Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pyramid Peak, South Maroon Peak, and North Maroon Peak 8/19/2011 through 8/21/2011

Total Mileage: ~16 miles
Total Elevation gain: ~9000 feet
Starting Point: Maroon Lake Trailhead
Total Time: about 21 hours of hiking over 2.5 days
Party: Myself, and Eric W.

Maroon Bells in Winter. (Photo Credit: Google Images)
I'll be using a lot of photos that aren't mine for this report. I lost my phone over the edge of some steep cliffs while traversing from South Maroon Peak to North Maroon Peak. My phone had all my pictures because I forgot my camera for this trip. Any pictures that I have of myself came from Eric's phone.

Eric and I had planned this trip about a month prior to going. When the time came to start packing for it I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. The Maroon Bells are probably the most photographed mountains in all of Colorado. They are located about 10 miles from Aspen, CO and shoot out of the ground in stark contrast to their surroundings. The scenery here would rival any other mountainous region in the world. Pyramid Peak is close by as well and our goal would be to climb Pyramid on Saturday and save then traverse from South to North Maroon Peak and hike out on Sunday.

Eric and I were traveling from opposite directions. We had decided to meet on the CO-82 about 13 miles west of the 24 junction. The La Plata Trailhead is right off the road and provides a place for one of us to leave our vehicle. I got there first and waited for Eric for a little over an hour. Eric was having babysitter issues and got a late start due to her just not showing up or calling at all. He worked out his business and got on the road. It was close to dark when he arrived and we decided I would leave my car at the trailhead there and we'd carpool the rest of the way. I did not realize that I had left my camera in my car until setting up camp that night.

We arrived in Aspen, CO around 9 pm. We stopped at a Domino's Pizza and ate some food before setting off for the Maroon lake Trailhead. We arrived at the Trailhead and started hiking in around 10 pm. Much later than we had thought it would have been. Camp was going to be located 2 miles in and only about 500 feet of elevation gain to get thereat a place called Crater Lake. We arrived at camp around 11pm and were sleeping by midnight. We didn't set any alarm for the morning figuring the weather would be nice and a late start would be okay for Pyramid.

Right before leaving for this trip we had heard of a bear attack that had seriously injured a camper very close to Crater Lake. Within .5 miles in fact. On top of that, we had seen a bear dive off the road when we rolled into Aspen. On top of that, my previous 14er hike put me within 30 feet of a bear. Needless to say, we were a little concerned about the presence of bears in the area.

So the first night camping we were awoken to a sound that had our heads perked up like little prairie dogs in the middle of the night. I fumbled around for my headlamp and turned it on and tried to shine it under a little gap in the rainfly. I couldn't see anything except for Eric clutching the handle of a Bowie knive like he was never going to see it again. With the lamp on and us rustling around a bit, whatever was out there, left. All I know was that the sounds I was hearing sounded large. We were able to calm ourselves and get back to sleep within a few minutes.

We woke up around 7am and ate some breakfast before setting off for Pyramid Peak. From our camp it would only be about a five mile round trip. The elevation gain was brutal and slowed us down to a pace of about 1 mile/hour. Nothing to be ashamed about on this mountain though. Pyramid is on many people's short list for difficult 14ers. It is steep, exposed, and there are areas of loose rock. Route finding becomes necessary as the trail suddenly disappears on you. We were able to grab one picture of Pyramid Peak on our way out on Sunday.

Pyramid is in the center
Climbing the visible headwall in the picture above lands you in a big amphitheater. Surrounded nearly 360 degrees by steep cliffs this was an impressive sight. I've never been more mad that I forgot my camera. I will still include some pictures from that show some of the route. More physically demanding than climbing into the amphitheater, was climbing out of it. About 1000 feet of elevation gain over less than a half mile had us standing on the rim of the amphitheater with about another 1000 feet to go until we'd be on the summit.

Climbing out of the amphitheater. (Photo Credit:
From the top of the amphitheater viewing the remaining route.
From the point where the above picture was taken we were greeted by 4 or 5 VERY friendly mountain goats. We stopped there to refuel and the goats would have sat in our laps if we would have let them. We started off to finish the rest of the mountain and left the goats behind us. Little did we know that we would spend much of our time above 13000 feet accompanied by these guys.

Beautiful views from the summit of what we would be doing the next day. 
We spent a about 30 minutes on top before heading back down. There was only one other group climbing Pyramid that day. They were behind us but our routes were such that we never came close enough to them to talk to them. we went down different than they went up. It took us nearly four hours to descend to camp. This was first time that I had experienced a decent that took as long as the ascent. That speaks to the steepness of the route and the care needed to descend safely.

