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Last September, my wife and I completed the last two peaks remaining in the Elk Range when we finally got a chance to climb the Maroon Bells. The Bells are some of the most storied peaks in Colorado, and amongst the most dangerous. They were the only 14er’s in Colorado that my 82-year-old mother insisted we hire a guide to help us with our climbs.
We made our first attempt to climb the Bells the weekend after Labor Day. It was a perfect day, and our guide was a phenomenal man. We met at the trailhead at 5 o’clock in the morning, and hiked up Maroon Creek past Maroon Lake and Crater Lake, and split off on a side trail to climb Maroon Peak, the higher of the two Bells. The initial portion of the climb is nicknamed “the 2800 Feet of Suck” and easily lived up to its name, climbing 2800 vertical feet over 1.6 miles of steep terrain through loose rock interspersed with cliff beds.
Climbing the 2800 Feet of Suck
As we approached the top of the 2800 Feet of Suck, we could see a pair of climbers, along with a mountain goat, several hundred feet above us. The climbers didn’t seem to be moving, and the goat was hanging out quite close to them. When we finally caught up to them, we found out why they were not moving. The couple had left Denver the day before, with the intention of climbing Maroon Peak. They got a very late start, and reach the summit near sunset. The descent from Maroon Peak is steep and technical, and with the loss of daylight, they went as far as they could, and then hunkered down for the night. Luckily, it was a beautiful clear warm night with temperatures that never dropped below the 40s, and there was no rain. The mountain goat began following them as they were coming off the summit, and spent the entire night hovering within 30 feet of them. As we approached, the goat backed off a little ways, but stayed nearby. When we arrived the couple was attempting to contact Mountain Rescue to help them off the peak. We conferred with our guide, and we agreed it would be best for our guide to help bring them down the 2800 FoS while my wife and I waited for him, with plans to hopefully continues the climb along with our planned traverse from Maroon Peak to North Maroon Peak. Our guide roped the couple up, and took them down the mountain. My wife and I had an enjoyable couple of hours waiting at 13,000 feet in beautiful sunshine.
As soon as our guide headed out with the couple, the mountain goat disappeared. His work was done.
While we waited, we climbed the final 100 feet to a notch at the top of the FoS.This photo is taken from the notch at the top of the 2800 FoS, and looks across to Snowmass Mountain and Capital Peak
Another view from the notch, this one looking across the Fravert Basin
Unfortunately, the descent with the couple took our guide longer than anticipated. As noon approached we realized that there would be no way that we would be able to complete the traverse from Maroon Peak to North Maroon. We made the decision to head down. We met our guide as he was halfway back up to 2800 FoS. He agreed with our decision to abandon the climb, and we had a quiet hike out. The couple was grateful for the help getting off the peak, and the guide service was appreciative that we saved Mountain Rescue from a potential 10 to 12 hour extraction to get a couple off the peak. We were able to rebook a guide for a second attempt two weeks later.
Photo is looking across at Pyramid Peak
To be continued…