North to South to North
Christy, Lissa, Kent Harvey and I did the Maroon Bells Traverse on Saturday, twice. And I came home with a lot of mountain goats pics.
Wait, twice? Well, when it comes to traversing the Bells, there are more than a dozen different combinations concerning which route to climb, direction to traverse and how to descend. And speaking for myself, when making those decisions and planning the day, I take steps to avoid using the South Ridge. In order to do that, we made the run across the ridge two times.
Frowned upon by many, the South Ridge of South Maroon Peak– considered by many to be the least technical path of ascent, descent or both, and the ‘standard’ route on the south peak– is in my opinion an out of the way, time consuming, tedious way to go. Descending via this ridge sends you in the opposite direction of the trailhead and it results in an extra long day when used as a round trip route. Nevermind that the loose quality of the rock on the ridge and the extended time it spends in the crosshairs of lightning and afternoon storms is at best, unpleasant, and at worst– when the thunder’s booming– scary. One friend of ours has gone so far as to declare his intention to build a career as an Aspen area guide and never use this route. So far, after nearly ten years of guiding here, he has managed to stay true to his goal. I think I’ve made my point, but in sum, after a couple of climbs “back in the day” via this route, I’ve since found myself avoiding it whenever possible.
In reality, at least for much of the year, avoiding the South Ridge is a reasonable request. During the winter, spring and a good part of the summer season, when snow is present in the couloirs, there exists a number of snow-climb options to ascend and descend the South Peak without setting foot on the South Ridge. For many including myself, it’s much more fun to climb either the Bellcord or Y-couloirs anyway. But come late summer, when the couloirs dry out, so to do the options. With the couloir climbing season pretty much finished, we opted to climb North Maroon first, completed the traverse over to South, and then traversed back to North, descending from there back down the Grassy Gully.
A few thoughts on this double traverse:
- If you’re into this kind of stuff and the thrill of the airy traverse is part of what you seek, then you get two times the fun by getting to run it twice. Similarly, you get to tag three summits instead of just two, though unless you’re a serious peakbagging nerd(something I’ve been accused of), you really can’t count two North Maroon summits for the day on any personal ‘ticklists.’
- While you might think you need even more perfect weather than is usually desired, it’s not really the case. The time required to get back to the North Maroon summit and to begin your descent is close to the time you’d spend navigating the South Ridge to the point where it too begins to descend.
- Mileage-wise, N-S-N is shorter than the single N-S Traverse(w/ South Ridge descent). Descending the South Ridge sends you away from the car (and the beer-filled cooler) whereas going back towards North is actually getting you closer to the trailhead and the aforementioned beverages. If you’re good at route finding and comfortable with the moves while on the traverse, it’s definitely faster from car-to-car. The only real climbing gear we brought and used were helmets.
Give it a go and see. Or don’t. But if someone told me it was both more fun AND faster, I’d go that way for sure.