Mountain Rescue Aspen’s mission on North Maroon Peak provides data for awareness program
Three Mountain Rescue Aspen team members’ climb up North Maroon Peak last month provided a wealth of data that they hope to disseminate in an effort to prevent tragedies in the future.
And MRA team members plan to climb Snowmass Mountain on Thursday to glean whatever information they can about how a climber, who suffered critical injuries from a fall this past weekend, got into trouble. He was rescued by MRA personnel on Sunday and transported to the hospital with the help of DBS Helicopters.
“I like to have feet on the ground,” said Doug Paley, president of the MRA board. “I like to see it.”
Paley and others flew over the Snowmass Mountain area on Tuesday, taking photographs and using maps to see the possible routes up and down the 14,099-foot peak.
Paley said it was informative when he and fellow team members climbed North Maroon, a 14,014-foot peak in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area on Sept. 19. That 15-hour trip was primarily an effort to discover why people are hiking into trouble, following two deaths this summer and more rescue missions than in the past.
“We wanted to put ourselves in the shoes of the experienced climbers, as well as visitors,” Paley said.
The point of the climb was to establish names of certain areas on both North and South Maroon peaks for authorities, identify landing zones for rescue helicopters and personnel, and pinpoint locations where climbers may get into trouble.
“We saw something that really surprised us,” Paley said, noting a trail marked with cairns that could lead people astray into a dangerous area on the face of North Maroon Peak.
That route could have been the one that Lenny Joyner, 31, of New York City, took and fell to his death in July, along with two others who were rescued in the area after they were cliffed out on the face of North Maroon the same day that Joyner’s body was found, Paley said.
“Once you are committed, it’s hard to turn around,” he said, adding that particular area leads people to deep, loose rock. The trail marked with cairns is located just below what’s known as the second gully notch on North Maroon and may not be considered the easiest way down; there is another route near it.
It’s unknown whether Joyner or the two rescued took the trail leading to the face of North Maroon but it will be noted on the MRA’s website as a potential hazard, although the organization doesn’t recommend any routes.
“We were not investigating the deaths of this summer, we are trying to find out where people are getting into trouble,” said Jeff Edelson, operations director for MRA. “We set out to discover where accidents have historically occurred.”
Oftentimes hikers will place cairns at certain areas to mark a trail, thinking that it’s the route that should be taken but in reality it’s not. There are several routes that are marked on the area’s 14ers, and many options to take.
Paley said another area near the summit of North Maroon called “Chimney” is a location that requires technical climbing experience.
“The consequences could be significant,” he said.
It is there that Derek Kelley, 34, of Colorado Springs, grabbed onto unstable rock and fell to his death last month.
The MRA team photographed different areas of North Maroon on their fact-finding mission, and also documented routes and cairns. They plan to provide that information through printed material such as brochures that will lead people to MRA’s website.
The MRA plans to heighten its public information campaign with more documentation of the area’s 14ers so visitors, both experienced and novice, know the terrain better.
“This is part of our re-commitment to taking education to another level,” Edelson said. “We want [people] to be educated about where they are going, and not just looking at four pictures on the internet.”
The Maroon Bells, as well as other 14ers, have become more heavily traveled by people seeking to “tag” the peaks in a short amount of time, and the more information climbers can draw from the better.
The “Peak Awareness Program” is still in its infancy stage, and MRA plans to pursue partnerships with websites like 14ers.com. The idea is for people, perusing such sites for trip reports, advice on routes, weather and other information, to be able to see a link for MRA and gather more details about the Elk Mountains.
Paley and other MRA volunteers shared their images and on-the-ground research findings with Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, who said the information is key in charting the mountains and their various routes.
“I think it’s really important to put as much information out as we can about what [climbers] are really in for,” he said. “Even the safest route can turn into a nightmare. ... I’m glad they are doing this.”
MRA for the first time had a presence at the Saturday farmers’ market this past weekend, and in the future will have a booth hopefully every other week, Paley said.
Besides informing visitors to the booth about MRA as a nonprofit organization and volunteer arm of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, people were able to purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card.
By purchasing it, $2 of the $3 price for a one-year card, and $9 of the $12 price for a five-year card, goes into a fund that reimburses county sheriffs and search-and-rescue teams for expenses incurred in a mission, according to alpinerescueteam.org. The fund also helps to pay for equipment and training for Colorado’s search-and-rescue teams. The cards also are available in Aspen at multiple locations, including Ute Mountaineer, Carl’s Pharmacy and City Market.
MRA created a Google map that identifies particular areas of the Bells so when communicating with rescue personnel and authorities, everyone involved is on the same page.
“We want to apply common terminology on the mountains,” Paley said. “We can all start to speak the same language.”