North Maroon Peak - 14,022 feet
North Maroon Peak - 14,022 feet
|3 Days in the Valley of Titans: North Maroon Peak
This Trip Report is one of three associated with our experience climbing Pyramid Peak, Maroon Peak, and North Maroon Peak over three consecutive days in September 2023. This TR focuses specifically on our climb of North Maroon Peak, though some information, including the introduction/conclusion, parking and camping logistics, and closing reference material are shared across all three TRs. I have also embedded links for the complimentary TRs within this report for easy cross reference.
For background as to why I've started documenting my 14er expeditions, see my 2022 Capitol Peak Trip Report. Thank you for reading.
My buddy and I successfully climbed Pyramid Peak, Maroon Peak, and North Maroon Peak over three consecutive days from 1 September to 3 September 2023. We climbed via the Standard Routes from the Maroon Lake TH (Pyramid Peak) or from our campsite at Crater Lake (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak). Furthermore, we did NOT do the Maroon Bell traverse but elected to ascend/descend both peaks individually. This was a huge weekend involving nearly 35 miles of hiking and over 12,000 vertical feet of climbing. We were blessed with amazing weather, supportive family, and friendly fellow climbers that made this trip truly special.
Each of these mountains represents a VERY serious climbing effort. All require excellent fitness, significant route-finding skills, and comfort on incredibly loose and exposed rock. Combining them into a single weekend compounded these factors and placed further emphasis on our pre-trip preparation. In addition to our experience base and fitness regimens, my partner and I studied countless 14er.com user Trip Reports for all three peaks, attempting to consume every trail nuance, route-finding tip, and climber lesson learned. More than a tricky set of moves or intense exposure, nothing disrupts my comfortability like being surprised on a climb. Please utilize those that have gone before; this website is an absolute treasure in helping prepare climbers for a successful day on these peaks.
I've linked what I found to be the most helpful Pyramid Peak, Maroon Peak, and North Maroon Peak user TRs and photos throughout my report below. This includes a number of photos from the "Photo Stash" tab on the respective peak Route Description pages, a welcome aspect for these mountains considering some of the other 14er web pages don't have any photos in their "Stashes.” I included all the raw links along with some other useful information at the end of the report.
But before even stepping foot on the trails for each of these amazing peaks, we had to overcome the daunting logistics associated with accessing this area of Colorado. For better or for worse, driving to the Maroon Lake TH and camping in the Maroon Bells Wilderness are both heavily regulated. Therefore, in addition to documenting our experience climbing, I delve into exhaustive detail managing all these logistics.
It’s a lot. It’s too much. To skip ahead to the climbing portions of this TR, just scroll down to the first photo below.
Reach out with questions. Thank you for reading.
To maximize our experience climbing Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells, our baseline plan was to park our car at the Maroon Lake TH and then pack in and camp at one of the Crater Lake designated campsites. This would allow us to have great access to the 14er climbing routes as well as provide a “home base” in between difficult summit bids without unnecessary hiking and/or driving each day. This approach, however, required significant logistical planning months in advance.
Our plan required two separate, pre-purchased reservations:
Please note: everything below is based on my experience in 2023. All are subject to change year over year. Also, I do have some...reservations (pun intended) about our approach for managing these logistics which I expand on a little later in this section.
MAROON LAKE TH PARKING
PARKING PASS RESERVATION SYSTEM
Visitors to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area cannot simply drive to the Maroon Lake TH and park; there are very strict access regulations in place during the summer and autumn months. From mid-May through October, no personal vehicles are allowed access up the road between 0800 and 1700 MT. All visitors during this time are required to take a shuttle which requires a pre-paid reservation (bikers, e-bikers, and pedestrians are excepted). The road is open outside of that time window, but in order to park a personal vehicle at the TH, a pre-purchased parking pass is required. There are multiple parking pass types, including day/evening parking, 24-hour parking, and the most coveted: a 60-hour parking pass. Parking passes cost $10, regardless of type (unless you have an “America the Beautiful Pass” or a “Maroon Bells Annual Pass,” in which case the parking fee is waived).
