In this report I hope to outline the basics of our hike and share several of the things we learned along the way. I also hope to provide a plethora of pictures in helpful locations as well as video of critical points. The pictures were all taken by myself while the videos provided were taken by my brother David (LtWitte).
I will embed a few of the videos David took, but he actually has 20 from this hike. They are all on his YouTube channel and on a playlist I will link here: South Maroon YouTube Playlist
We awoke in our cold Explorer at 2:45am on the first alarm. It was a short and not well-slept night in the tight confines of the vehicle and with the anxieties of the hike to come. We made quick work of our pre-hike preparations and were on the trail from the Day-Hikers lot by 3:07am. Having been around the Bells a few times before it was easy with our headlamps to find the highway of a trail around Maroon Lake heading for the "Deadly Bells" sign. It was there that our experience quickly ran out. We started on the very obvious trail that heads left from the sign not noticing the other trail that is just slightly more hidden to the right or the sign 10 feet down the trail that points towards the Crater Lake trail. The loop trail looked great for the first quarter mile til we noticed it was turning a direction that didn't add up. I checked our track on the BCN app on my Bionic and noticed we were indeed on the wrong trail. It was not pleasing to think of having to backtrack to the start already so we considered trying to bushwhack to the real trail. We knew based on the GPS and having hike to Crater Lake before roughly where the trail should be. We were fortunate in finding an old connector trail, with some downed logs blocking it that looked like it may help. Indeed we followed it and it dropped us with very minimal bushwhacking onto the Crater Lake trail. Phew.
The rest of the ascent to the first junction at Crater Lake went uneventfully and we quickly made our way in the beautiful night time scenery onto the West Maroon trail. The hike to the South Maroon junction was straight-forward and very easy to follow. We started to get some light and shut headlamps down just as we arrived at the South Maroon trail junction. After spotting the very obvious, and famous, bent tree the junction was somewhat easy to spot. The initial hill, just 30 feet up the trail, was just slightly (read: incredibly moreso) steeper than we had thought based on the route description photo.
A look at the steep portion at the trail junction for South Maroon
A look down the steep portion at the trail junction for South Maroon
The beginning portion of Maroon's East slope went pretty much as the 14ers.com description said it. You ascend upward for a few hundred feet and then traverse on your last bit of level ground to the south for another few hundred to a gully. You ascend on the right side of the gully on steep trail until a clear point where you traverse and then ascend the left side of the gully.
A look at the crossover of the gully low on the east slope
It was here we began in earnest looking down every 50 feet or so to remember what it should look like for the descent. The ascent was steep and arduous but route-finding had been straight-forward. This was the case until about 12000. We hit this point and did not notice the trail winding subtely up through the first bit of cliffs and instead followed what looked like a clear trail to our left. We continued following what appeared to be good trail heading upwards and to the south for awhile. After about 25 minutes I noticed on my GPS we were off the standard route, and sure enough we could see the appearance of a trail to our north on the slope. We debated trying to traverse back over to it but decided that since we were still on good trail heading upwards we'd stick with it.
A look at our trail confusion around 12000ft.
Trying to get some perspective on the steepness (and great views!) of the East slope
Our "trail" continued its ascent ever veering to the left. We crossed over 2 ribs with each figuring it would start veering us back right to the main trail but they kept us going further left. Finally we hit what appeared to be the last rib on the southern portion of the massive slope and here the trail started to ascend the crest of the rib towards the south ridge of Maroon. We followed this rib crest upwards hoping for the best at the top. When it topped out on the ridge we found some very easy scrambling to take us over to the saddle where the main trail tops out. It turned out that this ascent route went quite well. We noticed the very steep terrain at the top of the main trail and decided we may well descend our alternate route as well.
A look up the rib we eventually climbed to the summit. Not as steep as other parts of the slope.
So. The south ridge of Maroon Peak. The view from here was just as gnarly as we'd seen it in photos.
Classic view from the south ridge
The views of Fravert Basin were also just as beautiful (and more) as photos seen.
I pulled up the 14ers.com route and double-checked our next few steps and we set out towards the first chimney climb.
A look up the chimney, it is steep, but not overly difficult to ascend and descend.
Sure enough this first element on the ridge came as expected and we made an easy ascent through it and then also the notch above it. So far, so good. We began here comparing our next "view" with the route photo and sure enough, it was spot on. We worked along the easy terrain and rounded a corner to more easy, ledgy terrain. With every corner we rounded we made sure to look back and make mental notes of what to look for on the descent.
This is a look back at the notch just above the chimney.
This image was also taken early on the ridge. I circled the snow patch here because it served as a great marker in terms of locating on the ridge.
