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Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,163 feet
North Maroon Peak  -  14,022 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2022
Modified:  09/27/2022
Date Climbed:   09/03/2022
Author:  MonGoose
Additional Members:   semitrueskerm, Michael J
 Getting the Band Back Together (Bells Traverse)   

Mountains: South Maroon & North Maroon (via traverse)
Route: South Ridge Maroon Peak --> Bells Traverse to North Maroon Peak --> Northeast Ridge to Maroon Lake
RT Elevation: 4,850'
RT Distance: 9.5 Miles

The Crew

When it comes to the Elks Range, the go-to for information has always been Michael J, a man known for his kind-heartedness, generous hospitality, and love for the great traverses. According to 14er legend, Mike is an Aspen socialite who lives in a mansion in the shadow of Capitol Peak that is full of hidden passages, wine cellars, and even a passion room. I got to know Mike through the 14er happy hours, gatherings, and both of our finisher hikes. Years ago I had expressed interest in doing the Bells traverse and after many invitations, I figured it was finally time to take him up on his offer. You see, Mike has taken many great climbers across the traverse but at the ripe old age of 61, he wants to see if he can pull off his 4th Bells traverse.

Jim Schermerhorn (aka semitrueskerm) resides in the lowlands of New Mexico and makes regular trips to Colorado to climb our highest peaks. Jim is my former archnemesis from the 14er dance off but in recent years, we have settled our differences and focused on climbing together. We linked up in Aspen to join Mike for this epic adventure.


Maroon Lake to South Maroon (2:30 am Start)

After 4 hours of sleep, we arrived at the trailhead and started our journey.

The plaque next to Maroon Lake pays tribute to those who have lost their lives on the Bells.

The trail to South Maroon heads to Crater Lake, then joins the Four Pass backpacking loop for a while before the Maroon Peak turnoff. From there, the trail heads up South Maroon's east facing steep gullies in a section known as the 2,800' of Suck, which lives up to its name. At first light we were halfway up the Suck and in for a beautiful day.

Sunrise on the South Maroon trail, immersed in the "2,800' of Suck".
Spaceballs the meme.

Past the ridgeline and glad to be above the Suck.
Climbing the 2nd gully.
Mike topping out.
Looking down the final gully before the summit.
The final approach.
On the summit of South Maroon, 1/3 of the journey completed.
Looking across at our route to North Maroon.

The Bells Traverse

Peering at the summit of North Maroon Peak only 650 yards away is breathtaking. The sky was beautiful and we had a perfect weather forecast. This was my 3rd time standing on the summit of South Maroon but my first going across the traverse. I was ready to do this! The downclimb to the Bell Cord was actually a lot tougher than I expected, a section rarely mentioned in route descriptions because of the more technical terrain that follows. Take your time and be extra careful on this loose section of the traverse as it can be difficult to downclimb in a few spots.

Jim near the Bell Cord couloir.

After the downclimb to the Bell Cord, the lowest point of the traverse, it's time to start the ascent. This is the last chance to turn around because after this point, you're committed to North Maroon. The first crux is a Class 4 choose-your-own-adventure section that felt more like a warmup.

Mike heading into the first crux.
Looking ahead at four climbers on the second crux. (photo by Michael J.)
Jim navigates a section between the first and second crux, with Snowmass and Capitol Peak in the distance.
Looking back at South Maroon and how far we've come.
... and where we're headed.
Kristen Bell approves of this effort.

The second crux is where the Class 5 fun begins. Look for this pointed rock sticking out and climb on top. From there, climb up the crack and to the right to reach the top of this section. I enjoyed this part.

On top of the pointed rock. (photo by Michael J)
Near the top of the section (photo by Michael J)
Looking down the second crux.
Jim, taking it all in after the second crux.
Jim made this photo his Facebook profile, which I think is hilarious.

Next up is the third crux, definitely the most challenging part with a Pucker Factor of 10. We examined this area for a little while and decided the best route is the dihedral to the left. You have to climb down a little bit to get into it, so it makes for a longer climb but the dihedral offers good hand and foot holds on both sides.

Jim in the third crux going up the dihedral (photo by Michael J).
MonGoose climbing the third crux (photo by Michael J).

At the top of the dihedral, you have to do a short downclimb and traverse to the right to get out of the section. This part was scary but doable. After the third crux, it's Class 3 scrambling and route finding up to the summit of North Maroon.

Above the third crux.
"WTF! Haven't we had enough exposure today!?!?!" -Jim
A panorama of North Maroon, Pyramid Peak in the distance, and Mike tasting victory.
The last little scramble before North Maroon's summit.

North Maroon Peak (14,022')

We breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching North Maroon's summit. The climb was exhilierating and the Bells traverse had lived up to the hype!

We made it! On the summit of North Maroon Peak (photo by whoever I handed my phone to).

We also met some new friends on the summit, Dan and Shay (Dan's the quiet one).


Now we just had to get down North Maroon, which is no easy feat. There's been a number of incidents through the years where climbers successfully made it across the traverse only to get off route on the descent and find themselves in serious trouble.

Mike on the summit with Maroon Lake, our parked truck, and a million tourists in the background.
Climbing down from North Maroon - can you spot Mike in the photo?
Hanging out on the precipice (photo by Michael J).
Mike walking across the precipice, a special place for him.
Between the precipice and the loose gullies.
Looking down the nasty second gully.
Looking back up the 1st gully.
Crossing the rock glacier.
Back on solid ground, we took a minute to admire the peak and savor our journey.

Final Thoughts

What an amazing day! We had perfect weather and I couldn't pick better people to spend it with. The Bells traverse definitely lived up to the hype. I'm a casual rock climber who gets out 4 or 5 times a year for some top roping. I would say the third crux was definitely low Class 5 but what really made it difficult was doing it in trail runners while wearing a backpack. At times, our packs would get stuck and then throw some weight in a direction we weren't intending. While it's important to bring all of the essentials for a big day, it's also important to pack with a tight profile. Trekking poles can be invaluable on South Maroon's 2,800' of suck and going down North Maroon's two gullies, so find a way to tightly attach them to your pack where they're not sticking out. The rock in the Class 5 sections is more solid than the rest (which isn't saying much) but still has a lot of loose debris setting on the ledges. Mentally you know any fall in these sections would be fatal. The combination of these factors makes this an exhilarating and challenging climb, and a very long day.

Thank you Mike and Jim for this amazing adventure. I loved every second of it! Let's do it again sometime, maybe when you turn 62.

- MonGoose

“It seemed they had always been, and would always be, friends. Time could change much, but not that.” — Winnie the Pooh

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Exiled Michigander
Nice Work
9/23/2022 10:10pm
Great to see some names I haven't seen in a while get a couple summits in!

Michael J
See you later!
9/28/2022 11:10pm
That was my favorite quote from the trip! (Inside joke of course!) But seriously Mongoose, it was an exhilarating and exhausting day. Definitely one for the memory books. It was an honor to climb with 2 of my favorite friends from the 14er community.

Enjoyable Read...
9/30/2022 10:29am
I like your writing style! Looks a bit spicy for my tastes, no doubt an exciting day!

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