My climbing partner, Alex, and I started hiking from the trailhead at 4:45 am. We topped out on the summit of Maroon Peak at 12:30 pm. We were pretty chatty and moved slowly on the steep ascent, our pace being quicker on the crater lake trail.
I wanted to do a car-to-car effort for the Bells Traverse because I set a ridiculous goal in my mind of doing all four grand traverses in car-to-car slog fashion. Probably the reason it was harder to convince people to hike them that way!
A storm had passed through a week prior and only one conditions report was posted regarding the traverse, so admittedly that morning we had some doubts on whether we would be doing the entire route that day. Having to turn around and down climb South Maroon didn’t seem like the most enjoyable option.
Luckily to our surprise much of the traverse appeared melted and in fairly good condition. We discussed our thoughts on attempting the traverse and if the weather would hold for us to get down off North Maroon. We decided to go for it!
I led the downclimb off South Maroon which was a little hairy in spots where a decent amount of snow remained with pockets of ice on shaded aspects. We mitigated the risk carefully descending to the start of the traverse. Spikes were helpful for my partner.
The traverse itself was dry. We spent a great deal of effort and time route finding as the red rock isn’t easily identifiable up close. Take your time to study the route and carefully route find where needed. Even with photos and the description we had to double check a lot of the complexities.
The three spires were a lot of fun if you enjoy exposure and spice. The chimneys were dry and not retaining snow. The third spire chimney was by far the best and spiciest of the three. I’m of the opinion shorter people have a little added spice up these chimneys.
The final push to North Maroon is straightforward with cairns marking the way. We were on North Maroon at 3:44 pm, pretty late but we had a bluebird day with weather holding out. The goats had followed us from South Maroon and approached the summit as we finished our snacks. We quickly packed up and started our descent down North Maroon. The goats made their presence known and that we were unwanted as they were ushering us down.
Carefully we descended avoiding the goats and navigating the residual snow on that aspect of the mountain. The snow was fairly easy to manage and spikes were helpful. Once at the class 4 chimney downclimb we assessed our next moves.
We had brought gear to rappel if needed as the previous conditions report mentioned snow and ice in the chimney. Much of it had melted out, though, except a couple small patches of snow and ice on the steps. We donned our microspikes and I led the downclimb of the chimney. This was definitely the crux of the day, but doable in spikes or crampons.
The goats had gathered above us and were adding tension to a section where we needed laser focus. We weren’t thrilled about them being above us and the potential for rock fall, nor the increased anxiety. They did kick a few rocks down, but luckily nothing that resulted in anything. I took a photo of Alex coming down the chimney with all three goats watching above. Not a spot you want that kind of audience.
We had a bit of an epic making our way down so late, losing the trail a couple times to bushwack our way back and then running out of water only to have a filter fail when we reached the stream. Not to mention we missed our intended check-in time with Alex’s brother resulting in him calling SAR! Not to worry, we raced down the road from Maroon Lake and called to cancel the false alarm.
A great day on a Colorado classic traverse! Full value day of curiosity. We lucked out with this one as snow and ice are only a couple weeks away!
A lot of snow has melted since the last conditions report below was posted. Almost all of the traverse itself is dry with the exception of a few patches and pockets, some avoidable, some not. The chimneys on the spires are dry.
The downclimb off both Maroon and North Maroon holding snow and some pockets of ice. These are currently the two cruxes of the climb.
The downclimb off Maroon toward the traverse is pretty hairy in a few areas. Spikes are helpful. There are a couple of small pockets of ice on some of the rocks. Downclimbing snow and ice sections took the most time outside of route finding along the traverse.
The biggest crux is the class 4 chimney downclimb off North Maroon as it is still holding a small amount of snow and ice on each step of the 20 foot downclimb. We climbed down this chimney in spikes very slowly and carefully. Doable, but gnarly and sketchy on some of the moves. Beyond this, there is still snow as seen in the photo with the goats above my partner.