Peak(s):  North Maroon Peak  -  14,022 feet
Date Posted:  08/19/2010
Modified:  07/26/2019
Date Climbed:   08/14/2010
Author:  KeithK
 The Matter of Perspective   

North Maroon Peak (14,014')
August 14, 2010
Northeast Ridge from Maroon Lake Trailhead
Distance: ~9 miles
Elevation Gain: ~4,500'
Official Partner: Mark (Yog)
Unofficial Partners: Dave (49ersRule), Nick (BadgerNick), Don (PeakCowboy), "Bob"
Images by Dave, Mark and Keith (artistic effects courtesy of Sunlight Peak scrambling)

The Elk Range stood as a brick wall in my path to exploring the Fourteeners, daunting and forbidding, large peaks with large reputations. Logistically, I could not find the time to make three separate trips for the three mountains I had yet to climb, and the idea of trying to combine anything with Capitol Peak seemed foolhardy at best. Climbing North Maroon Peak and Snowmass Mountain on the same weekend seemed equally as ambitious, especially without a firm partner for Snowmass. Challenge is part of what makes the hobby fun, though, and accomplishment is proportional to effort most of the time. So it was that I drove west to Maroon Lake on a beautiful Friday evening, arriving at the closed overnight parking area after 9:00. Only a handful of cars joined me in the West Portal parking, and I settled in for about four hours of good sleep in the cool August night. I would meet Mark at 3:00 a.m. and we'd begin the day under headlamps, moving steadily along the trail to Crater Lake, where the Buckskin Pass trail would direct us west towards the much more modest North Maroon trail.

We crossed Minnehaha creek and began ascending the steepening slope; the trail was not hard to follow, as it skirted a rocky area along the edge of a willow patch, and worked its way uphill on muddy and sometimes slippery dirt. We arrived at the short class three wall, but in the dim morning twilight I had followed a washout path to the right of it, and was trying to figure out why it didn't look like the route description. Fortunately, a pair of hikers caught us and chose to stay left, on the trail that led to the actual passage over the obstacle. That was useful. Above the wall, the trail relents and begins to feel like a real Fourteener trail, as it crosses a good sized talus field sprawling below the massive black and red north face of the peak. Suddenly, the spectacular landscape erupts, with cliffs holding up jagged ridgelines in every direction. Mark agreed, this place is absolutely stunning, especially as the sun rises behind you, peeking over the distant ridgelines. We knew this was going to be a great day.

Dark becomes light...

Mark enjoys the alpenglow...

Crossing the talus field was inconsequential, an easy task connecting cairns and staying on a level line with our intended target, an obvious spot on the corner of the mountain ahead. A pika served as the perfect cairn, perched on the tip of a boulder overlooking the entire valley, and we made our way around the corner, anticipating our initial look at the first gully on the route. As steep as things began to look, the hiking never really felt very difficult, and we traversed the cliffs at the bottom of the gully and made our way up the six hundred foot slope in good time, before angling to the left to aim for the exit ledge that would wrap further around the mountain, leading to the much more impressive, more intimidating second gully. We perched on the natural platform that marks the transition for a nice break, where our new friends Bob, Don, Nick and Dave caught up to us.

That cairn looks like a pika...

I'm ready for the fun stuff!

I choose a spicier way to approach the second gully...

That doesn't intimidate me! Much.

Let the steepness begin...

Entering the second gully involves a brief descent below a cliff band similar to the first gully, and then climbs steeply up the left side. The climbing at the bottom is mostly solid, though, and I was surprised at how relatively easy it was. Even as things got looser near the middle and higher, it was never much more than the challenge of working from ledge to ledge. We were all mindful of potential rock fall, and the gully allowed for various lines to be followed, keeping us safely spread out. Nearing the ridgeline, things finally became interesting, as the dirt and ledges began to transition into classic Bells cliff bands. The prominent notch along the ridge provides a good break spot, and then the route begins its way left, weaving up, across and over, the kind of climbing that one would expect if they've climbed Maroon Peak or Pyramid Peak. The climbing was solid and fun, with one or two moves that created a brief pause for consideration, with just a hint of exposure or poor prospects for landing. Mark and I caught up to the four ahead of us right below the infamous Rock Band, with its class four chimney drawing us in like a magnet. Bob, being a local and having climbed this peak numerous times, led the way, scampering up the thing like it was a staircase. Don was not so keen, however, and I offered to accompany him over to investigate the class three by-pass, marked well by cairns at an obvious point only a hundred feet or so to the right. Dave, Nick and Mark would climb the chimney.

