Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,163 feet
Date Posted:  02/16/2015
Date Climbed:   02/15/2015
Author:  Furthermore
 Ding: Pulling on a Winter Cord.   

Maroon Peak 14,156


TH: T-Lazy-7 Ranch, Maroon Lake road closure (2WD, ~4 Hours from Denver)
Totals: ~21.3 Miles, ~6,200 Gain.

I've been waiting 5 years for acceptable winter conditions on South Maroon. The argument folks have of "non-winter conditions" and "cheating" during winter will only result in death on this peak. It's the snowflake game and it must be played well, with precision and care on these harder, more dangerous peaks. Sure, I'm playing the game; I need exercise and enjoy climbing in ALL seasons.

Carefully watching the CAIC forecasts, the time was nearing for a near perfect window to attempt the Bell Cord. As far as I know, the only winter route that has been done on South Maroon is the Bell Cord. Alternative winter route options are bleak either requiring extremely long multi-day approaches or on routes with high objective danger. Don't get me wrong, the Bell Cord has perhaps the highest objective danger in the winter of any of the routes on South Maroon or with any other winter fourteeners.

The standard south ridge route would require ascending avalanche prone slopes followed by strenuous, possibly dangerous, traverses on snow covered ledges. In 2012, we attempted the west ridge (requiring a 10+ mile approach) but were turned around at ~13,400 by complex route finding. That route even ascended an avalanche prone north facing couloir. The west ridge still remains a safer alternative than the Bell Cord but at a minimum, would require a summer beta gathering ascent.

One last alternative might be the southwest face or south ridge from the Fravert Basin. Although prone to avalanching, the SW aspect would become favorable before any other aspect. The problem with Fravert is the 12+ mile wilderness approach. Then of course, there is always a risky ascent of North Maroon followed by a double Bells traverse.

Even with an excellent avalanche forecast, I was nervous about attempting this route. Ryan badgered me enough to give it a try as there is always the option of turning around. At the very least, I'll get a good 20 mile workout.

February 14, 2015
~8.3 Miles, ~1,900 Gain

Bells. (Photo by Ryan)

Ryan's camp (Photo by Ryan)

Due to constraints at home, I was unable to leave Denver before noon on Saturday. I picked up Steve and we started our drive towards Aspen. We arrived and started skinning up the Maroon Lake road at 3:45 PM. Ryan started around 10AM and was able to put in a trench and scope out conditions in the lower apron of the Cord.

When we started to set up the tent at camp, we snapped a pole on Steve's new tent. Ah, nothing a trekking pole won't fix as that made for a cozy night.

Tent pole.

Unfortunately, this was the longest skinning approach Steve had done and therefore developed some amazingly large blisters. At least four blisters which were larger than silver dollars! He was going to bail on the climb.

February 15, 2015
~13.0 Miles, ~4,300 Gain

Our original intent, was to climb South Maroon, evaluate time, weather and conditions and then attempt the Bells traverse. We left camp at 5:25 AM and started towards the lower apron. Being dark, we missed the right bypass to gain the upper apron. I stashed my skis and Ryan's snowshoes at a narrow couloir leading to the upper apron.

Working toward the Bell Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

Working toward the Bell Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

The snow up the narrow couloir was satisfying solid. Near the top of the couloir, the couloir steepened producing a sheet of ice from recent snow melt. The ice was very poor quality as it was a mix of snow layers and ice. We decided to use a quick belay up the WI2 section as a fall would have been bad.

WI2 section in narrow couloir.

At the top of the narrow couloir, the amount of effort required became apparent as we started slogging in knee deep and at times, ass deep snow. Progress was slow.

Upper apron.

Sunrise over Pyramid.

Morning light over pyramid. (Photo by Ryan)

Down valley. (Photo by Ryan)

Pyramid. (Photo by Ryan)

Only in good snow.

Knee deep steps for 2000+ feet.

Step, step, breathe. Step, step, breathe. As the slope steepened into the "avalanche zone," we carefully evaluated conditions. Snow stability was excellent and there was zero concern about the possibility of a slide. If there was any concern, we would have turned around; we continued upwards.

Upper apron into the Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

Despite the perfect conditions, the idea of being in such an avalanche prone area in the winter for so long weighs on the mind. When the Cord and respective aprons slide, it's of epic proportions. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near these slopes in less stable conditions. It's scary.

The last of the unknown snow conditions would be at the top of the Bell Cord. Due to the shadow of South Maroon, the upper portions of the couloir does not receive sun for a majority of the day even though, the couloir is east facing. Another concern at the top would be wind loading over the saddle.

