Climbing Maroon Peak | A Beautiful But Deadly 14er
The Maroon Bells (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) are the two most photographed mountains in Colorado. Known for their striking color shades and layered rock, they’re a tempting climb. However, the mudrock that gives the peaks their vivid colors and layers are also extremely loose and rotten, making these peaks very dangerous. Handholds routinely crumble underneath you, and rockslide risk is confirmed. Climbing Maroon Peak is the easier of the two, but it’s by no means easy, best saved for experienced mountaineers. Plan a visit with my Maroon Peak route guide below.
Climbing Maroon Peak: Fast Facts
Climbing Maroon Peak - South Ridge Route
Getting to this fourteener can be a logistical challenge, as you will need a reservation to shuttle in. Click here for more info on reaching the Maroon Leak trailhead using the shuttle system, which drops you off at the trailhead. This is you will start climbing Maroon Peak.
Head out from the Maroon Lake trailhead walking west on the trail near the lake. Beyond the lake, start up the Crater Lake trail. Hike around 1.75 miles to reach another signed trail junction. Take a left and keep hiking on the West Maroon Creek Trail to Crater Lake, where you can see The Bells and West Maroon Creek to your southwest. Follow the trail along the right side of the lake and into the trees.
Around this area, you may need to cross some small streams. Leave the trees near the lake’s southern edge and keep moving south through the heavy ground cover. Cross a talus field, descend slightly back to the willows and continue south for a half-mile or so. You will reach a cairned trail junction at 10,400 feet. Take a right and start hiking up the Maroon Peak trail.
Traverse for approximately half of a mile. Near 10,900 feet, the trail starts climbing west up the slope. Near 11,600 feet, hike towards some rock crags and small cliffs. Keep following the trail as it angles left into these outcroppings. The remaining hike to the ridge will get more difficult and harder to follow as you go, but you should try to stay on the trail as you continue up steep rocky sections.
Near 12,900 feet, gain a ridge crest and turn right to follow the steep, loose trail toward the crest of the south ridge. Reach a small notch along the South Ridge, around 13,250 feet. Scramble right out of the notch and over a rock outcropping to see the remaining route. This is a good spot to check weather conditions, as there remain 2-3 hours of climbing from this spot.
The rest of this route involves careful route-finding and navigation. Be wary of slight variations from the route description. Move slowly and study the terrain carefully as you go to stay safe. Do not keep climbing Maroon Peak unless you understand and accept the serious risk.
In short: Staying on the west side of the ridge, traverse through complex, dangerous terrain for a little less than half a mile, around Point 13,753, and keep scrambling on the west side before gaining the south ridge just below the summit.
Follow a cairned trail on the west side of the ridge for roughly 1/10 mile before turning right to find a chimney between some rock towers. Climb the chimney, turn left, and climb up through a large crack at the top. Now above 13,400 feet, move onto easier terrain. Cross below a notch and climb to a large, white rock band. Continue across ledges and around a corner to a point where you can see Point 13,753. Keep scrambling on more rocky ledges to reach difficult, nasty terrain before Point 13,753.
From here, the route gets even more serious, requiring significant route-finding. Move slowly, study the terrain and look for cairns in the distance to avoid having to redo sections. There are two major gullies ahead, and you can climb either. They both may have cairns leading up to them. Your next goal is to scramble about halfway up either of the two gullies to find cairned ledges before scrambling left around the west side of Point 13,753.
Drop a bit to reach the base of a gully and carefully begin climbing along the side of the gully. There’s a lot of loose rock in this area. As you climb, take time to locate cairns to the left, so you don’t climb too high. If you climb the first gully, exit it near 13,500 feet to traverse left on a ledge to reach the second gully. Then climb a bit higher to an exit point on the left of the second gully, near 13,550 feet. Continue left on ledges to a robot-shaped rock and around a corner to find a broad gully separating Point 13,753 and the summit.
Scramble into the gully, turn right, and climb to the top of it, where there is another notch. Turn left, climb onto some ledges, and continue to a small slope covered with exposed ledges. This slope holds some of the most difficult and exposed climbing on the route. After passing some initial cliffs, turn right and ascend approximately 150 feet before traversing left across the slope. On the far side of this slope, pass below some cliffs to reach a corner. You can reach the corner several points, so you may not reach this exact point. Turn right around the corner and scramble a short distance up to the ridge crest. Follow the ridge to the summit.
From the top, enjoy your accomplishment, but be sure to descend with plenty of time to reach the treeline before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. I hope you found my Maroon Peak route guide helpful and informative. I recommend reviewing the photos and reports from the 14ers.com Maroon Peak route guide as well, located here. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck climbing Maroon Peak.
If you plan on climbing Maroon Peak, you will need a topographical map of the route like this. It’s perfect for your trip. Download it on your phone and print out a paper copy so that you have a spare just in case anything goes wrong. Click on the map below to view it larger.
Before climbing Maroon Peak, you should research the weather conditions for your climb from multiple websites, so you can pack and prepare properly. Here are two dependable options to start with.
Climbing Maroon Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe. Good Luck!
- Research your route using my Maroon Peak route guide and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
climbing Maroon Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my Maroon Peak route guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.