Billed as the most photographed mountains in the Rockies, many visitors come to Aspen to take their pictures. However, climbers, local media, and even the US Forest Service know these mountains as the “Deadly Bells.”
The beauty of the Maroon Bells, North and South Maroon Peak with their neighbor Pyramid Peak, in the White River National Forest just outside of Aspen, brings thousands of visitors to the viewing area in front of Maroon Lake every year. Their red mudstone layers give the mountains their unique maroon coloring. When the light is right, the peaks reflect in the lake, and this image is on prints for sale at most gift shops in the Colorado Rockies. Visitors can get to the viewing area by a bus trip up Maroon Bells Road. Tickets can be bought in the shop of the Aspen Highlands resort.
For climbers, however, the beauty belies their difficulty in climbing. Mudstone is very fragile, causing loose rock on the climbing routes. Eight people died in separate accidents in 1965 alone, leading the media to give it its deadly sobriquet. A sign placed by the US Forest Service at the start of the access trail states:
“The beautiful Maroon Bells, and their neighbor Pyramid Peak, have claimed many lives in the past few years. They are not extreme technical climbs, but they are unbelievably deceptive. The rock is downsloping, rotten, loose, and unstable. It kills without warning. The snowfields are treacherous, poorly consolidated, and no place for a novice climber. The gullies are death traps. Expert climbers who did not know the proper routes have died on these peaks. Don’t repeat their mistakes, for only rarely have these mountains given a second chance. DO NOT CLIMB IF NOT QUALIFIED.”
Most visitors may only hear a line or two about the climbs, and take their photos unaware of the hazards of the climb and those who have lost their lives.
Know Before You Go
Take the Maroon Creek Road turnoff from the round-about in Aspen. Due to high levels of traffic, anyone not wielding a current ADA tag/license must ride the bus into the area during the week, between 9am and 5pm, Mon-Fri