North Maroon Peak – 14,014′

I pulled into the parking lot at about 330a this morning and began my climb around 4a among what felt like a horde. That’s a weekend at Maroon Lake for ya. From the trail of headlamps, it looked to me like Pyramid was a more popular destination today. Still, I was hardly the only one on North Maroon. I was feeling the toll from yesterday’s climb, so I wasn’t exactly crushing today. Took me five hours to gain the summit, and a handful of climbers passed me in the gully. Shared the summit with like 10 other folks and watched longingly as a pair headed for the traverse route. I left the summit with hopes of dropping all the way down to Crater Lake and then tagging Maroon Peak separately.

The oft-feared crux pitch on North Maroon is actually really straightforward, and fun. It’s a couple class IV moves on an exposed face, but the rock is solid. I’m just a little guy, and I was able to hoist myself up a broad crack. Opted for the class III downclimb on the way back, though. That was also fun. I was leading a half dozen climbers when I hit the mouth of the gully. Not wanting to be below so many climbers, I diverted away from the standard route and tried to find an alternate through an adjacent gully. That turned out to be a waste of time and energy. Ah well, c’est la vie. I backtracked and carefully followed the other climbers down.

I didn’t get back down to Crater Lake until 1p, and weather had started to build overhead. Even so, I hated to leave without trying. There was only a 20% chance of precip, so it was hardly a foregone conclusion. I reached the Maroon Peak split by 2p still with over 4,000 feet of vertical to cover. My legs were feeling the burn, but the weather didn’t look too ominous, so I pressed on with an ever-watchful eye on the sky.

On the way up, I saw a herd of mountain goats, including a couple kiddos. One of the adults kicked a few rocks down, maybe on purpose…? Good thing I’m quick. Dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge. I suppose I could've taken that as a sign. Instead, I pressed on. After gaining about 2,500 feet, I finally called it. I was moving at a snail’s pace, and the sky was only getting darker. Verdict: too ambitious. Route finding is especially difficult on this peak, and I found myself off route somewhere just below the south ridge. That in and of itself is hardly a deal-breaker, but there were a lot of contributing factors which clearly indicated that it was time to turn around. So, begrudgingly, I did.

I had hoped to bag ’em both today, but I’ll have to come back for Maroon Peak. This is only the second time in 53 summits that I’ve been turned back. The other was on Pyramid, another Elk Range peak whose route begins at this same trailhead. Bad luck, perhaps. For Maroon, there is a nasty weather front moving in over the next week. Snow likely in the high country. So, that’s that. For now. Maybe a blessing in disguise, as I’m hoping to share the climb in a couple weeks with my dear friend, Kate. All things for a reason.

In 14 hours, I had one peak to show for my time and effort. Bummed I didn’t tag Maroon, and psyched I didn’t get a ticket for failing to display my park pass on my dash. Little victories amidst defeat. Good things happen all around us all the time. I try to notice and have found that feeling gratitude for little things has significantly increased my quality of life. That pattern holds here today. Another reason to be grateful: two climbers were rescued after getting themselves stranded below the summit on the North Maroon standard route today. Another reminder to be conservative in the high country. Having a climbing partner isn’t enough; taking the standard route isn’t enough. The 14ers, popular as they are, are still wilderness. Lots of bad things can happen up there. And rescue can take many hours.