Maroon Bells Traverse Maroon Bells
Colorado 14er
Maroon Peak: 14,156 feet - 4,286; North Maroon Peak: 14,014 feet - 4,246 meters
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MAroon Bells from maroon lakeWhat a climb! Clearly my most actual "climbing" on a Colorado 14'er to date. I found the Bells dangerous, challenging and amazingly satisfying. The Maroon Bells traverse is one of Colorado's four great fourteeners traverses. I climbed Maroon Peak (South Bell) then made the traverse to the North Maroon Peak (North Bell) on Saturday, July 16, 2005.

Patrick, my normal climbing partner was grounded in July awaiting the Stork so I arranged the climb with two young climbers (Andy and Chris) via, a climbing community grassy slopes to SE ridgeon the web. None of us has climbed the Bells but this was my third trip there and I was determined to stand on top of at least one of them.

We met up in Aspen on Friday, had a quick bite and made the short 1.5 mile walk to Crater lake. As we passed the tourist admiring the Maroon Bells, one of them asked us if we knew it was getting dark! We arrived at Crater lake, found a nice spot near a designated campsite and rolled out our bags. Sleeping out in the open air was a nice start to what was going to be a long day.

Walking in the dark with headlamps lighting up the well worn trail, we made the 1.8 walk to my infamous "bent tree" at 10,500' that marks the end of the easy stuff as a faint trail exits right and up the slopes. The trail was visible and easy to follow for only a few hundred yards when we lost it all together. We knew it was a mile to the Southeast ridge at 13,300' - a 2,800 gain.Looking at Maroon Peak from top of SE ridge

In a classic battle between navigating, technology and aimless wandering, we soon found the ridge. At one point, I pulled out my GPS to use the coordinates for the spot on the ridge we should attain, meanwhile Chris used his compass to triangulate our position based on the summit of Pyramid across the valley. But it was Andy who was still wandering around who said casually "Guys, I think the trail is right here" Chris climbing the backside

The backside of the ridge held all sorts of surprises. While not difficult climbing - few sections exceeded class 3 - it was challenging to stay on route. The carins were few and far between. But we meanandered our way towards the South Bell summit. Climbing mostly in the shadows, it was a clear and warm day requiring nothing more than a good shirt for protection. Scramble up, scramble down. Find a couloir, go up, exit left. Whoops, too low, back in the couloir to go higher, exit again, go North towards the summit. Finally finding the couloir between point 13,743' and the South Bell, we climbed the loose scree and made the summit. This section had taken six hours from our camp.

click for video - Summit view from the South BellThe views were astounding from the South Bell. The picture below is of Snowmass (the one with all the snow on it!). I took a video from the south summit (right).

After a short break we were ready for the traverse to the North.

Descending South Bell onto the traverse
It starts with a brief walk to a 20' drop-off. It was a straight-forward downclimb that required no ropes. We attained the ridge proper and began more meandering. It is interesting that the ridge is only four tenths of a mile in total length but would take us 1:50 hours to complete.

The climbing was not too difficult nor was the route finding (with a couple of exceptions - see video) until we reached the base of the North Bell. The climb up the North Bell held some real surprises as the exposure was terminal and the climbing requiring some low class 5 moves. See the video of climbing the North Bell from the traverse. Again not difficult if you have good rock climbing experience but a couple of times, I cocked my head watching Andy make some "interesting" moves.

Click for video - Climbing the North Bell The Maroon Bells have a reputation for "horrible rock", "loose stuff everywhere", "nothing to feel secure with" and more. While we found all that true, we all agreed that there were foot-holds and hand-holds everywhere. In the 5+ areas, you could always find something solid to push off from on hold onto. So while the Bells are rotten, they are also dependable when you need her.

Andy on the traverse The view from the North Bell was fantastic. Snowmass and Capital were clear as a Bell (ha!) as was the weather. We enjoyed a well deserved break to refuel and hydrate. I topped off my reservoir was some clean summit snow. I thought about all those tourists down at Maroon Lake enjoying the view but not nearly as much as we were. Another summit video was in order and we were off to start our downclimb.

The route from the North Bell was long and arduous. It follows the Northeast ridge and is class 4 the majority of the way. We hit deep snow patches and loose scree. Just as you thought you were going to break into an easy area, it dropped sharply and steadily. I was glad we were going down this and not up. The route was clear and well marked unlike the ascent to the South Bell. Four hours later were back at camp to pick up our sleeping bags. A half hour later we were back at the car. A 13 or 14 hour day depending on how you count it (camp or car).

Climbing down from the North summit Click for video -Summit view from North Bell looking East A few thoughts on climbing the Maroon Bells. First, I would not suggest going alone. The route finding was as difficult as advertised. Sometimes it simply disappears. It is extremely easy to go down instead of up or taking the wrong couloir. Then there is the actual climbing. I cannot imagine someone who has not rock climbed attempting what we did. While not required to summit the South by the SE Ridge route, it would helpful. It is mandatory for the traverse and the North upclimb. Even the "easy" downclimbs from the North required basic moves and handholds. On the traverse, we spotted one another a few times just to be sure.

The Bells are dangerous. A slip is easy. The exposure is deadly. You can die on this route. There were a lot of wet rocks up there this July. Even though we never used ropes, ice axes or our crampons, I would classify the traverse as a "technical" route in many respects. The guide books use words such as "complicated, loose, exposed and dangerous". I agree - and ...

It was amazingly satisfying. The views were out of this world, the climbing was challenging and stimulating. The sense of looking over at Pyramid, Snowmass or Capital was exhilarating and motivating. With the right partners, experience, weather and skills the Maroon Bell Traverse should be on every climber's list.