The Sleeping Sexton is a forgotten 13er that is probably one of the most photographed mountains in the state of Colorado, although that’s only because it sits right next to its higher and prestigious neighbors The Maroon Bells. The Sexton is a series of gnarly looking towers north of the Bells, connected by Gunsight Pass. The true summit has only 440 feet of prominence, but that’s a lot more than North Maroon has!
The Sleeping Sexton (far right) and its popular 14er neighbors The Maroon Bells
Zoom of The Sleeping Sexton from Maroon Lake
The route on Sleeping Sexton is complex and involved, although it is a fairly short day if you nail the routefinding. There is very little beta on this prize of a summit online, especially since 14erworld is now defunct. I was able to secure a TR written by Craig Patterson a few years back, and it was a valuable resource. I will describe my adventure on the Sexton without giving away all its secrets!
I have had this peak on my short list of summer scrambles for a long time. Either the weather has been doubtful, plans fall through, or in the last case I was too tired after an 18 hour death march the day before! This time I felt great after an early finish of a repeat climb of North Maroon with some 14ers.com members. Today there is a 90% chance of rain after noon, but I hope to be off the high ridges well before noon. I shoot for a 4am start time, but forget to set the alarm! Luckily I’m off by 5:15, but that mistake may cost me the summit.
I head up the very familiar Crater Lake trail for the 4th time this year. It’s usually an in the dark warmup, but this time the sunrise photographers are already at the lake and there is no need for a headlamp. I have a fear of hiking solo in the dark anyway after being stalked by a mountain lion!
The standard route on Sleeping Sexton is accessed from the Maroon-Snowmass trail, which you catch at Crater Lake. I followed it to the prominent stream crossing at 11160’, which is above the trail split for N. Maroon. There’s a nice preview of the east ridge on the approach and you can also see the white gully just left of the east ridge, which is part of the route.
The steep east ridge and the prominent white gully visible left of the ridge. North Maroon on left.
The weather was behaving thus far and it looked like I would have a decent chance of getting down safely before the skies unleashed. After leaving the trail, I avoided some willows in a meadow as best I could and headed for a prominent gully. This low angle gully is north of the east ridge and avoids some of the bushes around the base of the east ridge. I climbed out of the gully and weaved through the bushes, finding the path of least resistance contouring southwest to the steep east ridge. I gained the ridge proper at around 11800’ and climbed some 3rd and 4th class sections until I reached a cairn that probably was placed to note the exit point into the white gully. I traversed left into the white gully at around 12200’, and climbed it to near the top where it hits the east ridge. The gully is loose, but not exposed.
Looking up the white gully from where I traversed into it.
Once on the ridge proper, you are faced with a couple cliff bands. I skirted the first one on the right and the second one on the left. The second cliff band is probably low 5th class and could be climbed directly, but I looked for the easiest lines since I was solo.
View from the top of the white gully
The route is actually decently cairned for being such a seldom climbed 13er. Once at the final notch below the northern “forehead” false summit, I traversed left and worked my way up benches and grassy ledges.
World class view of North Maroon!
Near the top, I was greeted by four mountain goats who were startled to see me up here! They probably haven’t seen a human in a couple years! Low clouds were swirling around the Bells and it made for a cool shot.
The guardians to the Sleeping Sexton!
Looking across the east face to the true summit.
I was beginning to worry if the weather was going to close before I figured out the route, but there was no vertical development going on with the clouds and no rain in the area.
Once on the forehead, I descended the ridge until a cliff band forced me right, and I followed that down until I could downclimb. I was able to follow cairns after climbing out of a notch, but ended up a bit too high. The only reasonable way to reach the summit of the Sexton without rope is via a secret ledge heading southeast across an improbable looking face on an impressive tower (the nose) that would be tough to find without any beta. I thought I had found it, and it looked very narrow and intimidating!
No, that isn't it!
It was only about a couple feet wide over probably at least 150 feet of air. I started across, rounded a corner and it dead ended. This isn’t it! I poked around for about 20 minutes, wasting precious time. The key to the route is to descend a gully, hugging the left side. Initially I looked over the ridge above this gully and thought there was no way there was a reasonable ledge cutting across this exposed face, but it was lower down! The cairn is not visible from above. I dropped down to 13180’ and found it when I rounded the corner. It looked very reasonable if you’re used to exposure and was dry.
The secret ledge, not as bad as it looks!
There were a few loose rocks to skirt around, but the footing was good and the ledge was level. Here is a short video taken from the move around a corner about halfway across on the return.
Once across the ledge, there is a 10 to 15 foot downclimb to get into the gully that leads up to the final notch.
A look back at the downclimb
I climbed nearly to the notch, then contoured below some cliffs on the northwest face to a wet, 3rd class chimney. I got out of the chimney early as it turned into low 5th class at the top.
Optional chimney to regain the ridge.
I found an easier 2nd class route on talus around this to climbers right on the descent. Clouds were now billowing on the east side of the peak, but they still seemed non-threatening. I finally topped out at 9:35, stoked to finally reach the summit of the Sexton! I hung around long enough to sign the register and took off.
The Bells obscured by the cloud show from the top of the Sleeping Sexton.
Time to get off the ridge! I was able to quickly reverse my tracks back to the northern summit as the route made a lot more sense now.
The impressive "nose" tower of Sleeping Sexton
The secret ledge on the return.
The easiest way down the Sexton is via the north ridge as the east ridge would be time consuming with more route finding and scrambling. I had spotted an inviting gully just south of Point 12886 that looked like it would drop me down quick. The north ridge is initially gentle, then steepens to some 3rd class ledges and loose junk. There is a steeper, narrower gully option just north of the far northern sub-summit, but it looked nasty and time consuming. I instead scrambled over another bump to the wide gully further north. This gully might be tough to get into early in the summer after a wet winter as there was a cornice still there that I was able to skirt around on scree.
Easy gully descent
The only rain of the day was a brief 10 minutes of sprinkles at 11am in the gully. This weekend was a classic example of why I usually give it a shot even with a suspect forecast in summer. Certainly you don’t want to plan a long ridge run with a forecast like this, but hitting your last summit by 10am really increases the odds for a safe and successful day.
The fairy trail back to Maroon Lake was busy, but not quite as busy as Sat! I arrived back at the truck at 12:45. I must say the Sleeping Sexton will go down as one of my favorite 13ers to date! It’s got its fair share of loose rock, routefinding challenges, and exposure, but it’s a worthy prize!
Parting shot of N Maroon and Sleeping Sexton from the trail.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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