Putting the ranger hat back on and trying to answer some of the questions I have seen pop up during the course of the thread...
Generally it is acceptable to split up large groups, our local full-time ranger has told us that the proper way for us to handle large groups on the trail is to ask part of the group to hang out while the other goes ahead. Technically you should not be taking breaks in "full group", but I think on the summits that would be okay, there are always lots of people on summits anyway. Within reason though, I don't think a group of 100 would be appropriate. Its more that large groups should not reconvene to take a break at a meadow or stream crossing along the way. I appreciate that the groups this weekend split up and only convened on the summit, thanks!
Someone else asked about 15 vs 25, the rule as it was explained to me is "25 heartbeats, 15 of which can be human", it means if you had 15 people and 10 dogs you would be okay, but 16 people and 9 dogs would not.
Another asked about accidentally joining groups, and if there are already 15 people on the summit do they have to wait for someone to leave. No, the rule is more about people traveling together in large groups, its meant to help keep a quality of solitude on the trail for other users who are out looking for a primitive wilderness experience. I would say that if you saw a large group off the side of the trail and wanted to take a breather, its probably better to go up the trail a little more first, but on a summit I don't think anyone would mind.
I also saw a question specifically asking about tour groups and Maroon Lake. Maroon Lake itself is not in the Wilderness Area, the boundary is on the far shoreline so people around the lake are not in the Wilderness. That was probably intentional because its hard to have a Wilderness experience that close to a paved parking lot.
In general the point of the rule is to try and keep the usage spread out on the trails and to give a sense of solitude and maintain a primitive character with minimal human intrusion. I have been on trails that have had over 100 people, but those 100 people were all strangers and all spread out in groups of 2-4 people throughout the entire length of the trail. Some may argue that running into 2-4 people every couple of minutes is less "solitude" than passing a single group of 20 once and having the trail to yourself the rest of the day. I can see that point, but aside from setting quotas on trails there is no way to keep the usage down. The group size limits is an attempt to try and at least keep the groups people encounter on the trail smaller in size.
We all go out into these mountains to enjoy ourselves and to enjoy the "freedom on the hills", following the rules and regulations and the suggestions of Leave No Trace might sometimes seem like a burden, but we do so in order to maintain these places and allow others to enjoy them. If wanting to spread the word on that makes me preachy, then so be it. I volunteer to help educate people about these special areas. On the trail I can only do that one group at a time, here I can reach out to a broader audience. Again I apologize for my timing and I didn't mean to call out this past weekends groups, congrats to Dave and Bill on your finishers, and congrats to the Gurlz on another successful trip.
"We want the unpopular challenge. We want to test our intellect!" - Snapcase
"You are not what you own" - Fugazi
"Life's a mountain not a beach" - Fortune Cookie I got at lunch the other day