June 28, 2008
The very photogenic Maroon Bells
Keith and I decided to ditch work on Friday, so we found our way over to the Aspen area on Thursday night. Our original plan was to climb North Maroon Peak and Maroon Peak (collectively known as the Maroon Bells) on Friday, and climb Pyramid Peak on Saturday.
We began hiking, with skis on our backs, at about 4:30 am. By 7:30, we had dropped off our overnight gear at a camp spot and were putting our crampons on 3500 feet below the summit. The weather was absolutely beautiful, making the majority of the climb sunny and hot. After weaving our way through some cliff bands lower down, we entered the Bell Cord Couloir at 12,000 feet. This couloir is the extremely aesthetic line that bisects the two peaks.
Half way up the Bell Cord Couloir
We climbed the steady 45 degree couloir for 1800 vertical feet to the saddle, where we could finally see over the other side and switch from climbing in ski boots to trail shoes.
Keith topping out on the Bell Cord, Pyramid Peak in the Background
The physical demands required to reach this point were greater than anticipated. We were both feeling tired and drank the last of our water at this point. Having dealt with lack of water and dehydration before, I calculated that I could still complete the day's plan of summiting both Maroon Bells. After a short break, we started towards North Maroon's summit.
Scrambling up North Maroon Peak
The ridge linking the two peaks offered great contrast to the snow couloir we had spent the last few hours in. The sedimentary rock was awful (crumbly) by Colorado standards, but great by Cascade volcano standards. Although only a short distance away, it took about an hour and a half for me to climb my way over to the summit and back in the tricky terrain. The ridge traverse is rated Class 4 in the guide book, but I'd give it 5.4 in a few sections.
Maroon Peak from North Maroon Summit
After making it back to the saddle and top of the Bell Cord Couloir, our level of exhaustion was noticeably higher and we weren't becoming any less dehydrated. The Bell Cord was littered with rocks, so our original plan of skiing down it was put into question. On the way up, we could see the 'Y' Couloirs and they didn't seem to have nearly as much rockfall strewn about them. As tired as we were, it was a difficult decision to make, but we decided to put our skis on our back for the final summit push up to Maroon Peak's summit. Upon reaching the summit, we could only think of water, so we didn't spend too much time there and began hiking down the south ridge, aiming for the top of the 'Y' Couloir's northern branch.
North Maroon Peak, from Maroon Peak Summit
As we approached the 'Y', we found a trickle of a stream of melting snow. We put Keith's water bottle under it for a few minutes and had our first water in quite some time. I made sure not to overdo it since shocking a dehydrated system is generally not a good idea. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon now, and we were anxious to get down.
We took another short break at the top of the 'Y' to put our ski boots back on and prepare to ski.
Looking down the 'Y' Couloir
Keith dropped in first as my knee brace had broken on the way up the Bell Cord couloir and I was a bit timid skiing without it. The fact that it was now so late in the day meant the snow was very sun softened, but it never froze overnight, so I doubt our timing had that great of an affect on the conditions.
Keith dropping into the 'Y'
Although soft, the snow was still quite forgiving and very enjoyable to ski! After descending through the narrowest part of the couloir, we encountered several water runnels, some posing fairly substantial obstacles. Keith found his way into a rather large one of these and I managed to get a comical shot of his attempt to extract himself.
Keith stuck in a giant water runnel
Carefully choosing our line the rest of the way down to avoid future encounters with these man-eating runnels, we soaked in the beauty of the line we were skiing.
Keith skiing the beautiful 'Y' Couloir
Lower down, we skied through the garbage chute which had multiple waterfalls cascading over the surrounding cliffs, compounding the beauty of our location.
Exiting the Garbage Chute
After about 13 hours, we finally made it back to our camp. Although I've had many outings in the mountains lately, this is the first one for a while where I really felt like I accomplished something. It felt great to push myself both mentally and physically in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Colorado.
The Route, as completed
Needing more time to recover, we hiked out the next day and left Pyramid Peak for another time.