All Maroon Bells Scenic Area shuttle and parking reservations are made via the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) Maroon Bells Reservations web page. The ACRA Maroon Lake TH parking system has a rolling reservation release meaning parking/shuttle reservations for set blocks of dates are made available starting on a specific date and time months in advance. For example, for parking/shuttle reservations in the months of July and August 2023, the website reservation window opened on 1 April 2023 at 1000 MT.
With the goal to knock out both Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak in a single trip, the 60-hour parking pass was the obvious choice for us. But because my climbing partner and I both have busy lives including families with young children and variable work commitments, not to mention wanting to ensure a good weather opportunity, there was no way for us to predict the exact dates that would work for us months in advance when the parking reservations opened. That left us playing the game of selecting multiple date opportunities, all centered around weekends in August and September 2023, and then making several different parking reservations when the respective rolling reservation windows opened.
I have a few notable observations about the ACRA website and booking parking reservations. On both reservation release dates that we used, the web page started accepting reservations 5-10 minutes earlier than the advertised 1000 MT opening time. I was lucky enough to be actively monitoring and able to take advantage of this early release. But no doubt some unlucky users would have opened the website at exactly 1000 MT to find their desired parking dates were already booked. Once I selected the desired dates, the ACRA website was very efficient in progressing through my information and payment, though I did do a “practice run” beforehand on some available dates earlier in the summer and was therefore familiar with the interface. Because of this, I was able to knock out a handful of parking reservations in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, I did NOT receive a confirmation email or notification after I booked the reservation! The only indication that I was successful was a confirmation web page that had a “Printer Friendly” link. I left these confirmation pages open on new browser tabs until I had completed booking everything I wanted, then printed all the confirmation pages to PDFs and saved them to my computer. This is important because as far as I could tell, there was no way to access my reservations via the website after I made them. Either I missed something (maybe the email got stuck in my “Junk” folder?) or this is a serious deficiency in the ACRA website/booking system.
All 60-hour Maroon Lake TH parking passes for summer weekends were booked within 5 minutes of the respective reservation windows opening. All 60-hour Maroon Lake TH parking passes for the entire months of July, August, and September were booked within 24 hours of the respective reservation windows opening. There were a handful of day reservations (both 12-hour and 24-hour), mostly for weekdays, lingering for a few weeks.
In total, my partner and I made seven different 60-hour Maroon Lake TH parking reservations for various weekends in August and September 2023. Of course, we did not use all of these reservations. When our plans came together later in the summer, I offered most of my unused reservations to other users on 14ers.com. This is an easy transfer to do since each parking pass has a unique number (versus being tied to an individual's name or vehicle). I say “most” because in error I had printed the wrong reservation confirmation page on two of them (remember: I received no email confirmation and without an email, there was no way for me to access my previously made reservations). So, a couple of our reservations went unused… which sucks. Again, I believe there is a serious deficiency in the ACRA website in this regard; I would have happily cancelled or found a home for these passes but had no way of accessing them again. Hopefully whoever was up there those weekends noticed a single car less of people in the area.
In the end, as our dates for our climbing trip aligned, we were left with a 60-hour reservation starting 0600 MT on 2 September 2023 until 1800 MT on 4 September 2023. I also scored a 60-hour reservation starting at 0600 MT on 31 August 2023 from a fellow 14ers.com member that helped us start our weekend a day earlier which was extremely helpful to our personal commitments (and happened to make for a much better weather window as well). Thank you to user "brousseau" - this community rocks!
MAROON LAKE PARKING EXPERIENCE
With our Maroon Lake TH parking passes in hand, we arrived in Aspen via Independence Pass around 1900 MT on Thursday, 31 August 2023, and, after a quick pit stop for a half hour in the Aspen Rec Center parking lot to get our gear organized, we ventured further up the Maroon Creek road. We by-passed the cones surrounding the unmanned welcome station and after ogling the gigantic profiles of Pyramid Peak and the Bells from the road in the dark, we pulled into the Overnight Lot at the Maroon Lake TH without issue. We taped both parking permits to the windshield (we had two separate 60-hour passes - see above) and quietly retreated to our sleeping bags for a restless few hours of sleep. I believe sleeping in a vehicle in the Maroon Lake TH Overnight Lot is technically not allowed and have read stories of Rangers tapping on windows of vehicles during the night. But no one bothered us. We also heard some other, less-quiet parties attempting to do the same thing while bedding down.
