After I went by the SickStickz World Headquarters last Friday to pick up next year’s prototypes and the new title of SickStickz Brand Ambassador, Tyler, Chris, and I made our way to Aspen for what I had dubbed my season’s Trophy Line.
Tyler had mentioned “Ringing the Bells” way back in September. After a series of events throughout the year, we ended up choosing to try to knock the two off our lists during Memorial Day weekend. (Un)fortunately, I ended up getting a job, and had to work Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend, and so we could only climb one of the Bells. I chose North Maroon for the gnar factor, and we hiked in after munching some Johnny McGuire’s and set up camp at 10,800 feet, just before the Minnehana creek crossing on the Buckskin Pass trail.
The full moon prevented any of us from getting any good sleep. When my alarm went off at 4AM, however, the moon had tucked itself behind the Bells from our camp, making for the second most beautiful sky I have ever woken up to (that night in Geiranger still holds the title). Words don’t give it justice, but it imagine the North Face of North Maroon carved into black marble with stars peeking through, perfectly framed by pine trees.
AT boots on, we crossed the creek and approached Miner’s Ski Jump, bootpacking all the way there on the still-frozen surface layer.
The sun came out and made us all start sweating within no time. The snow, however, remained stiff enough for boot packing, so we abandoned our skins and some other supplies, and began the true climb.
The first crux we reached was towards the beginning of the central couloir. It consisted of an ice patch, a rock step, and then knee deep sugar snow. One at a time we found our way through it, and continued upward.
The rest of the climb would prove to be either ankle-deep bootpacking or pure ice. The pure ice was my first real test with crampons and an ice ax: every step, every placement, every move has to be perfectly calculated or it could end in disaster. During climbs like these you wonder if you’ve practiced self arrests enough, or if you can really trust those one-centimeter-long points sticking out from your ski boots.
I led the climb for the most part, and I will never forget looking back each and every time to see Tyler, Chris, some rocks, and the very bottom of the mountain. It was as if we were climbing a perpetual cliff.
When we got to the Punk Rock Band, or the final lateral rock stratification before the summit, we had to do some tricky bouldering in crampons and with skis on our backs to make it up. The bouldering aspect was not difficult, but one glance to the left peered down the sheer vertical east face, which was enough to put a shiver in our spines. I did not get a photo, but it is included in the POV footage.
I had to stop almost every ten steps after the Punk Rock Band. It was not because of physical fatigue or because of the elevation, but because I had never experienced such a mentally taxing climb before. I cannot stress enough how important every step and ax swing was for nearly 1,800 vertical feet, and how your mind becomes so in focus that, afterwards, a simple 100 yard walk to the summit takes an eternity.
A few turns off the top, a downclimb past the Punk Rock Band, and the most exposed ski decent of our lives followed. Luckily, there were a few glances at ski tracks from a prior decent, which guided us to great places to ski (for a while, at least).
Not wanting to down climb what had been the first climbing crux, I found an exit point to the far skier’s right of the last rock band before Miner’s Ski Jump. The problem with it, however, was that it was only about three feet wide and had rocks jutting out of the entrance. The options were limited: down climb, or jump the rocks and hold on tight. Feeling adventurous, I jumped in, pointed it, and cut hard left, straight into an ice patch. I was able to self-arrest, which was good, because I almost turned Miner’s Ski Jump into the Jay and Miner’s Ski Jump (the POV footage tells the tale much better than I).
Tyler was able to ride down it, while my fall convinced Chris to walk down. A traverse hard left, and before we knew it, the hard parts were well behind us.
We crossed Minniehana creek, collected our camping gear, and transitioned into trail shoes. We walked out of Maroon Bells Wilderness with our heads a little higher than ever before.
On the way out, dozens of tourists were hiking up to take pictures near Crater Lake, and nearly every other one asked us if we actually used our skis. It was rather comical, and almost tempting to say “no, we just walk around with them to look cool,” but I held my tongue.
A pitcher at the Cantina one-upped the beer after skiing the Dead Dog as the best beer I have ever had. Tyler’s friend Kai had invited us over afterwards for dinner at his parents’ house, which was also delicious, and which all of us were still grateful for. Thanks again!