Wednesday, July 22, 2015

North Maroon Peak 2015

Route Name: Northeast Ridge

Trailhead Elevation: 9,590 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,014 ft.
Distance: 9.08 mi. (my GPS)
Elevation Gain: 4957 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 4:33am
NM Trail Jct: 6:07am
Bottom 1st Gully: 7:42am
Top 1st Gully: 8:16am
Bottom 2nd Gully: 8:22am
Top 2nd Gully: 9:26am
Summit: 10:38am (12 mins)
Top 2nd Gully: 12:07pm
Bottom 2nd Gully: 12:52pm
Top 1st Gully: 1:02pm
Bottom 1st Gully: 1:29pm
NM Trail Jct: 2:56pm
End Time: 4:12pm

Trip Report:

Early morning look at the peaks
  Dad, David, and I were up at 2am for a 2:15am departure.  We drove Independence Pass over to Aspen.  The Chevy Tahoe said we had about 150 miles left on the tank with only 78 to get to Maroon Creek.  As we drove to Aspen the number dwindled quickly.  About 10 miles out of Aspen it said 50 miles and then it just said “Low”.  The fuel gauge was on empty and I was getting really nervous.  Fortunately, we did make it to a gas station in Aspen and put about 8 gallons in (fuel was very pricey there).  On the drive over we only saw one deer and there was very little traffic.
We were on the trail from Maroon Lake at 4:33am for North Maroon. It was probably low 50’s at that point and I was wearing a short-sleeve tech shirt and my gore-tex jacket.  It was evident that it had rained heavily last night as the initial trail had numerous large puddles for us to circumvent.   We made a slow and steady progress up the trail.  Morning twilight was starting to hit as we  hit the first trail junction.  On our trek up to the North Maroon junction we were already able to turn head lamps off.
Alpenglow on the summit of North Maroon
We made the North Maroon junction at 6:07am.  The stream crossing took a few minutes to figure out.  There were a few rocks in place and a small logjam.  Dad navigated the logjam carefully and stayed dry.  David and I took the rocks.  David found a piece of wood to throw in the stream to give us another step.  Above the stream crossing we got into the first ascent on North Maroon.  In this area in 2012 we started following rock steps up the hill and ran into a CFI group working on a new trail.  This year, the new trail was completed and it was wonderful.  It was a great rock staircase that bypassed the old steep dirt slopes as well as the rock wall hazard.  This ascended up to a head wall where we then traversed to the south above the steep slopes.  In this area we saw a bear and cub about 30 yards away on another slope.  We watched each other for about 5 minutes and then they walked away.  A ranger would later tell us these bears having been causing troubles at the camp sites around Crater Lake.

The bears! (they weren't very close and my phone doesn't zoom)
The new trail took us easily up to the grassy meadow before the rock glacier and made for a much easier ascent.  It was still hard work in gaining the elevation, but doing so at a more gradual pace and on clear trail and rock steps was a welcome change.  The grassy meadow was still beautiful and we hoped to get more classic pictures as we had in 2012. The pictures that follow are some of the best that I got this year.

This is a photosphere of the grassy meadow area. The pictures doesn't don't do it justice so I thought a full spherical view might help.

Moving in the rock glacier

The rock glacier was much as we remembered and we made it across without much trouble. After the rock glacier is where the real fun begins.  From that point on it is steep and exposed and pretty much a no-fall-zone.  Immediately after the rock glacier is a narrow exposed traverse on a grassy ledge. The trail then begins to climb in what we would dub the “pre-gully”.  It is every bit as steep as the two main gullies of North Maroon and it gains about 300 feet. It is still partly in the midst of some vegetation with a few small trees still about.  

Looking up the 1st gully, the exit is just below
the white rock area above
We made it into the bottom of the 1st gully at 7:42am, it was just over an hour and a half after leaving the North Maroon trail junction.  The entrance to the first gully involves dipping down below a rock ledge area.  In 2012 David followed a slab up to an over the ledgy area but this time we all stayed below it.  As we knew from before, the 1st gully is pretty straightforward when it comes to route-finding.  There are only one or two sections where you have to pay attention to the trail.  It was slightly steeper than we had remembered it, but we still made good work of it.  As we readied to exit the 1st gully we mentally began to prepare for the 2nd gully.  The first sight of it in 2012 about blew us away.  I had resolved to not even look this time around.  I wanted to keep my mental focus and so I kept eyes set on the trail.  Admittedly, I was a little more worked up on North Maroon today than I would have otherwise as the anxiety of facing Capitol in a few short days still lived on as well.  I had been dealing with that anxiety off and on for days, even weeks, perhaps months.  I didn’t want it effecting me on North Maroon and with some concentration I believe I was successful with that effort.

We carefully found our way into the bottom of the 2nd gully and once more began our ascent.  Dad was on board this time and doing pretty well.  We worked our way over to the left side and worked most of the ascent there as we had done in 2012.  As we rose higher we began to scout how the exit would work amongst the ledges.  We also found ourselves sticking pretty much on the left side even through some class 3 work the whole way.  In 2012 we had done the same on the ascent and then on the descent had swung out wide right (climber’s right) to avoid this area. As we neared the somewhat obvious notch in the ridge we took our time to very carefully piece together the route of least resistance through the ledges.  Best our memory served us, we were pretty sure we were right on to what we had done in 2012.  Rule of thumb was that if the terrain looks and is much harder than you think it should be, then it probably is. We topped out of the 2nd gully at 9:26am.

