The Maroon Bells are beautiful, and dangerous!!!! Potential dangers which must be considered on every 14er are heightened here by exposure and commitment. Once on the saddle, the best escape is up and over North Maroon Peak - a risky propositin in Colorado afternoon weather due to the fact that you will be the highest thing on the summit, and all the way down the Northeast ridge.
You MUST plan to be on the summit of Maroon Peak 10-10:30 am if you're a quick mover, earlier if you're of average speed.
Secondly, you MUST be aware that their are other climbers around you. This is not limited to humans, but bighorn sheep as well. While I descended from Maroon Peak, I watched another group get a constant shower of basketball sized rocks from a bighorn sheep dancing around above them. If you knock one loose, scream it out - "ROCK!" You never know who's below, and they'll be above you while you're descending, so you want them as your friend.
Climb Maroon Peak, and be on the summit by 10:30 in the summer.
Carefully pick your way off of the summit of South Maroon Peak. It may take as long as two hours for an average group to get down to the saddle. This is where you will most likely be slow, as the rock is loose and steep. The route is easy to keep on the descent to saddle, as you can see the saddle the entire time. Look around a lot! for an easier way down than what's in front of you. Often times you'll be faced with a five foot drop onto a small ledge, but if you look around you'll find an easier scramble down.
Keep your eyes on the ascent from the saddle to North Maroon Peak. Any route description will be inadequate compared to what you see now and remember as you climb later.
From the saddle, stay as east as possible on the ridge while avoiding maximum exposure. If you wander to far to the west (your left) you will find yourself on small ledges overlooking the western valley, but with no way up. Much full on vertical scrambling is required here - this is why it is best to go South to North - to avoid downclimbing these tricky Class 4 sections. Allow yourself another 2 hours (average) for the upclimb.
These are conservative time estimates - fast groups can complete the traverse in two hours, others will take six.
Rope and gear are not recommended for this traverse. Gear placements are marginal at best, as the "Red, Rugged, and Rotten" mantra of the Elks is defined best by the Bells. Rope and gera will only slow you down. The most essential gear is a cool head and experienced hands and feet.
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