(Summer/Fall 2015) Due to recent problems with black bears, the US Forest Service requires bear canisters when camping in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. This order is in effect from July to December, 2015. More info...
Drive to Aspen and locate the start of to the Maroon Creek road at a roundabout just west of town. Measuring mileage from there, drive 3.2 miles where you'll pass a ranch - this is where the road is closed in winter. At 4.7 miles, reach the entrance station to the park. During summer, there are restrictions to general travel on the Maroon Creek road. The road is closed to cars during the day (people ride buses to reach the lake) unless you are an overnight hiker. Overnight hikers are allowed to proceed any time of the day. Continue to the end of the road at 9 miles. If you're hiking in for a high camp, there's an overnight parking area on the left. The Crater Lake trail starts near Maroon Lake.
Leave the Maroon Lake parking area and walk past the lake on the trail to Crater Lake - Photo #2. Follow the trail for approximately 1.75 miles to a signed trail junction. Turn right on the Maroon-Snowmass trail that heads west - Photo #3. On the new trail, hike just over 0.75 mile through the forest to another trail junction - Photo #4. This is the turn for North Maroon Peak - turn left and follow the smaller trail down to the creek in Minnehaha Gulch. Photo #5 shows the route on the other side of the creek.
Cross the stream (Photo #6) and walk through the bushes to reach a talus field - Photo #7. Follow a great trail up the talus, turn left and continue south under some cliff bands. From 11,200' to 11,400', ascend more talus (Photo #8 and Photo #9) and turn left into an open area - Photo #10. Follow the trail through a grassy area to reach the rock glacier below North Maroon's North Face - Photo #11.
Walk over and follow cairns and trail segments onto the rock glacier. Cross the rocks while aiming for a break in the cliffs on the other side - Photo #12. Keeping looking for cairns and you should not lose or gain much elevation as you cross. Continue to the point seen in the center of Photo #13 where you should find a cairn and a more-defined trail. Walk south around a corner and continue on the defined trail - Photo #14. After about 1/10 of a mile from the corner, turn right and climb 200' of steep terrain below some cliffs - Photo #15. Taken from this area, Photo #16 is a view of both Crater Lake and Maroon Lake. Above 11,900', and below some cliffs, turn left and hike to a corner where you get your first look at the next portion of the route - a broad gully that climbs west toward the northeast ridge - Photo #17. For the remainder of this route description, this gully will be referred to as the 1ST GULLY because there is another gully that is climbed higher on the route.
Photo #18 is a closer look at the gully, from the corner. Follow the trail south into the gully (Photo #19) and under some before turning right and climbing the left side of the gully - Photo #20. Your goal is to climb about 600' of elevation before exiting on the left side, below a towering rock formation, seen on the upper left of Photo #20. Much of this area is steep Class 2 hiking but as you climb, the terrain becomes more difficult and requires more route-finding through small rock bands. Taken near 12,400', Photo #21 shows the rock formation near the top of the gully. Photo #22 looks back down the gully. Well below the large rock formation, follow the trail left. Complete your exit of the gully by hiking to a point seen near the end of the arrow in Photo #23. Turn another corner (Photo #24) and traverse across ledges to reach the entrance to the 2nd GULLY near 12,600' - Photo #25.
Ok, things get a bit more serious beyond this point. This gully is steeper than the 1st and has plenty of loose rock near the top. If the weather is deteriorating, turn back! The remaining route is time consuming and is not a good place to be in foul weather. Follow the narrow trail (Photo #26) along ledges and cross the center of the gully to begin climbing steep, grassy terrain - Photo #27. Above 12,900', the gully gets steeper and there is more loose rock. Carefully follow the faint trail along the left side of the gully - Photo #28. In this photo, a hump of red rock is seen in the upper right - the route climbs to the left of that hump to reach the ridge crest.
Your goal is to climb to the ledges below the ridge crest, just left of a small notch in the ridge - Photo #29. Photo #30 looks down the gully and Photo #31 looks across to the northeast. Continue up steep terrain to reach the area of the notch - Photo #32. Turn left and carefully climb ledges below the ridge crest. There are several ways to gain the ridge and all of them require Class 3 climbing on ledges - Photo #33. Reach the ridge crest at approximately 13,200'.
Turn left to see part of the summit in the distance, but plenty of climbing and loose rock remains - Photo #34. Climb a short distance up the ridge and the crux of the route comes into view - a rock band at 13,600' - Photo #35 and Photo #36. There is a Class 3 way around the rock band by hiking over to the right and ascending easier terrain but most people climb the rocks directly, using a short, difficult Class 4 chimney near the tip of the arrow in Photo #36. Walk up to the pitch (Photo #37) and carefully begin climbing - Photo #38. At the top of the crux, turn right and follow easier terrain around some cliffs (Photo #39) before turning left to climb back to towards the ridge crest - Photo #40.
Climb onto a precipice where you can see the remaining 300' to the summit - Photo #41. Leave the precipice and climb along the left side of the ridge crest on loose rock - Photo #42. Pass through more ledges (Photo #43) and ascend the final 150' (Photo #44) of loose rock to reach the summit - Photo #45, Photo #46 and Photo #47. Taken from Pyramid Peak, Photo #48 shows the east side of North Maroon and a good view of the route between the 1st and 2nd gullies.
This route requires plenty of time and route-finding, so plan your climb when the forecast calls for good weather. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.