We spent most of the remainder of the day lounging around Crater Lake. We encountered a Forest Service employee who informed us that they had shot and killed a bear in the area. They believed it to be the bear responsible for the attack 2 days earlier. This made us sleep more soundly that evening. We still hoisted our food up a tree and I still slept close to my bear mace. We entertained the idea of swimming in Crater Lake. we had just returned from climbing Pyramid Peak and we were hot and sweaty. The temperature of this lake was around 40 F. We were down to our shorts and entered the water. We made to about mid-calf and called it good. It was nice to just relax with good company and good conversation.

We decided on an early start for the events of the next day. The Bells Traverse is nothing short of daunting. By far the most aggressive climb on my resume at this point. The goal: climb South Maroon in 5 hours, traverse to North Maroon in 2 hours, and down climb back to camp in about 5 hours.

We woke up around 4 am and got on our way by 5 am. From our camp, this route is one big loop. we would not be backtracking our steps at all today. We really wanted to take it one step at a time today with our first goal being the summit of South Maroon Peak. We were able to survey most of the route from the top of Pyramid Peak the day before.

Most of the route up South Maroon Peak.
 From the point where the blue line disappears above the route is similar to Pyramid Peak. The trail comes and goes and can be misleading at time. You have to use your best judgement at times to find the best route.

Remaining Route from the saddle to South Maroon Peak.
We made great time to the top. We were on the summit just over 4 hours after starting. We assessed our physical and mental conditions and decided we would attempt the traverse to North Maroon.

Much of the traverse can be seen in this photo. Only .5 miles from peak to peak. 
The downclimb to the connecting saddle took us 45 minutes to reach. we were making good time and saw no reason to rush this. The climb from there to the top of North Maroon Peak took us another 2 hours and 45 minutes. This traverse is often described as having three major difficult pitches. Having climbed it I would say only one (the third one) would I choose to not do again. The exposure here is like nothing I have ever seen. Suffice it to say, there is no room for error. The footholds and handholds are solid and there was no necessity for rope. It was during this part of the climb that my phone (containing all the pictures of this trip up until that point) slid out of a pocket that I had left unzipped and feel about 1500 feet below. I wanted to cry. However, the manliness of what I was involved in prevented any such response. It was time to upgrade to the iPhone 4 anyways. The wife was super happy about that.

The 3 difficulties shown here. The rest is really just ridge walking.
The last bit of the traverse went by without a hitch. One last chute to shimmy up and then a short walk to the top.

This is actually me on the last chute to the upper ridge. One of the more tame areas. 
Upon topping out on the ridge we could see the summit 100 yards away. From where we were we could see that we would be sharing the summit.

View from the top of the last chute with a goat sitting on the summit block.
Closer look
He really didn't want to move until we tried to cut off his horns. Then he left.
I immediately felt a sense of accomplishment when we arrived at the summit of North Maroon Peak. It was good to be done with the climbing part. This goat would actually accompany us for about 2000 vertical feet of downclimbing. He clearly felt bad for us and felt the need to be our guide.

Keeping an eye on us while keeping his distance. Crater Lake and Maroon Lake in the distance .
Summit shots (poor quality):

Me on North Maroon with South Maroon behind me. 14,014 feet!
Me with Pyramid Peak on the left.
Pyramid on the right.
Eric with South Maroon behind him.
We have only to descend North Maroon and head back to camp at this point. Not a small task as it turns out.

The upper portion of the descent.
When crossing the rock glacier shown above, I took nasty spill that required some first aid for a gash on my left leg. Not a big deal but it hurt like crazy when it happened. It bled for a bit too but not too bad for what we had just got done doing.

We made it back to camp about 11 hours after leaving. We were happy with the results and lounged for bit to eat and drink before taking down camp and heading out. I was not looking forward to a 45 pound pack for 2 more miles to reach the car. We filled our water at the lake and broke camp and headed back towards the parking lot. It was a long two miles. Maroon Lake always has people there so we got a picture together.

Maroon Lake right before leaving.
It was dark when we arrived so we didn't see the sign.
One of my most flattering pictures I'd say. It's the leggings I think.
The ride home went fine. We stopped at a burger joint in Aspen and I was dropped off at my car at the La Plata trailhead. My wife was pleased to hear from me as she had not heard anything for 2 days. I usually call but there wasn't any service until Aspen. And, of course, I didn't have a phone so she was double worried when the phone call she received was from Eric's phone.

I made it home just fine and we all lived happily ever after.

Notes to self:
- don't attack Eric at night because he sleeps with a knive.
- will have to hike South Maroon and Pyramid again to get summit pics.
- I love my new Jetboil