Saturday, July 21, 2012

North Maroon Peak 2012

Route Name: Northeast Ridge
Start Elevation: 9,554 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,014 ft.
Distance: 8.713 mi.
Elevation Gain: 4,550 ft.

Start Time: 4:13am
North Maroon Trail Junction: 5:53am
Bottom First Gully: 7:39am
Top Second Gully: 9:01am
Summit Time: 9:56am (spent 16 mins)
  (42 mins stop at the chimney)
Top Second Gully: 11:34am
Bottom First Gully: 12:25pm
End Time: 2:33pm
Duration: 10 hrs 20 mins


We were up at 1:15am with a target of 1:30am to be on the road and we mostly were. This time we decided to do I-70 to Glenwood Springs thinking it would be a little safer than Independence Pass. This drive went well. We found cheap gas in Glenwood Springs and made our way to Aspen again. It was just after 4am when we hit the Bells parking lot. Again we protected the car from porcupines and got ready for the trail. It was 4:13am when we started and this time we made sure we were on the trail up to Crater Lake. The air was wonderfully warm this morning which gave us a very comfortable dark morning hike. Only took us an hour to reach the 1st junction today and then we were off on the Maroon-Snowmass trail. It was pretty great trail for the first half mile or so and then got steeper. As we neared the junction for North Maroon we were finally getting enough light to turn of the headlamps.

At the junction we tried to scout out the next section of the route. It looked like it made good sense and we mostly knew where we needed to head. The trail quickly descends down to a creek crossing which was not difficult to do while staying dry. In the meadow before the crossing we noticed a pile of lumber and wonder if they may be building a foot-bridge at this creek sometime soon. On the other side we noticed there were workers higher up in the rocks ahead of us. It was also here the trail became unclear to us. An obvious and well-built rail in the rocks ascended up to the right towards the workers. There was a faint trail in the grass and willows heading up to the left. We debated and did start to the left, which seemed proper, but that trail appeared to disappear (we would learn on the descent this was the correct trail and we lost it as it went faint through tall grass and a set of willows). Thinking that trail lost we bushwhacked over to the good rock trail and hiked up to the workers. They were from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and were re-routing this lower section of the North Maroon Trail. They tried to point us out a good route but we ended up backtracking down a ways to finally grab the proper trail, thin as it was.

As the trail began to ascend it was steep and it wound its way up through very narrow passages amongst the willows. Up a way on this steep portion we found the famous rock wall. I had long wondered why the trail wouldn't just circumvent an obstacle like this. Now seeing the steep slope we found it on it began to all make sense. The rock wall is about 5 feet high with a fairly steep slope below it, just a few feet away. There are ample foot and hand holds in the wall to make the climbing easy but there isn't much to grab onto, other than dirt, when you get above the wall. This would not be a fun descent in the rain and wet conditions.
Above the rock wall it remained steep and eventually worked its way around a small rock field and then up some rock steps to finally gain easier ground.

At the top of this initial slope is some easy trail that takes you over to the also famous rock glacier. The rock glacier was essentially one big boulderfield. It was in my estimation a little harder than I expected. I expected the entry to be flatter and to have one straight shot across it. As it turns out you need to ascend up fifty feet into the rocks over an initial hump and then you get a view across the glacier. The general rule of thumb is you shouldn't have to gain or lose much of any elevation as you head across the rock glacier. The basic route description gave us a pretty good idea of what spot to shoot for on the far side of the glacier and this was not hard to spot. So we carefully made our way across the rock glacier shooting for what appeared to be the easiest paths ahead of us.

Once across, we began to traverse across the eastern face of North Maroon. This involved about 150 feet of steep, narrow, grassy, but flat ledging which led into a steep 200 foot ascent up to the entrance of the first gully. As we worked through this first steep climb it hit us that this was going to be a good first taste of what the gully climbing was like. This was already mentally taxing for us knowing we were already making some difficult moves and had two large gullies and plus ahead of us.

As we arrived at the entrance to the first gully things looked pretty close to what we were expecting. The entrance into the gully was perhaps the most challenging part of this gully. There was a rock wall traversing across most of the gully which forced the main trail to drop below it on steep and narrow terrain. David attempted to climb the smooth rock slabs that went up and around this rock wall. Denny and I worked the main trail carefully below. We all arrived at a clear dirt trail nearly onto the far side of the First Gully. From there the route-finding was fairly clear up through the first gully with somewhat increasingly steep class 2+ scrambling. We knew the exit from this gully came before you hit the white cliffs up and on the left and so we kept an eye out for that. The exit was easy to find and the traverse over to the Second Gully straightforward.

The view around the corner at the Second Gully was indescribable. On one hand it was the amazing beauty of the mountain with the rocks and grass all mixed together. On the other hand, it was shocking, awe-inspiring, hard to imagine how someone would be able to climb up through it. Unlike the First Gully, the Second Gully looked so much more than I had imagined it from previous photos. Combine the view of the gully to the sheer faces of the rest of the eastern side of North Maroon heading to the south. In my mind I was completely torn as to whether I could mentally go forward. It was at this time that Denny decided he should proceed no further. He wasn't feeling it today. I had it in my head to turn around as well. I just wasn't into it mentally and wasn't enjoying what I was doing. And yet, I kept looking at it again and again and I could see where there was a faint trail heading up the left side of the gully. I had no idea how it would get out of the top of the gully but I could see it starting. David and I decided to at least start it and see what happens.

