Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  06/18/2012
Modified:  06/20/2012
Date Climbed:   06/16/2012
Author:  dmccool
Additional Members:   RJansen77, Fisching, tmathews
 A Bell's Not a Bell 'til You Ring It  

"A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it"
-Oscar Hammerstein

Maroon Bells Traverse
Ascent Route: Standard Maroon Peak
Descent Route: Standard North Maroon Peak
Start Time: 1:55am
South Maroon Summit: 8:30am
Traverse Time: 2hrs 30min
North Maroon Summit: 11:30am
End Time: 4:30pm

Round Trip Mileage:
11.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,100 (approx)

Terry Mathews, Greg Fischer, Rob Jansen, and Dan McCool

(All photos by dmccool unless otherwise noted. Captions on top of photo.)

The plan to attempt the Maroon Bells dates back a few months. The original goal was to climb the Bell Cord and attempt the Traverse, but poor weather forecasts caused us to delay the trip and ultimately abandon the Cord. Instead, Terry, Rob, Greg, and I decided to attempt the Traverse from South to North via the standard ascent of Maroon Peak.

Worthy of Note: This was Terry’s 3rd time completing the Bells Traverse which is unreal. He was the official leader/guide for the trip and his knowledge proved invaluable.

We all met at the overnight parking lot Friday evening – moth balls and chicken wire in hand. Necessary or not, we didn’t hear or see any porcupines through the night. We set alarms for 1:00am with the goal of a 2:00am start.

For the sake of your time, I’ll start the report from about halfway through the “2,800 feet of suck” on the approach to Maroon Peak’s ridge. The majority of the report will focus on the specifics of the Traverse Route.

Once on the ridge, the real climbing begins. For the most part, the ascent to the summit of South Maroon is a mix of Class 2 and 3, but care must be taken to avoid sections of loose rock. No holds are guaranteed. Here are a few highlights of the approach to South Maroon:

Pyramid Peak and the sunrise
photo by tmathews

Terry and Rob approach Maroon Peak's saddle

Terry, Rob, and Greg at Maroon Peak saddle near 13,250ft

Thoughtful reflections of the mountaineers

Greg and Terry on the west side of Maroon Peak

Greg. Period.
photo by tmathews

Rob and Dan
photo by tmathews

Terry making a difficult move

View of some of the exposure on Maroon Peak
photo by tmathews

Dan and Greg approaching the summit
photo by tmathews

Group photo: Summit of South Maroon
photo by tmathews' camera timer

Partial view of the traverse to North Maroon

There are several necessary downclimbs as you descend to the Bell Cord saddle. Most can be kept at Class 3, but all are loose.

Initial descent off of South Maroon

Rob down-climbing a Class 4 section

Around the corner toward the Bell Cord Saddle

At the Bell Cord Saddle looking toward Pyramid

Once at the Bell Cord Saddle, the rest of the route is sustained Class 3 and 4 with some very critical and unavoidable Class 5 sections. The first crux is not long after the Saddle and is basically split into two separate sections. Here is a look at part one of the first crux:

Rob at the 1st Crux - Part 1 (low Class 5)

Looking down the 1st Crux - Part 1 (low Class 5)
photo by RJansen77

And part two:

On the ledge of the 1st Crux and heading up Part 2 (low Class 5)

Dan climbing 1st Crux - Part 2 (low Class 5)
photo by tmathews

After completing the first of the major difficulties, continue following some faint cairns along the way toward the top of a large spire.

Around the corner toward Spire 1

Greg looking up at Spire 1

Looking back toward South Maroon at the distance covered so far

Looking ahead at the route as you approach the top of the spire

Down-climbing Spire 1

The remaining route after Spire 1. Summit is hidden
photo by tmathews

Traverse a narrow ledge system as your come upon the 2nd major difficulty.

The second crux is the lengthiest of the Class 5 pitches and has some very serious exposure. A fall here would most definitely be fatal.

