North Maroon Peak Overview
Undoubtedly, the Maroon Bells (North and South Maroon Peak) are Colorado’s most recognized mountains, for these peaks are likely the most photographed mountains in North America. The popularity is easily explainable; in spring, summer, fall and winter, these peaks are stunning to look at. It’s that simple. Nothing beats their pyramid symmetry framed inside the gorgeous Maroon Lake u-shaped valley. The composition is perfect and memorable. And it’s why legions upon legions of vacationers visit these peaks. Lastly, a potent combination of popularity and picture perfection tends to cultivate a powerful lure among mountaineers….and the casual visitor, to make the summit.
The White River forest service likes to call them the “Deadly Bells” for every year these peaks do claim human life. Considering the high traffic, the Deadly Bells are probably not as deadly as one may think. However, it’s imperative to understand what it takes to climb these peaks and what it takes to do it in a safe manner. Ascending the Bells is a climb, not a hike.
The standard climbing routes for North and South Maroon Peak are very different, with the exception that both peaks are loose and dangerous. For South Maroon, I would describe the South Ridge Route as a strenuous exercise in route finding and determination. The route is only class 3 but it is long and steep. For most, the route will take maybe 9 to 11 hours to complete.
North Maroon’s standard Northeast Ridge Route is the proud owner of likely the most difficult crux move of any fourteener. It’s the crux that makes this route class 4. I would describe the crux as solid class 4 and a bit exposed. With snow or ice, this north facing crux makes the climbing moves very dicey and probably warrants the use of a rope. In all, North Maroon isn’t as strenuous, and doesn’t have the route finding issues of South Maroon but, it is steeper and more technical.
Mountaineering the Elks
The Elk Range has six fourteener’s and 4 centennial thirteeners. Indeed these mountains are some of Colorado’s most beautiful. However, beauty doesn’t necessarily translate into good climbing. The Elk Range has a reputation for loose and crumbling rock. Like most mountain ranges, some peaks are more dangerous than others; good routefinding skills are of paramount importance. Furthermore, most of the centennial peaks require top physical conditioning and good climbing skills. Only one of six fourteener’s has a walk-up route to the summit. In the Elks, the use of a rope can be more of a hindrance than a tool for safety. The potential for rock-fall is always nearby.
The combination of abundant snowfall and generally steep and narrow valleys, makes access to these mountains a serious obstacle during winter months. Many of the valley slopes are ribbed with dangerous avalanche paths, which limits winter mountaineering to only the most daring and adventurous souls.
Maroon Lake Trailhead
Starting June 14th 2008, Maroon Creek Road restrictions will start and visitors will be directed to RFTA bus service. Buses from Aspen Highlands arrive at Maroon Lake every 20 to 30 minutes. All day users will be required to ride the bus between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The bus fare is $6 per adult and $4 per senior and child.
During these hours a shuttle can take you to the trailhead from Ruby Park in downtown Aspen. The shuttle ride is free. Call RFTA at 970-925-3445 or the White River National Forest at 970-925-3445 for schedules. Typically arriving before 6:00am will allow you to enter at no charge and avoid the shuttle.
Several Colorado wilderness areas now require a free user permit to be in the wilderness, or shortly will require same. The wilderness areas are Holy Cross, Maroon Bells/Snowmass, Mount Evans, and Mount Massive. Permit tags are available at trailheads and are a two part tag. The white part goes in the box provided and the card portion is to be attached to the outside of your pack. There is currently no penalty if one does not have a permit. However, large fines could be levied within a few years for non-compliance. The preferred method now for dealing with violations is education of the users.
The reason for implementation of this required permit is the Forest Service has been unable to obtain accurate data on use patterns from the voluntary sign-in system. The estimated compliance range is currently 10-30%.
The hope is to obtain better data with this new method. While some may feel this is a precursor of some kind of quota system, the opposite is actually true. Accurate information on visitor use patterns will allow the forest service to attempt to evenly distribute impacts and encourage use of alternate trailheads for the same destinations. However, given the magnitude of the state's continuing population boom, folks should not be surprised if quotas in certain areas become a necessity.
Thanks to SP member mtnhiker13 for supplying this vital update via the Colorado Mountain Club's email service.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Elk Weather Forecast Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness-Red Tape
Maroon Creek Road
Independence Pass Camping
Five campgrounds along Colorado Hwy 82 via Independence Pass offer numerous sites. The following campgrounds are located on the west (Aspen side) side of the pass.