The contour into the gully from the corner where we left Denny was a pretty narrow trail but we moved it along it without trouble. The intial couple hundred feet of ascending along the left side of the gully also went well for us so we kept moving. As we ascended further it continued to stay very steep and the route-finding was difficult. We could see there was a trench running up the left side of the gully that seemed to provide the easiest and most protected climbing so we mostly stayed in that heading for the top. As we neared the top of the gully there was an obvious notch in the ridge above. We knew from previous reading that the route heads left of that on a set of ledges. We ascended nearly to the notch and hit a point where we were stuck. The moves directly above us were too difficult or too exposed. We were nearly spent when we noticed a ledge heading out to our right. David checked it out and rounded a corner and found a way to ascend above us. Once up there we found a good path up and out of the gully and after a few easy scrambling moves we were onto the ridge.

We immediately knew what was now facing us: the chimney. It was very easy terrain moving into the bottom of the chimney with a slight downward slope to it. The chimney was more difficult than we expected and it lived up to its billing. The initial move took long reaches up and around a large slab that facing outward. This got you into the middle of the chimney and an easier step onto of the first slab on the left. A few easy moves in the middle of the chimney led to another set of difficult moves to get out of the chimney onto the flat rock above. I made the last move out of the chimney with some reservations in mind of how I was going to downclimb it.
After the chimney we faced another set of cliffs which were easily traversed around the side. Easier class 2+ climbing took us up to the next section of the ridge which was climbing up to the level of the precipice. From there little climbing remained. We ran into a nice group of 3 coming down and we watched their path and they said just a few class 3 moves to go. We climbed further and ran into another spot where we felt as though we were stumped. David went left with some very difficult moves. I scouted myself a line finally heading right making some very difficult moves but we got through.

This video is a look at Mark negotiating this last difficult class 3 pitch high on the summit ridge.

From there it was smooth sailing to an amazing summit I was not convinced I'd ever get. A relief mentally and a reassurance that if we could conquer this beast we might still be able to conquer them all.

We had the summit to ourselves. We noticed a few others on Maroon and even a group over on the Sleeping Sexton. After the usual pictures and summit routine we were on our way down. There were mostly just two spots that concerned us on the way down. The last difficult class3 move and then the chimney. In the difficult class 3 area David descended carefully first and then helped spot my moves through. We made quick work down to the precipice area where David enjoyed heading out onto the edge for a few pictures. From there we worked down to the chimney. I did not like the look going down it with a difficult set of first moves to get into it. I traversed out wide to the left hoping to find the rumored class 3 route. I think I found it but it had an open first move with no visible holds. The rest of that route would have worked were it not for the first move. So we went back to the chimney. We had a rope and harnesses so we decided to do a top belay as a safety net. David set himself up on the cliff above the chimney anchoring himself and the rope on solid rock up there. I harnessed in and went on-belay into the chimney. I made the first few moves without much trouble and worked mostly down the chimney. We had to stop for a moment for David to get me more rope but after that I worked out the last few moves out of the chimney. thankfully I never had to lean into or use the rope at all but it was a nice piece of mind.

After my downclimb David sent the two backpacks down on a biner and the rope. He then tossed the rope itself down to me. David free climbed it with me spotting his moves and he did fine with it. Big obstacles out of the way! We found the moves back into the 2nd Gully and the corner we rounded to get down below the top ledges. At this point Denny heard us from below and shouted up that he was going to start heading down himself. David and I traversed wide left on the descent looking for an easy way down. Though this wasn't how we ascended it worked and we soon found ourselves back in the trench we used to ascend along the side of the gully. As we neared the end of the 2nd Gully we had the realization that we ought to have had Denny stay put, since, if he had any problems and got off route we might have a hard time ever knowing where he was at.

So we traversed swiftly out of the 2nd Gully and into the top of the 1st Gully hoping to catch him. As we entered the top of the 1st Gully we saw him at the corner at the very bottom. We hollered down but he didn't hear us. So we carefully worked our way down into the 1st Gully moving down through it pretty well. We were soon down and out to the pre-gully climb and still no sight of Denny. We moved along the steep, but level ledges and then finally to the corner which views the rock glacier. There we spotted him out in the middle of the rock glacier and were glad to know we were all right, and all had made it.

This gives you the crazy view from the bottom of the 2nd Gully after our descent. Watch and hang on to your seats.
The rock glacier descent was no issue and we made quick work of the grassy terrain and initial rock scrambling below that into the trees. Our last major obstacle was the rock wall. It was mostly dry when we hit it and David went down first. He spotted Denny down second and then I followed, all with little trouble. It was a steep but relatively easy shot down from there to the creek crossing and then onto the Maroon-Snowmass trail. As we walked out the main trail we got a few sprinkles on and off which felt pretty good. As we made it back down to Maroon Lake it was a great sense of relief and accomplishment to have completed both of the Bells this past week.


This track was taken with the BackCountry Navigator app on my Droid Bionic. We followed the standard route for North Maroon up and down. There was some variation when we had trouble finding trail in Minehaha Gulch. You can also see our route-finding in the two gullies which was mostly on target.

My Track


You can see all of my photos from this great climb in my Google Photos Album.  Click the photo below to link:

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