Climbing in the Bell Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

Topping out of the Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

Never-ending, we could finally view the top of the couloir. Conditions remained stable and were encouraging. At the top, a cold breeze quickly stripped our warmth away. We decided to follow the class 3 ledges around the northwest side of the peak rather than climbing the direct 4th class headwall. It was apparent how much more unstable the snow was on the northern aspects. Careful footing led us through the initial cliff bands back to the ridge crest.

Class 3 ledges on the northwest side of Maroon.

Cliff bands on Maroon.

Climbing on Maroon's ridge. (Photo by Ryan)

Climbing on Maroon's ridge. (Photo by Ryan)

Cliff bands on Maroon.

Nearing the upper ridge.

More cliff bands.

More cliff bands.

North Maroon.

Cliff bands.

Snowmass and Capitol in the background.

So pretty.


Short class 3 steps guided us to the summit where we arrived at 10:30 AM. Mesmerizing views surrounded us and we both felt very lucky to sneak in our ascent. In the distance, we could see weather starting to roll in and it was apparent the traverse wasn't going to happen.

Final class 3 step.

Final class 3 step to the summit. (Photo by Ryan)

Nearing the summit. (Photo by Ryan)

Summit pano.

Summit! (Photo by Ryan)

Snowmass and Capitol with weather starting to roll in.

North Maroon.

We quickly started our descent and decided to rappel the final headwall back to the top of the Bell Cord. The current slung block at the top of headwall just barley allows a 30M rope to reach the bottom. By the time we returned to top of the Cord, it was snowing. Too bad, since conditions for the traverse may not be this good for another 5 years.

While descending the Bell Cord, it becomes apparent how risky this route is in the winter. When climbing, our heads were down and we were breathing hard. On the descent, all we do is peer down the 3000 foot death bowl. We got lucky with our conditions. Really lucky.


Starting the rappel back to the saddle. (Photo by Ryan) (Needs to be replaced and needs a ring)

Gentle bucket steps led us back to our skis and snowshoes. We returned back to camp at 12:45 PM. I quickly packed my things and started my ski back to the car where Steve was patiently waiting for me. It's too bad he couldn't have joined us.

Descending into the Cord. (Photo by Ryan)

Skiing the lower apron, before yard sale sponsored by sun crust. (Photo by Ryan)

The only problem with the day was the 7.5 hour drive home from Aspen. Ah, how I love snow storms and the Mattress Firm truck who almost took me out, twice. The drive was hands down the most dangerous part of the day; not the Bell Cord.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great job!
02/17/2015 01:03
Even as avy danger has been low, man that looks terrifying.

Love the panos
02/17/2015 01:06
Yup, looks scary. Lots of admiration for those of you out getting the hard peaks this time of year.

02/17/2015 01:08
Please keep doing the things you do so that those of us that can’t can see what’s possible...

Kevin Baker
Well done
02/17/2015 01:18
Well done, guys! I was wondering if somebody was going to sneak up the Cord this weekend. It’s been a steller winter to hit the tougher 14ers!

02/17/2015 01:37
I think it was the layer of ice that scared me. can good snow let loose on a steep sheet of ice? I was hoping the cord would avy out before anyone went up. I would not have gone up but maybe that means I never will.

congrats, Good job on hitting the conditions window. For two guys who weren’t into winter 14ers, this is impressive.

02/17/2015 02:37
Looking at those death slopes overhead on the descent wasn’t terribly fun! Mr. Middlebrook should make the Snowflakes four different colors (green, yellow, red, black) to represent avy hazard rating - first to get all 59 black snowflakes wins. Fun day.

Dwight - that icy layer was there under several inches of spring like snow and slough and above a couple feet of faucets. Actually pretty supportive - the only spot we consistently punched through was right beneath Derek and Steve’s original tent platform

02/17/2015 02:49
this is amazing. well done gang!

02/17/2015 03:36
Nice work guys, glad you got up it!

I second "holycrap"
02/17/2015 04:28
Terrifying and glorious pics! Great description and detail. Impressive accomplishment!

Congrats guys and thanks for the great report.

02/17/2015 05:41
As others have said, pretty amazing what folks in CO have been able to do this year in the excellent winter conditions. Congrats on an epic and safe climb!

Summit Lounger
"Relatively good conditions"
02/17/2015 13:47
Congrats to Ryan and Derek on a fine winter ascent in "relatively good conditions". It seems that one has to assume a certain amount of risk to climb the Bell Chord in winter......

