The Elk Mountains are indeed rotten rock and tough climbs! Not to mention the heavy monsoons we've been hit with the last two weekends. A week ago Kevin Craig and I climbed Pyramid. Last Saturday we backpacked 1.5 miles into Crater Lake to shorten the time to do the 8 mile round trip, 4500 vertical climb of N. Maroon. Shortly after we started hiking around 5:30 (the TH road reopens at 5:00 to traffic), it began to sprinkle and then turned into a steady downpour. First time I've had the joy of setting up a tent in the rain - it stinks! It rained hard until about midnight. Designated campsites (12) are situated around the lake. A few tents were along the route at higher altitudes in the Wilderness.
We climbed N. Maroon Sunday, leaving camp at 5:15 and summiting at 10:30 AM. We felt the climb was easier than Pyramid, maybe since the route is a mile longer and it didn't seem to be as steep even though the summits are essentially the same altitude. N. Maroon is definitely looser rock than Pyramid, and several handholds let go when weighted. The slopes seemed to be covered with even more loose scree and large loose rocks than Pyramid. We wedged rocks under the edge of a couple of large pieces that were ready to roll downhill. Despite our being careful, during the course of the day we kicked loose a few rocks that could have been serious hazards for climbers below. There were several cairned routes, and we picked a route that seemed to be well traveled. As the guidebooks warn, we got off route a few times and the climbing quickly became 5th Class. Other than one steep 5.0-5.2 pitch about 20 feet high, the route only included a few 4th Class sections. Some guides we met on their descent left a new sling and rap ring in place at the top of the steep pitch. We rappelled the short pitch on the descent. At least we had some fun with the rope we carried. Clouds were floating around but not building that early in the morning.
We looked hard at the traverse to S. Maroon and felt we probably had the skills but not the time and confidence to do the crossing. A guide we talked to on the way up N. Maroon said that experienced guides take 5 hours to do the traverse, which seems too long for a 0.4 mile traverse, even with a 30-50 foot section that has to be rappelled. Bourneman and Lambert state the traverse takes at least 1.5 hours. I would be a very long day to do the traverse, and carrying enough water would be tough. I didn't receive any beta on the traverse from a post on rockies.com, so it may be that the traverse is seldom attempted or completed. Ascending N. Maroon takes 4-5 hours and the descent off S. Maroon would be around 5 hours, so with the traverse it could be 14-15 hours round trip, from Crater Lake. Maybe another day we'll try the traverse, now that we're more aware of the difficulty and logistics.
We arrived back to camp around 3:00 and packed up for the short hike out. Just after starting out it began to rain again and then turned into a real monsoon. Parts of the trail were flooded 3-4 inches deep. It became a thrilling hike with close by lightning and thunder. Luckily, we were close to tree line and the trail dropped into the Pines. We changed into dry clothes at the restrooms at the TH and started the 4 hours drive home. In the continuing monsoon, traffic was "ski season" stop and go gridlock from Georgetown past Idaho Springs. Even as late as 8:00 PM, people were still leaving the weekend rock concert at Winter Park. Our next and last trip to the Elks to summit S. Maroon will probably be in August, hopefully after the soggy monsoon season.
Bill Lhotta adds:
I think the guides you met who gave you the info on the traverse (5 hours!) must have included the traverse and the descent time from South Maroon itself to come up with that number. We did the traverse back in 98 and it only took us about an hour to make the crossing (including the rappel). The descent from South Maroon to Crater Lake is LONG and laborious although not difficult.
Kevin Craig adds:
One minor correction: it was me who first talked to the guide from Aspen Expeditions regarding the Maroon traverse. He indicated that their guides take from 2-4 hours; either I or Doug added a non-guide compensation factor in arriving at 5 hours for the traverse and somewhere that got translated into the time for an experienced person. Sorry for the confusion.