Following our successful Pyramid Peak summit bid the subsequent day (Friday, 1 September 2023), we returned to our vehicle to get our backcountry gear. We had no issues with accessing the vehicle again and we did not see any authority inspecting parking pass permits for the hour or so we were at the car. I also noticed a few cars in the Overnight Lot that did NOT have a parking pass on their dashboards. Those same cars were there upon our return two days later with no obvious violation as far as I could tell. I know for folks with half-day or full day parking permits, displaying the permits on their vehicle dashboard is not required, but those cars are supposed to park in the adjacent Day Use Lot versus the Overnight Lot.
All to say, for the few cumulative hours we were in the Maroon Lake TH parking lots across our trip, I saw no one policing permits nor any sort of obvious consequence for vehicles not displaying a parking pass. As far as I can tell, I’m not sure what is stopping someone without any permit from accessing and parking at the TH in either lot, assuming they arrive outside the restricted hours. The only other observation I have is that both the Day Use and Overnight Lots were very full when we exited Sunday. I suppose it wouldn’t take much if both lots are over-prescribed for a Ranger to ascertain that someone is there who shouldn’t be.
CRATER LAKE OVERNIGHT PERMIT
OVERNIGHT PERMIT RESERVATION SYSTEM
New for 2023 is a required overnight permit associated with various backcountry areas in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness, including the 11 designated campsites surrounding Crater Lake. Reservations for “Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Overnight Permits” can be made at Recreation.gov, which I have used frequently in the past to secure other Colorado campsites. On the permit web page includes useful information and maps, including this one which shows all the Maroon Bells-Snowmass permitted zones as well as this one which outlines the specific Crater Lake campsites. Similar to the Maroon Lake TH parking pass, the overnight permits were released on a rolling basis. For our targeted weekends in August and September 2023, the reservation system opened on 15 June 2023 at 0800 MT. There are some additional restrictions associated with these permits worth noting:
As was the case when we booked our Maroon Lake TH parking passes, at the time when the Crater Lake campsite permits became available, we did not know our exact climbing dates and were attempting to maximize our flexibility. Our plan was to reserve the maximum allowable number of reservations each (two) for four separate weekend dates in August and September 2023. So on the morning of 15 June 2023, the day the overnight permit reservations opened for August and September 2023, my buddy and I were situated in front of our respective laptops and ready with the F5 key as if we were buying concert tickets. As advertised, the dates became available for reserving at 0800 MT sharp. The Recreation.gov reservation system is a little confusing, including some intense selection and scrolling to find the right permit zone, desired campsite, and dates. And there are a lot of seemingly unnecessary inputs (livestock Y/N, entry/exits points, alternate permit holders, etc.) to complete the reservation, but having done a practice run, we were both familiar with the necessary information and made quick work of booking everything successfully.
All Crater Lake overnight permits for weekends in August and September 2023 were booked within 30 minutes of the reservation window opening.
Contrary to the ACRA webpage for Maroon Lake TH parking permits, we received reservation confirmation emails following our successful bid for sites. Additionally, I could log into my Recreation.gov account at any time and access my permits. Once our climbing dates solidified, we both cancelled our unused permit reservations. It is difficult to "unofficially" transfer the reservations to someone else (such as a fellow 14ers.com user) like you can with the parking passes because it clearly states on the overnight permit reservation that the personal identification of the individual occupying the campsite needs to match the name on the permit. And you can't change or add permit holders without cancelling and re-booking the reservation.
One additional comment on the Crater Lake Overnight Permit reservation system: in the confirmation email there is a link to “print a parking pass" for the Maroon Lake TH. This is NOT a free or included Maroon Lake TH parking pass but instead just a link to the ACRA webpage for the specific dates of the overnight permit, which in our case were all completely sold out since the parking reservation system opened 6 weeks previously. So don’t depend on the overnight permit to provide you a Maroon Lake TH parking pass – you will need to book those separately and earlier than the camping permit.
