Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  08/18/2015
Modified:  08/22/2015
Date Climbed:   08/15/2015
Author:  Somewhat of a Prick
Additional Members:   falcon568
 Wild Times on the Maroon Bells Traverse   

Initially Chad and I were just going to go for North Maroon via the standard route, but a day or two before we headed up we decided to just get the traverse. This after I swore 4 weeks prior that I would NEVER repeat the Maroon Peak standard route..I must have a brain defect.

Before we camped for the night we drove up to the trailhead to check it out at dusk. I was taking a leak and we heard a bunch of branches snapping. Chad spotted a momma bear and a cub not 30ft from where I was relieving myself. Suffice to say, I quickly finished my business and bolted to the car.

Quick shot from around 1am:

Storms were predicted around 11, and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time on the traverse, so we were on the move at 1:30. From the TH to the turn off to Maroon Peak we saw several huge porcupines wandering around the trail. I had never seen one before, and tonight it seemed around every turn was a porcupine. Better than a bear I guess! At 3am we hit the trail split to head up Maroon Peak and the beloved 2800ft of suck.

It was slow going, but we hit the summit ridge at 5:30am, right when we wanted to. We planned on getting to the meat of the climb up Maroon at first light, so we were right on the money. Time splits after this point I've forgotten, other than the total time it took us to traverse.

Having done Maroon a few weeks prior helped with route finding up Maroon. When in doubt, stop and scan for cairns. It seems like a "choose your own adventure", with different cairns leading to different paths, but they all seem to follow the same general direction. We made relative short work of the route up Maroon Peak and before we knew it we were on a windless summit and getting ready for the traverse.

On the way up Maroon:

Summit shots from Maroon:

I had read the route description for the traverse several times, and studied the images and felt I had a relative handle on what to aim for. Chad and I both felt the first tower was the easiest, the 2nd spire was the 2nd hardest, and the 3rd and final spire was the most difficult. This changes depending on which way up you take and who you ask, but Chad and I both agreed on that.

The first tower, right after the bell cord ending, was fairly straight forward. Head for the dihedral! A few tricky moves and we were up on top of the first difficult wall and headed for Spire 1.

Shots headed up the first main difficult tower:

Spire 1 is a lot like Little Bear, it has a bunch of left over rope and webbing hanging off of it. I wouldn't trust it, that's for sure. Make sure to aim for the tower and scoot off around to the right hand side and you will see the best route up from there. Studying the route images in Bill's route description really helps know exactly what to aim for. The climbing up Spire 1, I felt, was more challenging than the first wall after the Bell Cord. It required more tricky moves and I felt it was more sustained. The first tower had a nice big ledge halfway up to take a breather on.

Headed towards Spire 1:

Chad headed towards Spire 1:

Shots going up Spire 1:

Once done with Spire 1 we set our sights on Spire 2, which we felt was the most difficult section of the traverse. Studying the route images ahead of time, we headed to the dihedral crack and quickly located this feature. It looked difficult, and it was. It required some patience finding good hand and foot holds. The rock on the whole traverse is bad, and ALL holds that might give you pause should be thoroughly tested before you trust your weight to it.

Headed towards Spire 2:

Climbing up Spire 2:

Mercifully, we made it to the top of Spire 2 and thought we were relatively home free to the summit of North Maroon. Thought.

Chad approaching the ensuing "Leap of Faith" section:

We followed the ridge proper, and some cairns, and came upon the "Leap of Faith" section of the route. The video says it all:

Note - There is another way through this section without going through the now damaged "Leap". I've heard and read from a few people than it can be bypassed by going down and around and back up this area. Anyone planning on doing the traverse and reading this report should study this area and know the bypass ahead of time. The Leap of Faith section should be avoided at all costs. The Leap is now slightly further than it used to be, and the foundation of all remaining rock in that area should be highly suspect and I'd be extremely weary trusting it with your life to support you. Again, avoid this!

The route up to the summit after all of the above craziness was fairly obvious to us. Again, check Bill's route description for the traverse and he has the way to the top clearly displayed in the images. Class 3 from here I thought. View from here:

I was extremely relieved to be on the summit of North Maroon after the incident we just experienced. We did the traverse in roughly an hour and 45 minutes for those interested.

Video mashup of highlights, and a lowlight, of some of the more difficult climbing you can expect on this route:

We met two climbers on the summit of North Maroon and descended with them. We were able to find the class 3 bypass of the chimney to avoid climbing back down that class 4 feature. The rock glacier further down definitely did stink though.

Summit shots:

obligatory shot


Accident details:

Chad and I met two climbers on top of North Maroon. They had come up the standard route. We ended up descending as a pack of four; Chad and I felt a little relief to have run into a couple climbers that had just done the route up. We had studied the route images and description for the descent, but even still it was nice to be with a couple people with first hand knowledge of the route.

