Southeast Couloir in the Dark

Page Type
Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 3, 2005
1996 Hits
71.06% Score
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Created On: Oct 3, 2005
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I began my trip on Friday afternoon. I got off work around 1:00 in boulder and made a quick stop by my house in Arvada to pick up all my gear. I drove up Hwy 82 summited Independence Pass about 3:30 in my truck and was at the Maroon Lake parking lot about 4:20. Packed up my gear, chatted with some other guys (who were doing the circle of the four passes up there), filled out my back country permit and headed down the Maroon Lake trail.
Maroon Lake is usually busy with the tourists; it was easy to go around them because most of them are sitting around because they can’t seem to breathe. I blazed through the easy trail to Crater Lake. It took me about 45 minutes to hike the 2 miles to my camping spot for the night. I set up camp on the North side of the lake because my plan was to hike South Maroon and then the traverse over to North. The trail from North Maroon then comes out on the North side of Crater Lake so I figured my camp would be on my way coming down from North Maroon.
After setting up camp, I hiked up to the base of North and South Maroon to plot out my next mornings climb. I was looking at the Southeast Couloir. I saw where I wanted to go and made myself a little carin so I could remember where I saw a little path. I then started back to my tent and along the way stopped by another campsite and chatted with some other guys about where we were hiking the next day (they were doing Pyramid on Saturday and the Bells on Sunday). They happened to have Roach’s book with them so I looked at for a second and confirmed my route was one that Roach had mapped out. I then trekked back to my tent, got ready for my climb the next day, set my GPS alarm for 3AM, and hit the hay.
At approximately 2:40 I was awoken by a scratching noise. I finally came out of my sub-consciousness and realized that something was scratching at my tent. I listened to it for a short while and then hit my tent from the inside to scare it off. I am not sure what kind of animal it was, but it had to be a bigger animal because I could hear it’s footsteps as it ran off. I could have possibly been a bear, but I don’t want to exploit my story too much. I then rolled over and closed my eyes to see if I could get my last 15 minutes of sleep. My alarm then went off at 3:00 and I sat up to get ready for my hike.
I got dressed, put on my boots, loaded my pack, and took off at about 3:15. It was a beautiful morning; it was clear and the full moon added a little light to my path. I got up to my carin and turned south. Looking back at Crater Lake was awesome as you could see the moon reflecting off of the water. The trail I chose wasn’t really a trail. I could tell other people had been on it, but not after too long I lost any inclination that other people had been there. I was now just following a dried up river bed (which on any Topo map, shows there is a river going up this couloir. Then I just about dropped a load in my pants as my head lamp crossed over a set of eyes. My brain (for whatever reason) automatically thought of the worst, and told me it was a mountain lion. I then came to my senses and found that it was a small herd of 3 deer.
After gathering myself I continued up the mountain. I could hear water running over to my left so I tracked over to it and started to follow it, as it could have been the river I was supposed to follow. Shortly I found that it wasn’t, because I ran into a water fall that was about 20 feet tall. I only had to back track about 50 yards and then I crossed back over to the right side of the couloir. Doing all of the work in the dark was fun, but it got frustrating as I didn’t really know where I was going. I had to make quite a few class 4 moves, and even a couple of lower class 5 moves. At a couple different points of my scrambling I had to axe into the moss or into the roots of a tree in order to get up these little cliffs. As I was climbing up I could see the different groups of head lights that were also attempting the Bells; none of which were doing the Southeast Couloir. One group stopped below me and maybe contemplated hiking up the couloir, but continued on to the South Ridge route.
At 6:20 it finally got light enough for me to turn off my head lamp and see how off track I had gotten. The route that I wanted to be on was on the other side of the couloir and there were two snow/ice fields that separated us. It would have been an easy climb if I would have brought my crampons, because I could have go straight up these fields which led to where I wanted to go. After accepting my location and understanding that I couldn’t do anything but go up, I continued on. I had to follow the right side of one of the snow fields until it pushed me up against some class 4 climbing. I was able to climb up and around this snow field to a point where I could almost go no where. I tried climbing a couple different routes, but was unsuccessful due to the lack of hand and foot holds. I then had to climb down about 25 feet, at which point I was able to cross over to the left side of the couloir.
At this point I came to a face of sandstone. This was also the only point that I found a trace of another person. I found a lost crampon (which could have been useful if I found the other one, and also found it about 1500 feet below where I was at). I climbed up the loose sandstone and made it to the top of a small saddle off the southeast side of South Maroon. From there, I joined up with the South ridge route trail. This was the first time I saw any sort of carin. I followed all of the cairns from there and they led me right to the top. I was the first to summit South Maroon. It was 9:15 when I reached the top (that is 6 hours after starting from Crater Lake). I looked over at North Maroon right as a couple was summiting it. About 20 minutes later a group of two guys came atop South to join me on the summit.
My plan was to summit South and do the traverse over to North, but when I was looking at it, a analyzed the route and decided not to do it due to the fatigue I was already feeling from doing the Southeast couloir. I did not expect it to take me 6 hours to reach the summit. And since I was hiking the mountain alone, I told my brother I would call him by 5. So, I figured I would save North Maroon for a later date, and started to pack up my gear for the down climb. As I started down another man stop me and ask if I would wait for him so he could climb down with me. He was with two other guys but they were going to stay on the summit for a while.
So, I started down and just took my time so it would allow time for him to catch up. Alan was this guy’s name. We hiked down the South ridge, which seemed like the never ending trail. If I had to do it again, I would probably hike down the couloir, even though it would have been pretty dangerous. The south ridge route was just really long and pretty steep. To make a long story short, I dropped him off at his campsite and trekked on to mine. I finally got back to my campsite at about 2:00. I packed up my tent and sleeping bag and sat on a log and waited for Alan. As I waited I had quite a few people come up to me and ask me questions.
Finally Alan came over the little hill by Crater Lake and we continued down the Maroon Lake trail to Maroon Lake. We reached my truck at about 3:00 which gave me a round trip that day of about 12 hours. I did not expect my trip to take that long at all. I thought I would have had both of them done in that time. If I had to do it again and when I do it again, I would have (and will) started a little later than 3:15, but I would definitely climb the Southeast Couloir over the South Ridge. It is much more technical, but a lot shorter. I also think it was a lot more fun to actually do some rock climbing, rather then just trek up this long and gruesome hill side. I will be back soon to Aspen in order to capture North Maroon and the traverse between the two.


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James C

James C - Nov 13, 2005 1:35 pm - Hasn't voted

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I climed the Southeast Couloir too, what did you think of it? Good report, must have been an interesting climb in september.


pjenson05 - Nov 30, 2005 9:43 am - Hasn't voted

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I will definately do it again. I think it is the best route for South Maroon, but I would start a little later. I would try and be at the bottom of the couloir at daybreak.


mdash - Dec 2, 2005 2:42 am - Hasn't voted

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Hi--I enjoyed your report and look forward to reading about your next trip to the Maroon Bells.

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