Guidebooks will say that the Maroon Bells have some of the loosest rock in Colorado. On the standard route up South Maroon, this may be true, but there are better routes and easier ways to the summits of these peaks. These crown jewels of Aspen host a number of fine snow climbs and a spectacular ridge traverse with some of the finest views in Colorado. Unfortunately, you have to go down at some point, and the descent routes aren't overly enjoyable. Either descend the standard route off South Maroon, or follow the cairns of the North Ridge/North Face Route off North Maroon Peak to get back to Crater Lake and the trailhead.
From Leadville, drive south and pick up Hwy 82 to Aspen. Head through town to the roundabout. Follow the Maroon Bells Rd. up to the ranger station, pay your $10 parking fee and head up to the trailhead. Hike about 1.5 miles to Crater Lake, then follow the appropriate trail to your route.
We got up to Aspen the afternoon before, realized camping in the park is reserved, bought our parking permit, then drove out and over one drainage to the Conundrum Hot Springs trailhead to camp for the night. Call ahead (weeks or months???) to the USFS in Aspen to reserve a camp site in the summer season.
Guidebooks describe the ridge connecting the Bells as 4th class. Everyone I've talked to who's done it from south to north has rated it from 5.4 to 5.7. If you climb the Bell Cord Couloir first (in my opinion the most enjoyable option, and the fastest), this is how you'll do it. By the way, the rock (at least on the ridge) isn't as bad as they say.From the summit of South Maroon, head back toward the Bell Cord Couloir notch. Either keep to the ridge or to the west side, following cairns as m...[more]Browse More Classics in CO
The east chute on South Maroon make a nice snow climb and ski descent, (left most chute in the picture above); although we did not summit South Maroon from this route, due to the quickly softening snow on this east facing route. I would recommend forgoeing the summit on this route in favor of a ski descent in a heart beat.You can easily get 3,000 feet of skiing in on this route, but beware the garbage dump.
Bell Cord - great climb with some tricky route finding from the upper col. Do this route early as it becomes a shooting gallery after the sun hits the top. We left the trailhead at 10 pm and summited just after sunrise.
I did the North Face in the 70s. Basically a scramble up very large, very loose rocks. There were times when I was standing on things the size of a freight train car that were teetering back and forth. Do wear a brain bucket, but probably wouldn't help for most of the rocks if they have more than a 5 ft start.
By Monomaniac Administrator From: Morrison, CO Aug 4, 2009
These peaks are typically accessed from the Maroon Creek Road. During the summer weekends, this road is closed to private vehicles from 9am-5pm. Buses shuttle tourists up the road for $6 a head during this time. Additionally, from 7am - 9am, there is a $10 fee for each vehicle.
So, if you want to climb one of these peaks, plan your departure time so that you will reach the parking lot prior to 7am, to avoid paying any fees.