06 August 2016

Stardate 2016.595

The Maroon Bells

Recently I've spent a fair amount of time riding the Waterton area. So, I took a little break from blogging about Waterton, or any other locale for that matter. In short, I took a blog holiday.

For a bit of variety, Snowcatcher and I donned road bikes and headed west to the Elk Mountains. The high alpine areas we like to visit are enjoying their lush monsoonal summer. These areas will start to enter winter dormancy by mid-August; so we decided to enjoy the lush, mountain green by tackling one of the most striking road rides in Colorado – the Maroon Creek Road outside of Aspen.

Arriving mid-morning, we secured public parking at the Aspen Highlands Ski Area for $5 per day. Believe me, in this little neck of the woods, that's a bargain. This was posh Aspen; I was expecting at least $25. Maroon Creek Road closes with the snow. However, in the summer it's so popular that access during the day is by shuttle bus only. Thankfully, bikes are allowed on the road, and it's very nice not to have to worry about too many 5,000-pound behemoths piloted by looky loos taking you out. If you need an early start for climbing, or a long hike, the road is open throughout the night. This also is an access point into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The ride up was scenic and refreshing. The first 14er to pop into view was a rain-splattered Pyramid Peak rising to 14,018 feet. At one point or another, I've summited all 7 peaks of the Elk Range that rise above 14,000 feet of elevation (many climbers count 6). Number 7, Conundrum (14,022 ft), is an easy summit to reach while climbing 14,265-foot Castle Peak, the Elks' highest peak. I include Conundrum Peak in my Elk Range 14er count, even though it is not an "official" 14er, because it's close and warrants a visit.

Continued huffing and puffing quickly brought us to the next turn in the road where we came to a halt as the exotic Maroon Bells came into view. The Maroon Bells are said to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado, if not the United States. I've viewed them in all seasons and can't tire of them. There's nothing more relaxing than sipping a cold beverage (you know the type) after a summit of one of these peaks. Sadly, many climbers have been hurt or killed here. The peaks are known as the "perilous slag heap," or the Deadly Bells. Looking back on my climbs of these peaks, I found them to be not difficult climbing, but very dangerous due to loose rock. I also found route-finding on Maroon to be interesting at times. Bad weather can turn any of the Elk Range peaks into a nightmare.

Many accidents happen in the Bell Cord Couloir. In the pic below, the Bell Cord is the thin snow gully-splitting 14,156-foot Maroon Peak (left) from 14,014-foot North Maroon Peak. The couloir faces east and catches early sun, which may quickly soften the snow to dangerous conditions. It's also a garbage chute of loose rock and ice. Avalanche potential exists as well.

To avoid the mass of people using the shuttle system at Maroon Lake, we turned around at a moose crossing sign about 0.5-mile below the parking areas. No moose were available. As a note, enough people come in the after-hours that the parking lots are always fairly full.

The ride down was fast and fun! We had hoped to ride up Castle Creek toward the Castle Peak trailhead; however, weather moved in, and we started our adventure home via Independence Pass.

That's it for the Bells. Next on the docket is Independence Pass. Stay tuned...

North Maroon summit July 2002


1 comment:

  1. That was one of the most fun rides! I hope we get to try again in the fall when the leaves are golden!


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