David getting the top belay ready
David working on the first few
moves in the chimney
We made our way up to the Chimney while looking back and scouting the descent route again.  For some reason the chimney area looked different this time around and David and I had a short debate as to whether this was it.  A little double-checking of the nearby terrain confirmed our location.  David went up first without any trouble. Dad was attempting second and he had a difficult time getting through the first set of moves.  There are two good foot holds and then a narrow 2-foot cleft to wedge the body up and into.  The handholds are few in this area and so it takes an awkward upward push to get the body into the cleft.  Dad bailed and so I took a stab at it and made my way through. After the initial push there is an immediate climb to the left which goes without trouble and then one last step climb to get over the top.  With David and I above we decided to put Dad on a top belay to help him through.  As we set this up a pair of climbers were coming down from above and we let them pass through so as not to hold them up.  The guy made it through without trouble.  I watched his initial moves in there hoping to learn for the descent.  The girl with him was really troubled by the first move and its exposure.  We offered her the rope a few times but she finally made it.  Now, with Dad on a top belay that little extra bit of help got him through the initial moves on the chimney and he made his way up.  We almost had a moment there thinking this was going to be it, and we’d have to turn around once more.

Dad above the precipice area
Above the chimney we made our way up through the loose rock to the precipice area where there was a small snowpatch.  The snow didn’t cause any trouble for us but we did notice part of it was corniced and made a major mental note not to go near that part lest we fall through for a thousand feet.  Above the precipice area and the small snowpatch the ridge ascends steeply again.  This approaches what I would contend to be the most difficult part of the whole route.  It is a point on the ridge with almost class 4 approaches at every angle.  I remembered this from 2012 to contain the most uncomfortable move of the whole ascent.  As we approached it and began to scout the easiest way through I was almost certain I had found my ascent moves from 2012.  I resolved to avoid them again if possible.  We sought to solve this puzzle for several minutes until we found a ledgy crease that looked to be the easiest way through.  Most likely we had descended this same part in 2012.  We made it up through without much trouble and after this we were pretty much trouble free to the summit.

I *think* the difficult crux area is in the terrain at the top of this photo.  I can't place it exactly from this distance.
Looking at South Maroon from the summit of North
One of my favorite photos from the whole trip, a shadowy look at Snowmass and Capitol
This shot also looks pretty sweat
We topped out at 10:38am, just over 6 hours from the trailhead.  We had the summit to ourselves for about 5 minutes and then another couple coming across the traverse joined us.  It was another guy/gal combo.  They had some rock pro gear.  It appeared as though the guy had been shortroping the gal with him.  They had come up the Bell Cord and then on to North Maroon.  They didn’t get South Maroon.  We had a nice visit with them and gave them some advice on the North Maroon descent.   We only spent about 12 minutes on top and then headed down.  

The precipice area with Pyramid behind
As we descended North Maroon we kept looking up and watching the other couple to see if they were on route.  A few times we would holler up some help as to where we were heading.  We descended through the crux pitch high on the ridge with some careful scouting and then made it down past the precipice area without much trouble.  Pretty soon we were back to the chimney.  Here again we decided to set up a top belay just to be extra safe.  It was here the couple caught us and as we had done previously we let them pass through with some final pointers on the two gullies below.

I went first and had no trouble getting down with the belay.  We then passed all three packs down via the rope where I unhooked them below.  Dad came next and did well with a little of my scouting.  David then undid and packed away the rope gear and made his descent free and we gave him just a tiny bit of scouting to help.

Looking down the 2nd gully, its pretty steep
Free of the chimney we headed for the gullies.  We made our way through the ledges into the top of the 2nd gully without trouble.  Once more we were faced with the same question on the descent we had in 2012.  What I have come to observe is high in the 2nd gully there is a very steep rock band without very few breaks in it.  On the ascent both times we had found a steep gully on the climber’s left to break through it.  On the descent, in 2012, and now in 2015 we headed to the left (from a descent point of view) and found some narrow ledges to head down through the rock band in.  As we headed this way we saw the couple had gotten lost.  They left the 2nd gully still near the top and had looked into the dropping into the first gully way too high.  They didn’t like the looks of it and so David directed them back into the 2nd gully and showed them the route we were targeting.

Fantastic look at Pyramid Peak
We slowly made our way back down the 2nd gully and without much trouble we were done with it.  At the bottom I finally looked around to take in that crazy view one more time and I even did a photosphere to remember it.

One last look at the 2nd gully

Below is the photosphere I took at the bottom of the 2nd gully. You can get full 360 degree spherical views of that spot. Sweet!

Exiting the first gully and heading for the "pre-gully"
The first gully went pretty easily on the descent and we were down to that last final “pre-gully” which we carefully maneuvered.  With that final exposed grassy traverse to the rock glacier we were finally out of the “don’t mess up and die” territory for the day.  We were thankful for the new CFI trail when we didn’t have to descend that old rock wall lower down on the trail and descending the large rock staircase was much nicer.  Shortly we were back to the North Maroon Trail Junction and took a break to fix up some of our gear and get some food before the final slog out.

This little chipmunk was ready to jump me for some food. I really
thought he might, so I took his photo and then chased him off with my trekking pole.
One last look at Pyramid from the grassy meadow
As usual, when we neared Crater Lake on the hike home we began to see lots and lots of people.  Pretty much lost count how many people we passed as we headed out to the parking lots of Maroon Lake.  At the end we were greeted with a surprise.  The couple we had helped on the descent was still there and had some beers waiting for us.  They commented they would do this when we were on the summit but we really didn’t expect them to come through with it.  The beers tasted great.  We also had a chance to talk with a pair of rangers who were standing with a gentleman worried that the rest of his group had not returned yet.  There was some confusion as to whether they were on North or South Maroon but we were sure we hadn’t seen anybody else and the way he described it, it seemed likely his group was on South.  Hopefully they made it out safely.    It was a delight for us to have successfully made it up and down North Maroon safely a second time and for the mean time, are glad we don’t have to return any time soon.

A parting shot of the Maroon Bells

I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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