Skiing Maroon Bells Bell Cord and North Face

Skiing Maroon Bells, Bell Cord and North Face

03/20/2017

Partners, Jason Kilgore, Chris Baldwin and I were able to seize the great weather and prime snow conditions this Saturday the 18th.   Skiing Maroon Bells, Bell Cord and North Face in winter, in a day from Breckenridge, starting at the T Lazy 7 trail head was, well, AWESOME!  And obviously we named it the ‘Double Bells Day!’

We made complete ski descents of both the Bell Cord Couloir 3937′ from the summit of Maroon Peak 14,156′ and the classic North Face 3858′ of North Maroon Peak 14,014′ to the lake.   We got a little conditions report help from Zach Guy and Chris Miller as they had made a descent of the South West face of Thunder a couple days prior.  It’s always fun to be able to forecast conditions and open a line for the season!

The Bells hold classic ski lines on all three, and they are in the neighborhood of 4000’ long.  So to enchain even more than one is a committing tour and means a minimum of almost 9000’ of skiing. Even if one chooses to take a snowmobile in.

Autumn Photo from FB

 Jason and I have bumbled round the hills long enough, always seeking to learn how to move quickly in the backcountry with out always being in a rush.  So the extra 6.5 mile approach from T Lazy 7 with out a sled isn’t so bad.  I think it’s actually easier and probably takes less time than maintaining, fueling and trailering a snowmobile.  When it’s warm in the spring I guess having to stop to shovel snow on the engine sounds like it takes around an hr to get in to Maroon Lake anyway. It takes us 1:30.  So not a big trade off really.  Now don’t get me wrong!  If I lived in Aspen I would have a sled.  It just makes sense if you live there.  But we don’t.  And sometimes the simpler we make things, the richer the experience.
The road was refrozen and fast so we skated in about 7k from T-Lazy 7 trail head, then skins on for the last couple miles.  We left the trail head at 3:30 am and were on the summit of  Maroon Peak at 8:30am including time to asses conditions, discuss options and take in the views along the way.  Keeping a reasonable pace on the way in and up the first climb was key to making rest of the day enjoyable!
 …yeah pace is the trick… -Interpol
The “Paradise Divide” and Crested Butte beyond.

  On the summit by 8:30 gave us plenty of time for the Bell Cord, though our minds were on the North Face of North Maroon.  We did not want to be in that terrain if the winter snow was going to bake in the sun.  Our saving grace, or so we hoped, was the lower mid March sun and the business of the line being between 12,500′ and 14000′. After waiting an hr on the summit for the temps to be a “slightly- early- just- right” we dropped in on the East Face of Maroon at 9:23. The sun had warmed the cold winter snow just enough to be perfect!  We skied the steep east face for about 500 vert before catching the big wide obvious ramp that gains access to the Bell Cord proper. It was cold settled powder all the way down the right side and warm wet pow on the left.  The ski conditions were all time!

The option to make a high traverse out of the Bell Cord to skip 1000’ of the 4000’ line was suggested.  After some discussion we realized it was not  for us.  Beside the massive exposure and hazard that traverse would entail, we were there to ski the lines in their entirety.  I mean WOWZA! they are really something!  Traversing to chip them short to save on vert or ease the challenge diminished the direct beauty and length of these classic lines!   We are out to SKI big beautiful lines from the summit to the lake!  And style matters!

Go further?

There was also talk of the Trifecta.  This would include Pyramid.  Skiing 3 complete lines on all three Bells would be rad.  The Trifecta would be 12,000′ of positive gain on three major lines.  Many have dreamt and talked about it. There are a few combos that could work. But to ski all three lines true to their length would have to wait for another day, snow conditions and ‘we are not there yet’ if you know what I mean.

 Ready boys!
The opening turns from the summit keep you honest
Cruise control!
On to North Maroon!
After skiing the line right to Crater Lake on valley floor, we skied up the drainage and ascended the North Face of North Maroon.  The snow was “hot wet pow” in the trees  below 11K and our confidence took a hit.   Jason reassured us… “But that high North face under a mid march sun…”  Once up under the tall cold face we were quite confident in the snow conditions at this point and chose to dig a hole and test our assessments again.  After booting up and getting established on the first major ramp we assessed the snowpack and performed a CT and ECT.  This large face is a complicated series of hanging snowfields, unsupported panels and frames of snow that are disconnected and peppered by major cliffs and rock.  With this exposure, consequences, and it being late in the day, we really wanted to be confident in our stability assessment before committing to the massive exposure of this line. We found an unreactive, consolidated winter snowpack that supported the multitude of previous observations we had been making from our avalanche forecast to our ‘nowcast’.  We did note new surface hoar development at 4’100 meters up to “punk pock.  This could be a sliding surface problem after the next snow.
Chris approaches the foreshortened North Face North Maroon.
It looks way worse from this angle though.

The North Face skied sooo well!  Settled winter pow!!  Also had to do three very short 1 meter dry ski steep moves at the crux in the center couloir.  No problem here.

Jason and Chris use flawless ‘dry ski technique’ to pass a tight spots.

We choose to link both lines to their completion at the lake in one day, all human power from the ‘everyman’s’ winter trail head at T Lazy 7 Ranch 8200’.   Jason and I had left Breckenridge around 12:30am and met Chris at the trail head at 3:30am.  We all skied out to the safety of the lower apron below the North face at 2:30 pm. This was a culmination of incredible snow and weather forecasting by the team.  Light, bold and efficient ski touring technique made it a fun tour!

23 miles (37kilometers RT

10,300′ (3140k) vert and all smiles n high fives!

(8941’ from Maroon Lake)

The 2017/18 Alien RS is a game changer. No really you watch.
 Gear and Style

Both Chris Baldwin and I were on Faction Agent 90 Skis, 1350 gram skis and ‘freeridey!  Jason and I were on Scarpa Aliens.  Jason the Alien RS and I on the full carbon Alien 3.0.  We all use a Plume Guide toe, combined with a Plume Race heal, binding combos. One can charge if the skill and touch match.  Perfect set up for remote big mountain missions when you want to really ski!  More to come about equipment, techniques and choices that enable quality skiing, in a much shorter amount of time and effort.

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