Monday, May 26, 2014

Skiing North Maroon Peak - Perseverance Pays Off on the North Face

Like or Share this post.

North Maroon Peak - North Face Ski Descent from Joel Bettner on Vimeo.

I've been trying to ski the North Face of North Maroon Peak for several years now.  North Maroon Peak, which is one of the "Maroon Bells," is without a doubt the most iconic peak in Colorado.  It shows up everywhere.  It seemed to taunt me every time I saw it in an ad campaign, movie, website or even on my grocery store card.  Previously, each time I've tried to ski it there have either been issues with my ski partners or I've been turned around by conditions (like in this trip report from last year).  This year things were different.

5/23/14: Getting to Aspen

I picked up Nick Braun from his home in Edwards, CO at around 5:30 pm on Friday evening and we made our way to Aspen and the Maroon Lake TH.  On our drive we encountered a large, relatively
warm thunderstorm.  When we got to the parking lot it was quite warm.  Things weren't looking great and we were both pessimistic about our chances of skiing from the summit.  After prepping our gear and setting our alarm clocks we tried to get a few hours of sleep in the car before our 2 am departure.

5/24/14: Skiing North Maroon Peak

We woke up in the wee hours of the morning to find that the air temperature at Maroon Lake was hovering right around 40 F.  We were hoping it was going to be colder in order for the snow surface to freeze (thus making the climbing safer).  We were still pessimistic but we decided to make an attempt at the mountain and turn around if we ever encountered snow that was suspect.

We hiked in our shoes, with our skis and boots on our backs, up to Crater Lake.  At first there was no snow on the trail but things soon became covered with snow mid-way between the two lakes.  The snow that covered the trail, to our surprise, was frozen fairly well despite the warm ambient temperatures.  When we reached Crater Lake we stashed our shoes, put on our boots, and began skinning.

Watching the moon rise before the sunrise.
Watching the moon rise before the sunrise.

A short way up the trail to Buckskin Pass we encountered avy debris that covered a large portion of the trail. During the winter a large avalanche tore through the forrest leaving a mess of snapped, broken and carried trees in its wake.  In fact, a bunch of the vegetation and debris that was carried down the hill still remained on an island of ice in the middle of Crater Lake.  Climbing over, under, through and around this debris in the dark set us back a bit.  When we finally re-found the trail we did our best to hustle and make up for the lost time.

Nick's camera got this sweet shot of hiking in the dark.  Gotta love the "alpine starts."
 photo 4.jpg

A glimpse of our objective in the moonlight.
 photo 2.jpg

We reached the base of the North Face right around dawn.  The snow we had encountered the entire way up seemed to become more and more frozen as we got higher and higher in elevation.  Our pessimism about being able to ski from the summit was waning, but we continued to openly communicate about turning around if we encountered unsafe snow conditions.

Doing my best to scout the face in the pre-dawn light.
 photo 5.jpg

Getting to the base of North Maroon's North Face right at dawn.
 photo 8.jpg

A glorious dawn.
 photo 6.jpg

Shameless alpine dawn selfie.
 photo 7.jpg

At the base of the North Face we transitioned from our skins to our crampons and began boot-packing up the maze of cliffs.  We were pleasantly surprised that the snow remained firm and icy for the entire ascent despite the rising sun, the rising ambient temperature, and the lack of wind to insulate the surface.

Nick had a bunch of really great technical gear, including an awesome super-light shell jacket, ice axe, helmet and crampons.  What he forgot at home, however, were any sort of ski pants.  This may be the most gnarly thing anyone has ever skied in Carrhart's (i.e. jeans).
 photo 9.jpg

We took turns setting the boot pack up the North Face.
 photo 12.jpg

Because there are so many cliff bands the ascent requires a lot of traversing...ugh.
 photo 13.jpg

Kick. Step.  Kick.  Step.
 photo 17.jpg

Deciding how to negotiate the crux.
 photo 18.jpg

Awesome shot of Nick just before he climbed the crux.  I think this gives some good perspective to the exposure on the face.
 photo 20.jpg

Shortly after passing the crux Nick took the lead the rest of the climb.  On the upper part of the face we got ourselves into a little mis-adventure trying to explore what we thought would be an alternate route to the summit (tacking on ~45 minutes to our ascent time), but decided against it.  When we reached the top of North Maroon Peak it was just after 9:15 am.  Even though we knew the snow was still very firm/icy at the higher elevations of the North Face, we began our descent shortly after summiting because we were worried that things might be heating up quickly on the lower elevations.

The views on the upper part of the North Face were not too shabby.
 photo 24.jpg

Looking down our ascent route from the upper part of the North Face.
 photo 25.jpg

Nick putting in the boot pack like a champ!  You can see where we had our mis-adventure at the top, near-middle of this picture.  It looked like we might be able to climb that little patch of snow through the rocks.  No dice.  We ended up down climbing back to our traverse track and continuing to traverse up the standard route (around the Punk Rock Band).
 photo 22.jpg

Traversing to the edge of the Punk Rock Band.
 photo 27.jpg

Coming around the edge of the Punk Rock Band with lots of exposure to climbers left.
 photo 28.jpg

Last few steps to the summit.
 photo 29.jpg

Nick, stoked to be on top.  14,014'.
 photo 30.jpg

Looking west from the summit.
 photo 31.jpg

As we knew it would be, the snow was still very firm at the higher elevations.  But, to our surprise, it didn't soften up until we were nearly off the North Face.  It would have been great to ski the entire face on corn-snow, but that opportunity did not present itself.  We were just thankful that we got to ski the face in safe conditions even if they weren't ideal.

Nick negotiating the descent around the Punk Rock Band.
 photo 32.jpeg

Dropping in on the upper section of the North Face.
 photo 33.jpg

Nick making turns on the upper section.
 photo 35.jpeg

Looking down on a section of very firm snow just before descending it.
 photo 37.jpg

Making my way down.
 photo 36.jpg

Catching my breath.
 photo 38.jpg

Nick finding his way down.
 photo 40.jpeg

Frozen runnels.
 photo 41.jpeg

Skiing out of the crux.
 photo 43.jpg

Coming in hot!
 photo 46.jpg

Getting down to some better snow!
 photo 47.jpeg

We were thrilled after our wonderful ski descent when we reached the bottom of the North Face.  From there we decided to shed some layers before continuing down to the trees for lunch, and eventually back to the parking lot.

Happy but warm.  Taking off layers at the bottom of the North Face of North Maroon Peak.
 photo 48.jpg

Nick was stoked to have skied from the summit, even though he did it in his Carhartts.
 photo 49.jpg

Claiming it!
 photo 50.jpg

Claiming it!
 photo 51.jpg

There is a reason this is such an iconic Colorado mountain.
 photo 52.jpg

Back at Maroon Lake with weather starting to roll in.
 photo 53.jpg

The Feed it took to fuel me up and down North Maroon Peak.
 photo 55.jpg

Denali Relevance:
Climbing and skiing the North Face of North Maroon Peak was another great bit of training for Denali.  The mountain is one of Colorado's 14ers, so I had to work hard at high altitude and climb a significant amount of vertical all in one day.  Even though it didn't require the use of any rope, it was a fairly technical descent and allowed me to practice my route finding and hazard evaluation.


 photo 56.jpg

 photo 57.jpg

 photo 58.jpg

 photo 59.jpg


  1. Hi Joel! you had done so brilliant job. I had read your posts and in every post I got that you are wonderful writer and every post shows that your work have no need to justify on any level. good job!

    skiing and snowboarding clothing

  2. Too good post. It have one of the best post. I am too impressed with your post.