|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
The photogenic Maroon Bells are to nearby Aspen what the Matterhorn is to Zermatt: essential, symbolic, and rarely climbed by many la-di-da locals. But don’t confuse that attitude with a lack of appreciation for the challenges up high; there’s more than a manicure at risk on these bad boys. Pyramid Peak and “The Deadly Bells,” as climbers know the north and south summits of Maroon Peak, are minefields of slippery sandstone and shale on which helmets and a stomach for gut-clenching scrambling are mandatory. The southern Maroon, with its 4,800-foot ascent in 6 miles, is the easier and higher of the two Bells—but that’s like saying it’s easier to crash an après-ski party at Jack Nicholson’s place than at Kurt and Goldie’s.
Slog up the mountain’s hulking eastern slopes to gain the south ridge, where cairns mark a zigzagging route past rubble-strewn ledges and broken clifflets. Big air tugs at your heels most of the way. The reward? A staggering view of the five other Fourteeners in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness and the antlike tourists down at Crater Lake. Dangerous scrambling not your cup of chai skim latte? Try ringing the Bells along the 26-mile Four Passes Loop. You’ll stay above 10,500 feet for most of the 3- to 4-day tour. Don’t expect a celebrity sighting, but definitely count on having at least one tall, handsome Fourteener in your viewfinder at all times.
-Text by Dougald MacDonald