Maroon Peak East Face Ski

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The Maroon Bells in March of this year. Click all photos to enlarge.

On Memorial Day Rick and I managed to pull off a near-perfect climb and ski of Maroon Peak outside of Aspen. This one had eluded both of us for awhile and it felt good to finally get it done.

The Maroon Bells are classic peaks and the ski options available off both of them are as interesting as they come in Colorado. While the north face of North Maroon may take the cake in terms of historic Aspen test pieces, its southern neighbor offers up just as much vertical and challenge. 

Sunrise over Pyramid Peak.

With the road open on the heels of a big late-season dump and relatively cold temps leading into the weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to give Maroon a shot. We decided to play our ski route by ear, preparing for either the southwest line into Fravert Basin or the “standard” east face to Bell Cord route. The decision would be made on the summit based on snow conditions (which turned out to be a no brainer in the end).

Alpenglow on Maroon’s east face, seen from above the garbage chute.

A 2:45am start from the parking lot had us to Crater Lake within an hour. Thankfully the forecast held true – the overnight low and clear skies locked the snowpack up nice and tight, which made for efficient travel. After fiddling around in the willows on the west side of Crater Lake for awhile, we came upon Maroon’s massive east face apron and started the climb. Crampons went on below the garbage chute, where we stopped for a moment to eat breakfast and soak in a spectacular Elk sunrise.

Nearing the top of the “Y” Couloir with Pyramid Peak to the east.

Once through the garbage chute things started to really heat up. We opted to climb the mellower Y Couloir as opposed to the Bell Cord like many parties have before us. Halfway up the Y around 7:30am we were already being greeted by small showers of ice balls and a few rocks from the cliffs above, so we picked up the pace and got out of the fall line as quickly as possible. It’s amazing how hazardous of a place this amphitheater is even on a good day.

Above the Y and around the backside of the peak.

At the top of the Y we had a decision to make, as we weren’t exactly sure how to get from there to the summit. We recalled the standard summer route winding around the backside of the peak, and given the steep cliff directly above the col it seemed only logical to head west around the corner. This turned out to be somewhat of a mistake as we quickly found ourselves wallowing through steep trap crust with a maze of rock bands blocking passage back up to the ridge. After some perseverance we managed to find a reasonable route up, which entailed some rather thrilling climbing on terrible snow.

Back on the ridge with the summit in sight. Photo by Rick.

Looking back at Rick with the terrain we climbed to regain the ridge falling away to the right.

Once on the ridge things became much easier and we were able to work our way up to the summit with relative ease. In hindsight it seems the best way to summit Maroon from the top of the Y is to just climb the cliff band above the col and stay ridge proper the entire way.

We hit the summit around 9:30am and took a much needed break with awesome views to savor in all directions. I’ve always loved Maroon’s summit in summer and it’s even better in snow season.

Views west towards Snowmass and Capitol. Still a lot of snow on those peaks.

All smiles at 14,156 ft.

Poking around at the top of the southwest couloir confirmed our suspicions – the snow on the west side of the peak was rock hard and likely breakable lower down, similar to what we climbed up. OK, the east face it is…

We clicked in and scooted our way out across the narrow ridge line to the top of the route. Just getting from the true summit out to the drop-in point is a tad precarious.

Rick heading down the ridge with North Maroon over his left shoulder.

The east face drop in. Yikes!

Being a committing, exposed line, ski conditions and stability are pretty important on this one. We dropped in and were relieved to find good, supportive corn snow right off the top…

Steep skiing in an awesome setting. Photo by Rick.

Rick’s turn – this shot captures the angle well.

We made conservative jump turns for a few hundred feet down the face, well aware of the fact that some rather large cliff bands loom below. Eventually Rick yelled up that he had found the exit ramp which connects the east face to the Bell Cord.

Rick heading left. Miss the exit and ski too low on this face and you’ll get cliffed out.

Then I followed him down around the corner. Photo by Rick.

Looking back at Rick on the traverse.

…and we’re into the Bell Cord.

Once in the Cord proper we knew it wasn’t time to let our guard down – with temps really starting to soar we needed to ski out the rest of the line and be quick on the matter. A few thousand feet of steep, enjoyable corn turns went down without incident. Soon after we were cutting under the east-face cliffs to connect back up to the top of the garbage chute.

Good snow in the Bell Cord. Thankfully we didn’t have that big of a runnel to deal with.

Corn above the garbage chute. The bottom portion of the upper-east face can be seen high above the cliffs behind Rick in this photo.

Through the garbage chute and out onto the apron, and finally out of avy and rockfall danger.

We savored the wide GS turns down the last bit of vertical to Crater Lake, capping off the 4,000 ft descent (for anyone who doesn’t know the routes on Maroon, here’s an overview shot of the circuit we completed).

The planks stayed on down past Crater Lake before reaching snow line about half a mile from Maroon Lake. Rick and I were elated about the ski, grinning from ear-to-ear all the way back to the parking lot.

Explaining the boots and skis to tourists about 55 times on the way out sure was interesting. I let Rick do most of the talking.

Then it was down to shorts, sandals, and a quick stop off at Aspen Brewing Co before heading up and over Indy Pass and back home.

Independence Pass Ale. Much deserved.

Rick, thanks for making this one happen this year man. Looking forward to ending the season with a “bang” here real soon 🙂

8 thoughts on “Maroon Peak East Face Ski

  1. Floyd

    Congrats on a great ski! Mike/Rachael/I were a couple miles to the south of you on Baldy. I guess we should have waved. The “thrilling snow” turned us off of Precarious the previous day as we learned too late that it was still ridge season in the Elks above 12,500. Way to persevere and get through that mess though! Let’s try to get together at some point after you take those silly planks off your feet, I enjoyed finally getting out with you last summer.

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Scot. Bad snow on Precarious huh? Punchy or soft, or both? Agreed dude, let’s get out on something here soon…

      Reply
      1. Floyd

        A little bit of everything but we called it when the we noticed that there was water running between the winter layer and the slab from the week prior. I’m no expert, but I don’t think that’s good… I’ll keep you updated on plans.

      1. Brandon Chalk

        I wish, Ben. Got some family friends of mine coming out and taking them rock climbing Friday pm and then up Elbert on Saturday. They’ve never done a 14er. So, have to miss Sunday much to my dismay. Will miss the fun crew and BBQ 🙁

  2. TJ Conners

    Wow Ben – so bagged Maroon and close on Pyramid – shaping up to be quite a season for you guys. I know Maroon is no small feat given how squirly it can be – congratulations, FAJA

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      FAJA! Thanks. Was another fun and productive season for sure. Have a great time on the lake 🙂

      Reply

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