Pyramid to "Thunder Pyramid" Traverse 9.27.08
Group: Ryan Scollard, Ben Conners
Route: Pyramid's Northwest Ridge, Traverse to Thunder Pyramid
RT Distance/Elevation Gain/Time: 10 Miles, 5,300 Feet, 10 Hours
After a long work week and an upcoming wedding, I felt compelled to squeeze a trip in. The Pyramid Traverse was high on my list, and Ryan was all over the idea of hitting a rarer route in the Elks, so the decision was an easy one. Ryan and I left Westminster at 1:45am, pulled into the Maroon Lake TH at 5:00am started off up the trail 15 minutes later. We hiked at a good pace up to the Pyramid turnoff and reached the amphitheatre as the sun was coming up. I was particularly interested in the Northwest Ridge route having been up the standard route 4 times, so we headed west up a steep grass/talus field towards the Northwest ridge. After 30 minutes of scrambling up frozen dirt and grass, we topped out on the ridge and headed towards Pyramid's summit.
Ryan ascending the dirt slope below Pyramid's NW Ridge:
After 15 minutes of hiking along the ridgeline we were forced west by a series of cliff bands. We found a snow filled gulley which appeared to cut through the cliff bands on Pyramid's west face. Things were complicated slightly due to a dusting of snow on all north facing aspects, thus we were a bit concerned about the upper portions of the route as well as the traverse.
After traversing west we headed up this gulley:
We continued to head towards what appeared to be Pyramid's summit, cutting across scree fields and up gullies. There seemed to be a bit of class 4 scrambling here but nothing incredibly sustained or exposed. The main difficulties of this route over the standard seem to be routefinding and loose rock.
We continued on up and arrived at the final cliff band below the summit. Basically we just picked a good looking line and went for it, the climbing to the summit had a few low 5 moves. It was very refreshing to summit Pyramid from the other side in such a direct fashion.
Ryan with the summit in view:
Ryan climbing directly to the summit:
We topped out at 9:00am and had the summit to ourselves, we spent about 30 minutes eating and enjoying the views. At 9:30am we began the traverse to Thunder Pyramid. The initial downclimb off Pyramid entailed 30 feet of class 4 (maybe low class 5), then the route turned to a ridge walk for a few hundred yards.
The first downclimb off Pyramid's summit ridge:
The ridge was extremely loose but fairly easy to navigate, the second downclimb we faced was maybe 20 feet of class 4. Already we could see that the north face of Thunder held quite a bit of snow, we had brought our axes but I was a bit concerned nonetheless.
Just below the second downclimb:
We continued along the ridge as dark clouds began building throughout the valley, despite being late September it appeared rain was in the forecast.
We quickened our pace a bit and came to what was the crux of the traverse for us; a large (seemingly 100 feet or maybe more) downclimb of mixed class 4/5 on loose ledges. This downclimb required caution and ate up a lot of time. As soon as we reached the bottom we spotted a much easier route down on the west side of the ridge . . . oh well, lack of vision is one of the downsides to downclimbing I guess . . .
The fall concequences from here were pretty substantial:
Middle of the downclimb, the trickiest climbing of the day:
The weather continued to hold but we pushed on with a sense of urgency. Another 10 minutes of ridge walking and we downclimbed the final class 4 pitch of 50 or so feet, after which we were officially on the north face of Thunder and less than 15 minutes from the summit. The snow that had concerned us before did not turn out to be much of a factor, we just angled west a bit and scrambled up dry slabs.
Taking a breather admiring the golden aspens below, Castle and Conundrum in the distance:
We scrambled to the summit of Thunder quickly, topping out at 11:30am for a traverse time of 2 hours. There was a rain cell behind Pyramid that seemed to be heading our way so we elected against going for Lightning Pyramid, amazed that the weather was giving us problems before noon in late September.
Thunder Pyramid summit:
All we knew about the descent off Thunder was to look for a white gulley. We found it (I think) and headed down through some very sketchy terrain off the summit. The descent was painful and time consuming because of loose rock, but the lower we got the easier the terrain became.
The descent off Thunder:
We were nearly down and the whole thing seemed like it was in the bag before we came to the first of many cliff bands that could not be seen from above. There did not seem to be an obvious passage around any of them so we decided to downclimb. This became a time consuming process as there were several large, intricate cliff bands we had to deal with.
Downclimbing the first of several cliffs:
More downclimbing, just what we wanted at the end of a day of downclimbing:
After about an hour of picking our way through cliffs we finally reached the valley floor, bushwacked across the valley and intersected the main trail just below the turnoff for South Maroon's standard route.
Bushwacking, it started to rain at this point:
We jogged down past Crater and Maroon Lakes, ending our outing at 3:15pm for a RT time of 10 hours. The aspens were in their fall prime and the peaks had a light dusting of snow, this area is amazingly beautiful this time of year. A few pics:
Summary: We found the Northwest Ridge on Pyramid to be more challenging and more fun than the standard route, and it was sweet to see a different side of Pyramid. The scoop on the traverse is that its extremely loose and objectively hazardous, but otherwise a blast. There are 4 or 5 major notches that bisect the ridge and each entails a minimum of 20 feet of class 4/5 climbing. The traverse is probably best done in the opposite direction as we downclimbed every major obstacle the traverse presented (as well as all of the cliffs below Thunder Pyramid) and upclimbing them would make much more sense. If you do go from north to south, check out the standard route up Thunder because the white gully option did not end particularly well for us.