Type: Trad, Alpine, Grade II
FA: unknown
Page Views: 11,032 total · 55/month
Shared By: ClimbandMine on Jun 15, 2002
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

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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"
Peter Gram
Portland, OR
Peter Gram   Portland, OR  
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. Oct 31, 2002
Josh Janes    
I know grades are subjective, but I don't think this is 5.4 (certaintly not 5.7). The easiest path is 4th class. Nov 4, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
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 4, 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. Nov 6, 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! Dec 4, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
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. Jun 23, 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. Dec 5, 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...

WT Dec 6, 2003
Doug Redosh
Golden, CO
Doug Redosh   Golden, CO
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. Sep 11, 2005
Andy Leach
Denver, CO
Andy Leach   Denver, CO
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: andyintherockies.com/trip/6… Nov 21, 2007
Stuart Paul
Denver, CO
Stuart Paul   Denver, CO
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. Aug 10, 2008
Rick Blair
Rick Blair   Denver
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. Jun 29, 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.
Aug 7, 2011
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. Dec 14, 2012
Eric Klammer
Boulder, CO
  5.5 R
Eric Klammer   Boulder, CO
  5.5 R
Soloed this route the mid/late June 2014. Went up Bell Cord, across to South Maroon, and then traversed the ridge to North Maroon. Descended via the NW ridge of North Maroon to another couloir providing a very quick and painless way down!

The ridge was still quite snow/ice covered and turned out to be slightly more of an undertaking than I had planned. Progress traversing across steep snow and scree fields above large cliff bands was slow but relatively safe when moving carefully. While the snow and ice made the traverse a little harder (ended up pulling some spicy moves in a steep icy chimney to gain a higher ledge system), it was well worth it overall when considering the easy approach and descent.

The rock wasn't completely terrible, but it was definitely bad. Thankfully the stepper stuff is pretty solid. It's the sloping, loose ledges you've got to watch out for! Jul 4, 2014
Wherever we park!
  Easy 5th
AOSR   Wherever we park!
  Easy 5th
It seems more than a few people go N to S, rappel the class 5 section, and then call it a 4. I suppose it is if you opt for that method.

My buddy and I went S to N with no rope/gear, and I think 5.something is fair. Approach shoes were nice to have. I don't know how to really grade the difference between 5.0 and 5.4, but there is definitely a little low class 5 on the traverse, and it's fun. In fact, one of the best traverses I've done. The rock quality definitely adds to the commitment level on some of the ridge stuff, but it's not that much worse than any other decomposing ridge traverse. Snow can definitely make descending the northern aspects of both peaks trickier! Sep 20, 2016
Thomas Horner
Thomas Horner  
Needless to say with all the beta and hype out there we were a little psyched out trying to start this route. I think these points need to be reiterated:

- The main problems,and their variants are doable, positive, and solid.
- The rock is not nearly as sketchy as suggested, we didn't knock any off on the entire traverse.
- You can skirt around various things to end up on loose Class 4, but you may definitely find yourself preferring to just climb SOLID 5.2-5.4 by attacking the main problems head on. I found the hardest climbing terrain to be far more positive than say, soloing Freeway on Second Flatiron.
- The rap anchors we found let you rappel through the most enjoyable and interesting parts of the entire route -- go up instead! :)

We thought we might do it N to S so that we could rap the "sketchy" main problems and that we'd definitely bypass the optional low Class 5 stuff. We were wrong. S to N, we had a blast hitting every bomber crack directly and not skirting a few of the optional little teeth and gendarmes. The crux was following a bunch of half-drunk dudes down N. Maroon Peak while a mountain goat knocked rocks down the gullies. Just grab your approach shoes, and get after it! Jun 11, 2018