North Maroon Peak
Descent Route: North Face
North Maroon Peak
Wednesday April 19, 2006
When climbing and skiing in the big mountains, timing is everything. Hitting the conditions right on the face you are going to ski is paramount. You and your climbing partners must be fit and prepared. And, most importantly, the weather must allow for safe and fun descents. On North Maroon Peak all of these elements came together in spades. In terms of ski conditions, this was as good as it gets on any mountain, and certainly the best I have had on a fourteener this season. Nick Devore, Jon Hagman, and I skied the steep North Face in a foot to a foot-and-a-half of ultra dry powder!
North Maroon Peak has long been the local Aspen ski mountaineering test piece. Since the early 1970?s, any big mountain skier worth his or her salt has given North Maroon a go. There are some legendary stories going back decades of full moon descents, descents on acid, massive, unintentional cliff jumps, and avalanches. All of this has led to the solid reputation of the face. While certainly not as committing as Pyramid Peak in terms of skiing, a ski descent of the North Face of North Maroon is definitely a serious undertaking. The face (as you can see in the aerial photo) is crossed by many cliff bands, the largest one lying at the bottom of the face. A, uncontrolled fall high on the face could result in disaster, but it is just this element of exposure that adds so much to the experience of being up there.
Speaking of timing, as we left the parking lot on our snowmobiles at 4:30 a.m., I felt like ours was off. Snow was falling and the visibility was low. Even when we parked the sleds at Maroon Lake at 5 a.m., it looked as if it would be a weather day. But as my luck would have it (I have had more than my share of good luck with the weather on this project) the snow stopped falling as we skinned past Crater Lake. By the time the team crossed Minnehaha Creek and began climbing up into the north bowl of North Maroon, the high clouds were gone, leaving epic blue skies above, fluffy, white clouds in the valley, and snow crystals dancing in the air. We could not see the face we wanted to ski until we were literally right under it, but when that view opened up, our jaws hit our ski tips. The face was blanketed in powder and the sun was out? this was going to be awesome! Nick and I broke trail up a couloir on the west side of the face. The snow was super-deep, but the base below was firm, allowing for easy steps with our crampons. As far as the avalanche danger was concerned, the new snow was so low density that it hardly weighed upon the snowpack, and had fallen without wind, so there were no slabs.
We worked our way around the northwest ridge and up, climbing on rocks when necessary. The shaded west side was cold and dark, but made for fun climbing. I moved back around to the north side above 13,000? and finished the climb to the summit on the northwest ridge.
My good friend and ski photographer Jonathan Selkowitz, from Jackson Hole, had joined us for the day and was positioned high on a ridge across the valley to shoot. Ben Galland, the director and principal cinematographer for my documentary film, was positioned on a bench to the north of the face with his big lens. Jon Hagman was rolling the video camera on slope, getting great climbing and skiing shots of Nick and I. And I had my Sony lipstick helmet camera capturing the point-of-view angle down the face. Nick, Jon, and I skied off the summit, fall line towards the first rock band, also known as the Punk Rock Band. We moved skier?s left to find our lines through. In typical nick Devore fashion, he decided on a good sized, two-stage air through the rock band, probably a ten footer to a twenty footer. I chose a five-foot drop to a 30-foot straight-line through a narrow choke. Jon down climbed a gully to get into position to film. With everyone ready I dropped in first, and came screaming out of my straight-line with tons of speed. The deep snow was perfect for controlling your speed, and I made big turns down the wide-open upper section of the face. Half way down I paused a few times to let my slough pass me by. Your slough is the loose snow that gets pushed down the face by your turns. It is a kind of avalanche, and you definitely do not want to get hit by your slough, especially when exposed to cliff bands or other objective hazards. At one point, as I waited for this snow to pass me, I looked back up the hill and got an incredible helmet cam shot of the massive slough pouring past me, a shot that should definitely make it in the movie. I finished what was one of my favorite runs on a fourteener so far, and prepared to watch Nick. He gave a ten second count on the radio and dropped in off his two cliffs. The fact that Nick has the presence of mind to find lines like this is amazing. He skis with so much confidence and control, that I definitely do not worry when he gets into technical terrain. The slough poured off the lower cliffs as Nick skied quickly through his line. Within two minutes he was at the bottom, out of breath from the effort and speechless from the stoke.
Because the snow was so good, we spent another hour shooting smaller lines on our way down to Minnehaha Creek. The terrain in this zone is amazing for skiing, and the backdrops are even better. As we skied out, the cold night had frozen the snow hard, and we skimmed right passed holes where others had fallen into the snowpack days earlier. Back at the snowmobiles, we all said our thanks for another safe day in the mountains. For me it was time to shift focus to the next objective, tonight?s approach to Capitol Peak. You already know what happened there!
Stay tuned for many more reports,
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