Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  10/02/2018
Date Climbed:   09/22/2018
Author:  natebennett
Additional Members:   johntmv
 Maroon Traverse  

Up Maroon Peak's South Ridge, across to North Maroon Peak, and down North Maroon's Northeast Ridge

With the end of the summer 14er season rapidly approaching, I decided to join my friends Johnny (johnmtv) and Dane on a trip to the Maroon Bells. Weather looked optimal on Saturday, with sunny skies forecasted all day, so we left Boulder around 5:45pm on Friday to head down. After a quick Qdoba stop for dinner, we arrived at the overnight parking lot around 10pm. A friendly police officer driving around informed us that we couldn't sleep in our car overnight, so we decided to hop on the trail for a short distance with our hammocks to get a few hours of sleep. We found a great patch of aspen trees to set up in, and cozied up in our sleeping bags for the short night ahead.

The moon was bright, but the night stayed pretty warm and we were all able to drop asleep pretty quickly. The alarms went off around 2am for Johnny and Dane, because they decided they wanted to eat food in the morning instead of getting more sweet sleep. Rookies. I crawled out of my hammock close to 2:30 because I couldn't hear my watch alarm through my layers of jackets and my sleeping bag. Dane had to come wake me up.

After tossing our sleeping stuff back into the car, we set off on the trail. The moon was still out, but it quickly descended behind the Bells as we made our way up the basin by headlamp. Before we knew it, we had reached the turnoff to the south ridge of Maroon Peak, and the uphill started quickly. All I have to say about the "2800 feet of suck" is that I thought I was in shape, but the unrelenting steepness and length of this colossal behemoth of a slope is more than enough to humble any man or woman. We thought it would never end, and it seemed worse in the dark because the top of the ridge seemed to get no closer during the entire climb.

At long last, we reached the crest of the ridge and continued up it. Of course, the work didn't let up from there until we reached the notch in the ridge. There, we put on layers for the breezy winds coming over the ridge and ate some snacks. After the notch, the route got a lot more fun, with much more scrambling instead of hiking up steep screefields. This report won't focus too much on the ascent to Maroon Peak; there are so many fantastic trip reports out there already. In addition, I was so distracted by the thought of the trials of the traverse that I didn't remember a lot of it in detail. I will say that when one comes to the two parallel gullies, the first one seemed to be much more solid and fun compared to the looseness of the second one.

Looking back towards the south ridge and the notch as light begins to show

For whatever reason, we ended up slightly below the robot rock and had to climb a little higher to reach the ledge going past it, but it was easy to identify. That rock is iconic.

The unmistakable "robot," with Johnny in the lower right corner for scale

Once we reached the gulley between the summit and Point 13,753', we scrambled up to the ridge again to catch a glimpse of the imminent sunrise. You don't have to climb all the way up to the ridge here, as the route continues on a ledge below the ridge crest, but we decided it would be worth it.

Heading up the gulley between the summit and Point 13,753'. The trail continues off to the left, before the super steep terrain that can be seen to the right of Dane.
The optional view at the top of the gulley!
Looking towards Pyramid Peak, with the sun just about to peek out

Once we had enjoyed the sunrise, we backtracked a bit and then found the exit from the gulley and towards the summit. There was much more light now, so we turned off our headlamps and enjoyed the rest of the class 3 scrambling to the top of Maroon Peak.

Dane scrambling up from the gulley between the summit and Point 13,753'
Almost there!
Finally, the summit of Maroon Peak!

All three of us were pretty beat upon reaching this summit. We had pushed ourselves hard on the ascent, especially the 2800' of suck. We took a few minutes to relax, get some calories and water in us, and enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and the traverse ahead.

Looking towards Capitol (right) and Snowmass (left)
The slabby summit of Maroon Peak, looking toward North Maroon Peak

After a nice break, we decided to get on with our journey. As the route description points out, you can see almost the entire route over to North Maroon from this summit.

The traverse over to North Maroon

As we began to descend Maroon's north ridge towards its sister peak, most of the rocks were covered by a solid inch or so of snow and ice. This was not a good match for our approach shoes, and we moved very carefully down the slicker, steeper sections of the descent. I realize now that I failed to actually capture any pictures of this heinous snow, but probably because I was too focused on not slipping down the entire mountain. Once we got to the gulley on the west side of the ridge that takes you down to the top of the Bell Cord Couloir, the snow died down a bit and we (thankfully) started traveling across dry rock again.