When we arrived at the two gullies they too looked just as described. Based on trip reports we'd read we had already decided two hike the second (northern) gully. The presence of a tiny snowfield at its top (which is also in the route photos) solidified this decision as it would prove to be an easy marker to help us locate the top of the gully on ascent and descent. The traverse past the first gully was not hard and we soon found ourselves staring up at the somewhat narrow, very steep, and full of loose rock second gully.
A basic look at managing the 2nd gully. I circled a white boulder as a marker to insure we were on track
Here is a closer look at the path into the bottom of the 2nd gully and the white boulder marker
The rock in the first 20-30 feet of the gully was mostly basketball-size and loose. We did most of our climing through here hugging the solid rock on the sides of the gully and doing our best to stay off the loose-junk in the middle. We also had a group of 3 we knew were coming soon behind us and didn't want to be firing deadly projectiles down the gully.
A look up the steep loose rock in the 2nd gully
With slow and very careful work, even climbing up and out of the gully on the left for a short-while, we made it to just below the snow patch at the top of the gully and spotted the obvious ledge taking us around another corner.
The ledges between the 2nd Gully and the Large Gully. Most ledges on this route were like this one
This video gives you a look at the ledges past the 2nd Gully and heading over to the Large Gully
This soon led us to the bottom of the large gully. As we neared it there was a faint dirt trail that made it clear where to ascend this gully. For the most part the trail was clear enough to make small switchbacks and ascend this gully to the clear notch at the top.
A look up the large gully
From the bottom of the Large Gully. Turn left here on your descent or you cliff out!
When you are just below the notch you need to start looking at the steep rock to your left for the proper (and very narrow) ledge to gain the rib that gets you higher. Photo 22 in the 14ers.com route description would be a good one to have along at this point.
This video gives you a look at this area at the top of the large gully and below the notch.
It was after this that the route-finding became its hardest. We started to ascend the slope between 13800 and 13900 and it spit us out on the ridge top. It was difficult climbing in here and great care had to be taken not to dislodge rocks onto fellow climbers.
This video gives you an idea of what a lot of the climbing looks like above 13800.
On the ridge crest we knew following it to the summit was not the way to go as a large wall hindered this move. So we again traversed on ledges out and around another corner. This gave us more climbable terrain which we again carefully ascended to gain the summit ridge once more. This time it was a clear shot to the summit. It took us, slow and steady as we are, just under 2 ½ hours from the saddle to the summit.
A look from where we gained the ridge. Also indicative of the climbing of much of the last 200 ft.
An awe-inspiring look at the Traverse and North Maroon
Views just don't get much better than this.
Three flat-landers very pleased to be atop another fantastic summit. Sorry I'm such a homer with my 14ers.com gear
Getting the opposite view that most people usually get of the Bells.
Not surprisingly, the views from the top were breathtaking. What a harrowing look at the traverse and then North Maroon’s summit. Pyramid and her long ridge is also a sight to behold. We spent about 20 minutes on the summit and then began descending. It was fairly easy to find our spot to descend from the summit ridge (same spot as we ascended), but from there the route-finding is again quite a challenge. You can see how different our ascent/descent routes were of the last 200 feet. The main thing as you descend is you need to be traversing left as you go. The goal is to gain that thin ledge that drops you into the top of the large gulley. Once you’re in the large gulley on the descent the rest is *relatively* straight-forward.
We did a good job finding the cairns that lead you around the corners to each new element on the descent. Descending gully #2 took great care not to launch rocks down. If you did a good job looking back on your ascent, the descent through most of the ridge should look somewhat familiar. After getting back to the notch and then the chimney we were relieved to be past the primary difficulties on the south ridge.
We again decided to descend the east slope the same alternate way we ascended it. The slightly less steep terrain at the top sounded better for the aging and tired knees. This involved staying on the south ridge just a little longer past the normal descent route and finding the trail on a rib that heads out to the southeast from the ridge. We were able to descend the east slope almost entirely on the same trails we used coming up. As many people have previously noted, descending the east slope is a chore and mostly a nightmare. Its long, its arduous, its relentless, it just ain’t that much fun. Even the final downclimb just before the trail junction gave us trouble as a dislodged rock nearly caught my brother on the helmet. We were pleased though to have great climbing and great weather for this awesome hike. The 3.5 mile slog out went pretty fast as the sun tried to cook us. It is almost a little fun having your 2 minutes of celebrity as so many of the tourists on the Crater Lake Trail ask about the helmets and obvious climbing gear.
In my GPX track below you can see the southerly track we made up the east slope. You can also see how our paths varied in the final 300 feet below the summit. This was indicative of the challenge of route-finding up there. Most of the rest of our paths were pretty much on the standard route.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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