Party of two, going up! North Maroon Peak (14,014ft.)
Northeast Ridge, 8 miles Roundtrip
4,450ft. of Elevation Gain
The Maroon Bells entice some climbers and intimidate others. I just so happened to be one of the souls who had a healthy respect for the peaks and this had kept me at bay for years. I had a nervous excitement in the pit of my stomach when I and a friend, Mike set Saturday, July 14th as our ascent date. We planned to do the traverse between the Bells, North to South and left Denver for Aspen, CO Friday the 13th in the afternoon.
We drove about 9 ½ miles down the Maroon Lake Road, parking in the day use lot as all others were closed off. We got some limited shut-eye and awoke brutally early, leaving the trailhead at 4:15am.
While hiking down the trail to Crater Lake (1.5 miles) we got acquainted with a solo climber setting out for the Southeast Ridge of S. Maroon. We split up with Bob at the trail junction near Crater Lake and began climbing up the Maroon-Snowmass Trail.
As the trail nears Minnehaha Creek we left the trail, taking a left turn that leads across the creek. Fording this creek is easy enough as it was pretty shallow. This trail leads to a large rock glacier at about 11,700ft. The route heads to the left of the cliff bands (just out of the above photo – far left) and traverses a series of steep rock steps to meet the base of the first of two ascent gullies. The first gully contained a climbers trail most of the way. Once near the top of this gully the trail traverses southward on North Maroons east facing ledges before reaching the base of the second ascent gully.
The second gully held some rockier terrain and the rock scrambling begins in earnest. These broken, rotten ledges posed a real threat for falling rock! Several large boulders came down the gully as we were climbing upward. The elevation gain here is steep and relentless. While stopping to take a breather, I took the below photo of the gully.
The scrambling continued to the top of the second gully. The rock was untrustworthy and presents a hazard with its instability. It is here that the route finally joins up with the Northeast Ridge. Despite the tough going we were making good time but route finding was an issue in areas. Whenever we encountered an obstacle, we’d take our time and
survey the terrain. At times we’d climb several hundred feet and realize that we had to turn around, descend and choose another angle to climb. Nevertheless, the scrambling wasn’t too difficult until we reached an area at the top of the second gully that we committed to that was 5th Class. After reaching the top of this short 35ft. section we realized we had gotten off-route a little and could have bypassed these fun difficulties on the ridges right side. From the top of the second gully, the final scramble loomed overhead and seemed straightforward enough. The photo below is of me on the Northeast Ridge.
The Northeast Ridge was fun and exhilarating; it overlooks one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in Colorado. While on the ridge we bumped into some fellow climbers who were better equipped for the harsh environment than we were (photo below).
The views of the Elk Range are superb from up here! We reached the summit at about 11:00am. Our 6 ½ hour ascent had been a real thrill ride up one of Colorado’s most majestic 14ers. The accomplishment of ascending this peak felt great, even if it is debated as an official 14er due to the insignificant fact that it only rises 234ft. from the neighboring Maroon Peak (photo below).
An aching back had been bothering me for weeks and was catching up to me. Not feeling 100% I opted out of doing the traverse. Mike still wanted to do the traverse (I couldn’t blame him) and I chose to descend solo while he opted to head for Maroon with two climbers we bumped into at the top. I sat and watched them reach the crux of the traverse, soaked up the summit views a little more and began my descent.
I guess the traverse was pretty hairy and Mike decided to descend the Northeast Ridge of North Maroon. We bumped into one another near the base of the peak and it was a pleasant surprise. The only problem is that ‘Ra’ – one of the two climbers he was with, still had one of Mikes climbing harnesses and was on South Maroon. We decided not to wait around for him at Crater Lake. With hope ‘Ra’ will read this post and call Mike about the harness at 720/344-4078. This was a fascinating ascent and now a personal favorite. Despite common climbing wisdom that cairns should not be trusted, I found most of the cairns on the Northeast Ridge route to be quite helpful. Congrats to my friend Mike for summiting his first 14er!