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Route #1) Maroon Peak - South Ridge  


  • Notice! (Summer/Fall 2014) Due to recent problems with black bears, the US Forest Service has officially closed off camping in the Crater Lake area and implemented other restrictions. Please read the following documents before hiking in from the Maroon Lake area: Maroon Area - Crater Lake Camping Closure and Maroon Area - Food Storage


Difficulty:  Class 3 
Exposure: More serious exposure that could result in serious injury or death if you fell. Moving past the area will require some scrambling or short technical moves.
Summit Elev.: 14,156 feet
Trailhead Elev.: 9,590 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
RT Length: 12.00 miles
Trailhead: Maroon Lake
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Author: BillMiddlebrook
Last Updated: 2/2014
 
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County Sheriff: Pitkin: 970-920-5300
National Forest:  White River
Wilderness Area:  Maroon Bells - Snowmass
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TH:  

Drive to Aspen and locate the start of to the Maroon Creek road at a roundabout just west of town. Measuring mileage from there, drive 3.2 miles where you'll pass a ranch - this is where the road is closed in winter. At 4.7 miles, reach the entrance station to the park. During summer, there are restrictions to general travel on the Maroon Creek road. The road is closed to cars during the day (people ride buses to reach the lake) unless you are an overnight hiker. Overnight hikers are allowed to proceed any time of the day. Continue to the end of the road at 9 miles. If you're hiking in for a high camp, there's an overnight parking area on the left. The Crater Lake trail starts near Maroon Lake.

Route:

Leave the Maroon Lake trailhead and walk west onto the trail near the lake - Photo #1. Pass the lake and take the trail indicated for Crater Lake to begin your hike into the forest. From the trailhead, hike approximately 1.75 miles to reach another signed trail junction. Turn left and continue on the West Maroon Creek trail. Walk south to reach Crater Lake from which you can see The Bells and West Maroon Creek to the southwest - Photo #2. Follow the solid trail along the right side of the lake and eventually into some trees where you may need to cross some small streams. Exit the trees near the south end of the lake and continue south through heavy ground cover. At 10,200’, ascend onto a talus field, down and across a small ditch/stream, and back into the bushes. After the ditch crossing, continue south for approx. 0.5 mile (Photo #3) to reach a cairned trail junction, near 10,400’ - Photo #4. Turn right, leave the creek trail and hike southwest up the Maroon Peak trail.

The next 2,800’ of the route ascends Maroon’s massive East Slope to reach the South Ridge. The slope gradually becomes more difficult but it’s not too difficult to follow the trail up the entire slope. Traverse for approx. 0.5 mile and when you reach 10,900’, the trail begins climbing west up the slope and along a large gully. Taken near 11,100’, Photo #5 shows the East Slope. Photo #6 is another view from Pyramid Peak. Near 11,600’, approach some rock outcroppings and small cliff bands. Route finding is key in this area to reduce unnecessary scrambling. Follow the trail as it swings left (southwest) and zigzags up along (and through) the rocks. At 12,000’, the "trail" turns right and continues west up steeper terrain. The remaining 1,200’ to the ridge gets gradually more difficult and loose. Stay on the trail and continue up on grass, scree, and dirt sections - Photo #7. Above 12,800’, the remaining climb to the ridge consists of loose rock and a broken trail - Photo #8. Carefully climb to reach a small saddle on the South Ridge, near 13,250’. Conquering the East Slope is a major achievement, but more technical terrain remains. If the weather is brewing or you have some very tired party members, the saddle is a good place for a decision on whether or not to proceed. Speedy climbers will take at least 1.5 hours to reach the summit from here. If you’re not one of those climbers, plan on 2 or more hours to reach the top - then there’s the descent.

The remaining route requires careful route finding and the description below may not be the only way to go. Take your time to study the terrain and look for the safest route possible. Taken from the saddle, Photo #9 shows the remaining route to the summit. It can be confusing and a photo from this area does not show all of the terrain. Study the ridge points and the major features to get a feel for the terrain along the left side of the ridge. In short, the route will take you north below the ridge for a bit, onto and around a ridge point, up and around the side of Point 13,753’, up a large gully, and up some complicated terrain before gaining the ridge just prior to the summit. Photo #10 is a closer look at the route. Leave the saddle and follow a cairned trail on the left (west) side of the ridge - the entire remaining route stays below the ridge crest. After over 0.1 mile, turn right to find a chimney between some rock towers - Photo #11. Climb the chimney, turn left, and climb up through a large crack - Photo #12. Now above 13,400’, continue for a bit to reach easier terrain where the next section of the route is visible - Photo #13. Photo #14 looks back on the route from this area. Cross an easier section and begin climbing again near a notch in the ridge to your right. Climb up to a large, white rock band, turn left, and follow cairns across rugged ledges. Continue across the ledges and around a corner to a point where you can see Point 13,753’ up ahead - Photo #15. The top of this point looks flat and the right face appears concaved. Continue around on ledges to reach ugly terrain before the side of Point 13,753’ - Photo #16.

Things get more serious here and some of the most difficult route finding is near. Study the terrain and look for cairns in the distance to avoid backtracking. As seen in Photo #16, there are two obvious gullies in this area and either one can be climbed - both may have cairns leading into them. Your goal is to climb about half way up either gully to reach cairned ledges before continuing left around the west side of Point 13,753’. Note: There is an alternative here and it may be cairned: before reaching the first gully, climb steeply up to the right and look for cairns that lead across to a point higher than half way up the first gully. If you choose to climb one of the gullies, both are plugged with loose rock and care must be taken during the ascent. Drop down a bit to reach the base of a gully and begin climbing. Both are steep and narrow near the bottom. Climb to about 13,550’ and take the time to locate cairns that lead to the left. If you climbed the first gully, climb onto and over a rock rib between the two gullies to reach the second. Whew. Photo #17 looks down the second gully from the exit point. Continue on ledges around the west side of Point 13,753’ and eventually round a corner to an area where you can see the next section of the route - Photo #18. Climb steep rock up to the right and then turn left on some ledges seen in Photo #18. The rock is dangerous here and a fall could be your last.

Round another corner for your first view of a large gully that separates the summit and Point 13,753’ - Photo #19. Drop into the gully, turn right, and begin climbing on dirt and loose rock. The terrain here is easier and safer than the twin gullies prior to Point 13,753’. Ascend the gully (Photo #20) all the way to the notch in the South Ridge. Photo #21 looks down from the notch. At the top, turn left to find ledges that provide an easy climb onto a rib - Photo #22. Round another corner to find more ledge terrain below the summit - Photo #23. Pass under some cliffs and zigzag up to the right of this face - cairns and faint trail segments may be helpful in this area. Climb to almost 13,900’ where the angle eases slightly. Photo #24 looks down from this area. Follow cairns to another corner ledge (Photo #25) and around to more rugged terrain - Photo #26 and Photo #27. Turn right and climb up to finally reach the ridge crest above 14,000’ - Photo #28. Scramble up the ridge on better rock to reach the summit - Photo #29. Photo #30 looks back down the ridge and Photo #31 is the initial view of North Maroon Peak.

Notes:   

This route holds some dangerous terrain and plenty of tedious route finding. Attempt the route only if you are in good shape, have ample time, and a favorable weather forecast. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.

 

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