Location: Elk Range, Colorado
First Known Ascents: North Maroon Peak— Percy Hagerman and Harold Clark, August 25, 1908, Maroon Peak— Percy Hagerman (solo), August 28, 1908.
- The Maroon Bells are two peaks—Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak—that are joined by a 0.4-mile-long ridge. Maroon Peak, sometimes called South Maroon Peak, is the 24th highest peak in Colorado, while North Maroon Peak is the 51st highest (depending on how many Fourteeners you count!).
- According to official criteria, North Maroon Peak is not considered a Fourteener since the low point between it and its higher southern neighbor, Maroon Peak, drops to only 234 feet and not the 300 feet required by many to be considered a separate mountain. Because of the difficulty of the traverse on the ridge between the two, however, most peak-baggers deem it worthy of inclusion on their Fourteener list.
- The Hayden and Wheeler surveys, official U.S. government exploration and mapping expeditions of 1873 and 1874, considered North Maroon Peak to be a prominent point and not a separate summit.
- The Maroon Bells or The Bells offer one of Colorado’s most famous mountain vistas, particularly in late September when golden aspens and the snow-tinged Bells reflect in placid Maroon Lake. It is often said that the view is the most photographed scene in Colorado.
- The Maroon Bells are part of the Elk Range, a rough sierra in central Colorado with six of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners. The famed ski resort of Aspen, the closest town to the Maroon Bells, is 12 miles to the northeast.
- The Maroon Bells, composed of tilted red metamorphosed mudstone, are named for their distinctive double bell shape.
- The first recorded ascent of North Maroon Peak was by Percy Hagerman, a Colorado Springs businessman, and Harold Clark, an Aspen lawyer, on August 25, 1908. They climbed an angling route across the peak’s North Face. Hagerman wrote: “…we followed (the talus slope below the face) up to the snow, then over the snow, which is very steep, until the rocks of the northerly face were reached, and by a diagonal route across the face to the summit. This climb is not without danger. There are many almost perpendicular pitches and some icy gullies to cross where a slip might be serious.”
- Percy Hagerman made the first known ascent of Maroon Peak three days after his successful ascent of North Maroon Peak. After riding a horse up Maroon Pass trail, he ascended the peak’s southwest face. His solo ascent lasted 11 hours, including 45 minutes spent on the summit.
- Albert Ellingwood, a pioneering Colorado climber, Rhodes Scholar, and Colorado College professor, did several new routes on the Maroon Bells in 1919 and 1922. These were the south ridge of Maroon Peak in 1919; the east ridge of North Maroon Peak; and the traverse along the alpine ridge between the two in 1922.
- Elwyn Arps and O.P. Settles made the first ascent of the Bell Cord Couloir, a steep 4th Class snow and ice gully between the two peaks in 1936.
- Fritz Stammberger, a German skier and mountaineer, made the first ski descent of North Maroon Peak’s north face on June 24, 1971. Stammberger, who immigrated to Colorado in the early 1960s, picked out a line down the face then climbed it, put on skis and dashed down. At one point he fell over a 15-foot cliff band and skied a narrow 50-degree chute. He was killed in 1975 while trying to solo Tirich Mir in Pakistan.
- Many climbers have been killed on the Maroon Bells including eight in five accidents in 1965, which led the mountains to be dubbed “The Deadly Bells” by the media. Thee of the fatalities were part of a party of four from the Los Alamos Mountaineers in New Mexico. The quartet was climbing Bell Cord Couloir up the east flank of the peaks. Three of the climbers were simul-climbing while the fourth belayed. One slipped, pulling off the others. The survivor wore a construction hardhat, while the other three weren’t wearing helmets and died from internal and head injuries.
- A warning sign erected by U.S. Forest Service on the trail to the Maroon Bells states: “The beautiful Maroon Bells have claimed many lives in the past few years. They are unbelievably deceptive. The rock is downsloping, rotten, loose, and unstable. It kills without warning. The snowfields are treacherous, poorly consolidated, and no place for a novice climber. The gullies are death traps. Expert climbers who did not know the proper routes have died on these peaks. Don't repeat their mistakes, for only rarely have these mountains given a second chance.”
- The standard climbing route up Maroon Peak is the South Ridge. It’s a long, strenuous ascent with bits of Class 3 scrambling on loose rock. The 10-mile, round-trip ascent, starting from the Maroon Lake Trailhead, gains 4,600 feet.
- The normal climbing route up North Maroon Peak is the Northeast Ridge. Gerry Roach describes the route in his book Colorado’s Fourteeners as “complicated, loose, exposed and dangerous. It has often rendered a fatal experience.” The eight-mile, round-trip route, beginning at the Maroon Lake Trailhead, gains 4,450 feet. The semi-technical route has a Class 4 section at 12,800 feet that requires a rope for novices or if snow conditions are bad.
- The Traverse between the Maroon Bells is simply one of Colorado’s best Fourteener ridge traverses and a lively mountaineering adventure. The ridge itself is only a mere 0.4-mile long or a little more than a third of a mile and the climber loses only 234 feet of elevation but the traverse requires at least a couple of hours and a good attention span. The positions are spectacular, the exposure is dramatic, and the rock is rotten. Expect a couple Class 4 sections as well as lots of Class 3 scrambling without a rope. I’ve done the traverse five times and always prefer to go from North Maroon to Maroon Peak since I like to descend the south ridge of Maroon Peak rather than the steep junk on North Maroon.