September 16, 2016

Maroon Peak – 14,156′

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2,336' (Castle Peak - 8.1 mi SE)
Gunnison/Pitkin County
12 mi SW of Aspen
13.6 mi N of Crested Butte

South Ridge (Class 3)

Google Maps


This is the 17th 14er I've climbed, back in September 2014 with my friends Mike and Tim. This peak the 2nd tallest in the Elk Range and the 24th tallest in Colorado. It can be climbed together with neighboring North Maroon Peak, an unranked 14er less than a half mile to the north, via a challenging Class 5 traverse along the ridgeline between the two peaks. Together the two peaks are called the "Maroon Bells" and, as the name suggests, both are characterized by their reddish-colored rock. Maroon Peak, like most of the Elk 14ers, is hidden from the populated areas down in the valleys but can be seen from the tops of some of the Aspen ski resorts.

We hiked the standard South Ridge route, a Class 3 climb beginning at the Maroon Lake Trailhead at 9,600'. The paved Maroon Lake Road goes all the way to the trailhead from Aspen and provides incredibly easy access to the area. However, during the summer this road is closed to most vehicles during the day and the only way to get to the trailhead is by taking a shuttle. If hiking this peak, you should probably be on the trail before sunrise, when you can still drive up the road. As of October 2015, there is a $10 parking fee for day hikers.

From the trailhead, a very good trail heads west around the northern end of Maroon Lake and then angles southwest up into the aspen forest. Follow the trail 1.6 miles to a trail junction near Crater Lake at 10,100' and stay left. Continue on the trail around the north side of the lake for another 1.8 miles, heading up the valley to the south along West Maroon Creek directly below Maroon Peak's east slopes.

Near 10,500' there is a trail marked by an easy-to-miss cairn that breaks off to the right and heads up the slopes to the west. Find this trail and follow it as it begins climbing the slopes. From here to the summit, the route becomes increasingly dangerous. Do not use this route description, but instead follow a more detailed description with pictures such as the one provided by (see above). Another good option is to follow the route description given by Gerry Roach in his guidebook Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs*.

From the beginning of the new trail at 10,500' to the top of Maroon Peak's south ridge at 13,300', you climb 2,800' over a distance of only 0.9 miles. As it sounds, the trail more or less goes straight up the slopes to the ridge, with only a few short switchbacks. This awful part of the climb has been affectionately named the "Wall of Suck". The route crosses a number of cliffy rock bands on these slopes and a few Class 3 moves are required. Other than that, it's just a strenuous walk up the stupidly steep trail.

Once at the ridge, the trail turns right (north) and follows cairns along the ridgeline for a bit before dropping below the ridge to the left (west). It eventually takes you up to a steep gap between two rock towers. Climb up the Class 3 rock through the gap and turn left, continuing along the trail as it contours the steep west-facing slopes.

After a while you will reach a steep loose gully. The remainder of the route requires some concentration and likely some route-finding, since the trail can be easy to loose and my memory of the climb is a bit blurry. I will leave the details to the well-documented route descriptions I suggested earlier. Definitely use those to help guide you!

In short, you climb about halfway up either this gully or the next gully just to the north, take an exit ledge to the left (north), and continue to along the ledges until you reach another gully just below the summit. You can climb up this gully to the ridge or find the easiest way up Maroon Peak's southwest face. Either way, the route at this point is by no means straightforward and, at the end of the day, use your best judgement. The easiest way up will be Class 3, but there's plenty of Class 4 or 5 climbing to be found if you want it. Just be careful not to kick rocks down on climbers below you!

Once on the summit, you are presented with one of the more amazing views you will see on any 14er, in my opinion. North Maroon Peak is only 0.4 miles to the north, connected to Maroon Peak by the intimidating Class 5 traverse that lies before you in full view. 14ers Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak, two beautiful white granite peaks, sit just a few miles away to the northwest. On top of that, the green trees and grass down in the valleys complete the colorful scene. A feast for the eyes!

To descend, some very experienced climbers can take the traverse to North Maroon and then follow North Maroon's standard route back down. The easiest, and safest, way down from Maroon Peak is certainly back the way you came. It's a long and tiresome hike back down, and the Wall of Suck will probably do a number on your feet. However, once back at the car just know that you've conquered one of Colorado's most rugged but beautiful 14ers!

*Click here to get this book on Amazon!

Trip Reports

Maroon Peak (Sept 2014)