CRATER LAKE CAMPING EXPERIENCE
My buddy and I were a little concerned that when we arrived at our designated Crater Lake campsite on the first day of our permit reservation (1 September 2023), we would find someone occupying the site. But after summiting Pyramid Peak and meandering our way up from the main West Maroon Pass trail at Crater Lake, we found our reserved Campsite #4 completely empty and ready for us to move in. For this trip, I elected to bring my bulky 4-man tent versus a smaller 2-man backpacking tent knowing it was a short trip from the Maroon Lake TH and to give us some more room to spread out. I actually carried the tent that morning to the Pyramid Trail turn-off before stashing it in the trees, then retrieved it after our summit bid when we went to scope out the site. Campsite #4 is large and if it’s any indication of the other Crater Lake sites, one could easily fit a larger tent or multiple small tents at these sites. All of the Crater Lake campsites are set back from the West Maroon Pass trail a bit (see map) and we continued our running joke from last year’s Capitol Lake campsite experience that the hardest part of our day, regardless of how many miles we hiked or vertical feet we climbed, was the seemingly endless slog up to the campsite from the main trail. We attached a tape-wrapped copy of our permit to the outside of the tent and left it there for the duration our stay. As for water, we filtered at the Minnehaha Gulch stream a few hundred yards further along the West Maroon Pass trail (southwest) from Crater Lake (between Campsites #3-5 and #6-8) which is super accessible and preferable to attempting to filter the silt-filled Crater Lake water. But this of course required additional soul-crushing trips up and down the Campsite #4 access trail.
During our entire 2.5 day stay at Crater Lake Campsite #4, we never saw a Ranger or anyone policing the campsites, though I suppose they could have been making rounds while we were climbing during the morning/early afternoon hours. In fact, the adjacent campsites to ours were mostly empty. However, on our second day (Saturday, 2 September 2023), a group of guys set up in Campsite #5 in the late afternoon. By the way they were scoping everything out and purposefully avoiding interaction with us, we could tell something was fishy. Furthermore, there was a rather loud argument between two of them resulting in one of the guys shouting to his companions “I’m going home! Thanks for nothing!” before storming off. It was awkward. To add to the drama, a few hours after they had set up their tents, another backpacker wandered in claiming to be the “true owner” of Campsite #5 for that night. There was some discourse, but they apparently made it work and just shared the site for the night. I only bring this up because while we were relieved when no one was situated in our reserved Campsite #4 when we arrived, it clearly does happen and could result in a complicated situation. And with no observed Rangers policing the sites, I’m not sure what recourse there was if we had run into a stubborn squatter in our site. Upon returning from our final day of climbing, Campsite #5 was once again completely empty, so maybe they did get the boot from the local authority.
My only other comment related to the Crater Lake camping situation is that a bear cannister is required for all overnight stays in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness areas. There are signs plastered everywhere around the Maroon Lake TH reminding people of this fact. I have heard stories of Rangers checking backpacks for cannisters, but we were never approached. (We did of course have and appropriately used a bear bin)
LOGISTICS – FINAL THOUGHTS
I do have some conflicted feelings about our approach in managing these logistics, especially with how we hoarded multiple parking and camping reservations months in advance without knowing which ones we would actually use. But I'm not sure there's a better or more efficient way to do it with so much uncertainty and flexibility baked into our trip. Both the Maroon Lake TH parking passes and Crater Lake overnight permits were relatively inexpensive so even if I wasn't able to re-coup the cost of those investments (which was the case for a couple of the parking passes due to the lack of cancellation ability on the ACRA website), it didn't represent a significant financial loss. And it was nice to know that we had a reserved campsite waiting for us rather than hoping and praying something was available after lugging all our gear up to Crater Lake. Finally, given how insanely popular the Maroon Bells Scenic Area is and seeing the hordes of people up there on a holiday weekend, I do appreciate the rules and knowing their intent is to protect these incredibly special wilderness areas. I was a little underwhelmed by the lack of accountability observed at both the TH parking lots and the campsites, but maybe the local authorities take the same approach that big retailers take with theft: if they can deter 95% of the unwanted behavior, they'll live with the 5% that gets through.
