| Maroon Bells - Bell Cord and Traverse
About a year ago my friend Phil mentioned that he wanted to climb the Bells, since he grew up on the western slope looking at them from the West. I’ve climbed them several times before and am always looking for an excuse to go up there again, so I offered to take him up.
I asked him how he felt about the Bell Cord Couloir route, since it is a route I have not taken before, and it allows us to climb both peaks completing the traverse without having to ascend or descend the standard route on South Maroon (I just don’t like that route).
We started the hike to camp around 7:45 a.m. from the overnight parking lot at the Bells. We got an early start so that we could find a good camping spot and preview our route in the daylight, as well checking out some of the waterfalls.
We found a nice spot about 150 feet above the West Maroon Creek Trail below the Bell Cord Couloir. We were greeted to the half moon setting right above our targeted route.
Moon setting above the Bell Cord
Since Phil doesn’t have a ton of experience on crampons, we hiked up to the snow at a 40 degree angle and practiced self arresting, kicking steps, and proper technique. He did well and said he was ready to tackle the couloir the next day.
Our camp was surrounded by wildflowers, and great views all around. The only problem was it was quite rocky, which made sleeping a little uncomfortable, but not too bad…
We went to bed early (before 8:00 p.m.) to be well rested for the big day ahead. The alarms went off dark and early at 2:00 a.m. I made breakfast, organized a few things and we started hiking up about 3:00 a.m.
Breakfast at 2:00 a.m.
We hit snow after about 10 minutes of hiking and put on the crampons and pulled out the axes. Here is Phil making his way up the snowfield towards the couloir.
Phil climbing up the snow with his light trail
Here is Phil following me up as we near the actual couloir entrance. It looks like he is climbing out of the abyss…
Heading up to the couloir in the dark
Here I am making my way.
Myself climbing up
Here is an extended exposure shot of Phil coming up (15 seconds).
Phil climbing up with his light trail
Then we ran into the enormous “crevasse” that others had mentioned on this site. It really was about 10-15 feet deep and about 50-60 feet wide. We crawled in there to take a look. Is this Colorado or Alaska?
Inside the "crevasse"
Exploring the crevasse
We decided that we would keep a slow steady pace in the couloir to prevent ourselves from getting to tired before topping out. I felt great during the entire climb and Phil said he was doing great physically, but was getting drained mentally from constantly making sure every ax and crampon placement was secure. He was doing well and looked forward to topping out as we neared the ridge.
At about 6:15 (according to my watch) we watched the sunrise from high up in the couloir. It was really a magnificent sight!
Just before sunrise with Pyramid Peak
There were several runnels and hard icy spots that Phil was really taking his time with. It was no problem at all since I was able to take more pictures! The sunrise really lit up the couloir with an orange hue.
Phil climbing up at sunrise
We took a break a few hundred vertical feet from the top to put on sunblock and ate. After that there were a few more steep sections, but the snow had softened a bit, so I kicked steps as hard as I could the rest of the way up for Phil. He told me that it is way easier when there are big steps to walk in. No kidding…
We topped out on the couloir at 7:30 a.m. feeling great and ready to tackle Maroon Peak.
Phil reaching the top of the Bell Cord
From the top of the Bell Cord, we ditched the crampons, but kept the ice axes just in case. We climbed the crumbly ledges and zig-zagged our way to the summit at 8:10 a.m. Either I can stand sideways, or I placed the camera on an uneven rock when setting the timer.
Maroon Peak Summit
We left Maroon Peak’s summit at 8:45 and descended back to the top of the Bell Cord to get our crampons, strap them on our packs, and start the traverse to North Maroon Peak. We were greeted with the first class 4 obstacle to climb from the top of the Bell Cord.
Class 4 wall
We made our way past that then swung around over the ridge crest on the east side of the ridge. Phil making his way.
Phil coming around
We then came to another class 4 tower. This one was again pretty easy and made for a fun scramble to the top of it.
Fun tower to climb
On the ridge crest after that point became about 3 – 4 feet wide with major exposure on both sides for a little distance. I was really fun climbing across the crest for that section! Here is a shot of Phil showing some of the exposure about ½ way through the traverse.
We then came to the second difficult tower. Here we took out the rope and placed protection just to be safe. I lead this climb and found that this tower wasn’t very difficult (a few low 5th class moves) and I placed a Black Diamond #12 nut in one of the cracks about ½ way up.
Once up top, I set up the belay and Phil cleaned the route on his way up.
The next tower shortly after was more difficult. We figured the route we took was maybe 5.5-5.6, with a huge protruding rock blocking easy access. A 5.6 route wearing bulky mountain climbing boots and ice ax and crampons strapped to my back made it a little more interesting than it otherwise would have been on an average day rock climbing! Here I am leading the route up. I placed several pieces of protection on this route, a #6 and #12 nut. Phil belaying me up.
Myself leading the climb of tower 3
When I reached the top of the tower, I saw a sling with a rappel ring attached. I threw another sling around the rock and belayed Phil up as he cleaned the route again. Here I am at my belay spot. Now that is a great view from belay (Capitol is next to my left shoulder).
Me belaying Phil
There was one last “uncomfortable” section right after this tower. It was an easy 3 foot down climb to reach a ramp, but it was extremely exposed with loose rock and a narrow foot placement. Without exposure, you would never think twice about it, but we wanted to be absolutely safe, so we used the rappel ring on the sling to belay each other across. With the major difficulties of the traverse complete Phil takes a look back at the ridge and Maroon Peak with a sigh of relief.
Checking out what we climbed
Then we watched a mountain goat show us the route he takes when doing the traverse… Straight up the cliffs in 2 jumps and no need to check for loose rock.
Goat showing off his superior climbing skills
We climbed up some broken ledges as we were almost to North Maroon’s summit. Here is Phil scrambling up just below the summit.
Almost to the North Maroon Summit
We reached the top of North Maroon at 11:00 a.m. It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete the traverse from the summit of South Maroon to North Maroon. We met a group of 5 on top and talked with them for about an hour. They told us that they saw our head lamps half way up the Bell Cord when they started from the trailhead at 5 a.m.
There was a goat that hung around the summit with us as well and I’m pretty sure it was hoping we would drop some of our food. He just begged me to get a picture on the summit with Snowmass and Capitol, I agreed. What a poser!
Goat posing for us
We took our summit shot and headed down.
North Maroon Summit
It was a nice descent and we spoke with the group we met most of the way down. At the chimney, we decided to rappel it, since it is just so much fun! We let the others use the rope as they made their way down too. Here is Phil rappelling down.
Phil rappelling the chimney
The hike down the gully is never fun as there are tons of loose rocks to be careful not to knock down. To make things worse, it is filled with pricker weeds!
After passing yet another goat exiting the gully, it was a nice stroll to the rock glacier and we had a fun glissade down about 150 feet. Phil glissading.
I ran out of water about ½ mile from the stream, so I pulled out the water filter and filled up a Nalgene. We crossed the river via a snow bridge and hiked back to Crater Lake. Then we got back on the West Maroon Trail back tracking over a mile to get back to our camp, gather everything up, and hike out. We got to our car at 6:15, making it a 16 hour day.
We were tired, but still felt really good! During this climb, we did a snow filled couloir climb, rock climb, rappel, and a glissade. This was a big climb and one of the more enjoyable ones I’ve done in a while. The only part of the climb I didn’t enjoy was coming down the gully on North Maroon, but this was the 4th time I have descended that peak and it was absolutely worth it to be up on these mountains again.
I hope this report gives you good insights and information about the route and climb. Please let me know if you need any other beta or have any questions.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):