Mark looks for a hold...

Lots of playful ledges...

Enjoyable scrambling in the second gully...

The by-pass consists of a series of large blocks that have managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the cliff band. There are a couple of ways to start climbing the section; we chose a line to the right, which still required long steps and a tall reach. There was snow and ice nestled below many of the ledges, so wet, muddy boot soles would be a concern as well. One move provided a real test, requiring a waist-high maneuver against an awkward, shallow right foot placement. Fortunately, there are handholds if you need them, and both Don and I just hoisted ourselves up onto the barrier. Ten more feet of easier class three had us below the exit to easier terrain above, which involved an exposed series of steps that spilled out onto the talus pile above. We hopped our way up to the rest of the group, and quickly emerged onto the precipice, a very cool, nearly flat diving board feature that reaches out into the valley, providing a dizzying vantage point. We would explore this later, as everyone could sense the summit above, with only a couple of hundred vertical feet left to climb.

The guys scope out the chimney...

Our first look at the third class crux...

It seemed almost simple, after climbing Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak, to ascend the summit cone on North Maroon. There were no surprises, no really dangerous feeling sections, virtually no stress. As the group reached the summit, we joined a lone climber, who informed us that his guide had left him to traverse over to Maroon Peak, where an accident had occurred only about ten minutes prior. For the second straight week, I was on the mountain in the midst of a rescue, this one ending in a far more serious outcome. As I looked across at the famous Bells Traverse, I realized just how much I did not want to attempt it, as it looks extremely airy and difficult from the North Maroon side. A climber had fallen off of Maroon Peak, apparently attempting to down climb to the traverse route, landing in the Bell Cord Couloir (it was later learned that the twenty year old CU Boulder student had not survived the fall). As we were on the summit, details were sketchy, but we could see the young man's group trying to down climb in the area where the fall occurred. It was very sobering, and a stern reminder of the dangers involved in my beloved choice of hobby. A group of guys arrived from the traverse, and they were visibly charged with adrenaline. The summit of North Maroon Peak is not very big, and the eleven climbers covered it pretty well. We took the customary pictures, ate our various snacks and lunches, and enjoyed the perfectly stellar day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. I couldn't ask for a better August weekend.

Climbing towards the sky...

Dave and I arrive just below the summit...

Enjoying the summit of North Maroon Peak... (l-r: Bob, Dave, Don, Nick, Keith, Mark)

Pyramid Peak...

After a refreshing break, we finally decided to leave the summit, thoughts of cold beer winning out over leisure, and we all knew it would be a time consuming descent. Bob led the way, and the rest of us fell in line. We descended quickly to the precipice, where Dave, Mark and I stopped for some photos. This plank like structure looks like a diving board; I'm sure there have been those that think jumping off of it with a parachute would be a good idea. I was content to just stand out on the end of it, not venturing too close to the sheer drops to the south. It makes for some spectacular pictures, though. Dropping down the ridge, we chose to head for the by-pass route, while Don, Bob and Nick had already returned to the chimney. Down climbing the third class section proved easy enough, with the most difficult moves at the very top, where there is plenty of exposure, but totally solid placements. Rock fall potential is present, so care was taken to keep things safe. A short traverse lead us back to the main route, where only a few more minutes of class three down climbing separated us from the easier, albeit looser gully. Dave and I took our time descending the gully, enjoying the illustrious day and relishing the fact that we had just climbed a Maroon Bell.

Dave and I explore the precipice...

Waiting at the top of the third class crux...

Down climbing perfect blocks...

A great look down...

Dropping into the second gully...

Dave is having fun!

Arriving back at the natural break area between gullies, we stopped and rested, the sounds of a Flight For Life helicopter breaking the Wilderness air. For about twenty minutes, we watched as the aircraft circled Maroon Peak; it looked to be trying to find a place to land right under the summit. There is an intensity to seeing such a machine, and knowing why it's present. Snapping back into hiking mode, we set off and down the lower gully, making good time as we weaved through the dirt, rock and tundra ledges and benches dotted with wildflowers and thistle plant "gotchas". The pulsing thump of the helicopter continued to reverberate throughout the valley, eventually dying away as we reached our exit and began the easier traverse back into Minnehaha Gulch.

