A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Maroon Peak


  • Route: Bell Cord Couloir, descent of Southeast Couloir
  • Distance: ~8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~4,600
  • Start time: 3:37 AM
  • Time: 9:56 hours
  • Climbers: Alan and Sandy

Claimed to be the most photographed spot in Colorado, the Maroon Bells, when viewed from Maroon Lake are sublime. A set of sedimentary beasts that dominate the skyline and from a distance are coy about their crumbling and downsloping nature. My verdict? A scenic pile of choss.


The Bell Cord is the slender band of snow that angles from left to right and splits the summit of Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. From the base of the couloir it is 1,800 calf-burning feet to reach a smalll saddle at 13,800 feet. Given the record setting snowfall this year, we were able to pick up snow much lower, spending ~2,700 vertical feet strapped into crampons.

The alarm went off at 3:00 AM, we got up and a porcupine immediately ambled away from beneath Alan’s truck. Porcupines are notorious for chewing on lines that carry fluid. A hasty check revealed no damage. This was the 2nd of 5 porcupines we would see. I thought seeing one was rare, but now I am thinking that porcupines are to central Colorado as to what pigeons are to Denver’s central business district.


I chew trees and brake lines!


I scare hikers and then waddle off the trail

We ascended a feature known as the Garbage Chute. With towering rock walls above and the sound of meltwater below it was a claustrophobic hydrophobe’s worst nightmare. Otherwise, it was a grand entrance to the alpine environment.


Looking up the Garbage Chute


Looking downvalley with Crater Lake in the foreground and Maroon Lake in the distance.


Alpenglow lighting up the lower flanks of the Maroon Bells, the bottom of the Bell Cord is visible.

The Garbage Chute put us too far south, but a quick traverse put us at the base of the Bell Cord. Looking up is a touch intimidating but also spurs the inner explorer we all experienced in our youth as the snow stretches upward and disappears around the corner. With steepening snow and unknown territory, it could only mean one thing:



The path was obvious, up. So up we went.


Only 1,800 vertical feet to go!


The view across the valley. The scale is tough to capture, but suffice to say that Alan and I never felt like we got anywhere quickly.


A crevasse! Maybe not a true crevasse, but regardless a feature rarely seen Colorado. It was probably 12 feet deep.


Alan looking casual far above the valley floor after being all up on the canard


I am on the right side, halfway up, wearing my let’s like just like the rock gray pants.

This climb was unrelenting. Given our climbs to date, a total of 36 14ers between us this year, my attitude has become blasé in regards to the effort involved, until now. Between the physical grind and the constant awareness involved from being in an exposed position this climb was taxing. It was worth it though given the view.


The view from the saddle upon topping out of the couloir. Snowmass and Capitol peaks are visible.

From the saddle Alan and I took two different paths. His quickly put him on the ridge with views of the summit. Mine had me strapping on crampons and climbing the steepest snow of the day. The bright side? Perfect steps into the soft snowpack, which punctuated my profane monologue as I worked my way up. With a bit of alpine ice at the head of the slope it made for an exciting mixed climb. Avoid it.


Right now I feel only malice that Alan is not suffering up this snow too. Alan was thinking what a nice break and oh look, here comes some expletive ridden entertainment.

After my misadventure it was a surprisingly short hop to the summit, which we had to ourselves.


Summit shot


Showing my contempt for the poor quality rock “flex shot”


Warrior pose. Someone enroll this guy in a yoga class!

After 20 minutes on the summit it was time to descend the southeast ridge to gain our exit, the Southeast Couloir. A friend had glissaded the entirety of this couloir two weeks previous, taking 30 minutes to reach the valley floor. This saved us the effort of making our way along the Class 3 ridge and then dropping down the standard route on the peak’s southeastern shoulder.

The start was steep and the snow not soft so we began downclimbing facing the mountain, kicking steps and plunging the ice axe. Conditions did not change, but we still tried plunge stepping, which resulted in several slips and self-arrests. Glissading was out of the question. This turned into a 90 minute descent with the sun beating down.


I disappear onto the southeast ridge…


…and reappear


Alan on the downclimb


That rockwall is at least 100’ high


Runnel you scary. Note all the rockfall collected in it.

We passed through the Garbage Chute yet again, glad to be nearing flat ground, but also noting all the fresh rockfall that not there in the morning. The hike was uneventful, although littered with both wildflowers and tourists.


Looking down the garbage chute




Indian paintbrush


My finger is on our summit, the peak in the foreground is North Maroon, a peak for another day.


The view from Maroon Lake


Happy to be putting on flip flops

No 10 hour effort is complete without post-climb gluttony.  First up was City Market grocery store in Aspen and then Eddyline Brewery in Buena Vista.


I will arm wrestle you for the hummus


Let’s get some chips and salsa and pizza to go with the beer

1 comment:

  1. Sweet write up! Looks like you guys had fun!