Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Date Posted:  07/23/2019
Date Climbed:   07/21/2019
Author:  RPMountaineer
 Raining Rocks on Maroon  

South Maroon Peak via the South Ridge.

Maybe the only 14er in the Elk Range where you can avoid snow at this point in the season.

I headed up Maroon Lake Trail Head around 6:00 pm on Saturday night and arrived at the lake around 6:35 pm as the final crowds of tourists for the day headed back down to their vehicles. There was only two other groups up there that I was aware of so it was nice an quiet at campsite #3. Once you get near the lake, you can begin to observe the massive avalanche devastation to the area that's wiped out thousands of trees and multiple hillsides. It's actually quite beautiful when you stop and look at the trees and realize how powerful nature is. The Forrest Service has done an excellent job with trail maintenance and has gone out of their way to clear the avalanche debris to maintain the original trail. Thank you Forrest Service and all who helped.

Once at the lake, I could see that Pyramid Peak, North Maroon, the Bell Cord Coulior, and sections of Maroon Peak were still holding large amounts of snow. I started to get nervous that approach shoes, micro spikes and an axe were the wrong choice, and I should have brought mountaineering boots and crampons.

I set up camp, cooked dinner a ways away, prepared my pack, and stuffed all of my food and smellables into my bear canister for the night. The Park Ranger said they haven't had many issues with the bears recently, but the canisters were still required. I found a good spot near campsite 3 to stash the canister in a scree field under some large boulders where the bears couldn't get to it and then looked at maps and pictures for a while, ensuring I was set for tomorrow before I went to bed.

The alarm went off at 3:30 am but I was already awake because I was really excited and couldn't sleep so I gathered my things, retrieved my food from my canister (which showed no signs of bear activity), and filtered some water for the day. A group of three climbers who had come up from the parking lot passed me as I was fighting my own bear canister for my food. I guess I won' t be the first one on the peak today. :(

(Disclaimer: I chose not to upload my route photos because I think the ones attached the the main route description on the website do a fantastic job of showing the route and its current conditions.)

Once I got all of my gear sorted out I started my approach to the South Ridge of Maroon Peak. The water is really high at Crater Lake and in the creeks feeding into it so it took a little bit of time bushwhacking through the trees and camp sites to find a higher, dryer trail around the rest of the lake. The dry trails around the lake do exist, you just need to take an extra second to find them (especially in the dark).

Once around the lake I kicked into high gear and blasted right up the trail where I ran into more avalanche debris that the Forrest service has done a great job with. There are a few sections where you actually walk on the trees, dirt, and remaining snow through the debris-I think it's worth taking a second to look at it as part of the experience but that's just me. I tried jumping up and down in several places to see if I could sink the the snow or find a hollow spot where the trees and debris made a hole that could be a danger, but I couldn't find anything. All of the avalanche debris is very stable and safe.

Once through the second round of debris, I reached the actual snow field that the creek runs through and a small game trail that headed up the hill to the right that loosely fit the route description given on the website. This was not the trail and I had to bushwhack and follow game trails uphill until I hit the actual trail. If you reach the snowfield before turning right uphill, you've gone too far.

As I found out on the way down, the turn off to start gaining elevation away from the main trail is obscure and easy to miss in the dark. When the trail turns from dirt to talus, keep walking until there is a washing machine sized boulder almost in the middle of the trail. Directly after this boulder take a right and start heading uphill. This trail is well defined and very nice up until it crosses a creek and a snowfield that spans about 40 feet across the trail. After the snow field, the trail still exists, but is difficult to follow so take your time and watch your step, this is where all of the loose rock starts.

It is possible to go around the snow field at this point if you need to, but I opted to stay "on-trail" and go over it. My micro-spikes and axe were more than adequate to handle the 40 foot section of snow and ice and I'm glad I had them. I would highly recommend not crossing this without crampons or spikes. A slip would send you at least 200 feet down the snow field, and then you would probably keep falling beyond that.

As soon as I stepped onto the snowfield I started to experience the first rockfall of the day, which came from the group of three climbers that I was about to catch. We had both seen each other about 15 minutes before, so I was very frustrated that they didn't call out their rockfall when I was well within shouting distance.

Once across the snow field I took off my spikes and placed my axe back on my pack and hustled up to the other party. They continued to kick rocks down on me, some of them coming very closed to hitting me. Once I reached them I told them politely that I was going to pass them so that I didn't get hit by a rock. I also reminded them that when in the mountain's, part of "being safe" means minimizing risk to others as well and that even if they didn't think anyone was below them they need to call out any rockfall. CALL YOUR ROCKS OUT PEOPLE!!!!!! SOMEONE'S LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!! Once I passed the other climbing party, I continued up the grassy and rocky slope, constantly losing and regaining the trail, if you can call it a trail. Eventually I topped out on a small ridge.

It was about 06:00 am and I reached one of the sub-ridges of maroon peak at around 12,100 ft. From here, there is a decent trail that follows the sub ridge up to the main ridge and the notch as described in the website description.

