South Maroon Peak Panorama
South Maroon Peak Panorama, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
My strategy of climbing Pyramid Peak once in daylight to learn the route, then again at night to shoot sunrise from the summit had worked out well despite the dicey weather. Now it was time to attempt the same feat on South Maroon Peak. After climbing Pyramid Peak twice in the previous twenty-four hours, I was hardly feeling rested when the alarm went off at 3 a.m. the following day. Despite my fatigue, I was heading toward South Maroon Peak just before 4 a.m. I had debated whether or not to bring the camera bag, which weighs about ten pounds with a body and three lenses, and decided against it. I wanted to move fast, learn the route, and get down with enough time left to recover before heading out again to climb the peak in the dark and shoot sunrise from the summit. At the last minute, however, I changed my mind and decided to bring the camera gear with me. What if I saw some mountain goats, or could grab a few frames of some climbers on the route? What if someone stole my gear as it lay unprotected in my tent?
I hiked fast up the West Maroon Creek trail for two miles, then turned up the route on South Maroon Peak. For 2,800 feet, the route climbs a steep dirt "trail" to a saddle on the south ridge. I labored upward for three hours. The camera stayed in its chest pack, apparently useless. I put the chest pack away inside my pack when the scrambling began, since wearing it on my chest pushed me out from the rock too far. No one else was on the summit when I finally arrived five hours after leaving my camp. Until then, I had not shot a single frame. I shot a few compositional studies in preparation for tomorrow's sunrise shoot, then headed down.
I was only 150 yards from the summit when I spotted two mountain goats heading up the south ridge. Trying to move fast, yet not spook the goats, I dug my camera out of my pack, attached the 70-200mm lens, and began shooting. The goats continued up to the summit, and I followed. I spent the next hour shooting the two goats on the summit of one of the most spectacular Fourteeners in the state. I was intensely grateful I had brought the full camera bag. Finally, as the clouds began thickening overhead, I started down for good.
I reached my campsite again at 2 p.m., spent two hours filtering water, cooking dinner, and eating it, then closed my eyes at 4 p.m. with the alarms set for 10 p.m. It had taken me 20 percent longer to climb Pyramid at night than it had to climb it in daylight, so I added the same 20 percent extra to my time on South Maroon and concluded it would probably take me six hours in the dark. By 11 p.m. I was rolling out of camp again on a clear but moonless night. A strong wind began battering me part way up the east flank of South Maroon, but it had eased by the time I reached the summit at 5 a.m. The climb had taken six hours and five minutes.
Soon clouds began lighting up over Pyramid, Cathedral, and Castle Peaks. I used a long lens to make images of ridges stacked up one behind another, then shot two sweeping, 180-degree panoramas as the sun came over the horizon, and finished up with several compositions of Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain. A dense band of layered clouds was approaching from the west as I headed down an hour and a half after sunrise. A rain shower rolled over me just before I reached my campsite. More ominous weather loomed over the horizon. I hiked out and pointed the truck toward Boulder, enduring torrential rain all the way from Georgetown to Evergreen. When I finally got home, I checked the point forecast for South Maroon Peak above 13,000 feet. It called for an 80 percent chance of rain both day and night for the next couple of days. I had squeezed in my trip right between two strong surges of the summer monsoon and completed the last two difficult Fourteeners. I had fifteen peaks left, all class 2 or easier. The end of my epic project, which had already consumed six years, was still a year away, but it was finally in sight.