14er Ski Descents – North Maroon Peak – May 27, 2005
Route: North Face
Team: Ted, Matt Ross
With the return of cold temperatures since the last trip to Wetterhorn and San Luis, I was looking to ski again. This time it would be a classic closer to home, North Maroon Peak. Neither Matt Ross, Sean, or I had skied this before so we figured an ascent of the cliff riddled face was mandatory. We preferred not to ski ourselves into a precarious cliff-out situation which could arise from climbing an alternate route from the ski descent. In order to climb the steep north facing snow with so much heat-absorbing exposed rock we needed to get conditions that were just right.
North facing snow at 14,000 feet can be tough to predict. On other aspects, direct sun followed by cold nights can start the melt/freeze spring cycle and are easy to call. Without direct sun, north facing snow relies more on air temperature to enter the spring cycle and therefore may not setup into classic melt/freeze until late spring. As Matt will testify sometimes you just have to head up and see firsthand, he had failed on two attempts before today because the snow was unclimbable. So that’s what we did.
With a 2am start from Aspen, Matt, Sean, and I made our way up the dry trail. Once across Minnehaha Creek we switched to crampons. The snow was good and frozen and we made good time to the bottom of the North Face. Sean wasn’t feeling great, he’d chill and watch the sunrise from here.
With the snow real firm, Matt and I, cautiously optimistic, headed up as the light of the rising sun turned the snow pink. The route up was more straightforward than I anticipated, with some small traverses between uphill stretches through the cliff bands. One section in the middle had thin coverage and the rest was in good. Near the top, we passed through the final cliff band on its east side (same as the grassy gully summer route) and we were there. It was 8:30am on a perfect morning.
Unfortunately we couldn’t wait for the snow to soften, that could be hours away. Sean was waiting for us below and I had to work later that afternoon. Sharp edges would be more useful than spring wax.
We skied the frozen corn to the top cliff band, which many groups have to downclimb, and made the crux move— a hop onto a ridge of snow and a quick left turn down to the north side and away from a cliff down the east, a huge pucker factor. The rest was alright, although we were always conscious that a fall could easily become a slide to ones death, we closely followed our ascent route all the way back down to Sean, who was able to watch the whole thing. What a day. Hard snow aside, everything was perfect. Matt was psyched and I was too. This was a big one for me. Tomorrow I would have another smooth day on Evans.
Two days later some friends went to repeat our day and turned back because of bad post-holing as they started up the face. It’s all in the day sometimes.