Flight For Life...

I wonder if he has family in Chicago Basin...

As the descent continued, a new helicopter arrived, one of the darkly colored, serious ones owned by the United States Government. We marveled at that piece of precision machinery, and it was apparent that this aircraft could go pretty much anywhere it wanted to. We even watched it disappear into the Bell Cord, then buzz back out of the narrow gorge and fly right over us, sleek and fast. The sounds of the effort would continue for about another hour, as we finally reached the Buckskin Trail once again, and not long after, the Crater Lake Trail. I think we were all happy to start passing and being passed by tourists and casual hikers, after a long, but satisfying day on one of Colorado's hardest Fourteeners. Mark and I had both run out of water, so we were ready for the comforts of civilization. It was a great day out with great partners; Dave, Nick, Don, Bob... it was a pleasure to meet and hike with you guys. Hopefully we'll find some more trails soon. Mark, thanks for having great taste in music. 8)


It's a bit odd to look back on this climb, as I remember we all thought it was a pretty tough mountain at the time, but now it doesn't seem like it. As I continue to expand my comfort zone, my perception of the difficult Fourteeners also changes. I don't know that I'll climb North Maroon Peak again, but I do have very fond memories of it, and it seems to have served as an exorcism of sorts for the perils and fears I had experienced on Pyramid Peak over a year before. I have a deep appreciation for all three of the peaks that tower over the pristine valleys of the central Elk Range, and know I'll return someday. But for now, there are other Elks to hunt...

Comments or Questions
Doctor No
I love the pica cairn!
08/20/2010 00:11
Sad to see the copters with the knowledge that we now have.

as usual...
08/20/2010 00:39
...your TRs transport me. Another great write-up and photos. I can't wait to be part of the next one! (Here's hoping we break your recent trend of being near extractions...)

Nice, well written.
08/20/2010 01:17
The wordsmith master of TRs has delivered another...That was a stellar day as our group was on Pyramid. Always nice to completely drop any concern about weather when climbing more difficult peaks.

Ring a Ding Ding!! SWEET!!
08/20/2010 01:49
Congrats Keith K... That is a memorable climb for me too... Having to turn around in a storm and going back a year later to successfully summit.. CONGRATS!!

08/20/2010 13:35
Nice work, Kieth. You've definitely been getting after it!

Ring that Bell!
08/20/2010 15:41
I've been drooling over the Bells for a very long time, it was nice to finally climb it, plus the addition of good company and new friends was a nice bonus! It is too bad about the traverse (one day I will get it!), but with the tragedy going on, it was just not an appropriate time to be climbing on it. Wish I could join you on Capitol, but I've promised to save it as my finisher. Nice write up as usual! See you on Wetterhorn if we don't hike sooner. Oh, and good taste in music yourself!! Glad you like the CD, I'm digging mine!

Nice job, guys
08/20/2010 15:57
Your experience on North Maroon shows how easy these peaks can be when everything lines up just right: weather, terrain conditions, the energy level, climbing skills and maturity of the group. It also shows that, even when everything lines up, something can still go horribly wrong, as with that poor young man on the traverse. Glad you had a safe day!

Progression ...
08/20/2010 16:17
definition: n. 1. a moving forward or onward; progress 2. a sequence or succession, as of acts, happenings, etc. 8) Keith, I think this describes you and your 14'ers quest very nicely ... it's been a joy to watch ... thanks for sharing that journey with us. (and, I predict that you WILL climb North Maroon again ... ). Happy trails!

Thanks everyone, I appreciate the kind words...
08/24/2010 02:48
Terri, it's going to take a healthy bribe to climb it again, but you're probably right...
Mark and Dave, thanks for making this a great hike. For as long as we were out there, it didn't feel all that long.

08/24/2010 16:44
2 LEFT!! The opening photo is great Keith. It's been awesome to awtch your climbing skills grow so fast since we did Lindsey last year! Great TR!

Sweet report.
06/02/2011 14:57
Nicely done with some good info to boot!

Excellent TR as usual!
07/29/2013 18:29
Keith, thanks for the TR. Awesome, as usual! Perfect ending for this report: ”But for now, there are other Elks to hunt... ” followed by a shot of Snowmass and Capitol.

Great to meet all you guys up there. It was a memorable day.

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