Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,163 feet
Date Posted:  04/05/2017
Modified:  04/07/2017
Date Climbed:   03/19/2017
Author:  JtheChemE
Additional Members:   mountain_stoke, SnowAlien
 Bidding Winter Farewell - Maroon Via the Bell Cord   

Different people have different opinions on what constitutes a trip report but, at a minumum, it should be useful to others in some way - BM

Useful? Debatable! After much prodding, however, here's a little write up on how a few of us closed out the 16/'17 winter. If the report is seemingly verbose, I'll say that maybe I was destined to be a writer before I woke up as an engineer. Anyways, on to the material.

Matt, Natalie, Will

With some first hand observation showing a stable spring like snowpack in the Elks, and a greenlight from CAIC, sights had been set on the Elks for the last weekend of winter. As I could only devote one day to an outing this weekend the decision was not entirely easy to make: Maroon or Pyramid?

As is often the case, partners influenced the course. Initially I had been planning an attempt on Pyramid, but Will contacted me to let me know his original plans for the San Juans had fallen through, and he would also be targeting Maroon / Pyramid. Joining Will and I was Matt, whom I had got out previously this winter. After some discussion a plan was set. We would start at 10pm Saturday for an attempt at Maroon and time/conditions permitting Pyramid as well. That might seem like insanity reading this, but it's pretty doable with the right snow and fitness. The only thing working against us were the (ridiculously) high temperatures, but working in our favor was a crystal clear night, and a slight breeze. We would take what the Elks gave us.

Arrived at the Maroon Winter TH 5pm Saturday to a large group of skiers clearly pretty excited about something. Not uncommon for this TH, but uncommon is the fact that it was JK, CB & TH fresh of skiing South and North Maroon (JK's Trip Report) , and BC & J off of a successful trip up Pyramid (BC Trip Report). Busy Saturday indeed! It wasn't until 7pm that I was able to get a surprisingly restful 3 hrs before the alarm went off at 10pm. By 10:30 Matt and I were slowshoeing up the groomed road, and Will was skinning.

The miles went by quickly, and we found ourselves at the upper TH by 12:30. We were greeted by three skiers who had hunkered down in the bus stop shelter, who were pretty surprised to see zombies' slogging along at this hour. Turns out it was another group of 14erskiers targeting Pyramid via the NE ridge, and hoping for a shot at the Landry. (JW Trip Report) Making good time, we spent a leisurely 30 minutes here chatting with the group and taking in calories/liquid. Will transitioned to snowshoes, and we were all off to Crater Lake to pick up a +1.

We found Natalie chipper at her site, with water boiled for us (thanks!). She got us pumped up with a very good CR from her trip up Pyramid the day prior with BC and J. After another longish rest, we were making tracks towards S. Maroon and soon found ourselves transitioning to pons under the garbage chute.

Turns out I need work on my night photog game. Switching to crampons at 430am below the garbage chute.
Looking up is daunting. Climbing over avy debris, in the dark is always a bit eerie.

Looking back at Matt, Natalie and Will. Note the headlamps on Pyramid behind us from Greg (Summit Lounger), Kevin and Sarah.

While JK & Co. had rode the cord down SAturday, it was a clean slate for booting up as they'd climbed the more southern chutes. The condition of the snow heading up varied from concrete avy debris, bullet proof frozen melt, a punchy sun crust over decent step kicking snow, to pleasant glacier-like Styrofoam. I like kicking steps, but this was harder than the norm. Why were we up here so damn early? Oh yeah, so we don't ride a wet slide down.

Difficulties aside, it was perfect mouintain therapy, alone with our thoughts, heading up a dark couloir, with a spectacular sunrise slowly coming to greet us. It was neat to watch the group on Pyramid's headlights bobbing up on the other side of the valley.

Couloirs by headlamp! The Pyramid teams headlamps again visible.

After a great winter climbing season, the day was starting to feel like the perfect send off. In particular, I found the sunrise to be one of the more moving I have seen and I quickly found myself putting distance on the group to enjoy the show from the notch.
Moments like this put life into context. So much of what seems important on a daily basis is actually trivial, and sometimes
Blue gives way to pink. Capturing the rose/pink on snow has become something of a favorite of mine.

Sunrise and sunset are always great up high, especially so when everything is coated in white. However, having climbed through the night to be treated to a finish in the couloir with alpenglow so vibrant you could almost touch it was special indeed.

Sheltered, and the winds died down such that the silence was almost a tangible thing.

Sitting at this little breakfast spot waiting for the others to arrive. Pondering important life questions like: Is it still breakfast if it is your third meal of the daytrip? Or is it dinner?

Glad that guys face is underexposed. Hes really annoying, kept rambling on about the sunrise. Photo by Matt.

Matt, Will and Natalie coming up.

Natalie scoping out the goods. Or pondering if a TR would ever get written by that slacker engineer guy. Likely both. Photo b

In any case, after the spectacular sunrise, we regrouped at the saddle, cached extra weight and set out to get busy towards the summit. After some discussion as to if we wanted a steep snow finish onto the east side, we opted to follow the standard route on the west.

The group setting out across the crumbly ledges, largely snow free. Photo by Natalie.
Looking up the short, loose gulley.
Looking down same gulley.

We opted to head out to the east side to finish it out in direct fashion, which turned out to be a wallow fest. We were on sugar to our waists at times, on steep aspects. We would descend the more roundabout (sensible?) west side. Photo by Natalie.

Off the steep trapdoor snow, back on ridge proper, taking in views.

