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Colorado's fourteeners: Maroon Peak

By: Josh Friesema Special to The Gazette
April 17, 2017 Updated: April 17, 2017 at 4:15 am
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The aspen leaves shimmer under the sun at Maroon Lake in Aspen on Sunday, September 25, 2016. Despite a remote spot and an ominous moniker -- "Deadly Bells," meant as a warning to climbers of the two fourteeners -- Maroon Bells is purportedly the "most photographed view in the U.S." Motor access is limited and a shuttle outside Aspen is the best bet. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Maroon Peak

Elevation: 14,162 feet

Range: Elk

Maroon Peak is the taller of the mountains that compose the Maroon Bells. Rising sharply from the valley floor and made from red shale stone, the peaks are set perfectly at the end of the Maroon Creek valley.

The Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in Colorado. Additionally, Maroon Lake is a photographer's dream, with a clear view providing a stunning reflection of the peaks.

As is often the case, the most beautiful mountains are some of the more difficult to climb. The steep slopes that give Maroon its distinct bell shape make accessing the summit a chore. The shale that gives Maroon its distinct color is unstable and loose, making the climbing very dangerous.

Maroon is the easier of the Bells to climb but should not be taken lightly. The route-finding can be tricky. Often ledges that look like trails end abruptly at a drop-off. Don't be surprised if you end up backtracking a time or two to find the correct route.

Loose rock is the standard, too. At times, it's hard to believe this mountain doesn't crumble into the valley. A sign has been installed near the trailhead that warns climbers that the rock on the "Deadly Bells" is "downsloping, rotten, loose and unstable" and "kills quickly and without warning." Not exactly a welcome mat but definitely a fair warning.

The trail begins rather benignly as it follows Maroon Creek up the valley, then changes suddenly and dramatically as it leaves the valley floor and heads straight for the ridge. The view from where the trail crests the ridge is enough to drown out the nasty sign at the trailhead.

Looking down into Fravert Basin, you will behold a lush alpine setting where the green flora is accented by the red rock of the ridges that protect it. Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak appear to the west, inspiring you to see more.

Mountain goats are common on this summit and are fascinating to watch. The goats seem to watch climbers closely: some in hopes of spying a dropped morsel of food and others to take aim as they attempt to knock rocks on the intruders. Mountaineers often feel a connection to these beasts that call these precarious heights home. Even the most experienced mountaineers are impressed by their sure-footed skill and ability to ascend the rocky terrain seemingly effortlessly.

If you get a good alpine start on this summit, you will find the valley floor a different world upon returning. Tourists and cameras abound. Be prepared for lots of questions, the most common of which is, "Did you just climb that?!" You'll likely turn around and look back up at the summit before offering an affirmative answer - as if still trying to believe it yourself.

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