Kevin has been talking about climbing the north face of North Maroon Peak for several years and was determined to attempt the route this spring. I don't think the north face gets climbed very often except for extreme skiers. I wasn't too excited about the climb but decided to tag along after seeing a great forecast and reading a recent trip report online.
We left Denver, Colorado, Friday morning at 9:00. After a quick sandwich at a deli in Carbondale, Colorado, we made our way up the Maroon Creek Road to the gate closure near the T-Lazy-7 Guest Ranch. We quickly finished packing and started the six mile climb up the rest of the Maroon Creek Road on mountain bikes with 40 pound backpacks. Fortunately, the road was melted out all the way to the Maroon Creek Trailhead which we reached after 50 minutes. We took a quick break to prepare for the backpack in while enjoying the views of the Maroon Bells. It took another 50 minutes to reach Crater Lake without the need for snowshoes. We set our bivys up in a flat sheltered area and began melting snow for water. Kevin dug out a snow bench and cooking area. We prepared our packs for the next day, hydrated, and took a few photos. I ate an MRE, Kevin had ramen noodles, and Brian ate a sandwich. As the sun fell behind the mountains, we crawled in our sleeping bags and went to bed relatively early.
The alarm went off at 3:30, and we were on the trail by 4:00. The climb to the Minnehaha Creek crossing went quickly. Snow condition were perfect neve, so we strapped on our crampons for the rest of the approach. The sun rose during the hike to the base of the north face and the day was beginning to look promising. The north face of North Maroon Peak is somewhat challenging as far as snow climbs go. Not only is the steepness sustained throughout the entire 1,600' climb, the route zig-zags up the face as opposed to a usual straight forward couloir climb. We crossed below the looming north face to a snow ramp on the far right side of the peak.
After gaining a few hundred feet, we began the first of two long traverses. We turned left for a traverse across a long steep snowfield above the lowest major cliff band also known as Miner's Ski Jump. Once back in the center of the face, we climbed straight up a shallow couloir until we reached a couple of short rock steps. At this point, we made a short traverse left around the rock steps and then back right to the center of the face. After a couple more hundred feet, we were on another large snowfield on the upper section of the face below the Punk Rock Band. This is where the second long traverse is encountered. We angled left towards the northeast ridge and the standard route crux move.
Since snow had filled in sections of the northeast ridge, we were able to gain the upper ridge above the crux by circling around to the east. The final few hundred feet to the summit were the easiest of the entire face. The approach from Crater Lake to the base of the route was 2.5 hours and the north face took us another 2.5 hours to climb. This was the first time Kevin climbed North Maroon Peak. We ate, drank, took photos, and briefly contemplated going down the northwest ridge route. However, none of us were familiar with the route and I felt our boot pack would provide us a safe descent. We didn't stay on the summit long and started down.
This route is likely the longest, most sustained snow climb any of us had ever done. A guidebook states that the 1,600' face averages 47 degrees. It was an unrelenting climb that required constant focus and attention the entire time. Our kicked steps did provide a good descent; however, we down-climbed face in for approximately 1,200' of the face. The exposure is continuous and one mistake would likely be one too many. For those familiar with Longs Peak, we compared it to the initial traverse of a snow-filled Broadway but only lasting four hours with no protection. The three of us were glad to be back in the valley below the face after a fairly intense climb.
We caught several good glissades back down to Minnehaha Creek and were packing up our camp at Crater Lake after a round trip time of 8 hours and 15 minutes. We quickly hiked out to Maroon Lake and jumped on our bikes for a speedy ride of 11.5 minutes back down to the road closure. The beers were cold and our spirits were high. We drove to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, for a late lunch at the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company. The drive home went smoothly and we were back in Denver, Colorado, by 6:30.