Matt about to get busy on the last of the difficulties. Photo by Natalie.
Looking down over the last hurdle. Photo by Natalie.

''Hey look, we cant go any higher'' Photo by Natalie.

Having summited Capitol just a few days prior, this view was satisfying.

The group seems pleased, will particularly so with summit #51 for Calender winter 16/17.
Obligatory smile shot from the top. Summit at 8:30am.

The day was still young, and Pyramid still completely shaded. Time to head down.

Butt Scoot: A surprisingly versatile alpine technique. Photo by Natalie.
As mentioned, we opted to head down the western side, which was mild scrambling. Photo by Natalie.

Having brought a 30m and slings, we had fully intended to rap from the ridge back into the saddle, to avoid the loose crap we went up on the west side. In one of those collective (and unspoken) group decisions, we found ourselves going down the ascent route.

Probably the sketchiest part of the day.
A bit of a tumble if one were to slip. Photo by Natalie.

While the moves were not technically difficult, the sloping slabs and loose rock with marginal snow coverage presented the greatest objective hazard of the day. Having eschewed the rap from up top, we briefly considered slinging a rock with the rope for a handline.

With the benefit of having seen the others unease with a lower line, I opted to stay higher on rocks, which are the the right of Natalie in the previous photo.
Just a few big steps back to the saddle. Photo by Natalie.

By the time we are at the saddle, the temps are blazing. The cord was cooking, and I was more than ready to get down this thing.


Natalie fixing to do her thing. Not entirely common to ski the Bell Cord without a large runnel, glad one of us was able to t

Natalie laughs at the climbing peasants as she zips off.

The situation for us non-skiers was less than ideal. The snow had transitioned from bulletproof, right on past pleasant plunge step, into 'lets ball 5'' of glop to the pons each step'. Not to be deterred, went face out and tried to clear the pons with each step, but still with the net effect of a slip and slide. So it was in somewhat inglorious fashion that we had to face in on the relatively tame slope angle.
Silly people doing silly things. The hour was not late. Photo by Natalie.

Meanwhile below, Natalie was apparently finding some good stuff. Photo by Natalie.

Happily, the descent was without incident, and we found ourselves back at the Crater Lake turnoff for Pyramid at ~12, which was within our reasonable timeframe to attempt Pyramid.

Everyones glad to be off the steeps. Will is happy to call it a Winter.

What was not reasonable, however, were the temps. Well above freezing observed and solar radiation /reflected heat often cause local temps in excess of observed temperatures.


In any case, while we had the energy and and were able to make a go of Pyramid, logic dictated that we make the prudent decision and be satisfied with Maroon. Just a bit cooler, and we would have pushed for it.

Like a waterfall, only snow. Snow is water though, so I guess you can call it a frozen waterfall? Frozen waterfalls are ice t

As if to reaffirm the decision, we then watched a large wet avalanche cut loose on eastern aspect. Granted Pyramid is west facing, but it too was about to bake, and even a small slough can have big implications up there. Without any regrets, S. Maroon became the final winter summit for us. On the way out we would see two more medium to large slides rip. Lots of wet activity with those temps!
Always nice to have good views heading out. Course it slows things up when you keep looking back.

The walk out was uneventful. Natalie and Will got on skis at the upper TH, and lit out. On the way down, we fielded the usual questions from tourists: How far to the lake? *not far* Did you make it to the lake? *yup* Do I need ice axes? *uhh*, and got plenty of grins from the Aspen locals when they asked what we did. Matt and I arrived to the winter TH an hour after Matt and Natalie. It's always strange to be so abruptly back into civilization after such a pristine setting.

It was a strong crew, and doing this as a singleday was a fitting send off to a winter season full of other great singledays. I'd always put the Bell Cord as outside of my comfort zone for avalanche danger in winter, figuring to get Maroon in winter via the traverse, but the conditions came in perfectly for a great winter outing. The aesthetics of the morning, and day as a whole are going to stick with me a while.

If you want to be happy, be. - Leo Tolstoy

Buhbye, Bells. See you next winter.

Start: 10:30PM
Upper TH: 12:30am
Base of Cord: ~3:00am
Saddle: ~7:00am
Summit 8:30am
Crater Lake: 12:00pm
Car: 4:45pm
Door to Door: 18.75h
Total Distance:~21 mi
Total Verts: ~6200' (?)

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

Comments or Questions
04/05/2017 18:52
Those pictures of Pyramid are unbelievable! Congrats on grabbing a snowflake on a spectacular route on an even better day!

04/06/2017 08:59
And that's how you end an amazing winter season for all of you! Nice TR and wonderful pics, Justin, and congrats everyone!

04/06/2017 09:02
Sweet first trip reports on 14ers. You can write as well as you can take photos - and that's something. Fun how you referenced other parties that were there that weekend. Conditions were really prime to hit multiple objectives in the area. And I really enjoyed sleeping in until 00.40 am while you guys were doing your zombie walk Watching the wet slide show at the end from the safety of the valley floor was just as incredible and put an exclamation point to the outing. I think the timing on this one was just perfect. Good luck with your bigger objectives this spring, I don't think you could have trained any harder.

Great report
04/06/2017 09:35
Fun running into you guys that morning at the summer TH. Congrats on the successful climb!

04/06/2017 10:26
What a great report. The pics and writing are top drawer. I look forward to your next one. You guys really nailed this one.

04/07/2017 08:05
Thanks for the kind words. It was a good day, and wanted to share it with y'all.

04/07/2017 14:33
Fantastic photos and write up Justin. You definitely did the day justice with this TR. Thanks for posting it!

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