Almost to the top of the Bell Cord couloir, where sunlight can be seen coming through

Dane coming around the corner from the gully on decent rock

Looking down from the top of the Bell Cord couloir

Now, it was time for the traverse to really start. The descent had been tedious, with the snow and ice greatly slowing down our speed, so we were happy to be back on dry rock and making upward progress to North Maroon.

Leaving the top of the Bell Cord, we scrambled a few feet up to a ledge, and then followed this ledge around the corner to the first trial of the traverse: the slanted 4th class dihedral.

Scrambling to the first ledge out of the low point in the Maroon - North Maroon connecting ridge.

This first trial seemed to us to be the easiest of the three main challenges of the traverse, by far. It really is just 4th class (if you go directly up the dihedral), a nice warmup for the rest of the climbing on the traverse. Johnny went up first, and decided to take an alternative path up to the left to avoid some loose rock in the dihedral itself. I decided to follow him up this alternative route, shown in the white dotted line below, because it looked fun, but the climbing is much easier if you just go directly up the dihedral. As described in the route beta on, there is a ledge at the top of this challenge where we waited for Dane to catch up to us.

The 4th class dihedral, "Trial #1" of the traverse
The red line is probably the easiest way up, while the white dotted line avoids some loose rock but is much steeper and probably low 5th class as opposed to 4th
Close-up of the top of the first challenge

A quick video of looking down the dihedral:

After topping out on the ledge, we made our way along the west side of the cliffs to find the path of least resistance to the ridge crest once more. Looking back on the descent from Maroon Peak here, you can see more of the snow that gave us so much trouble earlier. It doesn't look bad here, but downclimbing some of the short cliffs was much sketchier than it would have been if the rock was dry.

Looking back at the downclimb from Maroon Peak

From the ridge crest, we followed cairns along the west side of the ridge for a bit, then back up to the ridge and across the crest.

On the west side of the ridge

On the ridge itself, looking over to Maroon Lake

Pretty soon, the second major challenge of the route becomes quite obvious. Atop the towering section of steep cliffs, we could spot a small cairn that marked the top of "Trial #2." Upon first glance, it looks pretty gnarly. Same with the second glance and everything after that. This challenge is not for the faint-hearted, but if you have no problem with exposure and go nice and slow, testing everything, it is pretty awesome.

Checking out the second major challenge of the traverse

Once you can see the second challenge pictured above, your first job is to clamber up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the ledge just below the white band of rock. The terrain gradually steepens to this point, but once you are here, the route to the top is vertical.

Johnny scrambling up to the ledge below the white rock

Looking down on Dane climbing some steep class 4 rock

View from the ledge with Johnny beginning up. Once on top of the white rock, the rock becomes very much class 5, vertical climbing

Looking back on the route so far while I waited for Johnny to get to the top

Dane on the ledge

Looking up, right before it starts to get vertical

The steepest part of the challenge is definitely class 5 climbing. If you are comfortable with low class 5 moves or easy bouldering, it is totally doable, but go slow and take your time. It is a major no-fall zone with zero room for error, and the exposure is intense. We went one at a time on this part. The video below gives a sense for how steep the rock is, excuse my terrible filming:

Looking down, partway up the steepest part of the challenge

Here's a video of Dane climbing up the steepest part of the challenge:

Dane topping out!

Once above the second challenge of the traverse, we cruised along the ridge for a while until we reached the bottom of the third and final major challenge of the traverse, another cliff band with a few options for climbing up.

Happy to be done with 2/3 of the traverse's difficulties!

I failed to get a good picture of what the 3rd trial looks like, but the route description has good pictures of what to expect. I decided to check out the second option, where you hike a bit past the first part of the cliff and down slightly to reach the obvious bottom of a nice chimney feature (I say it's obvious because you can't go much farther than the bottom of this chimney without getting on some super steep terrain). I'm a chimney kind of guy, so this looked like good fun to me. It was indeed good fun! Another almost vertical, no-fall zone, but the chimney felt less exposed than the second challenge of the traverse since I had a wall on either side. Dane decided to follow me up this way, while Johnny decided to take a different way, not as far away from the ridge and more direct.

Looking down after starting up the chimney

At the top of the chimney, looking down on Dane about halfway up it

Dane almost to the top

If you choose to go the chimney option, you end up on a small ledge, and the remaining route to the top looks much more intimidating and exposed. I don't know if I just chose a bad route, but this final section felt like the crux of the entire traverse to me and I didn't see a more obvious route to the top. I'm guessing that looking around a bit more might reveal better options.

