RT Length: 14.93 miles
Elevation Gain: 4584’
This is the third time I’ve been to Maroon Bells this month. I was able to secure 3 separate permits, and the past few weeks went with friends to summit North Maroon and Pyramid. Today I was here to tag a new 13er for myself: PT 13631. Since I70 is now open (it was closed due to fires) I was the only one driving on HWY 82. I didn’t pass one vehicle between Granite and Aspen. It was awesome. I did see 2 vehicles parked at a trailhead near Independence Pass, and two scruffy porcupines to go with them, merrily munching on the wires underneath. The owners of those vehicles were not going to be happy when then made it back to their cars. I’d have gotten out and shooed them, but, you know, they may be slow but they have quills. I saw three other porcupines waddling along the highway as I drove. HWY 82 is popular among porcupines.
As I passed the parking structure for Maroon Bells I saw a pear shaped bear butt running away from a trash can and then jump over a fence. It was cute to see it bounding away (although I kind of wanted to get a picture so I wished it had stood still for a second).
I had a permit to park at Maroon Bells from 12am-4:30pm. It was 1am when I arrived and I felt it was still a little too early to head out so I took a quick nap. A large group of hikers passed by at 2:40am and woke me up, so I was on the trail by 2:45am.
The trail starts at the west end of the parking area
And follows a well-defined path around Maroon Lake
At the end of the lake I followed the trail towards crater lake. I noted the signs: One said “bear activity in area” as of August 23 (August 1st had been crossed out) and there was also a sign saying there was a moose in the area. In the last few weeks I’ve seen a bear standing on the side of the road while taking the shuttle ride out and a moose standing in Maroon Lake, so I knew these signs to be true.
This is a class 1 trail to Crater Lake
I turned left at the junction for Crater Lake
And then followed the trail (still class 1) around the ‘lake’ and up the basin.
I passed a few camping areas while it was still dark. In one a large man was standing by the trail, bald, shirtless, and in possession of a rather hairy pot belly. He seemed to be waiting for me to pass by. Luckily this is a well-travelled trail, especially at this time in the morning when others are looking to summit Maroon Peak (I count the flashlights so I know who’s ahead of/behind me when it’s dark out: that large group of hikers wasn’t too far away). I could see him because he had a headlamp shining from his forehead. I didn’t see his dog, who started barking at me as I neared. Of course, I jumped. The man seemed to think it was funny. I continued on. Also, it wasn’t funny. Here’s an overview of the next few steps, as I made my way up to Len Shoemaker Basin
After hiking for 4 miles from the trailhead, and at 10515’ I left the trail to cross Maroon Creek (which at this point of the year isn’t flowing much, but earlier in the season is several feet deep). There are cairns in the area. An obvious trail picks up on the other side.
I followed this trail for .25 miles, until I saw a cairn to my left and then followed a very faint trail east through and then out of the willows, and up the side of the mountain, towards the basin.
Making it to the basin required ascending a series of gullies. I’ve been here several times, and the route gets easier to find each time. This time there were plenty of cairns indicating the way. However, the route sometimes doesn’t seem like it should follow the cairns, but trust me, it does. Here’s the route step by step into the basin. After exiting the willows and crossing a small boulder field there is a faint trail behind the next set of bushes/willows that will lead to the first gully. Now’s a good time to put on your helmet.
I ascended the loose gully, staying to the right for more traction
At the top of the first gully you’ll see another gully to your left. (These are tons of fun in winter BTW, so bring your crampons and ice axe if you expect snow). Ascend the second gully, this time sticking to the left for more stable ground
At the top of this gully is… another gully. Sorry for the hand in this picture: the sun was at an unfortunate place in the sky while I was trying to take pictures and this was my solution.
From here I aimed for the grassy slope and went behind it, angling towards the ridge
And could see another gully to my left. (This entire time I was heading east)
Next, I aimed for the grassy slopes, and the final gully that would take me to the upper basin.
Here I got my first view of PT 13631. I just followed the basin south towards the end
The end of the basin was still holding some snow. This was a light snow year, so I expect there’s snow here almost year-round. The snow can be avoided, but I just walked over it into another basin
I followed the talus rib towards the base of the gully that would lead me to the saddle of Lightening Pyramid and PT 13631
This is the last gully of the day. It’s class 2 but the scree is loose. I looked for larger rocks whenever possible. There is no direct path but there are a bunch of game trails. No area seems to cliff out, so you can pick your line depending on conditions.
At the saddle I turned right and headed southwest up the ridge. Most of this was easy scrambling, after first initially gaining the ridge. To do this I went right, found a class 3 chimney and ascended it. This was the most difficult part of the entire hike, and I probably could have found a class 2 option around this if I tried harder. I felt this chimney was pretty easy.
Here’s looking up at the chimney. There are plenty of hand/foot holds. It’s only about 8 feet high and all of the rocks are stable.
Once on the ridge I scrambled my way to the summit. This is all easy class 3, just scout around for the best route.
The summit is relatively flat. There’s a summit cairn with two summit registers. The metal one is closed and has 2 pens inside. The white one is open (without a lid) and is empty. Bring some paper if you want to sign this register.
I summited PT 13631 at 7:20am
The views were great, but the smoke from nearby fires shaded them a bit.
Here’s the route back down the ridge
Down the chimney (you can see my trekking pole below for reference)
And back around to the saddle.
Once again, great views
Back down the gully and through the basin
And back down the gullies, following the cairns west along the way.
Through the willows
Back to the trail that would lead me across the creek
And back to West Maroon Creek Trail 1975 and Maroon Lake
When I was here last week there’d been a moose standing in the lake. Guess what? He was still there (this time lounging by the lakeshore). Pretty cool!
I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this a 14.93 mile hike with 4584’ of elevation gain in 9 hours (with some time spent ogling the moose).
Here’s a topo map of my route. I have to say, the views were incredible but the peak itself was kind of a letdown. It had just been too easy, when I’d been expecting the more intense scramble over crummy rock the Elks are known for. It almost wasn’t worth bringing my helmet, but the moose was an added bonus.
On to the next trailhead!