Guidebooks describe the ridge connecting the Bells as 4th class. Everyone I've talked to who's done it from south to north has rated it from 5.4 to 5.7. If you climb the Bell Cord Couloir first (in my opinion the most enjoyable option, and the fastest), this is how you'll do it. By the way, the rock (at least on the ridge) isn't as bad as they say.
From the summit of South Maroon, head back toward the Bell Cord Couloir notch. Either keep to the ridge or to the west side, following cairns as much as possible. From the notch, head straight up the 4th class wall in front of you. Follow steps and cairns and occasional dead ends up the ridge to the first improbable-looking 5th class section. It goes at about 40' of 5.2 or so. Some more routefinding will bring you to a flat area on the ridge with a blunt prow blocking your way. A 30' section of steep 5.4-5.5 rock (we found it just left of center) will get you past it. A rap sling was on top. Follow the ridge past a few more difficulties to the last climb up to the summit of North Maroon Peak and the last 4th class climbing. Descend off the northeast ridge, following cairns and a faint trail down (4th class). Dawson's guide is a great reference for the descents of both peaks. The Bell Cord plus the ridge is a combo that shouldn't be missed as an alpine day in its own right, not even for the purpose of a 14er double bagger. The climbing plus the views of the valleys around Aspen and the Elk Mountains are unmatched. See the following site for a good description of the ridge from north to south.
My partner and I soloed the two fifth class sections on the ridge. Both could have been protected with nuts and cams to 1.5"
|By Peter Gram|
From: Park City, UT
Oct 31, 2002
Although there are some sections of loose rock (not bad), this is a very aesthtic peak traverse.
Most of the traverse is easy 3rd class with a few isolated sections of 4th class. To stay at this rating, it is necessary to often be on the west side of the ridge. Otherwise, there are many small towers that block the way.
|By Josh Janes|
Nov 4, 2002
I know grades are subjective, but I don't think this is 5.4 (certaintly not 5.7). The easiest path is 4th class.
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Nov 4, 2002
It may not even be that the grading is subjective, often an even bigger factor on a route like this is that two parties don't go the same way! Depends how close to the crest of the ridge you stay, etc. One group goes around some gendarme low down and claims it's 3rd class, the next day someone goes over the gendarme and ends up rapping and claims it must be 5.7 where they went. I can easily see a huge range of ratings on this traverse just due to following different lines. On complex routes like this, I think it is the major reason for rating variations.
Nov 6, 2002
I agree with all your comments. My partner and I were trying to move quickly, and weren't spending a whole lot of time searching for the easiest route around things. We did look for easier ways, and got cliffed a couple times, but in general took the most obvious, direct lines. As I noted, at the "5.4" section, we popped up right at the rap slings, and I don't believe we missed any 4th class stuff in getting there. May have, but I don't really know now. Obviously conditions and routefinding come into play in grading routes up in the hills. But my partner and the three or four other people I talked to all thought that section was even harder, and they weren't able to find a 4th class passage around it without backtracking and dropping way below the ridge. This is why I rated the route 5.4 going south to north. If Josh is talking about the same place, there may be one, and we missed it. Chalk it up to routefinding, I guess.
|By Andrew Klein|
Dec 4, 2002
I did this traverse a few years back. Nothing was harder than 4th class, and the 4th class sections were solid when the climbing (downclimbing) was steeper. I do remember spending about 3 hours at around the same elevation on South Maroon trying to find the "Class 3" descent. If it ain't 4th class, you're probably off-route. There were cairns in all the tricky routefinding spots on the ridge when I did it. However, there are quite a few "deadend" cairns on South Maroon which complicate things when the weather turns sour, sour as the 'ole sour patch kids candy one would buy at the movies. This traverse is no where near as long or as exposed as the Little Bear-Blanca ridge which actually has a couple of 5.2ish sections that can't be avoided (a couple moves near top of Little Bear and around Captin Bivy Tower). Have at it!
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Jun 23, 2003
Finally did this traverse on 6/21! It is a heap load o' fun, at least in perfect weather. It's hard to rate technically since almost all the challenge is route finding. We did it S to N and took out our rope once. It is most aesthetic to stay on the crest as much as possible but almost all would need a rope for some of this. It is faster to go around some of the gendarmes. This time of year, one has to be really watchful for verglas on the north side of the ridge.