Looking up at the entire line of the 2nd Crux (low Class 5)

Terry climbing Crux 2. Greg is looking down from the top. (low Class 5)

Beyond crux 2, you approach the 3rd and final of the Class 5 sections. This portion of the route proved the most time consuming for us. According to the route description, there are two possibilities to ascend the 20 foot wall that seems “impassible on every side”.

Here was our dilemma: The left option (a dihedral crack) looked to be the best possibility, but seemed to have a couple very loose “bread-loaf-sized” rocks just waiting to fall on a would-be climber. The right-side option required a long stretch to reach the necessary holds (both hand-holds and foot-holds) and was not ideal for climbers of “dmccool and tmathews-like” stature. Even with the ability to make the stretch, the move was extremely committing and a fall here could possibly be fatal.

Terry approaching the 3rd Crux wall

Greg studying the "right-side" option
photo by RJansen77

We spent a solid 20 minutes discussing and debating over which route to take. Terry decided to head around to the east (right) side. There is a very narrow and severely exposed ledge that wraps around the common route of the 3rd Crux. Soon after, we heard Terry give the word that he found another possible route.

Dan on the narrow ledge with a fatal fall inches to the right
photo by RJansen77

Terry had ascended about a 15-18 foot dihedral that topped out above the 3rd Crux. Here is a look up at Terry from the base of the route we took (low-mid Class 5)
photo by RJansen77

Once above the 3rd Crux, feel free to breathe normally. There are significant exposed Class 3 and some 4th Class moves remaining, but the worst of the difficulties are over.

After Crux 3 with the remaining route ahead. Spire 2 can be seen at the far left of the photo

There is one last spire, but it can be circumvented to the right.

The group gathers to choose a line at Spire 2

As we headed around the spire, we encountered the only real snow of the day. Care must be taken here, but there are firm holds along the wall as you step over the soft snow.

Taking great care around Spire 2

Beyond the last spire, the remainder of the route is loose Class 3. Even though the major difficulties are over and the summit of North Maroon is in sight, take care here and finish the route.

Terry moving up the final gully

Terry making the last difficult move of the traverse

Summit in view!

A look back at the Traverse from North Maroon's summit

I know what you're thinking, and yes, that is an Edelrid Climbing Helmet - model 1987-88 - courtesy of the Salvation Army Thrift Store
photo by gregory_fischer

An elated RJansen
photo by RJansen77's camera

A relieved group summit photo
photo by tmathews

The descent was as advertised – steep and very loose. We got to the major difficulty of the descent – a Class 4 downclimb of a 10 foot chimney wall. Greg was able to downclimb it successfully, but based on the snow he found, the rest of us decided to head to the right and search for the Class 3 work-around. If you were to take the Class 4 downclimb and slip on the snow at its base, the resulting fall could be treacherous.

The Class 3 downclimb of the "Chimney"

The remainder of the descent was pretty demoralizing, but the views of the valley below and the sense of what we accomplished kept our spirits high.

Goat photo for my son Miles
photo by tmathews

Looking back at the steep, loose ledges of North Maroon
photo by RJansen77

Once we crossed the rock glacier and got back into the trees, we came upon what someone thought was the most technical portion of the route. They had tied about a 50 meter rope to a large tree in order to rappel an 8 foot class 2+ wall.

What not to do with a rope someone else placed. Rob giving full disapproval

It was great to finally get back to Maroon Lake. We were all very tired, but we knew that it was all worth it.

Closing thoughts
It’s strange how the mind works on a route like this. In the moment – faced with some of the most difficult and deadly climbing that I’ve done so far – I wasn’t really thinking about the dangers. That’s not to say we were careless or reckless; we most definitely were not. I just think that the “whole” of the mountain is greater than the sum of its parts. When taken one step or one section at a time (along with reliable, careful, and trustworthy partners) focus can be maintained and you can take the difficulties as they come.

