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14 miles

Elevation Gain

5000 ft

Route Type



Added by Glenn Shellenberger

An EPIC Class 5 ridge run between the iconic Maroon Bells, the most pictured peaks in North America. Mileage, vert, exposure - everything you could ask for.

I do not want to encourage those who are not capable mentally or physically to go on this hike, that is how accidents happen. Confidence is a must. This route is loose, long, chossy and complicated. The exposure and shear milage covered make for a heck of a day! That being said, I suggest you do this climb for obvious reasons...

We took off from Aspen around 4am on Sept 1st to drive into the Bells. Reached the parking lot at Maroon Lake around 4:30 and were hiking shortly after. With the constant concern of weather moving in, Opie had the idea to jog up to Crater Lake.

SIDE NOTE: We had a tent planted at one of the dispersed camping sites around Crater Lake with the hope of sleeping there the night before and have a mile-ish head start on the morning. Unfortunately, late arrival from Denver and a lightening storm crashed the crew in my garage for the few hours of sleep. I would try camping again next time, the thought of pre trail coffee at Crater Lake is a good one...

Jogging up to Crater Lake by the light of our headlamps, as I breath heavily and start to sweat I started to realize I was barely prepared for the hours to come. 

Holding a solid third place in our group of three... we got to crater lake just before 5:30am (our intended start time from Crater before the camping mishap). With most of the resources for this hike being web-based, we had screen shots of every picture and route description from various sites. The site that seemed to help out the most when looking back through screen shots was 14er.com ( First look into the route to climb Maroon Peak-South Ridge, this gets you on the right trail then following the Bells Traverse guidelines will get you through the rest), though roots rated has a decent description of the technical sections. Hiking past crater lake we constantly checked Opies' phone with a picture of the next turn off.  14er.com describes it as a cairned trail at 10,400'. Checking our altitude with our gadgets, we rounded 10,400' and started to match the surroundings to what we noticed in the picture screenshot from 14er.com - The cairn was nowhere to be found, and the given elevation was rounded so the picture was the main thing that kept us on track. We followed the switchbacks up  to South Maroon and continued up 2,800 feet of suck to the ridge line. Chossy rock from here to the South Maroon peak. Following cairns and general route descriptions from previous hikers, we hiked across mountain goat trails and up rock chutes to the 14,156ft peak. 

Taking a minute to catch our breath, snap a picture and grab a snack we admired the view with two other hikers (*it is common to not see anyone on this hike). 

With a not-so-perfect forecast, we were stoked that not a drop had fallen by our first summit at 9:15am. Looking off the peak we could see a storm to our south but only something to keep an eye on, nothing that needed attention now. From here on out I was along for the ride. Erickson and Opie had mentioned previously that if we start the traverse before 9:30 with clear skies we were in good shape.

At 9:24am we started the initial decent along the half mile ridge traverse toward North Maroon Peak. You start by heading North and down climbing several small Class 3 cliff bands. Be very careful - with a pack of gear it is easy to get bucked off the ledge when slinking from one step to the next.  A few chute/crack climbs back to back, mostly class 3 and 4 with a few class 5 moves, and your'e cruising along the traverse. The difficult sections have a red and blue band of 1in tubing at the top as an anchor. You have the ability to rope in on the Class 5 sections; however, this greatly increases your time. Knowing our comfort level and the possibility of a storm moving in, we elected not to rope in and to free climb these difficult sections. If it were colder/wetter we may have reconsidered. Following the cairns we crossed a small boulder field headed toward the North Maroon Peak at 14,015 feet.

From here you can follow the route descriptions of a hike down North Maroons northeast ridge. A class 3 decent over the next 8ish miles takes you over cliff bands, down switch backs and across boulder fields. A knee busting exit of North Maroon brings you back to Crater Lake for a calm walk back to the greeting party at Maroon Lake by around 3pm.

Some decent pizza and good beer to cap off the afternoon. A 13 hour, 14  mile, 5k vert day that couldn't have gone any better. Bless. 


We did the climb in September and temperatures were barely above freezing when we started at 4:30am

I wore a beanie, wicking long sleeve, nanopuff, leggings and athletic pants with wool socks and low top hiking shoes with a sturdy sole. 

I had a backpack with my harness, helmet, quick draws, personal anchor, snacks, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, more snacks, gloves, extra socks, electrolytes, and more snacks.

A 40m rope and camera were brought as communal items.

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Rock Climbing
Cliff Jumping

The Maroon Bells Traverse Reviews

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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