My Favorite 14er

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Many times people have asked me what my favorite 14er is. I tell them it’s probably hard to understand but my favorite 14er is also my least favorite. It’s name…North Maroon which sits next to her sister Maroon Peak. In my opinion the Bells are two of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen, standing proud and glorious above Maroon Lake. I was told these mountains are the most photographed in the U.S. and I can certainly see why.


The Maroon Bells in mid August

Our first attempt was in July of 2004. With great planning we started from the Maroon Lake Trailhead about 5:30 in the morning. We were feeling good about ourselves and what the day would bring only to be turned around about two hours into the hike. I started feeling a little funny, like I was getting sick. I just lost all strength and desire, I really don’t know what happened. I sat on a rock for a little while. I ate and drank a little but it just didn’t seem to help so we thought it would be best to turn around other than forcing myself up the mountain. I felt like I was letting not only myself down but Jeff down also. I barely had enough energy to get back to the car. The weirdest thing about it was that I felt great the night before and I felt great the morning of the climb…I just don’t know what happened. It’s very important to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. If it tells you you need to stop and rest or just turn around, you should do so. You don’t want to be high on the mountain when you’re not able to take another step. You would be endangering not only your own life but the lives of the people you are with. The mountain will always be there.

Our second attempt was again well planned and we were ready and excited. It was late June of the next year and we decided to climb the Bell Cord Couloir (the long straight snow gully line that goes up right between the Bells). I had my crampons, my tampons and my ice axe. We had had plenty of training and experience with our crampons and ice axes. I felt strong and confident.


Those very same Bells just a month and a half earlier in late June

We arrived at the base of the couloir where we put on our helmets, crampons and attached our ice axes to our harnesses. We were ready to climb the 2,500 foot couloir that goes at about a 45 to 50 degree angle. Jeff kicked in nice steps for me, it was actually fun, I felt great and even lead a couple of times, it took us about 2 hours to climb the couloir and reach the saddle between Maroon Peak and North Maroon. We decided to traverse the ridge to North Maroon first and then come back and do Maroon Peak. Within about 100 feet or so and found the rock to be wet which is a little disconcerting when the rock up there is so rotten you have to be sure of every step. You don’t want to slip on any loose rocks. We proceeded cautiously and suddenly I stepped on a pile of small rocks that looked stable but weren’t. They just went out from under my left foot so I lunged towards the mountain and the rocks shot off from under my foot and went down the west side of the mountain. You heard a few rocks falling at first then more and more it ended up being a big rock slide. Thank God nobody climbs up that side, it got louder and louder it was one of the scariest moments of my life, I screamed “Jeff!” He was right by me but it took me a little while for me to compose myself before we continued on. As we continued carefully, but at a painfully slow pace, we started coming across ice in the cracks of the rocks. We roped up for one particularly steep and icy class 4 section. At that point we talked about what we should do we both agreed we should turn back (it had taken us about and hour and a half to go all of 300 feet). We decided to go back to the saddle and back down the couloir we had come up. We finally made it back to the saddle we had a small bite to eat and headed back down.


The Bells in August as seen from Pyramid Peak
Not much snow left in the Bell Cord this time of year

It had been fairly warm that day, so when we started down the snow was starting to get really soft so we both new we better head down safely but quickly. Our kicked steps from coming up were already there so we just followed them back down. We got about 100 yards down and the small rocks started melting off the sides of the couloir. You would hear a little crack, then the small rocks starting running down the sides of the couloir. We were in the middle of the couloir and didn’t feel like we were in any serious danger. We were about a third of the way down when the rock and snow slides started getting increasingly larger so we really needed to get down as fast as possible. At one time we had to jump out of the runnel in the center of the couloir because one of the wet slides went right down the middle of it. At that point I didn’t know what to think. I thought about my family and how much I didn’t want to die. I remember Jeff saying that the warm afternoon temperatures had “set the mountains in motion” and that we need to get off the mountain NOW. I just remember counting 1,2,3…1,2,3,..1,2,3, ice axe, foot, foot..ice axe, foot, foot…ice axe, foot, foot. We got down to a point where we could glissade safely to the base of the couloir. When we got there we sat for a second while not really believing what just happened to us. At that point I began getting sick and crying for about 15 minutes. We had employed all of our mountain craft and drew upon our many years experience for this climb. It ended up being 14 ½ hour epic getting us to within less than a quarter mile and 300 feet of elevation from the top of each of the Maroon Bells but to the summit of neither. I didn’t climb or hike again for 2 months.


Big Bad Pyramid Peak as seen from the northeast ridge on North Maroon

Our third attempt was in early August of 2006. We decided to do the standard route up the northeast ridge. We once again were prepared and eager to see what our day would bring. I started out about 5 minutes before Jeff. I like to enjoy the early mornings alone for a short time. I left Maroon Lake about 5:15 a.m. I strapped on my head lamp and headed off around the lake. I have always found this time of day in the mountains to be my favorite. It’s quiet and it smells so good, it really is neat, special time.


WikiMapia Satellite Image of the Maroon Bells/Pyramid Peak area

A short ways down the trail I was minding my own business and a saw something ahead of me on the trail. It was bigger than a rabbit and just waddled quickly up the trail ahead of me. I really wanted to identify it, suddenly it stopped I finally got a good look it, it was a porcupine. I turned around on the trail and headed back about 20 feet. When I turned to see if it was still there it must have went thru the shrubs so I waited a few minutes and continued on my way (I was not in the mood to have Jeff pull spines out of my butt for the next few hours).


Just about at the top of a very special mountain

The day was turning out to be a bluebird day. Three hours into the hike and I couldn’t spot one cloud. We both were feeling great. The further on we went the better we felt. The much heralded class 4 crux wall presented absolutely no problem. We didn’t see another person the entire day. We made it to the summit without a problem and the view from the summit was awesome!! It was such a nice day we got to spend a fair amount of time up there. Our descent was just as enjoyable as our climb up (I didn’t even feel the need to tie in for the crux downclimb). When we reached the Maroon Lake we hugged each other and soaked our feet in the lake.

It was a good day...one of our best ever! I don’t think the feeling we had on the summit that day would have been the same had we not been through what we had on our first two attempts. This climb was even more special as I was able to fulfill my late aunt’s wish.


The North Face of North Maroon - can you believe people ski this?!?!

I was always one who needed instant gratification but climbing 14ers has changed all that. I have learned to be more patient and understanding. I have learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I Know that I am getting closer to my goal of climbing all of the 14ers (as I write this, I have 2 left). I really thought I was going to be ecstatic…no more early mornings…no more hard training days…no more sacrifices. But I believe deep down in my heart I’m going to miss it a lot. So I decided to make another goal for my self (I am going to learn to speak Navajo).

I will never leave the mountains, they will always be a part of me.

I know I will always be happy.

I have a great family, a great husband and a goal.

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