We navigated around the Chimney using an alternate Class 3 route and the four of us successfully descended the meat of the climb and reached the top of the 2nd Green Gully. This is where things took a turn for the worse. Climber B stopped to take a rest and Climber A and Chad continued down the gully. I was waiting behind Climber B, also taking a breather. Climber B leaned on a rock that most certainly weighed more than a dishwasher to take a load off, and all of a sudden I could hear it start to move. This was an absolute accident, I don't feel Climber B did anything wrong. It's just the nature of the beast in the Bells. If he hadn't stopped to take a rest there I very may well have and done the same exact thing. It was a large rock, one you wouldn't see and say "hey that looks like it will cave". Myself and Climber B screamed "ROCK!!!" as loud and as quick as we could. The huge rock shot off down the gully as if it were launched out of a cannon. Chad barely got out of the way, close call #2 for him on the day. Climber A also had looked up and was attempting to get out of the way. He dodged the brunt of the force, but was clipped slightly and he lost his footing and fell several feet off a little ledge he had been near.

The three of us rushed to Climber A to assist him. Unfortunately he was badly hurt. It was fairly obvious that his wrist was broken, and he had a big laceration on his chin and was bleeding pretty badly from it. I immediately got out my first aid kits and we attempted to stop the bleeding from his chin with gauze, which did nothing. I keep a 2nd first aid kit filled with quick clotting materials due to a blood disorder that I have. I opened it up and took out my Quik Clot brand sponge and we used that for attempt number two. It worked really well. We wrapped it on his chin by wrapping gauze around his head to hold it in place.

A link to said sponge can be found here:

Chad had taken some first aid courses through his military training and took the lead on patching up Climber A as best as he could. He made him a sling for his wrist out of a long sleeve t-shirt and a mini roll of duct tape. Climber B and I were just funneling first aid supplies to Chad. Chad administered a concussion test on the injured climber, he had also dinged his head pretty good but thankfully had his helmet on. He passed the field concussion exam. The next issue we discovered was with his jaw. We tried to give him water from his hydration tube but he was unable to suck water out of it. Chad had a nalgene and we poured water in his mouth that way and he was able to get it down. We gave him some pain medication and wiped off a few more of the larger cuts that he had. He was in pretty rough shape, but thankfully his legs were fine, his spirits were high, and he was incredibly calm.

I offered Climber A to use my PLB to summon a helo evac for him. He declined, and as a group we felt that was the best decision as well. It was now after 10am, and storms were predicted to start rolling in within the next hour or two and we were high up on the mountain. Also, none of us had a true idea of the extent of his injuries and we felt his best chance at proper medical care the quickest was for a self-rescue. We came up with a plan that made the most sense, in our minds, for the situation.

As a group we decided to move to the entrance of the first Green Gully and then I was going to move ahead alone to have help waiting for him when Climber A got down. Climber A descended the green gullies very slowly and carefully. He had one trekking pole in his good arm and he was being closely assisted by Chad and Climber B. Once we got down towards the exit of the first Green Gully, I ran off ahead of the group. From this point on until contact is re-made with Climbers A&B, and Chad, it will be my perspective.

I made my way across the rock glacier, which was an exercise in frustration trying to move quickly yet trying to keep myself safe as well. Once through there I mercifully connected up with the dirt trail that leads to Crater Lake and from there I was running back to the car to head to the ranger station. Once down to the main parking lot, I hopped in my car and drove the five miles back to the ranger station to alert them of what happened. The ranger brought me in, called the Pitkin Sheriff, and they took all the information from me. Who was up there, descriptions, last known location, summary of injuries, etc. Once this was relayed, I was told to stay put for the sheriff officer that was headed up to meet with me.

At this point it started to rain, and all I could think about was what was happening up above me. I was hoping they were below tree line, and that Climber A had not had a setback. Climber A had given me his wife's phone number so I could try to alert her when I was down at the station. Somehow I had 1 bar of roaming (sprint) and the call went through. The first thing I said was that Climber A was ok, that he had been in an accident and was injured but was making his way down under his own power and he is with two strong guys assisting him. I also let her know that help was coming up for them.

The sheriff arrived and got more info from me and I followed him back up to the trailhead. There was a small group of rangers getting ready to head up and look for the injured party. I got out and decided to head back up there with him, there was no way I could just sit down at the trailhead. Me and one park ranger headed up and the others went to get an ATV to have staged. I was hoping so badly to see them around every corner and turn. If we got to the North Maroon turn off without running into them my heart was going to sink. After about 3/4 or a full mile, we saw them. Climber A had obviously had a long day, but was still under his own power. A testament to his physical and mental strength, it was really remarkable to see.

We got him down to the ATV the rangers had staged when the trail widened and they shuttled him down to the waiting ambulance at the TH. I texted his wife when I could to alert her that he was in good spirits and with EMS headed to the hospital.

