Maroon Peak (14,156'), and North Maroon (14,014') (Elk Range, CO)

Route: North Maroon-Maroon Traverse

Rating: II, 4th or easy 5th class

References: Roach: Colorado's Fourteeners; Dawson's Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners

Party: Dietrich, Paul, and Monique Belitz, Thomas Vojta

Date: August 10, 2002

Time: 15+ hrs roundtrip from Maroon Lake

Comments: Great trip despite the miserable route finding down Maroon Pk.

Trip report:

This year's Colorado Fourteener was to be North Maroon, and since Monique had reliably shaken off her pulmonary edema problems she decided to come along and bag her first Fourteener. We were well acclimatized and figured we could easily get up and down the NE Ridge of North Maroon before the daily t-storms would move in. We got an alpine start, complete with all sorts of curious animals' eyes blinking in the lights of our headlamps. We probably scared some poor bears to death! After some trouble finding the creek crossing we scrambled up the steep slopes below the Sexton, crossed the rock glacier that's so impressive on the Maroon post cards, and found ourselves on the NE Ridge. The "climb" actually mostly consists of hiking up gullies on the face. If one stays on route, it's third class at most. There are cairns all over the place, however, including many on terrain that looked a lot harder, so it's easy to believe that descending this route in bad weather can be interesting. (The cairn proliferation is a problem anyway, see below. It may well be time to just dismantle all of them.) Shortly before 10am, less than six hours after leaving Maroon Lake, we were on the summit of North Maroon. It was a splendid day with tremendous visibility and not the slightest sign of t-storm formation. If we went straight back down we'd have no idea what to do with the rest of the day, so the only obvious thing to do was to continue on to Maroon Peak. Paul, Thomas, and I had done Maroon via the Bellcord Couloir the year before, so we knew that the route from the saddle to the summit of Maroon was straightforward and easy. Little did we know, however, how time consuming it can be to get in to the saddle from North Maroon, and what a pain the route finding down the SW Ridge of Maroon Pk can be!

There were two other people on the summit of North Maroon, both soloists. One later turned out to be Neal Beidleman's patent lawyer, the other did not claim any connection with famous climbers. They were also going for the traverse, and so we all started down more or less simultaneously. The rock was awful, but from the Oregon Cascaces we are used to that, and the scrambling was easy, if exposed. After a while we came to a step that we did not feel like downclimbing, so we got out the rope and set up a rappel. When the three of us plus the patent lawyer were down, the other guy caught up with us. So we told him we'd leave the rope in place for him, asked him to bring the rope when he was done rappelling, and continued down. At the next step, a bunch of slings were in place. They did not look too bad until I rotated them out of the cavity behind the block they were slung around. Some busy rodents had reduced their out-of-sight parts to a mere thread! So we put a new sling in place, and waited for the guy with our rope. After more than half an hour we decided that something was wrong, so Paul went back to check. He later reported that he found the guy lowering himself through the single aluminum rap ring; he did not know how to rappel! Luckily, the ring withstood the abuse. We counted the guy's lucky stars, reclaimed our rope, cliffed out a couple of times, and it took forever to reach the saddle between the Maroons. From there we knew the route, and just like the year before we found it to be not harder than third class; we still have no idea where the fourth class cleft is that Roach talks about. Gaining the few hundred feet to the summit of Maroon Peak we noticed that we were getting tired. All in all it took us 3.5 hours to get from one summit to the other!

After relishing the fact that we were on our second Fourteener for the day we started going down the SW Ridge. This turned out to be a minor nightmare. The entire face is littered with cairned `trails', most of which sooner or later cliff out, giving one the choice between going back to try some other way, or doing some lower 5th class downclimbing on rotten rock. We usually chose the latter. Thomas and the patent lawyer stayed high, while I led Monique lower since I had seen people come up this way the year before. We still encountered many nasty steps to downclimb. Paul was somewhere in between, and we occasionally could hear him curse the route, the mountain, and life in general. I kept waiting for Monique to freak out and throw a fit, but amazingly she never did. After what seemed like an eternity we reached the point on the ridge where the trail down into the valley starts. Fortunately, there still was not a single cloud in the sky, although it was by now late afternoon. That's really unusual for Colorado in mid-summer. About half way down we ran out of water, and on the final hike back, past Crater Lake and on down to Maroon Lake, we all felt kind of miserable. When we finally reached Maroon Lake we admired the sign warning people to stay off of the "Deadly Bells", then turned around and saw most of our route in the evening glow. The Bells are magnificent mountains, rotten rock, ill-placed cairns, and all!

Photo Gallery:

Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image. All photo credits Thomas Vojta

Crossing the rock glacier Working up a gully Paul rehydrating high on the NE Ridge Monique rehydrating high on the NE Ridge The North Maroon summit was already taken On the traverse

Downclimbing on the traverse North Maroon, and the traverse, from high on Maroon Peak Paul on the true summit