Maroon Peak

  • Maroon Peak
  • 4315 m.
  • Primary factor 712 m.
  • 24th in Colorado
  • Location: North 39:04.250, West 106:59.317
  • Climbed July 16, 2002


How to get there: Take Maroon Road (marked by sign) from the main traffic circle just outside (north) of Aspen (On the main road, US 82, in the direction of Glenwood Springs). The upper part of this road is often (all summer) closed to private vehicles in the period 0800 to 1700, but any serious climber should be there much earlier so this has little practical consequence. If you intend to stay overnight in the Maroon Valley you may drive up any time of day, a fee of US dollar 10 may then be charged at the entrance station. The road ends at a clearly marked parking lot.
Route description: From the parking lot, hike along the right side of Maroon Lake, leave the walkway and take the trail to Crater Lake. As you approach Crater Lake (after approximately 2.4 km) the Snowmass trail goes right, register at this junction and continue (the left trail) along Crater Lake, then ascending further into the valley with North and South Maroon towering above on your right. After about 5.3 km (from the parking lot), the trail to Maroon Peak goes right from the main valley trail. The junction is marked with a cairn, its GPS coordinates are North:39.03.962, West:106.58.296, there is a very good campsite just a couple of meters from the junction. Furthermore, the main valley trail crosses the creek just 30-40 meters further south. (That is, if you cross the main creek you have walked too far.)

The route first climbs steeply to the south ridge of the mountain. There is a well cairned trail that ascends the slope while consistently traversing somewhat to the left (south). The trail hits a gully on its way up and actually follows this a short stretch up on loose gravel. At this point there are also cairns indicating a route that just crosses the gully, however, this trail vanishes a bit later. (We just crossed, lost the trail, ascended further and recovered the trail as it continued to traverse south higher up.) The trail finally reaches a distinct ridge at approximately 3910 meter. Follow this ridge further up until it tops out in a small distict col. From here, turn right and hike along the top ridge until the trail will take you a bit left below the highest crest of the ridge. Quickly, regain the top ridge by climbing up an easy, distinct V-shaped rock feature. Continue on the ridge until it steepens and the cairned path again takes you left into a very complicated face.
Follow the cairns (beware of cairns that lead nowhere) and the trail on a traverse into this face, along the way you will cross a number of smaller gullies. Eventually, the trail/path will hit a relatively narrow, distinct gully with medium (not scree) sized rocks. This gully goes high up the face. Climb this gully until a very distinct ramp/ledge that exits to the left. The exit is well marked with cairns. Continue to follow the trail/path/cairns traversing until entering a larger gully with smaller rocks (scree) that tops out at the sky (the main ridge). Climb this gully until about 15 meters from the top, the last obvious exit before the top. Again, move left and continue along ledges while climbing higher whenever convenient until reaching the main ridge again. Follow the main ridge a short way, then exit left again. Follow new ledges further left, while gradually climbing when feasible. Eventually, you will again reach the main ridge, this time it can be followed about 100 meters to the summit.

Note: We followed a good route to the summit, but still managed to get a little off-route while descending. There seems to be three gullies involved, let us call them 1,2, and 3 in order of ascent. We must have climbed either 1 or 2, then 3. On descent, we first descended 3, we then descended gully 2, it was wide in the upper part, but then narrowed further down and had a well cairned exit (to the left when descending) that reminded us about our ascent route. However, we then came to gully 1, where a clear and heavily used trail crossed and continued horizontally. Unfortunately, this trail seemed to lead nowhere and we quickly observed the correct route significantly lower. A somewhat tricky downclimb brought us back en route. It is quite possible that a descent of this gully 1 would have been correct, but then there must also be an alternative route descending from gully 3 to gully 1 (crossing gully 2) thus avoiding the descent in gully 2. (Since we only climbed up in two gullies when ascending.) Alternatively, the route crosses gully 1, then ascends to the low entrance of gully 2 along a route that we missed on descent.

The above discussion should make it clear that this route is quite complex. However, there is at least one, possibly a couple of class 3 routes and any experienced climber should be able to find his/hers way. If needed, one should backtrack and try an alternate route. It seems that the most common mistake is ours, ie., find yourself a bit too high while descending.
Comments: I did this climb with my son Pål Jørgen, age 13. We started from a camp right where the climbing trail starts (see above) at 0600. We climbed 500 vertical meters in the first hour and reached the summit at 0910 (3 hours and 10 minutes). We enjoyed the fantastic scenery and the perfect weather for one full hour. We left the summit at 1010 and arrived back at camp at 1300. Few people climb this peak even in mid-July. Only one person the day before us, when we descended we met a single young man that would be the only other person to climb the peak this day.
Another observation, I walked the very beginning of the traverse across to North Maroon. The first section descending from Maroon Peak seemed quite straightforward. The main difficulties are clearly further along the route.