Pyramid Peak: 14,018 feet
Distance (round-trip): 6.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
With a forecasted 60% chance of thunderstorms, I was not going to risk a late start on Pyramid Peak. I was on the trail by 3:45, and made easy progress toward Crater Lake. I found the unmarked turnoff for Pyramid Peak by the light of my headlamp without a problem, and mentally verified two things right off the bat: 1. This trail is steep, as promised, and 2. Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has really done a lot of work, making most of the trail very accommodating to the environment and climbers (aside from the inevitable steepness, of course).
From the top of the steep switchbacks, which ended at timberline, I found a welcome snow slope leading the rest of the way up to the amphitheater. As daylight began to take over, I was awed immediately by the impressive bulk of Pyramid Peak, which lay dead ahead. Having to give up the snow slope at the top, I talus-hopped my way across to the other side of the moraine. There, I took a break to put on my helmet and checked the time: 6 o’clock.
It was steep, for sure, but I was getting used to that. Meanwhile, the morning light illuminated the Elk Range in a spotty fashion, as clouds were filtering in quickly. The scenery was beautiful, but I was nervous about the weather.
I made great time getting to the first saddle, and from there I had an intimidating view of what lay ahead. After an easy hike to the next notch in the ridge, it appeared I was about to begin my climbing in earnest. However, the first section of ridge, which Roach describes in his guidebook as a class 4 crux, was easily negotiated by way of a cairned class 2+ trail following ledges.
The trail soon left the ridge and contoured toward a feature I have seen numerous times in photographs of Pyramid Peak: the “cliff traverse” ledge. This narrow ledge resides along a cliff that drops off forty feet below. As I expected, it was not nearly as difficult or daunting as the pictures make it look, but it was fun. The loose gravel and mud just before the ledge were actually a bit more unnerving than the ledge itself.
There the scrambling did begin, but I never really experienced any sustained class 4 in this section. There were some class 4 moves, and I was able to stay a little off-route for some more class 4 climbing. As it turns out, I never got back on the correct route after leaving the Green Couloir, because I never made it to the ridge. Instead, I scrambled up exposed ledges and climbed some class 4 areas on the east face. All in all, this face was not bad. The climbing was not as hard as I expected, but the two factors of loose rock and exposure were there as promised. Neither bothered me, as the loose rock was mostly avoidable by taking my time and finding good holds. I did not find the exposure too daunting either, probably because I have been getting more experience dealing with it in the past few years.
The climbing ended abruptly as the terrain flattened out to the summit. I arrived at eight o’clock, thrilled to have made it to what Roach calls “One of Colorado’s most rewarding fourteener summits.” At this point, the sky looked stable enough, but I know from experience how quickly that can change up there. I stayed on the summit for about half an hour, taking pictures most of that time.
The descent turned out to be easier than I ever imagined. I found the correct trail to the ridge proper this time, and found it to be mostly class 2 or class 3. Only an occasional class 4 move was required. Also, there were cairns everywhere in this area.
I passed a solo climber in this upper section, who was somehow coming from a different direction (north). Below him, two more climbers were coming up the standard route, just topping out at the Green Couloir. After exchanging greetings with them, I joined my ascent route at this point, then made my way slowly to the base of the green rock. From there I followed the fun ledges back to the 13,000-foot saddle.
It was downright hot by the time I reached the Crater Lake Trail. Mosquitos and flies would not leave me alone, and though I’m sure I lowered their population by about one hundred, I get the feeling I didn’t even make a dent. The trail here was crowded with people too, as I expected. At one point, when I stepped into the grass to let someone pass by, a snake slithered between my legs. I don’t know what kind it was, but I did not stick around to find out.
Even though everyone has already seen it in pictures, the world-renowned view of the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake is definitely worth seeing in person. The scenery had been top-notch all day, and the climb was a fun one too! I made it back to my jeep at 11:30, wondering if I really wanted to leave this little piece of paradise so soon.