On the other hand, once I was down, I was able to process this route as a whole. Through that lens, I have to say that it is a scary thing. The Class 2 and 3 sections of the route go away and all that’s left are the “a fall here would be fatal” sections. Those are the ones that stand out. I’ve been able to separate these two perspectives on every Class 4/5 section that I’ve done over the past couple years, but I can’t help but think about how not everyone comes away from these climbs unscathed.

Bottom line: This is real climbing at real elevation on a real mountain with real loose rocks. I am convinced we were successful not because of superior strength, experience, or skill – but because of preparation, rational thought, compatibility of group members, and legitimate fear. Much like “The House” in Vegas: We may have gotten to the top(s), but the mountain still wins. It always does.

"Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends."

- William Butler Yeats

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions

09/24/2012 15:44
I'm glad we had that rope for the down climb on North Maroon. We could have been in trouble without it.

To be fair, the rope looked ”newish.”


Sweet day
06/19/2012 00:07
I'm glad the weather held off. Thanks for the write-up and for having me along!

Brian C

crux #3 bypass
06/19/2012 00:20
Looks better than the way we went! Nice work! This is an awesome route on awesome peaks.


Half-assed try
06/19/2012 00:23
I don't understand why a summit photo of RJansen77 in a speedo isn't included? Guys? C'mon.


06/19/2012 00:39
Some serious bad asses right there. Wish I could have made it. Great photos and write up. When is the next traverse?


Simply super!
06/19/2012 01:22
Excellent report with super pics! And your closing thoughts are well-said! Congratulations all!


Congrats to Rob, Greg,
06/19/2012 01:34
and the guys on a fantastic climb and a killer TR. Knuckles are white and palms are sweaty don't know how you guys do it! Gonna find out soon enough!


Awesome Day
06/19/2012 02:24
This was a great day with a fantastic crew. Some serious exposure, loose rock, tough route finding, all the ingredients for a good adventure. Thanks again guys, and to Terry for leading the way!


06/19/2012 02:59 through episodes on!
Thanks Mr McCool & The Gang.

Good job sticking it out through the tough spots, and for working as a team. That's good to see!
Congrats Dan, you're almost a graduate!


06/19/2012 03:00
awesome trip report!! made me nervous just reading


Very cool guys
06/19/2012 03:02
I enjoyed the pictures. Kudos.

Kevin Baker

good work
06/19/2012 03:27
Very nice shots and description of the route, Dan! Taking the ridge head on is tough. I remember when I did it looking back at my pics and the terrain looked steeper than it is in person, but I actually found a workaround below the ridge on the left side going from S to N that was mostly 4th class. I must ask, do you have some camera tiltage going on in some of those S. Maroon shots? I don't remember anything that steep!


nice helmet!
06/19/2012 04:21
the closing paragraph was very well said Dan. nice job crew and great TR. looking forward to seeing your ugly heads soon.


Impressive route finding
06/19/2012 04:32
The trade off on that ridge seems to be ballsy exposure to gain easier climbing, there are just so many ways to go. You guys appear to have kept it at 4th class to 5.easy. Nice team work, this was a real masterpiece in route finding!


06/19/2012 04:39
Those are some gravity-defying rocks in photo 9 ”View of some of the exposure on Maroon Peak”. Seriously, that looks like a very cool route that I may have to do in the future. Congrats to all of you for the summits and the successful completion of a seriously serious route. Great job writing the trip report Dan. Photos were really nice too.


@ rickinco123
06/19/2012 04:42
With due respect to whatever your experience may be -- there was nothing ”easy” about the choices of routes we made. One wrong move and any of us would have fallen to his death. If anyone got the impression that this route was easy (even for me as my third time), then he is gravely mistaken. Not a single one of us would say that this was easy in the slightest.


5.easy is just an expression
06/19/2012 05:01
It covers maybe 5.0 - 5.2, for modern climbing there really is no difference, does not mean it was ”easy”. If you re-read my post I am paying you a huge compliment, I think you guys displayed excellent route finding skills on this trip and were willing face huge exposure to make your route go.

