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