(Last Updated On: January 7, 2016)
This is part of an ongoing series re-telling Brittany’s fourteener-skiing story. Look for the reports every Thursday, as part of a Throwback Thursday theme.
In June 2007, I had attempted to ski North Maroon Peak. But, the icy conditions were beyond my comfort zone, at least from a climbing aspect, and I decided to turn around. Frank and Jordan continued ahead, comleting a successful summit ski.
That June day changed me. At the time, I looked at it as a failure…. a failure in my skills. But, I learned something that day too. I learned that if I was going to complete this fourteener project, I needed to improve my mountaineering skills. So, one ice-climbing course and many days of mountaineering practice later, it was time to try, try again. I headed out on my Elk Range adventure with two friends – Joe Brannan and Andy Dimmen. I faced my fears and in April 2008, North Maroon Peak became my 34th fourteener skied. Below is a slightly modified version of my original trip report.
The Maroon Bells are often said to be the most photographed mountains in Colorado. Any person who catches a glimpse of these beautiful peaks can understand why. The double peaks rise up strikingly and jagged from the Maroon Lakes below.
Also of debate is the status of North Maroon as an official fourteener. This originated back in the 1870’s with the Hayden Survey, as they considered the two peaks as one big mountain called Maroon Mountain. In his report, Gannett described that these peaks were named after the color of the sandstone that made them- a deep maroon color. From the summit of South Maroon, there is only a 234 foot drop down on the ridge before ascending to North Maroon. Purists will say that a minimum of 300 feet is required to distinguish these as two separate peaks. But, in appearance, they look like two separate peaks. So, we are considering them to be distinct.
What we term North Maroon and South Maroon, are often referred to as “The Bells”. Many people, including Lou Dawson, refer to this southern peak as South Maroon, where it’s official name is actually Maroon:
In 1971 few people knew the secret of Maroon Bells snow, but Stammberger did. On June 24 he cramponed up the north face of North Maroon Peak (the north Bell), donned his planks, and skied back down. Even by today’s standards the descent wasn’t easy: Stammberger fell over a 15-foot cliff, and skied a narrow section exceeding 50 degrees. Moreover, he used no ropes and had no support team. Stammberger’s feat amazed the locals and was trumpeted in the Aspen newspaper. Yet as with the coverage of Bill Briggs’s Grand Teton ski that same spring, the Maroon Bells ski descent was too far from North American ski reality to receive much mainstream press.
– Lou Dawson, Wild Snow
As mentioned above, first ski descent of North Maroon was made by Fritz Stammberger, an immigrant from Germany who had settled in the Aspen area. Lou Dawson describes his descent in greater detail:
Outside of Aspen is a double-topped fourteener called the Maroon Bells. Known as the “Deadly Bells” to local mountain rescue teams, the mountain has claimed scores of lives, and still makes casual climbers quake with fear. It’s steep, striated with relentless cliff bands, and built with rock so loose the climbing is often like scrambling up a gravel pile. With the tight snowpack of spring, however, the Bells mutate. They’re safer and easier to climb for those knowing snowcraft, and they become skiable.
– Lou Dawson, Wild Snow
Last June, I attempted North Maroon Peak with Frank and Jordan. When we began climbing up the North Face it was so icy that only the front points of our crampons and about 1/2 of an inch of our ice axes dug into the snow. I was uncomfortable with those conditions, and opted to turn around, while Frank and Jordan continued on their journey. But, as many of you know, any time a mountain defeats you, it becomes a nemesis. The fact that I turned around on that peak plagued me for the rest of the summer. I didn’t think I’d be back this season. But after seeing the trip report from Dave, Andy, and Mark, last week I knew I could climb it in the conditions they had. I regretted not going along with them also.
Sometimes things have an uncanny way of working themselves out. I was lucky to get an email from Joe earlier in the week, asking me to go ski North Maroon with him. Sometime after, Andy contacted Joe, saying he wanted to go hit Pyramid this weekend. Compromises were made, and an agreement was made that all three of us would ski North Maroon on Saturday. Andy, having been there the week before, could show us the ski route. Then, we would make a >Pyramid attempt on Sunday.
We arrived in Aspen late on Friday night. We used Joe’s snowmobile to tow us and our gear to the campsite at Maroon Lakes. We didn’t arrive until midnight.
Winter camping there is fun!
You can use the summer service buildings to aid in shelter.
After having a late arrival the night before, we got off to a bit of a late start. We didn’t leave the camp until 7:20. With the cloudy and cold weather forecasted, however, we were not worried about warming on the North Face.
Skinning in across the lake.
Route finding was relatively easy and I must say a skin in April through this basin is much more enjoyable than a hike with skis on your back in June! We headed up through the narrow couloir shown in this pic.
Suddenly, we found ourselves in the basin below the North Face, with the Maroon lakes valley far below.
Joe and Andy with the North Face of N. Maroon behind them.
The ridge had a lot of mixed climbing. Sometimes snow, sometimes rock.
We opted to break out the rope once on a really exposed rock move. (Thanks Joe 🙂 )
And then, there was the summit!
But this first.
Andy on the summit.
I was just happy to be there 🙂
Snowmass was looking really nice.
So was Capitol.
South Maroon looks close enough to touch.
It always amazes me how close Aspen is to Crested Butte. It takes hours to drive between the two in the winter. Yet, only a few mountains separate them. Whetstone, the mountain shown here, sits just above the town of Crested Butte.
Part of the reason I like to climb fourteeners is for views like this. Next time when I’m in Crested Butte, I’d like to ski this couloir!
Joe, ready to ski from the summit.
From the summit we made our way down the eastern ridge to cross over a bit of snow that covered the challenging “Punk Rock” band.
Crossing the Punk Rock band was a bit sketchy. Andy is just above it here. The entrance is to his right.
The snow covering the punk rock band is basically a cornice on the east ridge, so you have to be careful.
A view of the Punk Rock band from below.
This picture captures the exposure. The North Face of North Maroon is truly a no-fall zone!
All the time while skiing this face, you are constantly aware that nothing but cliffs dangle below you. Where the snow ends, the air begins.
Skiing this face involves knowing the route, and being able to link lots of traverses across cliff bands. Thankfully, we had Andy who had been there the week before.
Skiing was still fun though!
Finally, we reached our exit couloir!
Skiing the apron was fun because you could finally let go! There weren’t any more cliffs you could fall over 🙂
Even when we were done with the face, we still had quite a bit of skiing left.
One of the most interesting bits was this bridge.
Let’s have a closer look at that….
At the end of the day we enjoyed the sunset on the Bells, looking at them in awe. “Dang, we skied that?” Yep, another fourteener skied!
On Sunday, Joe and Andy tackled the Landry Line on Pyramid. Please view their trip report. And, congrats, boys on charging such a difficult line!
North Maroon didn’t seem so scary the second time around. Not only had I gained the skills I needed, but the conditions were much more forgiving. I began to realize that some of these more difficult fourteeners were going to require prime conditions to get them done. Meanwhile, our minds were drifting upward on the map, to Colorado’s northernmost fourteener….