After having my confidence broken on S. Maroon Peak, Pyramid Peak was NOT on my list of summits to attempt. I was recoiling back to my infancy and thinking more along the lines of a lovely Class 1-2. You know...with no exposure, and maybe a nice hand railing along a well maintained path for security...when Mark (Asphazell from summitpost) emailed and offered his guiding assistance up the magnificent Pyramid Peak. Initially, I responded with a polite, "no freakin' way!"...but Mark's a heck of a motivator and next thing I knew, I not only agreed to go, but invited others to join in...I know..."way to hold my ground."
I kept my eye on the forecast...and it wasn't looking good, rain down low, snow up high (oh lord!) I was apprehensive enough as it was and my anxiety was escalating at the thought of climbing on wet or icy conditions. However, we had a strong, experienced, group going and I figured it was as safe an opportunity as any...and I could always turn around.... :)
So off we all went towards Aspen....
Four of us stayed near Twin Lakes at the charming Mount Elbert Lodge, while Mark and Wyatt opted to car camp in the overnight lot. At 4:45a Sunday, 2 of us headed out over Indepence Pass while Erik and Sarah slept in a bit more. I tossed them a walkie talkie and bid them well. By 6a, we met up with the mysterious, car camping, duo of Mark and Wyatt, whom I'd only exchanged emails with up to this point.
The TH parking lot was filling fast with tripod toting photographers trying to capture the perfect shot of the changing aspens at sunrise. We landed one of the few remaining spots, grabbed our gear, and headed up the dimly lit trail. It was a late start, but it ended up working in our favor. The grove of aspens between Maroon Lake and Crater Lake were absolutely stunning in the dawn's early light (isn't that a song?). I can now see why the parking lot was so packed...the aspen were truly amazing at that hour.
Shortly after leaving the golden glow of the aspens we found the "faint turnoff," marked with a fine 2.5 to 3 ft high cairn on the left. Apparently, CFI has done an incredible amount of work this year. The new trail was infinitely easier than the old (that I'd heard many a tale over), I was relieved. The current trail is easy to follow and solid as it takes you up many steep switchbacks. They even added some lovely steps in a few spots! :) Erik and Sarah radioed up when we hit the turnoff, they were just leaving the trailhead. I knew they'd catch up so, we slowed a bit, but continued on.
At the top of the new trail, we entered the rock filled "amphitheatre," which is quite the humbling event. It's beautiful and HUGE, we must have looked like tiny ants in a sand trap. We tried our best to follow the cairns, but the ones we found didn't seem to help much with the slog that lied ahead. We picked the best route we could and teetered on. We headed up the gully and were blessed with dirt covered snow, which made our task easier. There IS a trail to the right of the loose rock that looked better, but we were almost out of the gully before seeing it...naturally. :)
About half way up the gully, Sarah radioed up that they were not far behind. Sure enough, by the top of the amphitheatre gully, Sarah and Erik were on my -ss. The fiends!
We crossed the field of precarious rocks at the top of the gully and began the scramble up to the saddle. Somewhat loose, but not too bad and not nearly as steep as it looked from below. We made the saddle in great time and then the real fun began.
The ledges were cool! Sarah and I have exposure issues so, our nerves were tested on a few spots. Wyatt claimed to have similar issues, but he lied ;) as he was quite comfortable on this section. There really were only 3 sections of concern. Two where you have to cozy up to a large rock on a narrow ledge and 1 where you have to step 3-4' over (or try to get around) a deep crevice. I negotiated each maneuver with much concentration ending with a smile and a deep sigh of relief. Sarah cried a little, but made it fine, and the rest of the group just enjoyed themselves and even played a bit.
After the ledges, we hit the green couloir. Again, THAT was cool and did the most to bolster my confidence. The exposure was the worst on this part, but I handled it pretty well.
The rock was solid with plenty of holds. I tried to just concentrate on the rock in front of me and didn't look down or think about the exposure. In a few places, Sarah or I got "stuck" and someone would give directions from above while patient Mark helped from below. I learned a lot that way and eventually got the hang of it. I got fairly comfortable and before I knew it, the summit was only 20 feet above.
We all made it to the majestic summit safely and were rewarded with incredible views and perfect weather. We ate and took tons of pictures. Mark and Wyatt brought Pizza and sub sandwiches...I was envious as I gnawed on an oat ladened bar, that somewhat resembled animal fodder...when will I learn to pack real food? Sigh....
I could have stayed on that summit all day, but Sarah and I started to get anxious about the climb down so, 4 of us headed down while Mark and Wyatt lingered to enjoy the peak awhile longer.
The climb down ended up being a nonissue afterall and was actually quite fun. I found that I was infinitely more comfortable on the way down and was only mildly nervous on the tricky sections on the ledges. I started feeling A LOT better about my exposure limits.
Once off the ridge, the fun was over. We got back to the amphitheatre...and everyone seemed to lose enthusiasm as we slowed crossing the endless sea of rocks and boulders. The chatter died down and the group spread out. Everyone wanted to get the heck out of there asap as our feet were really taking a beating. My feet were rubbing bad from all the slipping and sliding exercises they were put through going over the rock. I tightened my boots, but it didn't help much. IMHO, the amphitheatre isn't too bad on the way up, but it sure sucks on the way down. :)
We eventually made it out of the amphitheatre and started down the steep switchbacks to the main Maroon trail. Another ugh, but not as bad as the amphitheatre. By now my feet were pretty raw and the unrelenting downhill was making it worse, plus the toll on the knees was a little brutal too.
A-a-a-nd about 287 switchbacks later (or so it felt ;), we finally arrived back at the Maroon trail (Oh thank heavens!) We soon caught up with many freshly pressed tourists strolling along in the warm afternoon sun, enjoying the aspens, and chatting away...wondering why our rag tagged group looked so disheveled. We too enjoyed the aspens on the way down, but I admit they were far more stunning in the morning light...and when my feet were happier. ;)
We finally arrived back at the car and immediately kicked off boots and grabbed a change of clothes. Ohhh, that felt sooo good to get out of those boots and into some fresh clothes. Even walking barefoot through the parking lot felt better than those boots.
We headed into town for a quick burger and beer, then headed back over the pass and on home.
Overall, another perfect day: beautiful weather, gorgeous views, fun climbing, made some new friends, and I got my confidence back! What more could I ask for?
My thanks to everyone who joined in and made this a great day! And thanks to Mark for convincing me I could indeed do it.
Great report Natasha and great job on Pyramid! You climbed like a 'rock'star! It was a fantastic day with a great group of people. I live for days like these! That CFI trail is wonderful, a major improvement from the trail conditions last year. Thanks for writing this one up =)