Maroon Bells  - Bell Cord Couloir & Traverse Trip Report

Bell Cord Couloir and Traverse

Trail: Bell Cord Couloir and Traverse, ~5.4, ~45 degree snow , ~ 8.5 miles, ~4900 ft elevation gain

Make sure to check out James Just's Trip Report as well

Since my Rainier trip had been canceled I decided I'd try and get out on at least one large outing during the week I was to have taken off.   I had been eying up the Bell Cord Couloir and decided I'd give it a go on Monday, June 25th.  I was originally going to have Jen go but she was reluctant due to the length and work commitments so told me to fish for a partner.  I posted a request on a couple sites and received a response from James Just.  Now I've known James through 14erworld and had also been rock climbing with him before so I was a bit surprised when he emailed  me a climbing resume.  He had just done the Notch Couloir in conditions much harder than those I encountered two days before so I knew he was a good partner.  As it turned out he didn't recognize who I was because I use my greenwing macaw's name on Summitpost and it was to this post he responded.

We firmed up planed and met at the T-Rex Park N Ride at exit 259 of I-70 on Sunday night.  James hopped in my truck and we headed to the parking lot. The drive down went quickly enough and we went to sleep n my truck around 10:30 at night.  We awoke around 2:40 the next morning, geared up, and set off. As usual the beginning of the hike passed in a blur and we soon found ourselves heading up towards the snow at the base of the couloir.  Just before reaching the snow we had to climb through some waterfalls and wet cliffs.

The couloir itself want' too steep (never more than 45 or so degrees) but was the longest snow climb I've done.  When the snowfield below is included it adds up to about 2200 feet on snow.  We climbed steadily and when we entered the constriction we both pulled out a second tool.  It wasn't steep enough that we did this out of concerns for safety rather but by using two tools in the constriction and especially in the runnel, we were able to almost pull ourselves up the couloir.  Proceeding in this manner was very efficient as we could place the tools at almost shoulder level on the sides of the runnel and move up quickly.  I had forgotten how steep these peaks were but the last 4000 feet was covered in about two miles.

We topped out of the couloir around eight in the morning and dropped our tools and crampons and then set off for the summit on South Maroon Peak.  At this point I was feeling pretty tired and the effects of having climbed Longs just tow days ago was kicking in.  I had originally planned on soloing the route if I couldn't find a partner but, as it turns out, having James along was a god send.  He remembered the traverse much better than I did and I would have probably taken a good couple hours route finding without him.    

The Snowfield At The Base Of The Bell Cord Couloir

The Bell Cord Couloir

In The Couloir

The Narrow Part Of The Couloir

James Topping Out

James and I headed up to South Maroon and topped out around 8:00 in the morning, we stopped for a quick bite then returned to the top of the Bell Cord where we took a longer break.  At this point we both stashed our boots in our bags and switched to trail runners.  I was not going to be trying the traverse in plastics. Apparently there is actually a 4th class route on the east side of the ridge but I've never done it and it sounds like it traverses rotten, sketchy gullys so I probably never will.  

We made our way more or less over the top of the ridge.  The traverse climbed towards the first crux tower which we attacked head on at 5.4. After this we reached what I consider to be the real crux of the ridge which is a wall which can be climbed via the face at the south end or by one of tow chimneys.  James and I took separate chimneys that rated around 5.4-5.5 and met at the top.  I was tired enough that I might have protected if I had brought gear but we didn't, just a rope and some slings so we both free climbed to the top.  After this crux there was a bit of third and fourth class scrambling to the summit of North Maroon which we reached around 10:30.  In hindsight I'd say this is a much more serious route than I'd previously given it credit for.  There are numerous sections of third and 4th class with stretches of  low fifth class to be soloed.  Even opting for the easier traverse puts you on exposed, dangerous territory. People should approach this route with respect and caution.  

Great Views Of Capitol And Snowmass

South Maroon Peak

The Traverse

Heading To The First Crux

The First Crux

James Coming Up The Second Crux

North Maroon

James Heading Up To The Summit

We hung out on the summit for awhile and both remarked that the route seemed much more objectively dangerous than we had remembered.  I guess when we were 14er peak baggers it seemed grand but after a ton of roped and ice climbing for the two of us it just seemed a bit loose and sketchy.  After awhile we set out for the descent.  This part of the climb sucked.  It was long, loose, and tedious.  The crux downclimb was pretty easy and fun but the rest of it was terrible.  

After the crux we wound down through rotten cliffs to a great big gully.  The rocks were loose  everywhere and it felt like it would be very easy to take a huge slide to your death descending that stuff. We both marveled that more people don't die getting off these peaks every year.  The descent was so mind numbingly awful compared to my first time that I think I'll skip the Bells for years to come.  We slowly worked our way down the gully to the point where you head left out of it.  From here it was just a long, tedious hike  down safer switchbacks, across a talus field, through trees, and finally back to the main trail.  I did manage to face plant during a stream crossing but it had the effect of cooling me off so it was for the best.  

We had run out of water on the descent and James was kind enough to get a bit from hikers.  We chugged the water and headed back to the truck by 2:30 where we had a quick beer and rinsed off in the bathroom.  After resting a bit we hit the truck and headed home.  The traffic was a bit annoying due to a back up in Glenwood Canyon and at the Eisenhower Tunnel but we got back to the park and ride in good time.   We said our farewells and headed home.

Summit Views

Capitol - Snowmass Ridge

Me At The Chimney/Dihedral Downclimb

 Rock Eating Goats Hanging Out At The Chimney On The Downclimb

The Best Rock Of The Descent

Flowers On The Descent

The Crappy Descent Ledges

The Horrid Part Of The Descent

Almost Down

Looking Back At The Bells

It's tough breaking into new groups after you've gotten settled with a number of partners but I'd be happy to get out with James anytime.   He is a strong climber, laid back, and easy to get along with. All in all it was an odd experience.  The Bells went from being my favorite 14ers to one of my least favorite. They are just too objectively risky with all that loose rock and steep, sketchy descent.  When your best option is to downclimb two thousand feet of snow to get off a peak you have to wonder.  I'm also pretty happy that Jen didn't come, she would have hated the steepness and we would have had to belay her up the cruxes.  

I think I've been spoiled by all the Rocky Mountain National Park granite. It's funny how a peak I used to think was somewhat trivial became harder and scarier after I became a much better climber. All in all though it is hard to beat the Bells for scenery.  The views of the lakes from North Maroon as well as the views of Capitol and Snowmass are hard to beat.  This climb made me want to go back and redo those two peaks (but not Pyramid, I'm done with super loose rock). So far I still have plans to finish the 14ers this year, climb the Grand Teton, A 5.7 route on Pagoda, and a 5.7 route on Hiamovi.  I've been denied Zowie's summit, Rainier, and Pawnee Peak so we'll see how it goes.

Nice climbing with you James.

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