe! A look down the ridge, still a way to go. The upper half of the route The exposed ledge with "Dude That Must Hurt" showing how it's done! The bottom of the gulch that will gain you the ridge