The final few moves on my variation required pulling yourself up and over a bulge of rock, as Dane can be seen doing in the pictures below. There is a thin dihedral/crack that I followed up, and I initially tried sliding through the dihedral to the top. However, my backpack didn't fit, and I had to extend my body out and over the bulge instead of moving through it. The second picture of Dane shows this move pretty well — I found it to be exposed and a little spooky. There aren't a lot of handholds or footholds here, but the ones you can reach at the top (where Dane's hands are) are pretty bombproof. Like I said, I'm guessing there is an easier way up past this point, since I haven't read a lot about this feature in other reports. Johnny's route was "harder than [he] expected," and he guesstimated that it was mid 5th class. I would definitely suggest exploring around here and really feeling out your options — it seemed like there are quite a few ways you could get up here.

Dane finishing out our version of the third challenge

Pulling the final move — spooky!

Once you are past this point, there is only one more notable section of exposed climbing, right after the "leap of faith" that has turned into a downclimb and upclimb out of a notch (I had to jump down into the notch, as I am short). Much to our dismay, Dane wanted to jump over the now-extended leap of faith. After doing it once, he wanted to do it again since I didn't film the first one. Classic. At least he has a bike helmet on.

Anyways, the exposed section after the "leap" is super short and pretty fun, but I decided to mention it because I hadn't read about it elsewhere.

Dane topping out the last exposed section, shortly after the last "Trial" of the traverse

Once you are past this, the route is generally class 3 up to the summit. The final pitch is a fun scramble up some solid rock formations up to a ridge, and then a short walk to the top of North Maroon.

Final pitch!

The summit of North Maroon was much warmer than that of Maroon Peak since the sun had risen much higher in the sky, so we took our time and enjoyed the views of the beautiful aspen-filled valley below us. We definitely did this hike at the right time. Just look at those colors!

Top of North Maroon, looking back into the valley at all of the photographers taking photos of us
Looking back at Maroon Peak!

The descent off North Maroon was a heck of a haul. The first part was slow-going due to even more snow and ice on the north slopes, which made the bits of class 3 and 4 climbing much harder and more slippery. We went super slow, but there was a substantial amount of ice coating everything that made it impossible to trust your feet.

First part of the descent
The snow strikes back

Almost out of the snow at last. Downclimbing the cliffs above Johnny's head, covered in snow, was one of the hardest parts of the entire day.

Once we were out of the snow, we were glad for drier rock but still had a long way to go. After dropping into the first gully, we accidentally exited into the second gully too early and ended up in some loose 4th class terrain that was a ton of work to get down. By the time we realized our mistake, it was easier to complete the off-route downclimb to the trail below than to backtrack and go all the way around. I was pretty exhausted by this point, but we all reminded each other to stay focused the whole way down.

After dropping into the first gully, looking back up at our (very approximate) descent line

Looking down the first gully, which we accidentally exited to the left too early

After regaining the trail, we slogged down and around the north face of North Maroon, across the infamous rock glacier, and back to a more moderate trail. We used the beauty of the fall colors around us to motivate us on our path.


Back to the trail in the valley, leading back to the trailhead at last

The closer we got to the trailhead, the more people we saw. By the time we got to Maroon Lake, we had probably seen a few hundred people between Maroon Lake and Crater Lake. Gone was the solitude and suffering of some of Colorado's most beautiful and rugged 14ers, but at this point I think we were just happy to relish the fall colors and the fact that we were almost back to the car.

Getting treated to some fall colors

We finally made it back to the car a little after 2pm. The snow and ice on both descents slowed us down considerably, as did getting off-route on the descent of North Maroon Peak. My slippers had never felt so good.

A few final tips that may be obvious but cannot be overstated: 1. Wear a helmet. You never need one until you need it, but this is some of the loosest rock in Colorado and it is simply not worth the risk of not wearing one. As Dane demonstrated, even a bike helmet is better than nothing! 2. Go slow and test everything. Take your time, especially on the way down, to not get off-route and stay focused. Even though the round trip distance is only 9-10 miles, the elevation gain and loss on this adventure destroyed me even more than the link-up of Missouri, Belford and Oxford I did earlier this summer, which also has considerable gain and loss and a longer distance.

Do your research, enjoy the experience, and be safe out there!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Great Stuff
10/02/2018 10:50
Super awesome report and a fun way to reflect on a great trip!

I hear ya ringing those Bells!
10/02/2018 11:32
Wow! Awesome job guys and fantastic report. I'm going to bookmark this one as I hope to do the Bells some day (just did Pyramid over Labor Day). That traverse looks scary. Nice job!!!


10/02/2018 23:36
hey good job

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