All that being said, given how much effort we exerted (and anxiety I had) in navigating these logistics, I was very pleased with how everything came together and worked out. In summary, to ensure success in managing the logistics associated with accessing the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, I recommend climbers:
Ok, enough of all that; onto the fun stuff.
DAY I: PYRAMID PEAK
DAY II: MAROON PEAK
DAY III: NORTH MAROON PEAK
APPROACH TRAIL & ROCK GLACIER
After two big days of climbing, we were definitely feeling a lack of motivation for our objective for the third day of our trip: North Maroon Peak. But after a filling dinner and crashing early the previous evening, we felt surprisingly good as we once again mustered from our tent at Crater Lake Campsite #4 and hit the trail at almost 0330 MT. The North Maroon Peak route originates from the Maroon-Snowmass trail which deviates from the main Crater Lake trail just before (east of) Crater Lake itself. We hiked up this great trail for almost a mile until we found the turnoff. The North Maroon Peak split is a little hard to see, especially in the dark, and it was helpful to have the GPX file loaded in my partner's watch (see my Maroon Peak TR for thoughts and re-thoughts on use of GPS for these mountains). I believe the Maroon-Snowmass trail steepens considerably after the North Maroon Peak turn-off on its way up to Buckskin Pass so that may be a decent indicator of having gone too far.
From the split from the Maroon-Snowmass trail, we followed the North Maroon Peak trail as it descends to cross the Minnehaha Gulch creek and then started ascending again through the willows and rock gardens. The trail in this section is in excellent condition with boulder steps installed intermittently in the steep, rocky sections (a big shoutout to CFI for their efforts here). After hiking some more and then traversing south a bit, we finally came upon the obvious Rock Glacier a little before 0500 MT, 90 minutes after leaving Crater Lake.
The Rock Glacier is pretty impressive and much more formidable in person than the pictures seem to indicate. The talus in this area vary in size but all of them are at risk of movement; even the most stable-looking boulders might end up being precariously balanced on the rocks below it. There are cairns throughout the Rock Glacier but some were hard to identify in the dark, especially given the undulating terrain. As a result, we ended up going slightly off-route, attempting to make the base of headwall that appeared to intersect the North Maroon Peak shoulder. Later on, during our descent, we were able to see the cairns better and they led us lower (east) during the upper portion of the Rock Glacier than our ascent line. But the exit ledge was obvious and well-cairned and soon we were traversing the North Maroon Peak shoulder on our way to the green gullies.
GREEN GULLIES & MAKING THE RIDGE
After navigating out of the Rock Glacier, we followed the obvious trail as it bypasses the North Maroon Peak shoulder. This first stretch is trivial, just a normal dirt trail traversing across a steep hill. However, something that has most fascinated me about North Maroon Peak route is how we were literally climbing what appears to be the face of the mountain as seen from the famous Maroon Lake view. The key photo from the Route Description gives maybe the best perspective of what I mean. As seen from Maroon Lake, the dramatic face of North Maroon Peak appears borderline unclimbable. While the terrain is not nearly as steep as it may appear from the lake, the prominence of North Maroon Peak above the Maroon Creek valley does carry over into the climb itself and the views looking east and north from the route are awesome. Photo #39 from the Route Description, taken presumably from somewhere over by Pyramid Peak, gives an excellent overview of the North Maroon Peak route and is useful to show the distinction in perspectives of this rugged mountain from the "classic" Maroon Bells view from Maroon Lake.
After traversing south a bit on an obvious trail, the route took a hard climber's right turn and started ascending a steep gulley. During our dark ascent, there was a moment or two where I thought we had started up the 1st Green Gulley, but this first steep pitch was nothing but a primer. Once we climbed out of this area and traversed south a bit more, we came into view of the true 1st Green Gulley. This gulley was quite steep, but there was an obvious switch-backing trail through it. And after having climbed Maroon Peak the day before, this gulley definitely paled in comparison to the "2,800 ft of suck" on that mountain. It took us about 45 minutes to climb the 1st Green Gulley and, after traversing over a ledge in the ridge line to the south, we came into view of the 2nd Green Gulley almost three hours after leaving Crater Lake.
