Combo) Bells Traverse
Climbing mountains is dangerous! Please read the Mountaineering Safety Page and make sure you have a map+compass and can use them effectively. A GPS or cell phone can be very helpful with navigation but you should still be able to use a map+compass in case your device stops working.
(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
|Difficulty:|| Class 5 |
|Total Gain:||4,850 feet|
|RT Length:||9.5 miles|
|USGS Quad.:||Maroon Bells|
|County Sheriff:||Pitkin: 970-920-5300|
|National Forest:||White River|
|Wilderness Area:||Maroon Bells - Snowmass|
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.
Follow Maroon Peak Route #1 to the summit of South Maroon Peak. North Maroon Peak is less than half a mile to the north and the connecting ridge between South Maroon and North Maroon can be seen in its entirety - Photo #1 (in June) and Photo #2 (in July). From South Maroon's summit, head north along the summit ridge to the northeast corner of the peak and begin descending along the east (right) side of the ridge. Photo #3 shows the general route off the summit.
Roughly 30 feet below the summit the route cuts west (left) and descends through a series of small cliff bands (Class 3). There are several possible routes through these cliff bands, a few of which are cairned. The general route off South Maroon can be seen in Photo #4 (2 people can be seen on the summit for scale). After down climbing the small cliff bands, the route cuts left down a loose gully as seen in Photo #5. Photo #6 looks down this gully, sticking to the north (right) side of the gully lends to more solid rock. Once down the gully, the route turns north again and traverses a series of small ledges, followed by a short Class 3 down climb to the top of the Bell Cord couloir (the low point between South and North Maroon). Photo #7 shows these ledges, from this picture the top of the Bell Cord is just around the corner.
The top of the Bell Cord couloir marks the beginning of the real difficulties of the traverse. From here the terrain is mostly exposed Class 3 and 4 climbing with a few Class 5 moves required. From the top of the Bell Cord, the 1st of 3 major difficulties must be overcome: a series of cliff bands 40 feet in stature (Class 4). The best climb up the cliff bands can be reached by traversing slightly around to the west (left) and locating a dihedral/crack which climbs the first 20 feet of the cliff and tops out on a small ledge (Note: There was a cairn on top of this ledge in June 2008). From this ledge there are several good routes to the top, all of which entail another 20 feet of solid Class 4 climbing. There may be a few low Class 5 moves in this section. Photo #8 shows this dihedral section with a climber on the ledge, in Photo #9 the climber is on the ledge heading left towards the cairn and another 20 feet of climbing.
From the top of this cliff band the ridge flattens out and narrows to only a few feet, the exposure off either side is sizable. Scramble for a bit across this loose, exposed ridge up and over spire #1 (as seen in Photo #10) before coming to the 2nd of the 3 major difficulties: another 40 foot tall cliff band which bisects the ridge. This section has the most sustained exposure of the entire route, and a few low Class 5 moves may be necessary here. Once underneath the cliff band, traverse east (right) a bit and then climb straight up another dihedral/crack system for 30-40 feet to a small ledge, then continue on up the path of least resistance to the top. Photo #11 is the same as Photo #10 with the route line drawn in, Photo #12 looks down on a climber about halfway up the cliff band.
From the top of this section, scramble along another narrow section of ridge to the bottom of the 3rd and final difficulty of the traverse: a 15-20 foot cliff which seems impassable on either side. There are several options here, either traverse slightly around to the west (left) and climb directly to the top of the cliff (low to mid Class 5), or traverse further around west and find a line up a narrow dihedral/crack (low Class 5). Photo #13 shows both of these options and Photo #14 looks down on a climber halfway up option #2. Most climbing options slightly to the east (right) side of this obstacle are heavily exposed.
From the top of this 3rd cliff band, scramble north for a hundred feet or so up and over several small boulders/clefts bisecting the ridge. Stay on the ridge crest and head for 20 foot tall spire #2 (seen in Photo #15), then head either over this spire, or traverse east (right) around its base. Down climb another small cliff band and continue along the ridge, the final summit pitch is just ahead. Photo #16 shows the final pitch to the summit of North Maroon Peak. Traverse northwest and then cut east up a loose talus/rock slope. Head for a small, water-stained crack up a series of ledges. Reach the crack and climb a few broken ledges to the summit ridge (Class 3). Head east for 20-30 feet on a flat slope to the summit. Descend North Maroon's northeast ridge route (Class 4).
Photo #17 is looking northeast off the summit of North Maroon, Photo #18 looks back at South Maroon and the traverse. Photo #19 taken from South Maroon's summit shows the "3 major difficulties" in order, Photo #20 shows the route through difficulties 2 and 3. For landmark purposes, the last 2 photos have labeled spires which roughly mark the 1/3 and 2/3 completion points of the traverse.
The Maroon Bells Traverse can be done in either direction, the more popular direction is from South to North as depicted here. There are several places where dropping off the ridge to the west and traversing through horribly loose talus gullies can bipass a few of the major difficulties, however to attempt to describe anything other than the ridge proper route would be very difficult. The rock is loose, test every hold, push down on rocks rather than pull out on them. There are several routes up all 3 cliff bands, I have just depicted what I found to be the easiest and most solid lines. 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.
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