| Bells Traverse (South to North)
Ever since I got my first view of the Maroon Bells on a camping trip in the fall of 2007 I have wanted to climb these beautiful mountains. I knew at that point that I did not have the skills necessary for such a climb, but over the intervening years I have steadily progressed to the point where I believed I was ready. I got an invite to climb them last spring which fell through due to house stuff. I planned another trip for this spring which fell through due to a business trip to China. I began thinking that this climb was not meant to be, or perhaps the man upstairs knew I still wasn’t ready, even if I thought I was.
Finally the trip came to fruition on Aug 13, 2011. My friend Mike and I drove to Aspen from Denver after work on Friday, arriving at the trailhead at 9:15pm, after a stop at Noodles and Co. for some carbo loading. We packed into Crater Lake near the turn off for the Maroon-Snowmass trail (standard trail for North Maroon). We did not stay in one of the numbered campsites, but our three hour nap in the clearing by the lake abided by LNT. We awoke at 2:30am, ate, packed camp, stashed our camping stuff out of sight of tourists, and hit the trail toward Maroon Peak (“South Maroon”) around 3:15am. The trail around Crater Lake was easy to follow, especially in the full moon light, and we were quickly at the bent tree in Bill’s route description (thank you Bill!). We began our climb up the standard route east slopes and found the route finding to be more challenging than most other 14ers. However there is a faint trail, we referred to the route description frequently and kept our heads up constantly looking for any evidence of a trail and we made the summit ridge by sunrise (about 6:20am).
Mike on the summit ridge of Maroon Peak
On this slope it is tempting to aim for a very prominent notch in the ridge, however this is not the correct route. If in doubt plug the coordinates from the route description into your GPS.
Sunrise lighting the sky behind Capitol (R) and Snowmass (L)
Sunrise over Pyramid
From the summit ridge it took us about 1:45 to reach the summit of Maroon Peak, putting us on top right about 8:00am. The route finding from the ridge to the summit is not terribly difficult, although the trail seems to wind around the west face for a long time and it is tempting to want to just climb up to the ridge.
climbing on the way to Maroon Peak summit
Based on my personal experience I did not think the climbing was any more difficult than Long’s Peak keyhole route, although the route finding is not as easy and there are not 200 other people to point you in the right direction.
After a 15min rest on the summit of Maroon Peak we began our traverse to North Maroon.
The initial descent off of Maroon Peak is obvious, however about 15ft above the lowest point we down climbed some 4th class solid rock which put us at the top of the Bell Cord couloir. I am not sure if this is the “standard” way to down climb Maroon Peak, but it went. We continued to follow the route description for the traverse given on this site (thanks a ton Ben!), and in 1:30 we were standing on the summit of North Maroon at approximately 10:00am. The traverse had some very fun climbing on solid rock. We brought a 30m rope and a small alpine rack just in case (more for me, as Mike routinely free solos the Flatirons!), but never used it, nor did we feel the need to use climbing shoes.
mike climbing 2nd crux
me climbing 3rd crux (photo credit: mike)
mike jumping a gap along the ridge
summit of North Maroon with ridge traverse behind
As a point of reference I can comfortably lead 5.8 sport routes, so I have some experience but certainly am a novice when it comes to technical climbing. As mentioned in other TRs and threads there is a newer webbing sling with a rap ring at the top of the “3rd crux”.
During a well-deserved long rest on top of North Maroon we met “I Hike Like a Girl” and “MyFeetHurt” from 14ers.com, a few other climbers, and a guy who was relaxing after climbing North Maroon, and completing a N-S-N traverse. This was quite impressive in and of itself, however this guy was also BAREFOOT! Suddenly the achievement of my four year goal did not seem as impressive as I thought it was in my own head five minutes earlier!
The descent off of North Maroon was arduous to say the least. This was mostly due to the overwhelming desire to be done, but knowing that we still had 4800’ of steep down climbing. The route off of North Maroon is straight forward until you reach the top of the “2nd Gully” as named in the route description (which is actually the first gully when you are descending). There are cairns on the ridge of the rib dividing the “2nd Gully” from the “1st Gully” which is on the climbers left. We made our way to these thinking this was the cross over point, however the true route down climbs the “2nd Gully” on the climbers right and the cross over point is lower down and fairly well defined by a path cut into the grassy ledge as seen from above.
Looking back on "2nd Gully" on descent of North Maroon
With this small detour out of the way we proceeded to down quickly and finally got back to the car at 2:15pm.
Maroon Peak (L), North Maroon (R) (photo credit: mike)
We took turns sleeping and driving back to Denver with an obligatory stop at McDonalds in Glenwood Springs.
The completion of this goal is sweet in retrospect, but I found it interesting how discouraged I became on the descent of North Maroon only minutes after this achievement. Perhaps there is something wrong with me and my goals/motivations, or perhaps it is natural to have discouragement in pursuit of a goal. Special thanks to Bill and Ben for their route beta, without which I would not have even attempted such a climb. Thanks and praise to the Lord, who provided us the mountains to climb, and answered our prayers for good weather, safety, and enjoyment.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):