Third "holycrap"
02/17/2015 16:01
Wow, what an amazing climb...

Ding is a clever title
02/17/2015 18:25
because that is a noise bells make.

Looks like winter to me...
02/17/2015 18:26
Congrats to you both on another fine winter achievement. I appreciate your take on things including the snowflake *game* which, for me, tends to be an emotional roller coaster. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though. Nothing. You two are wise beyond your years.

I think anybody chasing a project/list that lives west of the tunnel should have an asterisk next to their name. Drives to and fro have taken on a choose your own reaming feel.

Dwight, I think you got it in you. Just need things to align. Sarah and I are pulling for you.

I Man
02/17/2015 18:32
Nice work you two. Truly elite. I think few understand what a big deal this is.
I appreciate your thoughts on the winter game. It is very well stated. I also like Ryan’s comments about the color of the flake for avy danger. Are we going to start keeping track if summer finishers summitted all of them during a lightning storm?? Or if those climbing the Casual Route on Longs placed more than 1 piece every 30 feet? How others can suggest that you need to take greater risks, unnecessarily, for things to count is absurd. I honestly don’t understand the argument.

Dwight – I fear the same outcome. I am not sure if I would have done it even then. The West Ridge is calling...I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on S Maroon as the end approaches

Papillion - I agree...wise beyond their years and truly understanding this "game." My best memories in Colorado are certainly chasing snowflakes with the core group of people who go after it. Congrats to you and Sarah on your recent impressive ascents!!

02/17/2015 21:20
Glad to see your patience paid off. Great to see this report.

well what can one say
02/17/2015 23:56
but another epic report, congrats Derek and Ryan

Steve Knapp
02/18/2015 01:12
The Bell Cord in winter, nice work Derek and Ryan! Great report, it was nice to read about your venture. Too bad you couldn’t get North as well, a return trip could be tough.

Seems like it was just a few weeks ago you told me you weren’t really into the winter 14er thing? Too cold and you prefer desert towers? Since then you’ve climbed Massive, Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre, the entire Wilson group, Pyramid, and now this. Awesome! Looks like you had a change of heart with the great weather. Looking forward to reading your Capitol and Chicago basin reports when you get those. You’ve already knocked off several hard ones this year, congrats.

02/18/2015 01:24
Wow. Those pictures are completely stunning. Hats off. The cord in winter is something that I have only read of Steve Gladbach doing.

Amazing pics
02/18/2015 05:00
Congrats! What a great story – thanks for sharing!

02/18/2015 15:43
Making fun of the skis?? Haha no, more like pure jealousy over his de-proach time cut to a third. I just purchased an AT setup but the skis went to Denver while I’m still working in Aspen. It was nice to have done the route before and that pic is oddly similar. Same rappel block but no stuck ropes this time.

congrats you guys
02/18/2015 20:09
In a season when somebody died climbing Grays, you don’t need to be apologetic about climbing Maroon Pk. And for those who "play the game of snowflakes," the expertise of a mountaineer is measured by much more than a number. Your guys’ qualifications as substantial mountaineers speaks for itself without the snowflake metric.

Nice job.

Never ending
02/19/2015 20:32
Those are the perfect words I would use to describe the cord in winter. The thought of it sliding still comes to my mind sometimes before bed as odd as that sounds.

Bummer about Steve. Persoanlly I think skinning that road is much slower than walking it.

Awesome job to you guys! As usual Derek, your TRs are informative and more imporantly, badass

Chicago Transplant
You guys rock
02/20/2015 17:22
Ringing a Bell in winter? And via the Bell Cord to boot? No wonder there are more than 40 "likes" on this trip report. What can be said that hasn’t already been expressed above me? 8)

Good write up.
02/21/2015 02:43
Good effort. Impressive ,most impressive. Way to take the plung and get it while the getins good.

04/02/2015 19:45
two of you are just going to hike some Sawatch heaps in winter from now on? Major congrats to both of you, this was definitely the weekend to pull it off. Great timing and conditions. Ryan - it’s a de ja vu seeing you on the same ledges with just a "bit" more snow You were probably glad for the dress rehearsal a few years back. Did you use the same rock as the rappel anchor? Derek - I can’t believe he is giving you hard time about skiing. I’ve been taking some spectacular wipeouts in those crapshoot conditions recently. Good for hiking =/ good for skiing, even ’shoers should know that.

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