Once I was at the notch on top of the ridge, I ditched my trekking poles and went over the route description and pictures again. the technical terrain has officially begun and getting off route could have dangerous consequences. From the notch, go right and drop off the ridge slightly traversing under the top of the ridge for about 150-200 yards. There is a decent "trail" to follow that will bring you back to ridge proper and you will be able to view the rest of the route as pictured in Picture # 9 of the route description on the website.

From here, all of the pictures on the main route description from the website are very useful, and the purple arrows and lines are spot on. I highly recommend you download the 14ers app and save the route description and pictures for use when climbing. At each turn, or whenever I was uncertain of the route, I pulled up the route pictures and tried to compare rock formations and rock details to make sure I was going the right way. It took a little extra time to do this, but I stayed on the route the entire time thanks to taking an extra second to look at the route pictures and confirm that I was where I thought I was, and was going where I wanted to go.

I continued to climb until I made it to the "chimney" (Picture 11) and "notch" (Picture 12) section and made short work of that. The pictures make both of these moves look steeper and scarier than they actually are, however, that's not an invitation for less experienced people to climb Maroon Peak-a fall in either of these sections would be bad news. Once up and through the notch you can see the next section of the route with actually has a decent trail to follow. As in picture 13 on the website, the route goes directly over a snow patch that is currently larger than the one in the picture, however, there is another well defined route that takes you directly (and I mean directly) under the snow patch and back up the the trail.

Once around the snow patch, I kept following the route to the corner which gives you a look at the two gully's (picture 15). You can make it to the furthest left point of the lower purple line in picture 15 and then there is a large snow patch. To get around this, there is a convenient ledge right at the corner that allows you to step up about 6 feet above the snow and traverse above the snow all the way into the first gully. I recommend this route because getting on the snow would mean climbing rotten, steep AI-2 snow in a very exposed area.

Once around that snow patch, I could see both of the gully's and had to make a decision. I chose gully #1 because it wasn't holding snow, and it didn't have a huge cornice hanging over it like gully 2 did. The gully is filled with loose, steep rock so I hugged the right edge of the gully, and basically scrambled up the lower right side of the gully that had more secure rock than what was in the center. Eventually I had to traverse over about 8 feet of loose rock to make it to the other side of the gully and climb up and out of gully one so I could traverse over to gully 2. From gully two the traverse further let is also pretty straight forward all the way to the robot in picture 18.

After taking a small break at the robot, I pushed forward into the last large gully and made it to another notch where I exited up and left about 20 feet or so before the notch and traversed left on small ledge around the corner as pictured in picture 22. It was here that the route descriptions were difficult to follow and the pictures with almost impossible to match. There are Cairn's everywhere and all of them will take you to the summit. At this point, I climbed nearly straight up to the summit, veering a little to the left as I went. after about 20 minutes I summited, almost at 09:00 am on the dot.

The views from the top of Maroon peak were incredible. Even at 09:00 you could see that Crater Lake was beginning to get crowded, but I had the summit to myself. Peak #52 was complete and I now only have 6 left, one of which is Snowmass which I can see is still completely covered in snow. At this point, I don't believe there will be summer conditions on Snowmass at all this year- if you want it, you'll have to dawn ski or mountianeering boots.

I sat on top for a while with a good vantage point of North Maroon and the Traverse, contemplating if I wanted to try it solo or not. Conditions looked good on the traverse, but it had concerns about getting down North Maroon. I didn'd download maps and route descriptions for the N-Maroon descent and thought that it would have been a bold gamble to try to descend with only micro-spikes considering what the face looked like form camp. I also subconsciously made the decision not to go for it back when I gaianed the ridge and left my trekking poles behind. The traverse just wasn't going to happen this trip, and I was okay with that.

After a half hour I started to head back down. I made it all the way to the top of the first gully before I ran into the other party. I let them come up and out of the gully first, and then made my way down. Now that I knew the route, It didn't take quite as long to make it back to my poles at the top of the ridge. By now my feet were pretty sore (brand new Boulder X's) and I had reached the part of the hike where you tend to check out because "it's easier terrain." Make no mistake, the South Eastern side of Maroon is still very steep and a slip on loose rock could mean essentially mean an 800 ft fall/ violent bouncing roll down the mountain before stopping.

I made it about half way down before the heat started getting to me. It was really hot in aspen, and though I don't know the exact temperature, it felt like a solid 80 degrees in the beating sun. I couldn't wait to get to the bottom in the trees, shade, and creek would be nice and cool. On the way down, there were some sections that seemed familiar, and some sections that I knew I hadn't been on, though I knew I was on the trail, however, I was sure I was on the trail on the way up as well. Bottom line, There are several ways up and several ways down, just make sure to take your time and pay attention.

I I wandered into camp near the lake at 1:00 pm and by now the lake was packed with people. I iced my feet in the creek for a while, packed up camp, and headed back to the trucks. All in all a wonderful weekend spent in aspen.

 Comments or Questions
Good Info!
07/23/2019 11:30
I appreciate the detail and reference to the standard route photos. I'll certainly be starting out early to hopefully avoid climbing behind a rockfall party.

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