N Maroon doesn't seem climbed much in June as the regular route is mostly on snow at the top. It's easy snow, but a slide would send you over a cliff on the N. Face. We went down the NW Ridge, which is easier technically but you have to rappel the horribly loose gunsight gully.
Dec 5, 2003
This route does not exceed class 4 by any means. Maybe if you get entirely off route you might encounter some low 5(s). When I did it I encountered one rappel, and looking back on the rappel it could have been backtracked and down climbed.
|By Warren Teissier|
Dec 6, 2003
Derek, I agree with you that this route is entirely 4th class if you get the whole route right.
However, we found that there were so many cairns pointing to so many variations and snow covered parts of the route (we did it early in the season) that it was hard for us to sort out IF we were on route. We did it South to North and roped up for one pitch.
Like you, in hinsight, it turns out we could have soloed it, just like you could have downclimbed instead of rapping.
The operating word here is hindsight. If you are off route (and don't know it) and have to negotiate 5.something when you were expecting a class 4 stroll you might find yourself whailing for a rope.
The climb is too loose, the rock too funky and the position too committed to take chances if you don't know the route or are at your limit. I strongly encourage folks to take a rope and a token amount of gear, just in case...
|By Doug Redosh|
Sep 11, 2005
We tried this last weekend from north to south. We turned back due to weather. What was confusing was finding new rappel slings around a large block, but BEFORE the notch. Two members of our party rapped, and one found another set of rappel anchors another 200' further south, I suspect at the notch. This is the rappel mentioned in the guidebooks. That is, it seems one could now rap TWICE going N to S. We turned back because of impending storms before I could do the rap. I suspect that there is a reasonable downclimb somewhere near the first set of slings, but I did not see it.
|By Andy Leach|
From: Fort Collins, CO
Nov 21, 2007
I've done this twice - both times south-to-north. The first time I ascended the standard route on South Maroon, the second time we came up Bell Cord Couloir. The Cord is definitely the way to go - soooooo much more enjoyable. The second time I shot a video of the climb which I think captures the cruxes nicely: www.andyintherockies.com/trip/66/Maroon_Peak_Bell_Cord_Coulo>>>
|By Stuart Paul|
From: Denver, CO
Aug 10, 2008
Climbing The Bells is 80% climbing and descending a steep trail. It's 20% upclimbing and downclimbing on class 3/4 and a bit of 5 on the traverse. 20% of the blocks you are climbing on are loose so use pushing mantle moves, don't pull. I found these mountains to be far less loose and rotten than the reputation that proceeds them. I carried a 30 meter 8 mm rope and a harness on the traverse from north to south and did two raps from existing new slings and rings. Saved time and downclimbing on class 5 rock.
|By Rick Blair|
Jun 29, 2011
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV VD 3c
I think 5.4 is fair. We hit 3 cruxes, the first 5.2, second 5.4 and we did a 5.7 roof by choice simply because it was a shorter and more direct line. I believe those who say this can all be done 4th class, but often that will mean leaving the ridge proper.
Despite all the loose rock around, the climbing is actually quite solid, really great actually. I brought some bugaboos and knife blades, anywhere I could have placed them I would have simply been a stone mason. This rock fractures so parallel that nuts were of limited use. I use tricams from brown to orange and could have used the larger pieces. Tricams worked very well. Wish I would have brought my Metolius 0 and 00, could have used them on every roped section.
This was an unusual snow year, snow pack over 250%, we had to do some roped travel around a few snow fields that wouldn't normally be there this time of year and many of the class 3/4 was snow choked.
Aug 7, 2011
A buddy of mine did the Bells traverse last weekend. We both thought that the climbing was easy, but the loose rock was sketchy to say the least. On the ascent of Maroon Peak, we had some hikers above us send rocks flying past us, and the traverse was much worse and not the easiest to navigate. We did not rope up, but we were both very happy to approach shoes on for the traverse. I have never been so happy to have a helmet on in my life. After starting the traverse, we heard rocks sliding all around us. On a small hand traverse, my buddy pulled a dorm room fridge-sized block loose and sent it off a 40 foot cliff. SKETCH other than that it was an amazing long day. Mountain goats were amazing.
| || These two goats hung out with us for a half hour. |
Dec 14, 2012
Did it in Sept. 2010 a couple days after a snow. Went south to north. Used a rope once on the way between S to N, and because of all the snow, we were very glad to have a 50' handline on the way off N Maroon. Ended up losing the trail down in the talus field and bushwhacked through the aspen to the creek as it got dark. Not too fun, but an epic scramble overall.