The Maroon Bells: Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak - both featured on Colorado 14ers Map 10 of 16 - are perhaps the most iconic 14ers in Colorado. Despite their beauty and ease of viewing from the popular Maroon Lake, these Elk Mountain peaks are some of the most challenging 14ers to summit. Though North Maroon Peak is unranked (not enough rise from its saddle with the higher Maroon Peak), it is often thought of as an honorary 14er.
The Maroon Bells were first named by the Hayden Survey of 1874 (yes, the same group that named so many 14ers in Colorado), who called it 'maroon mountain' due to their color, and this was later adapted to the bells due to the shape of the summit cones of each peak. Unlike many 14er peaks in Colorado, the Maroon Bells (and some nearby peaks) are made up of a very 'rotten', soft, crumbly rock called mudstone.
USFS warning sign near Maroon Bells
The 'Deadly Bells' nickname is due largely to this unstable rock, and was given some time after eight people died in five different accidents in 1965 alone. The short video below shows how loose this rock can be on the traverse between the two bells at an area called the 'leap of faith'.
Many climbers who otherwise do everything right can meet tragedy on the Maroon Bells, including a young climber who died in 2010 who was wearing a climbing helmet but was hit by a falling rock and knocked 600 feet to his death below. The bottom line with the Maroon Bells is: follow the suggested routes and take extra care in these loose rock conditions.
For those who wish to take on the mighty Maroon Bells, the adventure usually begins at Maroon Lake Trailhead (elevation 9,600 ft) - a very busy place during the summer - right at the edge of the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness. From there, a 1.7 mile easy hike along West Maroon Creek on the Maroon Snowmass Trail #1975 will take you to a junction with the West Maroon Pass Trail. From there, it's a right turn (to stay on Maroon Snowmass Trail) towards North Maroon Peak route or a left turn (on to the West Maroon Pass Trail #1970) towards the Maroon Peak route.
Following the West Maroon Pass Trail south from the junction past Crater Lake will take you to the turn-off to the Maroon Peak route after 1.9 miles. From this turn-off the trail to Maroon Peak turns west/southwest almost to the ridge before turning north for the final Class 3 (scrambling) push to the summit - 1.9 miles after the turn-off from the West Maroon Pass Trail.
For North Maroon Peak, continue west along the Maroon Snowmass Trail at the junction with West Maroon Pass Trail just before Crater Lake and you will come to the turn-off to the North Maroon Peak route is 0.7 mile later. This route turns south from the Maroon Snowmass trail and continues south along a relatively easy trail before turning west very steeply up the peak for the Class 3 finish. The summit is reached 1.6 miles of hiking/scrambling after the turn-off. Note the maroon colored rocks of North Maroon peak in the photo below.
The Maroon Bells can also be accessed by approaching them up the West Maroon Pass Trail from the East Fork Trailhead (elevation 10,425') from the south, but this is a much longer approach (6.8 miles from trailhead to Maroon Peak turn-off) and one must ascend/descend West Maroon Pass.
Though the Maroon Bells themselves are in the realm of somewhat more experienced 14ers hikers/climbers, the Bells Traverse (climbing from one summit over to the next directly) is one of the great Colorado mountaineering traverses, and is certainly one of the more challenging routes amongst 14ers climbing experiences.
For those up for the challenge, the beautiful Maroon Peak and North Maroon peak are classic Elk Mountains climbs. As mentioned above, however, preparation and safety precautions are crucial in this area even more so compared to the Front Range and Sawatch 14ers already covered in this blog. Beyond the loose rock danger, also remember to respect your limitations, drink plenty of water, watch the weather closely and don't forget your 14ers maps and compass. Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are two of the five fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Map 10 of 16.
Directions to Trailheads:
From Aspen, take Colorado Hwy 82 about a 0.5 mile west to the large traffic circle and take the exit south from it onto Maroon Lake Road. Follow Maroon Lake Road for 9.5 miles to the parking lot/trailhead. In the Summer, this lot may be accessible via shuttle bus only from the Highland Ski Area Parking Lot or Rubey Park.
For the East Fork/Schofield Trailhead, from the north end of the town of Crested Butte, follow Gothic Road / County Road 317 for 14 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.