Peak(s):  Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Date Posted:  04/04/2020
Modified:  04/14/2020
Date Climbed:   11/09/2019
Author:  Will_E
 South Maroon, a Love Story   

South Maroon Peak

November 9, 2019

My first attempt of South Maroon was in October of 2018, it was a summer like day in the bells, but hella windy. I reached the ridge where you flip to the back side of the mountain, but the wind was so strong I was struggling to remain upright. I turned back. On the way down I crossed paths with a big burley guy, probably 6'4", 200+ lbs, told him how crazy the winds were, he shrugged it off, likely because of my small size. The next day strong winds were still predicted, so I attempted (and summitted) N. Maroon, thinking it might be a bit more sheltered from the wind (it was). Ran into that same guy at N. Maroon's chimney (all I remember about him other than his size, was that he was from New Mexico), he confessed that he turned back when he reached the ridge as well. I felt a little bit vindicated, but was still disappointed that I hadn't reached the top of the bells.

My first summit of S. Maroon. June 22, 2019. I love S. Maroon.

Fast forward to summer 2019, I wanted to get S. Maroon as quick as possible, I don't like unfinished business. Access to the bells was later than normal due to the heavy snow and avalanche damage all over the Elks, the road wasn't open until mid June. I reached the summit of S. Maroon on June 22, 2019, and it became one of my favorite peaks. It's long, technical (especially given there was a fair amount of snow), beautiful, and a real challenge. Before I even finished the day I knew I wanted to be back up there soon. The remainder of summer was spent completing all my unclimbed 14'ers, so the return to S. Maroon was put on hold. As October came and went it was starting to look like I might not get back to the bells this year. Then a perfect forecast opened up in early November. And the road to the bells was going to be open for 1 more weekend. And I love S. Maroon.

Friday night I drove to Glenwood Springs and stayed at the Best Western (its pretty nice). Plan was to be hiking by 6am, days were starting to get shorter and shorter, and S. Maroon makes for a long day, particularly when there's snow to contend with. I was first car in the parking lot, and was hiking by 6am. It was dark, but easy to see the bells in all their glory, with a nice coat of snow.

I feel like there should be a prize for being first car in the lot.

It was a little darker than this portrays, was playing around with 'night mode' on iPhone, a new feature at the time. It does a 2-3 second long exposure using OIS and fancy software to keep image clear. I love S. Maroon.

Not knowing exactly what I'd be up against for conditions, I took all the potential needs, snowshoes, crampons, axe, and micro spikes. I would end up using none of them. There was a well packed trench all the way to Crater Lake.

Sun started rising before I reached Crater Lake.

Crater Lake

Tracks continued beyond Crater Lake, and there still remained some avalanche damage (but much less than in June, obviously) to negotiate. I continued to follow the tracks, which became less pronounced beyond Crater Lake.

Past Crater Lake.



The trail was visible in places, and the footsteps continued in the direction I knew I needed to go.


At some point the footsteps crossed West Maroon Creek, and for some reason I continued to follow them (anybody else over 40 remember the game "Lemmings"? That was me). Went maybe a quarter mile before realizing I was getting farther from the peak, not closer, so backtracked. The footsteps picked back up again on the correct side of the creek, but were not going up the standard trail, they were staying close to the creek, not gaining much elevation. Then they stopped all of a sudden. From there I used the GPX app to figure out that I was a fair bit off course, so started angling up towards the ridge. I could mostly stay on steep dry parts, just had a few snow filled gullies to cross that were generally soft enough that I sunk in enough to be safe, and not need any traction. I see lots of complaints about this section of S. Maroon, but I don't mind it. I'll hereby refer to it as the 2800 ft of greatness.

Part of the 2800 ft of greatness.

When I reached the top of the 2800 ft greatness, I left my snowshoes and continued on.


The views after the 2800 ft of greatness are so choice.

Pyramid off in the distance.



A big part of why I like S. Maroon is the creative route finding you have after flipping to the back side of the mountain. The snow made this more challenging, there were a handful of places where I could see a cairn off in the distance, but due to snow, the best option wasn't necessarily to try and get to the cairn. I feel like I'll probably never climb this peak the same way twice. When I saw how much snow was on the backside in June, I gave myself little probability of summitting. I felt the same way on this day in November.


Sections like this were challenging. I mostly tried to avoid snow at all costs. I love S. Maroon.

Can see my tracks lower center.

Not at the top, but the views are getting better.

Selfie with Pyramid (actually a screenshot of video clip, hence the slight blur).

Steep 'n dangerous. I'm a pretty fast hiker, but not in sections like this.

When I get to this point, I'm feeling great. Didn't take for granted that I'd reach the summit this day.

I reached the summit 5 hours and 58 minutes from start. Pretty good time, all things considered.

Reached summit just after noon.

Summit. I love S. Maroon.

Snow on the peak, not quite as much as in June.

Summit panorama.


It was really a warm day, temps were forecasted to be mid 30's at the peak, which felt about right, I had brought my normal winter ensemble, which was far more than I needed. Spent probably a half hour at the summit it was so nice out. Charged up phone and watch (I suffer from juiceaphobia), enjoyed a few granola bars, took plenty of pics, but knew I had a long way down, and an early sunset. Like a bottle of Alaskan Amber, all good things must come to an end. Down I go.

Its often difficult to capture the steepness and danger of what we do, but this feels pretty accurate.

On the way down I used a little bit different approach, I tried to stay as close to the ridge proper as possible. The terrain is more challenging up high, but there was less snow to navigate. This worked pretty well, my route down felt much easier that my route up.

Staying close/on the ridge on the way down.

Looking back on the way down. S. Maroon is fantastic.

Getting back down was pretty uneventful, I went closer to the summer route on the 2800 ft of greatness.

2800 ft of greatness.


Sun began to set as I reached Crater Lake.

Another sunset shot from between Crater Lake and Maroon Lake.

Until I was maybe a mile before the parking lot, I hadn't seen anyone all day. Encountered a group of tourists from Asia, I showed them the view from the top, they were pretty thrilled. All in all, it was the kind of day I hope I get to repeat again soon.

Final stats.

My GPS track. Note the large variance of route in the 2800 ft of greatness.

Can't wait to be up there again in 2020. Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
04/04/2020 20:59
You really killed this one! The Bells are definitely on my list for this year - assuming we get to go out this year! Thanks for putting this up.

04/06/2020 00:12
What a beautiful day too!!

04/06/2020 15:53
photos man. I appreciate that they aren't all processed and filtered. Some of the best I've seen from atop the Bells!

04/06/2020 20:59
Yeah, but do you really love South Maroon? It just isn't clear in this report. I prefer North Maroon (it might be my favorite) to South, but might have to redo South to see if I've got things switched up. I mostly remember the 2,800 Feet of (Insert Joyous/Hateful Adjective Here) and how tired I felt, since I attempted North Maroon's standard route later the same day without a break and got beaten back by an afternoon storm. The climbing on the back side of the mountain is indeed pretty awesome though. Fun report, Will, brings back good memories.

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