Matt's Maroon Bells and Redcloud

On Saturday we headed down to climb Redcloud and Sunshine (two14,000 foot mountains) at about 5 AM. The drive took a lot longer than wethought (4.5 hours instead of 2.5), so we arrived late. It was alreadyraining, and the mountains were getting snow above 13,000. Afterconvincing my father to hike, we started in the rain with thunder in thebackground. The rain stopped and started again. The thunder and lightningwent away. The rain was more like sleet, and it stung the backs of mylegs as we continued up the sloes. Everyone else on the mountainretreated saying they were in white out conditions above 13,000 withlightning striking the summit. We heard no thunder, and we were stillvery low on the mountain. We could see the snow though. We decided tohead up, and at first sign of a thunderstorm, we would descend. About onehour later, the sun broke through and it was partly cloudy for the restof the day. Redcloud is a fairly simple climb mostly made up of class Iwith about one mile of class II right at the finish. We summitted Redcloud afterabout four hours of hiking. Because we had such a late start and cloudsappeared to be building again, we opted out of climbing Sunshine (theother peak) and headed down. We arrived at the car about 2 hours later. Iwas pretty amazed that I had no headache, and I could climb this afteronly being on CO for about 24 hours. I guess I acclimatize well.

Sunday was a rest day as well as preparing for the next climb, the MaroonBells. The Maroon bells consist of two mountains: North and South. Bothare over 14,000 feet. They have a long history of killing people due tothe high concentration of loose rock, dangerous 4th/5th class climbing,and difficult route finding. This history has earned them the name,"Bells of death" or "the deadly Bells." Someone had been killed on theMaroon Bells about two weeks before we arrived to climb them in a largerockslide.

Ian (my brother) and I decided to try the traverse to collect bothsummits. It is considered one of the 4 great traverses in CO, so we were pretty excited. We hiked up the night before and camped at about10,500 feet at a small lake. There were a large number of deer walkingaround and they were quite tame. While filling my water from the lake,one got about 5 feet from me trying to see what I was doing. After ashort while, my brother and I fell asleep and waited for the 5 AM alarm.During the night, we heard some rocks shuffling outside the tent and someloud snorting noises. Ian asked if I was doing that, and I asked himthe same thing. We suddenly realized that we were in bear country. Wetalked for awhile (loudly) discussing whether it was a bear or a deer. Inthe end we decided it was a bear.

The alarm went off, and I was raring to go. It took Ian a while to getgoing, but we were on our way by 5:40 AM. We hiked the short 1 mile classI portion of the climb to a rock cairn. At this point the trail gets a lotsmaller. We crossed a small stream and then headed up a steep hill. Thenwe traversed to the south for a long time. Along the way we passed twoother parties that were also going to try the traverse. The first grouplooked unprepared for such an undertaking as one if the party took about3-4 minutes to get over the first very short section of 4th class (thiswas easy compared to what was to come). The other party took the wrongroute, and we didn't see them again until we summited north Maroon. Weheaded up a long grass field, traversed into a 4th class gully and thenhit the summit ridge. Along the way I found a digital camera that someonehad likely dropped on a hasty retreat from the summit (it works). It waseasy to see why so many people had been killed on the Bells of death, asthere were large sections of the trail that required walking near500 ft. (or higher) cliffs on loose rock. The exposure is huge! Wesummitted North Maroon Peak after 4 hours (which was right on schedule). Wechecked the weather, and everything looked great (thanks to Shelley for a great weather forecast).

We decided to head on to the traverse, which looked really scary. The traverse was made up of a thin band of rock, with cliffs as high as 1000 ft. dropping off each side. Thehiking is all class III-V. A slip hear and it would likely be fatal. Wefelt pretty comfortable, so we just took it slow and kept trekking. Thereare two rappels on the traverse. We looked at down climbing the first one(about 30 feet), but quickly realized that a fall would land us down bythe lake we camped at nearly 4000 feet below. We decided to rope up. After rapingwe headed to the second rappel. There were no good anchors to use naturalor otherwise. We had brought a rack, but the rock was so rotten, that wemay as well have left it at home. We searched for a while and found a wayto down climb the 50-60 ft. section of rock. We lowered our packs andheaded down. Once at the bottom, the team that had selected the wrongroute earlier was at the second rappel. While standing there, they knockedoff a section of rock the size of a small fridge about 10 to 15 feet fromus. We listened as it tumbled down for thousands of feet below. We heardone of them say sorry. I just tried to get out of their way as fast aspossible. After another long section of class III and IV, we arrived atthe peak of South Maroon. While the summits are only 0.4 miles apart, ithad taken us 2.5 hours to travel between them.

Next we had to descend south Maroon, which is supposed to test your will tolive. The first mile or so descended loose class III and IV through a longseries of gullies. A fall would have really sucked, but would not havebeen fatal (at least if you could stop yourself). Along the way weran into a family of mountain goats just hanging out and eating whatlittle vegetation there was. After about 1.5 hours, we reached the notchwhere you descend back to the valley floor. In one mile, I repeat, onemile, you descend 2800 feet. This really hurt. We did the decent in about1.5 hours. Along the way, we had both ran out of water. We startedto trip on our own feet as we were really tired and were sick of descendingthe endless class III slope. When we hit the river, we hiked for another hour to get to the lake where we had camped the night before. We filled upwith water, took down the tent and headed for the parking lot about 2miles away. We didn't walk very fast, but we eventually made it at about 6PM. We had been hiking for 12.5 hours almost non-stop. My Dad and hisgirl friend were waiting in the parking lot with cold beers. Ian and Idowned two each, one for each Bell.

Pictures from this trip 

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