Maroon Bells Traverse

With chimichangas in our bellies and Capitol under our belts, Chris and I drove up Maroon Creek road to meet my friend Alan, whom I work with at Bent Gate Mountaineering, and his friend Matt for a quick six hours of sleep and a day on the Maroon Bells.

We hit the trail at about 4AM (once again aided by the fantastic light of the Mammut TR-1 Headlamp) and made quick work of the approach Chris, Tyler and I experienced in the dark during Memorial Day weekend. Without snow on the trail this time, however, we wrapped around Crater Lake in less than an hour and began the ascent that Alan titled “2000 vertical feet of suck.”

Chris and I on the first part of the ascent. Photo: Alan

At the top of the first climb, we were greeted with a view of the classic class 3+/4 gullies on Maroon Peak’s south face. They looked loose and miserable, but the first few were really just classic open-book dihedrals that made for great scrambling.

Chris examines the first bigger task of the day.
Alan leads the boys up one of the first gullies.

Between the various gully scrambles, we would end up on the south ridge, which made for plenty of awesome pictures. Chris was certainly willing to model for my camera as usual.

Chris on one of the first ridges…
…and traversing across another…
…and on yet another ridge.

A few final (and actually really loose) scrambles, and we found our way on the summit quicker than I had expected.

Alan on one of the final scrambles
The boys on the summit of Maroon Peak

This is where the real fun on the day began.

The way to North Maroon Peak

I dropped a Hammer Gel and began the descent. If you are planning to do the route this way, I recommend taking your time and looking at every possible descent option off of Maroon Peak. I found myself pretty nervous during some down-climbs, and would look left to see a much easier way down that I had taken.

The down-climbs were enough to turn back Matt, but Alan, Chris and I continued down to the top of the Bell Cord Couloir, and then began some really solid (and exposed) class 4 climbing.

Myself on the first pitch with Chris following. Photo: Alan

Once we were on the ridge, we were faced with one low-class 5 crack and one mid-class 5 mantle. The biggest issue with the mantle was that the rock was loose, and to access it you had to traverse out on a face, so there was about a thousand feet of air below you. Let’s just say it is the most intense press-up I have ever done…

Chris starting up to the first class 5 move with me topping out. Photo: Alan
Looking at Chris after the first class 5 move
Looking down at me with a LOT of air below on the second class 5 move. Photo: Alan

After the second move it was back to some really fun, albeit loose, scrambling to the summit of North Maroon Peak.

Myself on the final ridge crossing with Chris just behind. Photo: Alan
Myself above the final pitch with a short walk to the summit to my left. Photo: Alan
Myself, Alan, and Chris on the summit of North Maroon

I can honestly say that the two times I have been on the summit of North Maroon, it has pushed my climbing abilities to the limit. This accounts for both this time, which was mostly rock scrambling with extreme exposure, and for ski mountaineering, when Chris, Tyler and I ascended the north face. I think, no matter what happens in the future, I will consider this peak to be the crux of my mountaineering development in college.

We found the basic northeast ridge route trail, and just barely got past the single class 4 pitch before a thunderstorm moved in that left us under some cliffs for a half hour. We then proceeded to get lost several times, had to deal with loose scree that would slide with the slightest amount of weight, and then out to the Minniehana creek crossing. We were all stoked on the 14 hour day, gave high fives, and drove back to Denver, very happy with what we had accomplished.

Two months later, the tourist shot still gets me stoked.

You can read Alan’s take on the day clicking here.

You can also see his Flickr album clicking here.


4 thoughts on “Maroon Bells Traverse

  1. Great report as usual Jon, and thanks for the link over to my post! I also added a link to this report over on my site. I agree that it’s better to write your own trip report first before reading your climbing/skiing partners’ reports, just because it’s always cool to see two different perspectives on these kinds of adventures.

    1. Hey Collin, I was closer to dropping a load seeing the pictures afterwards than when I was doing it. We decided on the way up it’s not that scary because you instinctively don’t look down until you turn around to take a picture, and they you’re like, “holy shit!” I think that’s why a lot of people don’t do this route more than once.

      Alan also put it nicely when he said,

      The Bells Traverse, after all, has a few Class 5 pitches on it, but the rock is bad enough up there that roping up is not a good idea since (1) ropes can knock down a lot of loose rock, and (2) there are really no good places to set anchors.

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