Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,022 feet
Date Posted:  12/27/2016
Modified:  12/28/2016
Date Climbed:   12/22/2016
Author:  Yikes
Additional Members:   mountain_stoke, Mickeys Grenade
 NW Ridge early winter   

Team: Jeff, Will and Jim
First day - leave Denver at 3am; leave TH at 7 am, reach camp around 4pm; spent another 2.5 hours breaking trail to treeline (and back)
Second day - leave camp at 4am, back around 4pm
Third day - leave camp at 6:40, back to car around 12:40

Thanks to Sarah for great beta: 13ergirl TR

7 winter summits left for me... and the list is mostly hard ones. With a favorable weather and avy forecast for the Elks (and somewhat warmish for Jan), it was time to give N Maroon a shot. Rumor has it N Maroon is one of the hardest and least completed (winter) summits, more due to the lengthy approach than technical difficulties on the mountain. I had battery issues that prevented recording our mileage on my GPS, but at least one TR mentions ~30 miles RT. After last year's numerous single day epics, we felt that giving ourselves 2, if not 3, days would give us a better chance of success.

Jeff has been my go-to partner for most of these Winter climbs and only has one remaining summit (now only Capitol remains). I had never met Will prior to this trip. He is starting his "59 in one winter" project, and I was happy that Matt (I Man) was able to rope Will into our adventure.

Planning this trip, Jeff and I decided to pull sleds on the approach. While Jeff has periodically used his pulk (sled) to haul heavy gear on long trips, this was my first time. I read a few "how tos" on the Internet and setup my rig, hoping it would help on such a long trip. My feelings are somewhat mixed: when the sled moves smoothly, it is a blessing; when the sled has (frequent) issues, it is a curse. On the hike in, the sled rolled off the trail numerous times; each time adding to the frustration. After 1.5 miles (and tipping the sled at least 10 times), I ended up carrying my 50lb backpack and dragging the "empty" (full of snow) sled up to the lakes (hoping to use it on the return).


One advantage of leaving Denver at 3am is the I-70 traffic is more agreeable (the same could not be said on the return, where we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic that added at least an extra hour to the drive). Upon reaching the winter TH, we saw that Will had already headed up the trail. Jokingly, Jeff and I agreed that moving slow enough to not catch up to Will would allow us to avoid the difficulties of breaking trail. It ended up that we didn't see Will until we ran into his camp around 10,400. With Will being young and full of stamina, we really appreciated his trench work from car to camp. Hopefully the trench work Jeff and I contributed above camp was sufficient payback.

Even though our camp was well above the log jam, it is still a long haul to reach the Gunsight. We left camp at 4am and it took 3 hours (on mostly broken trail) to reach the base. The snow in the colouir was relatively shallow and we kept our snowshoes on to the top of the Gunsight, where we were treated to an intimidating view down the other side.
Finally at the back of the basin

W Gunsight colouir

Topping out the colouir

Above the notch, the route ascends a fairly easy slope until you reach the Gunsight Tower traverse. The traverse is pretty short and passes quickly, but it has a significant exposure that makes it feel a little spicy.
Pile o rocks

Traversing Gunsight Tower (on downclimb)

There are a few Class 3 scrambling sections on the ridge, but in general the route is fairly straightforward. There was one Class 4 (?) block climb with a scary, don't-mess-up dropoff that we choose to bypass on the left by wallowing through some deep snow.
Come prepared...this was a "good weather" day

A few minor obstacles

Jim and Will heading up

The long trudge to the summit

Will on summit. 1 down, 58 to go

We only spent a few minutes on the summit before slowly heading down. Being close to a whiteout all day, we couldn't see the traverse, let alone Maroon Pk. It would have been nice to have bluebird skies to take in the grandeur of the Elks, but we couldn't complain, having reached the summit.
Ridge stays fairly narrow

Finally down in the flats

We were hoping to spend only one night out, but left time in the schedule for a second night if needed. We were pretty beat after returning from the summit, so decided to spend the night and head down at dawn. I don't think the hike out would have went well without the rest; it was pretty difficult hauling the 50lb back to the car, taking 6 hours from camp. I was able to use the sled only for the final several miles, but even that small amount helped considerably.

Now my feet are trashed and I rest up, waiting for the next adventure the 14ers provide.

Will's story

I thought I would create a thread on here to continually update with brief progress/ trip reports on my calendar winter project of summiting as many 14ers as I possibly can. So here is the first one:

14erQuest Episode 1- North Maroon Peak - "I am a s**tshow"
Route- W Coulior to Gunsight to NW Ridge
Climbers- Jim (Yikes), Jeff (Mickey's Grenade), Myself (mountain_stoke), and I_man

With a decent weather and avy forecast, I left Snowmass Creek Winter Trailhead at 3:55 AM on Dec 21, 2016 with my *trusty* sled, aka Jeremiah Johnson after a not so good night of sleep in my truckbed. I wanted to get an early start breaking trail to make as much progress as possible to enable going for the Bells Double Traverse. Loaded down with 3 15m ropes, an assortment of climbing gear, and avy gear, and all the usual winter gear, the going was slow. There was more snow than I had anticipated. The other guys were planning to start a few hours later.

