Date: 26 July 2003
Route: Ascent - Traverse From North Maroon Peak; Descent - South Ridge; Difficulty - Class 3, Class 4
Elevation: Base - 9,600 (est); Summit - 14,156; Elevation Gain - 4,450 (includes climb to North Maroon Peak)
Distance: From North Maroon Peak to Summit - .4 miles; Summit to Maroon Lake (South Ridge Route) - 6 miles; Total Distance - 6.4 miles (est)
Time: Start - 10:50 AM; Summit - 12:50 PM; Finish - Maroon Peak Summit to Maroon Lake 5:30 PM; Total Trip Time - 6.75 hours
Route: The .4 mile traverse between North Maroon Peak and Maroon Peak is as challenging as reported in the standard guidebooks. We began the traverse at 10:50 AM. The ridge portion of this route was very airy with extreme exposure. Once again, Rob did route finding. It is difficult at best, and I'm not sure whether we were on the correct route, but we got the job done.
We were confronted with two different cliffs that required either a rappel or a Class 4+ down climb with overhang. Since I carried a rope, slings, harness, etc., we chose to use a rappel on both cliffs. There were slings at both rappel sites that were recent, and appeared to be in good shape. The first cliff is about 25 feet high (eastern most) and has a double anchor at the top; the western most cliff is taller (about 55 feet) and the anchor is a single sling with a small ring. Both are serviceable. Rob and Julie did not have harnesses, so they had to use a field expedient body rappel. We rappelled down the first obstacle without incident and then hit the second cliff block approximately 100 feet farther west. Rob chose to down climb this Class 4+ piece; I rappelled down the cliff and then belayed Julie during her rappel. Those were the two most difficult pitches, but by no means the only challenges.
A small airplane circled us several times as we were rappelling, and we could easily see other climbers on both North Maroon Peak and Maroon Peak, because the distance is not great, but getting to either summit is a long, arduous task. There is considerable climbing on exposed Class 4 blocks on Maroon Peak's north face, and the notch at the apex of the Bell Cord Couloir was very exposed, very exciting. As a rule, we stayed to the west side of the ridge as we traversed. Although this may not have been exactly as described by the guidebooks, it worked well for us.
We never had to backtrack, the route had enough cairns to cause us to be confident that we were on route, and we were able to minimize exposure. The entire route was very time consuming, however. Once we gained the summit, we reflected on the traverse and all of us concluded the traverse was tougher than that of El Diente Mount Wilson, and Little Bear Blanca Peak. All in all, the traverse was a classic in the truest sense of the word.
We spent less than 30 minutes on Maroon Peak's summit because weather was coming in. We decided to descend using the south ridge route. This is a confusing route with complex route finding, but the ledges involved only Class 3 moves. There was some exposure at times, but nothing too airy. Once we crossed the south ridge, we descended due east to Maroon Creek, and that was the toughest part of the route. This down climb was very unpleasant, and seemed endless. The talus and scree never allowed for good purchase and the pressure on the feet and knees was terrible.
About half way down the 3,000 foot descent, we came across and steep dirt path that we used for the remainder of our descent. We were totally beat by the time we reached the intersection of the Maroon Creek trail. By this time, it had been raining for two hours, and everyone just wanted to get back to the trailhead. The three mile slog back to the trailhead, was long, but rewarding.
Conditions: Weather - Sunny, warm, thunderheads, with lightning and rain later in the afternoon; Temperature - 70 degrees at summit; Thunderheads formed in afternoon. Some lightning and rain on the descent. Steady rain from 3:00 PM onwards.
Climbing Companions: Rob and Julie from Denver