Lunch at Johnny McGuire's (next to the City Market) in Aspen is always an experience - great sandwiches in a narrow hallway of a restaurant which has the feeling of a 70's college cafe. If you're lucky you can find a stool at the counter overlooking the grill. They have an extremely creative sandwich menu - posted on the chalkboard above the grill - and while waiting for your order you can amuse yourself reading the postcards and irreverent posters from around the world which cover the ceiling and walls.
We drove in and parked in the lower parking lot at the Maroon Lake TH (backpackers and climbers are not currently required to ride the shuttle bus) after paying the $10 entry fee. A 2.5 hour backpack (about 3.5 miles and 1,000 feet) with only a few minutes of light rain ended at a beautiful "hidden" campsite at 10,500 about 100 yards down the trail past the S-shaped pine tree (you can't miss this landmark) and just after crossing West Maroon Creek. Doug had been introduced to this campsite on a previous trip. There are several campsites right on the main trail near where the climbing trail for Maroon leaves the trail and heads up West toward the South Ridge of Maroon Peak. But, if you hike East about 150 feet back across the scree and recross the Creek, you will find a large, generally flat campsite back in the dense forest. After setting up our tents, it sprinkled for about a half-hour and then cleared up for the rest of the night. Gotta have rain if you're in the Elk Mountains....
We left camp at 6 AM Saturday morning under clear skies and began the steep, arduous ascent up the climber's trail on grassy slopes to the intersection with the South Ridge at 13,300. The long scramble/climb/traversing route to the 14,156 foot high summit winds it's way through a seemingly unclimbable maze of loose rock, scree, and talus to the summit. Looking upward, it was impossible to see the trail, which was generally well worn and very well cairned. You will probably never rely more on cairns to stay on a climbing route than is required on Maroon. At times along the way there was more than one cairned route, but good routefinding kept us on a climb that only exceeded Class 3 in a few short, steep sections with nearly no exposure that required a few Class 4 moves. We carried a 25 M length of high strength 5.5 mm TechCord that would have been helpful if the rock was wet and slippery, but we never needed the security of a rope all day. The day was cool and breezy in the 40s, and we quickly chilled down when taking short breaks. Although Maroon is rotten rock that requires every handhold to be tested before committing to it, we were not threatened by rockfall and only kicked off a few small rocks during the day. Doug and I both consider N. Maroon and Pyramid more difficult climbs, with Pyramid the hardest of the three Fourteeners (it's steeper and looser). Near the summit, we met two groups of climbers descending Maroon after having completed the ridge traverse from North to South Maroon. The slower group of two reported a casual three hours was required to complete the traverse, and one group did not carry or require ropes - they downclimbed the one steep 30-40 foot section that the slower group rappelled down. These five people were the only climbers we saw all day.
We summited at 11:30 and celebrated Doug's completing the Fourteeners with chocolate covered graham crackers, a commemorative pin with "I Climbed Colorado 54 Fourteeners" encircling *flaming* climbing boots, and the obligatory summit photos. (Hey, you gotta celebrate this stuff, especially when us old goats are completing major climbing goals!) After a half-hour break, we began the second half of the climb. The descent routefinding was nearly as difficult as the climb with careful routefinding required and consistent dependence on the well cairned route. We deviated slightly from the route that we climbed, but recognized most of the descent route. The temperature dropped rapidly as a storm front blew in. The sky clouded up and became very dark with showers evident across the valley several miles away, but we never heard lightning and the storm blew around us after threatening with some light frozen rain/drops of snow. We arrived back at camp around 5 PM, relaxed, and enjoyed the complementary feelings of accomplishment and total fatigue that reward completing a difficult Fourteener. It rained from about 8-8:30 PM and then cleared off for the night. Sunday morning, with cloudless skies and warm, sunny weather, we leisurely hiked back to the TH.
*** Major congratulations to Dr. Doug Hill for completing the 54 Fourteeners!! ***
Doug's also been completing the Colorado High Points and working on the Centennials - he has only a handful of each to climb before also completing these climbing goals. Having completed Elbrus, and Kilimanjaro on his schedule, who knows - the Seven Summits could be his next project!!
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