Wow, so many bear tracks. Holy cow. Either there was a tribe of bears here all running around OR there was one berzerk bear who decided to pace all over the place for miles and miles. Crazy. I now regret my decision to leave my heavy bear can behind. I thought it was winter and those guys hibernate?! Apparently not. Jeremiah Johnson kept flipping over on the winding trail and after 6 miles of obscenities floating through the dark snowscape, I decided to ditch the sled. 8 miles in, no more trail. Time to get shwacky, following the creek bed (as best as possible?). 9 miles in, the dense forest with deep-snow pillows and those strange type of evergreen trees with threadlike green branches was creepily reminding me of a scene from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". I realized that my Delorme InReach device was no longer attached to my pack, and started wondering what my parents must be thinking - "what on earth is he doing, taking a nap? I figured the InReach fell off when transferring gear from my sled to my back. I desperately hoped one of the other guys would find it and bring it up later. 10.5 miles in, I decided I had had enough trail breaking and set up camp around 10,600'.

Yikes and Mickey's Grenade rolled in awhile later and thank goodness, Mickey's Grenade had found my InReach. Phew. Turns out that the strap on it broke. The other guys stamped out their sleeping platforms and decided to keep trailbreaking to treeline. I_man showed up in camp as it was getting dark. I told him I was going to bed and asked him to kindly wake me up at 3:15 for our 4AM start (I no longer carry my GPS watch with an alarm since I just carry my GPS now- need to figure out an alarm thing). I fell asleep whilst listening to discussions of Himalayan Climbing... that is how tired I was.

At 3:45 I rose from a very deep sleep. I_man had apparently been pelting me with snowshoes trying to wake me up for 30 minutes. A deep sleep like that is a very unusual thing for me.. how timely. So I scrambled to get my stuff ready, and was still running around like a chicken with my head cut off when the other guys left camp to ascend at 4AM as planned. It took me my full 45 minutes to get ready so I was moving at 4:30ish.

I caught up to a headlamp after maybe 30 minutes and it was I_man. He wasn't feeling too well and decided to head back down. Such a bummer. I was really looking forward to climbing with him. We all have to have off days sometimes. Catch you on the next one I_man! After some more time elapsed I caught up to Yikes and Mickey's Grenade above treeline at last.

I decided to check the weather on my InReach and see what was in store for us and also ate my 2 Bobo's Oat Bars - my breakfast of choice. (They are delicious, have healthy ingredients, and don't freeze in the cold which is friggin awesome). They are kindly sponsoring my adventures this winter. I learned two things- 1) that the weather was going to be kind of crappy for the Bells Traverse since I wanted to be able to see. and 2) don't eat Bobo's Oat Bars while trying to snowshoe and check weather at the same time. I inhaled a large chunk of oat bar and stood half choking and coughing for about 5 minutes. Pleasant. There are a Million Ways to Die in the West you know.

Since I was not going to be doing the Bells Traverse anymore I didn't want to lug all the ropes and extra stuff all the way up N Maroon and I cached my gear in a nice little shrub. I marked a waypoint on my GPS.

Once we reach the entrance to the coulior to the Gunsight, I reach for my GoPro to take a photo of the thing. It is dead. WTF? That's just great. How am I supposed to document 14erQuest with a dead GoPro?

The snow felt super stable, supportive, and firm up to the Gunsight. The traverse around the west side of the ridge pinnacles was a bit airy. The scrambling of the ridge was pure awesome. It was snowy, visibility not so great, a bit of wind, and temps a bit warmer than I had gotten used to in my past few couple weeks of 14eering. We summitted at noon to a view as Jeff described as "the inside of a ping pong ball". Real nice summit weather!

At some point on the descent, I realized my GPS had gone missing. I guess after doing 50 some-odd 14er climbs in the past 2 months to prepare for 14erQuest, the strap securing my GPS finally decided it was time to kick the bucket. 400 dollars of GPS gone. Superb. I was pissed, but not that pissed because I just had summited North Maroon.

Near the bottom of the W facing Coulior below the Gunsight, I stopped to remove my facemask or something, and accidently dropped my helmet. We watched it roll downslope for like FIVE MINUTES. Beginner mistake. I am ashamed. Yikes spotted its location and we were able to retrieve it.

Since I didn't have my GPS and our tracks were covered, I was unable to locate the $200 of climbing gear that I cached. Looking for it would have been like trying to find a needle in a haystack. That brings total gear losses for 14erQuest to $600 so far. And for the record, I am a huge proponent of "Leave No Trace" Ethics. I hope to go back and retrieve my stuff in the summer.

Back at camp I decided I would have dinner and take a nap before hiking out, but no. It turned out that a bear found the bag of food I buried 2 feet below the snow surface. Incredible. I'm sorry for this mistake, I know a fed bear is a dead bear. I will be carrying a bear can from now on, all winter long. I tell the other guys, "man I swear I am usually not this much of a s**tshow!!". So I got in my sleeping bag and went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later with 8 inches to a foot of snow on my bivy sack. At 2 AM, I think to myself, "oh crap, better get moving now or you won't be able to see the trench". Well I got my stuff together and guess what? I couldn't see the trench. The 10.5 mile "descent" was a combination of trailbreaking AGAIN in the snowy darkness, headlamp slowly burning out as the batteries went kaput, being too lazy to replace the batteries for awhile, finding the old trench, losing the old trench, and cussing out Jeremiah Johnson. It was almost as hard hiking out as it was hiking in.

Despite hunger, losses, and expensive lessons learned, great trip, great mountain, great people, great workout. Excited for what is next. I'll put up photos when Yikes gives me permission to use his. If anyone ever ventures up that way before I do again and comes across my climbing gear and GPS, please please hit me up.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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