The End of A Journey: Climbing North Maroon Peak and my 14er Finisher

Posted: July 13, 2013 in Uncategorized
“I met an old man dying on a train
No more destination, no more pain
Well, he said ‘one thing before I graduate,
Never let your fear decide your fate
I say you kill your hero’s and fly’
Awol Nation

me in 2003 on my first 14er adventure on the side of Longs Peak, totally unprepared!

On March 3rd, 2007, one of my best friends, Jason, and I decided to try and climb as far up Long’s Peak as possible.  A year before I had started hiking the mountains around Boulder, and we decided it was time to start playing above treeline.  We were so ridiculously unprepared for March conditions in the alpine it wasn’t even funny.  We made it just shy of Chasm Junction before we turned back, but I was hooked.

At the time, I was an angry kid (and I am perfectly fine with referring to myself as a kid at that time).  I had a huge chip on my shoulder, and spent the majority of my time in an industrial band, screaming into microphones and creating the angriest, most discordant music I could in hopes that I would someday be a rock star ala Skinny Puppy or Ministry.  I was doing this as a way of dealing with all the wrongs I felt life had tossed my way.  I was also ready to stop being so angry, and so miserable.  I wanted to wipe that chip off my shoulder.  I wanted to find a way to be happy.

I had never been super active until a couple of years before because of the asthma and other medical issues I had grown up with.  I had also struggled for years with depression and eating issues, and blamed most of my own issues on other people or my circumstances as a kid.  The music industry was full of people, many of whom were, and continue to be, good friends, who struggled with similar issues, but that world was also one that led to dealing with them in less than healthy ways; many of which I had happily joined in on.  I had also reached a point where I wanted nothing more than to let go of all of that.  As I stood on the side of that mountain with Jason, looking out at the snow capped mountains, I knew how I was going to do that.  This place, these mountains were going to be my salvation.  I was going to let go of the fear that I had let rule my life, I was going to move forward.  These mountains were going to be the path, the way to that goal.

me back in 2003 on my first foray on a 14er on the side of longs peak

me back in 2003 on my first foray on a 14er on the side of longs peak

I spent the next 10 years doing just that.  As time went by, I became more and more fit, discovered climbing, yoga, found myself in amazing places all over the Americas, found my greatest passion, Mountain Running, and most importantly found a sense of inner peace.  I also met so many incredible people, many who became great friends, some were friends for a time, and then went their own way, most I still see, all of whom I consider some of the most incredible people I have shared time with in my life.

Needless to say, I have been somewhat hesitant to complete my 14er list.  I had finished the last of the ‘ranked’ 14ers in the summer of 2011, and had let myself float on that for a while, knowing I had just one more to finish my list, and I was honestly somewhat comfortable with that.  It had, for so long, felt like I would be finishing the last page of an amazing book that had defined the person I had become.  But when Jesse and I spontaneously planned this trip up North Maroon, the last on my list, it didn’t feel that way.  I was excited.  In the 2 years since I had climbed a difficult 14er I had discovered ultra and mountain running, so I knew that this would actually just be the last part of a beautiful transition into a broader world.  I invited a couple of close friends I thought might be able to get a Wednesday off to drive to Aspen with only a days notice, and prepared my gear for the trip up to the high country.

The Climb

Jesse and I drove up to Aspen after work on Tuesday and met Phil, after some confusion, at the overnight parking lot.  I managed to get to sleep around 1045pm, and was ready, and was excited for the morning.

We woke up at 5am, and took a little longer getting rolling then we expected, and were on the trail by 6am.  To be honest, I was all right with this since we had a fantastic forecast and it meant that the Bells were lit up in Alpen Glow as we started off.

Looking over at the peaks on the approach

Looking over at the peaks on the approach

The hike in was beautiful.  It was warm, and there was light cloud cover from the humidity, which was causing me to sweat an enormous amount on the early part of the hike, which also meant I was blowing through my 3 liters of water more rapidly than I would have preferred, but the views were amazing.  Once we crossed Minnehaha Creek and were happy to find a new, and much nicer trail up to the Rock Glacier than was previously there a couple of years prior.  Gone was the hard to follow trail, and now it was a well-defined trail of rocks to the upper basin.

We followed the cairns across the rocks, and before we knew it were traversing around the mountain, making our way to the first gully.  We took a quick break to put on our helmets and headed up.

