I have been doing several climbs with my 10 year old son Kessler, but the class 4 peaks such as Pyramid (completed on June 30) are no longer very challenging for him and he wanted something a bit harder.
After admiring the Maroon Bells from Pyramid Peak, the thought of climbing the traverse was certainly looked appealing. The only problem was that the Maroon Bells Traverse seems to have a rather fierce reputation among climbers. Photos make the route look quite difficult. Could we do it? Were we ready? The ridge is long on class 4 and 5 terrain and is considered to be one of the more difficult connecting ridges between 14,000+ foot peaks in Colorado. Kessler and I had certainly done several technical routes together. Should we just climb one of the peaks and see how things go?
On the weekend of August 4th, several 14ers.com members were also planning on the traverse, which was worrisome because of rockfall, but good because we hoped to find some partners. We expressed our interest in joining up and were ready for to attempt the climb.
Warning sign near the trailhead.
Another warning sign near the trailhead.
The beautiful Maroon Bells; Colorado's iconic mountains. Prettier when the sun is shining though.
August 3rd-The Approach
In the evening, Kessler and I hiked to Crater Lake to look for a campsite. Luckily we found an unoccupied campsite and we set up camp before heading to bed. Unfortunately I had trouble sleeping (one reason was that I had forgotten any type of pillow, the other was that there were several animals stirring in the bushes).
Backpacking into Crater Lake.
August 4th-The Climb
Today was the big day. We got a later start than we had wanted to and didn’t start until 6:30 AM. We made our way quickly up North Maroon Peak. Because there were several people on the route, we wanted to get ahead of them to avoid rockfall. We passed probably 15 people on the way to the summit and summited in a rather quickly 3 hours 20 minutes. Along the way we climbed several of the cliff bands directly, both for fun and to avoid crowds.
North Maroon Peak looks surprisingly benign from this angle.
The North Face of North Maroon.
Kessler and I partway up North Maroon Peak.
Kessler resting on a ledge on North Maroon. The route up basically goes from the top of his helmet straight to the summit.
Some of the other climbers on the Maroon Bells.
Looking down a gentle section of North Maroon. You still had to be careful with some loose rock.
Kessler and some others climbing North Maroon.
Getting ready to climb a vertical pitch.
Snowmass Mt and Capitol Peak from North Maroon.
Taking a rest on a gentle section of North Maroon.
Climbers on the ridge just below North Maroon summit. The valley is 4000+ feet (1200m+) below.
Scrambling on North Maroon.
Once we were on the summit, there were two other climbers preparing to climb the traverse. We asked if we could join them until after the rappel. They accepted and because they were leaving right then we immediately left the summit of North Maroon without stopping or even snapping a summit photo.
Leaving the summit of North Maroon. It's going to get difficult ahead. Unfortunately, we didn't get any photos of the hard parts since we were concentrating on climbing.
Climbers on the summit of North Maroon, which we just left and downclimbed to this point.
We made good progress along the traverse and passed the 14ers.com members near the rappel. Our group of four rapped down the rappel, but there were still many climbing obstacles between the rappel and the notch/lowpoint between the Maroons.
Kessler on the traverse between the Maroon Peaks. Going North to South, this is the rappel.
The rappel on the traverse.
We made steady progress and basically stayed on route until the low point. On the climb up to Maroon Peak, Kessler and I got into a nasty gully that was a pain to climb. We were a bit off route and this was the worst part of the traverse.
South Maroon is in the background. if you can get to the notch and stay on route, the rest of the climb can be somewhat straight-forward.
Climbers on North Maroon.
Climbing down a section of the Maroon Traverse.
Downclimbing a section of the Maroon Traverse.
There were ledges where you had to duck around rocks.
Part of the ridge on the Bells Traverse.
Climbers on the Maroon Traverse.
Part of the traverse.
Kessler starting a downclimb on the Bells Traverse.
Another scrambling section, this one easy. We didn't get photos of the hard parts because we had to concentrate.
Can you spot the mountain goat? He was the final obstacle in getting to the top of Maroon Peak.
Looking back to North Maroon and over the traverse we just climbed.
Eventually Kessler and I summited Maroon and decided to eat lunch. It has taken us 1 hour 40 minutes to complete the traverse, which is supposed to be a pretty good time. We waited for the other two climbers (we never did catch their names!) at the summit before bidding farewell and heading down the mountain.
On the summit of Maroon Peak.
On the way down we got a little off route because we stayed too close to the ridge crest right from the summit. We crossed a notch and followed a cairned route up the other side. The cairned route eventually petered out at a sub-peak and we were forced to backtrack, losing almost an hour. This route was the only route on any 14er where I have ever gotten off route so far.
Some of the scrambling on Maroon Peak descent.
The descent of Maroon Peak was a pain and after making our way back to the standard route and along all the ups and downs, we were “home free” as all as we had to do was descend directly down to Maroon Creek. The route down was relentless and loose though and seemingly took forever. It took us longer to descend Maroon Peak than it did to climb North Maroon and do the traverse.
Leaving the summit of Maroon Peak.
Looking down the 3000 foot scree descent on South Maroon. What a wonderful (not) way to end long day of climbing.
We arrived at camp rather tired, so we took a short rest before packing up and heading for home. On the way down we chatted with several people.
The Maroon Traverse was a good one, but with much loose rock, it has a higher risk factor than most other 14er routes. The route was fun to the summit of Maroon Peak, but the descent of Maroon Peak is relentless, not too aesthetic and isn’t a route I’d care to repeat. Other than the descent of Maroon Peak, Kessler had a blast and is excited to do more 14er traverses. I had a good time too, so it was a very successful trip.