Craig Cook

06/19/2012 07:01

Thanks for letting me live this route vicariously through you all, as it is something I will never have the guts to attempt. Amazing trip report for what appears to be an amazing group of climbers.

I have a question though, directed at Terry I suppose. This was Terry's third traverse - so on that 3rd crux, where he found an alternate route once neither of the first two would work very well, which route did he take the first two times? And which route worked the best?


Great job guys!
06/19/2012 11:23
And excellent TR w/ photos Dan! And nice job Terry on #3!


Very well done gentlemen!
06/19/2012 13:08
You know, when I look over the Bells routes, I think...yeah, I can do that, no problem. But then I read this report and see the pics and I get a quiver in my liver and think, Holy Crap...maybe I dont want to! Great job guys!


06/19/2012 13:30
Satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.

I could have used some cowbell.

Sweet report Dan. When you decide to do 'er again, take me with! Like usual, fun report. Congrats to you and the rest of the crew!


@ rickinco123
09/24/2012 15:44
Not to really get involved here, but ”easy” would be a word I would refrain from associating in any way whatsoever with the Traverse. I get what you're saying, but I wouldn't want to give someone the wrong impression (especially knowing how many people come on this website at this time of year wondering if Bierstadt requires a Herculean effort to summit).

I loved this route and would definitely do it again in the future, but it's just as strenuous on the mind as on the body. The exposure can get to you, the loose rock can get to you, the lack of a defined route can get to you, and the class 5 portions can get to you.


RE: Amazing!
06/19/2012 14:30
I have a question though, directed at Terry I suppose. This was Terry's third traverse - so on that 3rd crux, where he found an alternate route once neither of the first two would work very well, which route did he take the first two times? And which route worked the best?

I honestly don't recall. There was a seriously exposed ledge to the left of the dihedral that Dan mentioned on the third crux area. It looked like we could have made our way around the crux that way and found easier climbing, but would have resulted in some seriously sweaty palms and butt clenching. Where Greg climbed while exploring options looked to have a bit of an overhang; while he may have been able to get up it, I know for sure that is not a move that I would have been comfortable making unprotected at that elevation and the amount of exposure below us -- which is why I went off and looked for an alternative.

The first time I did the traverse, I probably did it much in the fashion that Kevin Baker mentioned. We were much lower on the ridge on the west side. While loose, the difficulty probably never surpassed Class 4. To experience this traverse in all of its glory, I'd have to say it's better to try and stick to the top of the ridge -- but only if it's within your capabilities. This is not the kind of place where you want to try and show off how big your balls are. If you fall in some areas, after the initial impact there is a good chance that you will be falling for 1,000-1,500 feet before you even hit rock again. That is not hyperbole.

The second time I did the traverse, I do recall taking on the first two cruxes pretty much the same way we did it this time. Also -- finding your way down to the top of the Bell Cord from Maroon Peak's summit is time-consuming because all of the loose rock. In the first hour of the traverse, 40 minutes of it was spent getting to the top of the Bell Cord. The second crux I explicitly remember doing the same pitch the last time I did it. The third crux I don't recall the last time, but I do remember having to take my pack off and handing it up to my partners to squeeze through, so it probably wasn't as technical a move.


nice work!
04/02/2015 19:45
but I am with Surf - no summit shots in speedos. Very disappointing...Wait, this report is about mountain climbing.

Craig Cook

06/20/2012 05:23
Thanks for the response. I find this stuff fascinating, mainly because I doubt I'll ever have the skills to do it. You four all did an incredible job.


Simply Superb
06/20/2012 14:34
Great work all around, gentlemen.


Well done traversing.
06/21/2012 09:47
Glad you all made it through without issue. I traversed from N to S a few years ago in perfect conditions and still this these Mountains are the scariest I've ever climbed. Loose rock and big drops clearly make these ”The Deadly Bells”


Very nice!
06/21/2012 12:52
Way to get-r-done and very good documentation of the traverse. I believe we took that left line up the dihedral on the 3rd crux when we went for it. Bravo

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