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.
As you Leave the Maroon Bells parking lot, walk west along the tourist trail to a junction on your right that points you towards Crater lake. (Photo #1) Shows the route from the parking lot. Follow this trail for about 1.5 miles to another trail Junction. Take a left here and head down towards Crater Lake. Follow the trail as it heads next to the lake and along the right side of the valley. About a mile after the trail junction you will come to an intermittent stream crossing at 10,280 ft. At this point the walk is over and the climb begins. Looking up and to your right you will see your goal looming above you. (Photo #2) Shows the view up the couloir.
Climb scree or snow (it depends on how early/late in the season you are there) up steep slopes towards the base of the couloir. Early in the season it may be possible to climb directly to the couloir, but usually the easiest route involves traversing to Climbers right and then back to the left to avoid the cliffs of the "garbage chute." Climb more snow or scree to the base of the narrow couloir at 12,000 feet.
The couloir averages around 42 degrees for the majority of the climb, but there are a couple of sections that steepen to 45 degrees. The couloir narrows to around 15 feet and you start to sense the alpine climbing. From here it is nearly 1,800 feet to the top of the snow. There isn't much to say about the route to the saddle other than, keep on climbing! (Photo #3) shows the couloir part way up. (Photo #4) is a view looking back down the couloir. (Photo #5) Is the view just moments from the top.
As you top out on the couloir you find yourself at a tiny saddle around 13,800 feet (Photo #6) shows the saddle. From this point hang a left and go around the right (West) side of the ridge. (Photo #5) (Photo #7) Shows the first ledge you start on. At this point you have a couple of options.
Option 1: Follow the side of the ridge and cairns around on the right side of the ridge towards Maroon peak on some ledges that are shown in (Photo #7) (Photo #8) looks back on these ledges. From here you wind around a corner and climb the loose gully in (Photo #9) up to the ridge crest and take a right. (Photo #10) looks back on the gully from the ridge. The sooner you head climbers left out of the gully the more solid the rock will become.
Option 2: Go around the back side of the peak and start up the ledges from option 1 and climb up the 1st ledge. Take a hard left and climb the class 4 wall to the ridge crest. (Photo #14) Follow the ridge crest towards the summit and join Option 1 at the top of the gully.
From the top of the loose gully look for a cairn slightly to the right of the ridge crest and climb a small wall to another ledge (Photo #11) (Photo #12) shows this ledge looking back. Climb some ledges back up to the ridge crest and follow the ridge until you come to another cliffed section. (Photo #13) and (Photo #15) From here follow the ridge until you see a ledge on your right that will lead you around the next obstacle. You can go around it to the right or just stay on the ridge crest. The climbing from here doesn't exceed class 3 and you finish on the Southeast corner of the peak.(Photo #16). (Photo #17) shows the finish to the summit. (Photo #18) shows the final summit ridge. (Photo #19) looks back down the final summit ridge.
(Photo #20) taken from the summit looks over at North Maroon peak.
Ice axe and crampons are a must for this route. A helmet is reccomended. Unless you are very fast, a start around 2 am is probably a good idea. 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 Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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