The 2nd Green Gulley was quite intimidating to view from the ridge corner above the 1st Green Gulley. Its face of alternating grass and rock striations appeared much steeper and looser than the previous gulley. We descended a catwalk from the ridge and after a tricky move to cross a loose gap, we started up the formidable face of the gulley itself. The first stretch of climbing was primarily on the climber's left side of the gulley and was mostly a loose trail through alternating grass and rock terrain. There were some cairns sprinkled throughout the lower parts of the 2nd Green Gulley but we mostly took paths of least resistance, aiming for ledges that would allow a vantage point to identify our next line. As we climbed, the terrain became rockier and more precarious, and eventually our route funneled us into the center of the gulley below a set of cliff bands that marked the ridge proper.
The best way to describe the top of the 2nd Green Gulley is a gradual switch from steep, loose trail to scrambling over talus-strewn ledges and headwalls. We followed minimal cairns towards the obvious notch in the ridge line (identified in the Route Description in Photo #23 and Photo #24) before turning climber's left (southwest) below the ridge. This is where route-finding became particularly challenging for us as cairns were limited and the area is disorientating and unforgivingly steep and loose. Later on, after reaching the summit, while I was stressing about returning back down the Chimney (more on that later), my partner was most anxious about navigating this area again because of our route-finding struggles. However, we found on our descent a much safer and very Class 3 approach. I'll do my best to describe it but given the disorientating nature of this area, even pictures make it difficult to identify key features or landmarks.
After scrambling a bit climber's left (southwest) from below the ridge line notch, we encountered two black headwalls with an obvious ledge between. On our ascent, we elected to climb on the climber's right of these headwalls which involved some airy moves that crept into Class 4 territory. However, on descent, we found a better approach through these cliff bands. For the lower black headwall, we found hiking to it directly and then climbing an unobvious Class 3 pitch in the "corner" between the wall and the steep rock on the climber's right is the best approach. This corner scramble puts the climber parallel to the ledge below it; basically facing back down the mountain (northeast) but ~10 ft higher than the ledge leading to the headwall. This line allowed for easy access up a set of switch-backing ramps to be aligned with the second headwall. For this next barrier, we found the easiest path was to traverse below the black headwall itself and then ascend a series of Class 3 steps against and within the cliff band itself. Similar to the first headwall, this path was not obvious until we were right next to it. Again, we found both of these "better" approaches to this area only on our descent.
Photo #15 from arianna2's TR and Photo #43 from JQDivide's TR shows the type of terrain encountered below the obvious notch at the top of the 2nd Green Gulley. And arianna2's photo #30 and Photo #16 and Photo #22 from the Route Description Photo Stash tab give a good perspective of the area further up. After climbing this route, I can identify some of the key landmarks in these photos, including the two black headwalls, but they are difficult to see and harder to describe. Arianna2 also mentions noticing a climbing arrow in her TR (see Photo #16) which I believe aligns with the Class 3 "corner" pitch associated with the first headwall, but we did not find the arrow (nor looked for it).
After navigating this upper area of the 2nd Green Gulley, we finally crested the ridge proper and the northern Elks made their first appearance of the day. The pitch angle mellowed significantly here and the broad, talus-covered terrain gave us some route-finding relief as we identified our next target in a prominent cliff band above us: the infamous North Maroon Peak Chimney.
I think the term "crux" can often be a misnomer in association with certain 14ers, sometimes describing a series of challenging areas or a non-difficult but popular route component. To me, a crux involves a relatively short, unavoidable, and intense set of moves on a signature element of a climbing route. With that in mind, the Class 4 Chimney on North Maroon Peak is "cruxiest" crux of any 14er I've climbed. I consider this in comparison with other famous climbing features such as the Knife Edge on Capitol Peak or the now-defunct gulley crossover on Crestone Needle or the Narrows on Longs Peak. Climbing the North Maroon Peak Chimney involved a series of committing moves that required careful hands and feet placement over a daunting drop. And because scaling it took so little time, the airy moves, especially towards the top, felt like a blur. Down-climbing in particular was intimidating to consider, something I carried with me all the way to the summit and back again.