Over this past week we all remained in contact and learned the extent of Climber A's injuries. They include a broken wrist, broken jaw, cracked rib, lacerated chin, and several other bumps, cuts, and bruises. He ended up having a couple different surgeries/operations over the past week and is in good spirits and already has a timeline for when he can return to exercising and getting back to his normal routine.

Comments or Questions
08/18/2015 22:10
What a "memorable" day. Glad you two finished safely. I’m thinking about hitting up South Maroon in a couple weeks, but will not even entertain the traverse now... Thanks a lot Chad!

Good Write Up
08/19/2015 08:43
Thanks for sharing Nick! Glad you and Chad made it out okay! If I ever find the time to do the traverse I will definitely use your trip report as a reference.

Are you crazy or something?
08/19/2015 15:11
Nice night time photo of the Milky Way.

oxygen footprint
My faith is broken
08/20/2015 14:15
Good you guys made it back safe. And thanks for breaking the leap of faith. Gives me another reason to stay away.

Well done..
08/22/2015 09:58
Accidents way around it. They are called accidents for a reason. You guys came prepared, were prepared,and did such a good job helping the injured climber. Too many people go into the mtns unprepared and not able to self rescue. Congrats. In the heat of a moment such as this, you take all available info and make a decision based on lots of things. IMO, you guys did it very well... sound judgement, good choices.

08/22/2015 10:22
Indeed, very well done! It took a lot of resilience for your group to correctly assess the situation and your capabilities and not to just give into calling for assistance. This is a rarity, especially in Colorado. You are all to be commended and are role models for others. We too often take for granted rescues and minimize their risks. I always remember the rescue helicopter accident on Mt. Huron that had tragic consequences.... all over a broken ankle. Again, congrats on a well–done self–evacuation and best wishes to the injured party for a full recovery.

Well done, Sir!
08/22/2015 12:30
In every respect. My admiration to all involved.

Mountain Maverick
08/22/2015 12:51
Nick this is an incredible story of team work and human resilience. The first time I attempted N. Maroon (2003), I made every mountaineering mistake one person can make in one attempt, on one day (catch me another time for the whole story). Suffice it to say, I was extremely lucky to live through my ordeal and I reflect back on it regularly, knowing that a deviation of one or more of the circumstances from that fateful day could have easily been lights out. A huge rock came out of nowhere that day in gully #2 for me and it missed me by a mere 10 feet. I’ll never forget the whizzing sound it was making as it fell before it hit the rock outcropping just below my location. To my knowledge there were no other climbers above me at that point, so not sure how it got dislodged (goat??) Moral is that mountain is long, steep, loose and very sketchy in many spots, especially after ascending Maroon and doing the traverse. I related with your rock glacier frustration, as in my incident, I fell and separated my left shoulder in that same terrain in a driving lighting/hail storm. Very tricky in there and props to climber A for having the toughness to make his way out. You could have easily been dealing with a shock situation considering the extent of his injuries. Wow, that is some story though and I am glad all are safe and he is recovering. That day would have been scary enough with just the infamous implosion of the leap of faith. Happy it worked out like it did.

Excellent write up
08/22/2015 14:19
Great write–up! We are going tomorrow morning. Sorry to hear Climber A was injured but glad he got care quickly enough and it wasn’t fatal

Great Backcountry 1st Aid
08/22/2015 21:17
A little first aid training and supplies go a long way. Nice work!

Proud of you guys
08/22/2015 22:01
for thinking clearly under pressure and coming up with a solid plan. Self rescue definitely seemed a prudent choice given the deteriorating weather. Your experience has left me with nothing but the serious thought that I may never set foot on either of those two peaks.

08/23/2015 08:23
The Bells were in a malevolent mood that day. Solid job in helping the injured climber.

08/23/2015 08:39
Close one! Great job as a team and awesome job to the injured climber. Hope that he’s feeling better little by little!

Great Report
08/23/2015 09:27
You never want to hear about climber injuries, but I am happy to hear your party was equipped to help out with the injury. Great work Chad! Also, those are awesome pictures from your climb!

Leap bypass?
08/23/2015 17:41
OK, Glad everybody made it, but where exactly is this bypass to Spire #2 now that you can’t jump from the top of it anymore?

Please don’t hate me for asking...
10/17/2015 10:33
Um, I’m new here – less than a month... Outstanding photos and an amazing evac (glad the injured climber is okay now)... but I just came back and watched the video. I’m not particularly scared of heights but I got so dizzy I thought I was going to fall out of my chair. Am I missing something or do people normally jump across things like the Leap of Faith that are made up of cracked and crumbled loose sandstone blocks with death drops on all sides? OMG!

And generally climb what looks like a giant jenga game unroped (not that I saw anything that looked like a safe belay or place for solid protection – not even a decent horn)?

If my wife sees this, I’m never going to be allowed out the door again. I’m a flatlander so please realize you’re dealing with someone loves the mountains but will always be a neophyte by comparison to you all.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.