First, if you consider yourself a strong hiker/climber this adventure will take 9-12 hours. If you hike this route solo and consider yourself strong, count on 9-10 hrs. If you hike with others assume at least 10-12 hrs. Add more time if you climb this mountain on the weekend when you will have to negotiate the loose gullies with others. The summit register gets about 20-25 signatures over the weekend and maybe 7-8 each day during the week. We started at 4:15 and we made the summit at 10:00-a little late but we needed to help an inexperienced climber get through the maze of route-finding, we were a fast party of two that ended up an average speed party of 3. This almost cost us for the clouds formed instantly and we ended up basically running down this mounrtain. Start early, especially in August when the monsoon season is an every day animal you will have to deal with. We thought 4:15 was good but looking back, we needed to start at 3:00 a.m.- so bring a head lamp and pleny of food and water.
Second, this route may be only a class 3 route but it is long and arduous class 3 route. I would label it a class 3+ route with a copious/never-ending amount of route finding. I would also label the route “dangerous.” The one thing that stuck in my mind almost the entire climb was not to dislodge a rock missile down onto an ascending party-remember, Maroon Peak’s climbers hold this mountain together, it is loose. Climbing through the ruble you will be amazed at how the rocks balance on one-another, probably for years to come, or until someone brings their dog up this mountain. This mountain attracts all kinds of people, some experienced and some that are visiting Colorado for a family reunion from Missouri. I would be willing to bet that half of the people that summit should never have been on the mountain in the first place. So keeping all this in mind, start earlier than everyone and do it on a week day-like a Tuesday, this will lower the “danger” aspect considerably.
Third, I thought this route was amazing. I had never been on a mountain with this kind of route finding, most feel this route is tedious and deflating but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maroon has its share of false summits, and the continuous traverse can leave you wondering if you are on the right path so be patient, and good weather is a must. Having climbed Pyramid a day earlier, comparing the two was easy. Pyramid was steeper and had much more actual climbing and more exposure, but Maroon had much more intricate route finding, was more loose plus it was a more scenic climb.
Approach from Maroon Lake TH-Class 2
South Ridge Route-12 miles and 4,566-ft round trip.
Starting at Maroon Lake TH (9,580-ft) follow the wide “West Maroon Pack Trail” as it gradually climbs the aspen laden benches above Maroon Lake. Continue about two miles to Crater Lake where you will come to a junction in the trail. Take the “West Maroon Trail” and follow it another 1.5 miles to a place where the trail actually crosses West Maroon Creek. Do not cross the creek but look sharp to the right for a spur trail heading up and out of the creek drainage onto Maroon’s southeast slopes. This trail is the start of a 2,800-ft slog up to the real south ridge of Maroon Peak. The trial is steep and will test your enthusiasm for your planned day. Follow this trail as it ascends and traverses southwest toward Maroon’s lower, grassy, rounded south ridge. This relentlessly steep trail will gain this ridge and follow the ridge crest to a notch in the real south ridge of Maroon Peak. This shallow notch is at 13,300-ft and it is obvious when you arrive for the view of the rest of your route is daunting. Let the Class 3 fun begin.
The last 1000-ft-Class 3
Initially, climb out of the notch and follow the narrow ridge as it delivers you to your first set of cairns. The idea from here on out is to keep your eyes peeled for cairns. Most of the cairns placed on this route will help you; I really don’t remember too many that threw us off the real route. Traverse an intricate series of ledge systems that keeps you at around 13,300-ft. Using mini-gullies and small chimneys the route continuously crosses out over loose rock ribs and deposits you back into more loose gullies.
Your first gully is probably the most dangerous section of the hike. When you arrive you will notice that it is steep and plugged up with large balancing talus, avoid this loose stuff by ascending on the far right or left of the gully on more solid ground. Do not hike up the middle of this stuff. I recommend going one at a time up this one and having anyone without a helmet to go first, unless you don’t trust the person, then you make sure you go first or get the hell out of the way.
After a quarter mile of traversing the route comes to a more pronounced gully filled with loose rock and mostly sand-like scree, great for descending but a nightmare to ascend. Ascend this gully for about 300 vertical back to the ridge crest. From the ridge crest traverse back out over another rib and you can finally see the true south face of Maroon Peak and its summit about 400 vertical above you. This is another deflating view, keep going. Traverse back out onto the south face and take the path of least resistance, following cairns and using vertical steps and more ledge systems to ascend back to the ridge crest again. From here you can peer down onto Maroon’s huge east face. Continue your familiar theme of loose ledges and traversing for an ascent of 200 vertical to finally reach the summit. The views are spectacular, enjoy.
As I recall there were about 5 or 6 traverses out onto the south face, most of them crossing over rock ribs and around blind corners depositing you into loose gullies. These corners are usually cairned. The traverses rarely gained much vertical, for the gullies and the vertical rock steps helped get you up the mountain.
Bring a freaking helmet! I saw at least 6 out of 12 people not wearing the protective plastic hat that very well could save their life if it were to encounter a common falling rock. Bring more water than you think you will need.