The first gully flew by, and I was starting to wander what all the hype was about.  When we made our way to the second, I knew immediately what it was about.  We paused to get some water and take some photos before starting up this long steep, and very obviously loose gully.

Jesse as we worked out way up to the ridge in the upper part of the second gully

Jesse as we worked out way up to the ridge in the upper part of the second gully

We worked out way to the base of the gully and followed the cairns as they we worked our way up the slope, careful not to send any of the millions of loose rocks down the slope below.  Up to this point we had not seen any other climbers, which we saw as a blessing.  There was plenty of scrambling to be had as we moved higher and higher up.  As we neared the top, we caught sight of a couple of climbers descending off the ridge. Some clouds were moving in, so we checked in with the climber and his guide, who let us know the clouds were not looking too bad up top, and as we climbed our way up to the ridge, we saw how right they were.  There were lots of clouds, but nothing threatening.  The forecast was definitely holding true!

The chimney was definitely spicy.  Up to that point I had done a great job centering myself and shaking off the nerves that had been building as we moved higher and higher on the steep climb up the second gully.  The reality was, I had not climbed in the high country in almost 2 years, and it was showing in my nerves and confidence in my skills that I knew I just had to dig deep and pull out.

Phil led the climb, and I went up second.  As I reached into the narrow chimney and found the holds I planned to use, I felt my heart rate shoot up, I found footing and pulled myself up, but when it came time to move my hand hold to the next hold I froze.  I lowered myself back down with some amount of vulgarity.  I took some deep breaths, told myself that this was nothing in comparison to what I could do.  I reminded myself that this was nothing to the difficulty of other mental challenges I had faced in races and other climbs.  I reached up, took a breath and climbed into the chimney.

Jesse and Phil looking at the route ahead

Jesse and Phil looking at the route ahead

That first move was by far the worst.  Once up on the first small ledge in the chimney, I felt my confidence re-emerge and the last two moves, the last of which was far more exposed than the first, were surprisingly easy and much more fun because I had let go of the mental baggage and fear.

Once we were all up, we looked above and could see climbers on the summit not far off.  Some rain and grapple fell on us as we worked our way along the ridge to the summit, but had stopped by the time we topped out.

I could not have been happier to be there, on top of that mountain, with two of my close friends, and we hung out for quite chatting, watching some climbers work their way across the traverse and being happy to be where we were before heading out.

The descent seemed to go by slowly as we carefully worked our way down the chimney, as well as the second gully.  I kept the fact that we were not really done climbing until we were done descending in the forefront of my mind, but also descending with a confidence I hadn’t had on the way up.

Phil climbing the chimney and me at the bottom - photo by Jesse Benn

Phil climbing the chimney and me at the bottom – photo by Jesse Benn

When we arrived at the far side of the Rock Glacier, we chilled out for a while, filtering some of the ice cold water and enjoying the beautiful day.  When we got to the far side of the creek, and back to runnable trail, I found myself picking up the pace, excited to be so close to the trailhead and to know I had completed the tangible goal I had set for myself 10 years before on the side of Longs Peak.

Moreover, I feel like my other goals I have come a long way on as well, due to these amazing mountains we all love so much.  Climbing, and running in the mountains has taught me that the world we live in is larger than any one of us.  When we are in the mountains, we are in a world that will continue on without regard to our existence, but that fact can, and will give us a strength that is hard to find anywhere else.  As we run, hike, or climb through the mountains, I have found that we are in charge of our own destiny; that knowledge can make us better, and happier people when we are in the larger world.  In addition, while we all have to be responsible for ourselves, and have to be accountable for our own actions and choices; we are all reliant on the people around us as well.  When we are in a world that will not stop for us, we must be willing to rely on the kindness of not just our friends, but also total strangers at times.  That reliance on each other as we pursue our individual goals, makes us all stronger, happier, and more complete people.

I want to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey.  You all know who you are!  Now I am inserting some more photos of the trip!  Enjoy!

Left to right: Phil, me and Jesse on the Summit

Left to right: Phil, me and Jesse on the Summit

me as we started up the ridge propper
me as we started up the ridge propper

Jesse topping out on the Chimney

Jesse topping out on the Chimney

Phil climbing the upper ridge

Phil climbing the upper ridge

Me maneuvering around a corner on he ridge - Photo by Jesse Benn

Me maneuvering around a corner on he ridge – Photo by Jesse Benn

Phil and Jesse traversing away from the bottom out the second gully on the descent

Phil and Jesse traversing away from the bottom out the second gully on the descent

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