That being said, the actual climbing of the thing was very solid and straight-forward. This is probably the only reason keeping this pitch sub-Class 5. I can imagine if there was more of an incline to the pitch, less features on the wall, or perhaps some variable looseness to the rock, this wouldn't even be the main route. But it is, and there are plenty of holds and steps in the cliff, including an amazing crack running along the very top of the chimney that provides the final piece of the puzzle in topping out (and one of the first elements to use when down-climbing). I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my buddy and I have some lead climbing experience from years ago though I venture if you can climb the surrounding peaks, including Pyramid Peak and Capitol Peak, conquering the Chimney is well within your skillset.
There are some amazing resources on this website that describe the Chimney climb, including daway8's amazing TR that breaks down the entire pitch into 5 moves. I found the most difficult move with the biggest reach was actually the first step up into the Chimney itself as the steps on either side of the gap make for an awkward split posture and forced me to pull myself up almost entirely by my arms. But from there, even as the protection diminished, the holds were awesome and there was always an advantageous and stable step or ledge to place my feet. There was also a large, juggy, pyramid-shaped rock on the climber's left of the chimney that both my partner and I basically "bear-hugged," which was definitely helpful on descent. And then the final few steps to make the aforementioned topper crack were obvious and seemingly crafted into the wall for the singular purpose of allowing humans to climb it. The whole climb took maybe 90 seconds and before we knew it, we were above the Chimney and scrambling some additional talus towards the homestretch to the summit.
Two additional comments regarding the North Maroon Peak Chimney crux: I have read that the actual Chimney can be hard to identify in the cliff band as there are actually a few corner areas that look similar (see Photo #29 from the Photo Stash tab in the Route Description). Having pictures from the route and other TRs were helpful, and having studied many, many photos beforehand burned the Chimney's profile into my brain so we didn't have issues seeing it. My second comment has to do with the Class 3 bypass route that is mentioned in the Route Description. This is also mentioned in JQDivide's TR (Photo #48) as their climbing team ascended via the Class 4 Chimney and descended using this secondary route. I did not have enough research to feel comfortable trying this alternative way, but this could be an option if the Chimney is too daunting.
THE PRECIPICE, HOMESTRETCH, SUMMIT, AND DESCENT
Following the Chimney crux, the route rounded a corner to the climber's right and again ascended a wide stretch of talus. We followed cairns through this area and up an obvious pitch to the "Precipice" area of North Maroon Peak, still below the summit but with one of the most rugged and awesome areas on this entire mountain. We didn't actually need to climb the Precipice proper, as the cairns we followed intersected the ridge in the middle and the summit was in the other direction, but we couldn't help ourselves in hiking to the end point and taking some epic photos.
At this point we could finally see the summit ahead and above us, but there was a handful of obstacles standing in our way. Photo #34 from the Route Description shows the view from the Precipice, and we took this same line almost exactly up the immediate stretch. We again followed cairns through some talus and over a steep wall, angling by some whitish rock to gain a flat area. At this point, some additional route-finding was required as well as a relatively major set of moves to ascend another headwall on the climber's right. Descriptions and photos for this area are sparse, including from our climb. I chalk it up to being so close to the summit as well as the adrenaline we were still riding from the Chimney. Photo #58 from the Photo Stash tab in the Route Description is the only photo I've found of this final headwall difficulty.
After climbing this wall, talus skipping continued but the angle of ascent mellowed and we finally topped out a little before 0800MT, 4.5 hours after leaving our Crater Lake campsite. Clouds had been building all morning and now completely engulfed the summit area and we could only make out the surrounding peaks and valleys in the infrequent sky gaps. It's always a bummer when this happens, I can only image the vista from North Maroon Peak's summit, particularly of Maroon Peak and the traverse. Given the lack of views and the risk posed by the swirling clouds of imminent weather, we didn't dally. We took a few photos, texted the wives on the one phone we had that had service, and then started our descent 15 minutes later.
As mentioned, we both carried significant anxiety about the descent from North Maroon Peak's summit. For me, it was all about the Chimney. My partner, on the other hand, was worried about the higher stretches of the 2nd Green Gulley that we misjudged in our route-finding. But we conquered all the upper difficulties (as detailed above) and before we knew it, we were carefully downclimbing the 2nd Green Gulley. We made the top of 1st Green Gulley just prior to 1000 MT, 2 hours after leaving the summit. Any inclement weather stayed to the west and we made quick work of the lower areas of the mountain in the sunshine, including a fun rock-hop through the Rock Glacier. We hit the Minehaha Gulch Creek at around 1100 MT. With the clouds still threatening, and our epic 3-day adventure coming to a successful end, we opened up the energy flood gates and booked it down the Maroon-Snowmass trail to Crater Lake, startling a few day-hikers in our wake. We made our campsite at ~1115 MT, just shy of 8 hours total climb time.
NORTH MAROON PEAK CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
My partner and I loved our time climbing North Maroon Peak. Though we were exhausted from the previous two days of climbing Pyramid Peak and Maroon Peak, the route up this mountain and the variety in terrain and difficulties encountered kept us feeling fresh and energetic throughout the whole morning. Climbing this peak is definitely a serious effort, involving stretches of steep terrain that tested our fitness, as well as challenging route-finding through some difficult and potentially dangerous cliff bands. And that's all before the intimidating Chimney pitch, which as mentioned in my report, was the most singular crux I've encountered in all my years climbing these peaks. But the moves are all solid and the routes are all there if you have the patience to look. And the overall vibe on this mountain is awesome. Knowing that we were scaling the figurative "nose" of the famous Maroon Bells never stopped amazing us. Looking back at North Maroon Peak from Maroon Lake made climbing it seem like a dream; never has a mountain route so clearly embodied what it feels like to point to a peak and say "See that? Yeah, that's the route."
I hope this TR provides encouragement to prospective climbers about climbing Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells. Indeed, all three of these mountains represent serious climbing endeavors. But my climbing partner and I were never surprised nor came across anything that stretched our abilities or comfort-levels. In fact, more than any technical element or route-finding puzzle, I would venture to say the most challenging aspect of these climbs for us was the fitness requirement. These are hard mountains. The routes absolutely kicked our butts and provided multiple moments of doubt throughout each respective climb. And we are better for it.
I also hope my focus on pre-climb logistics within this TR contributes positively to the discourse surrounding the regulations in place to access the Maroon Bells Wilderness areas. Yes, these rules are inconvenient and turn climbing trips like ours into multiple month planning efforts with no guarantee for success. But long gone are the days of arriving at a Colorado 14er TH in solitude; that is a fact that we all need to recognize. And these truly special areas like Maroon Lake have more and more visitors every year, for better or for worse, and need to be protected. I believe that is the spirit of these regulations. I hope by detailing at length our experience overcoming the associated inconvenience, climbers find encouragement that with a little more work, a successful trip like ours is very doable.
As my partner and I trudged back down the trail from Crater Lake to Maroon Lake after our North Maroon Peak summit bid on 3 September 2023, with our gear haphazardly lashed to our packs and our energy banks running close to depletion, I couldn't help but marvel at what we had accomplished the past three days. When I started dreaming and planning this trip in the early part of 2023, I had little confidence that everything would work out as perfectly as it did. Balancing the complicated parking and access logistics, fitness regimens, and waiting for weather reports along with last minute beta consumption all made for a few stressful months leading to our climb. To have it all come together into a spectacular and successful weekend left me feeling lightheaded as we navigated through the Labor Day weekend crowds to the Maroon Lake TH. Upon arriving back at our vehicle in the overnight lot, after close to 72 hours with minimal if any weather issues, a storm system moved in and finally unloaded on the valley. I tend to believe mostly in coincidence, but as we stood there getting drenched trying to load our gear as quickly as possible for our drive home, I couldn't help but feel that the rain shower was a sign from these majestic peaks, these geological wonders, these Titans, of a job well done.
Day 1 - Pyramid Peak (1 September 2023)
Day 2 - Maroon Peak (2 September 2023)
Day 3 - North Maroon Peak (3 September 2023)
North Maroon Peak:
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