Day 1 StatsFriday, June 8th, 2012
Crew: Colin, Matt, and Prakash
Peak: Thunder Pyramid (13,932’)
Route: West Face from Maroon Lake TH
Stats: 10.5 miles, 4450’
I uploaded helmet cam video of the summit ridge and West face scree ski here - The Summit Ridge and West Face Descent - Helmetcam Video
PrologueAfter much deliberation I hung up the planks for the year. The lines are still there but the motivation is flagging. Carrying skis up a peak when there are a 6 square inches of snow on it and it is ONE BILLION degrees out doesn’t appeal to most. I did want a good trip for my first one without skis since Oct ’11. My original proposal was to use a 3-day weekend to drive down to Ouray and climb Teakettle and/or Potosi. This plan was politely shot down by Colin in this manner... “This looks like a decent option... lots of driving and crappy terrain for 1 pitch of 5.3 though.” It was a good point and I settled for an Elk trip. Thanks are due to Caroline and Matt for their 14ers.com trip reports on Thunder (5/6/12) and Cathedral (6/3/12) respectively which gave us some of the information we needed to sew these climbs together.
I arrived at the Maroon Lake TH at 11:30PM on Thursday night. Colin had rounded up another suspect (Matt) for Day 1 and they were both already asleep at the TH. I turned in after scratching a note for Colin asking that he wake me up when he was up. I also set the alarm for a likely hour (4 AM) as a backup plan.
ApproachWe set off up the trail a little before 5AM, Colin a little ahead. Matt and I left the trailhead 5 minutes behind him. There was no sign of Colin however as Matt and I continued up the W. Maroon Creek trail. It was an early morning after 4.5 hours of sleep and I assigned the requisite bare minimum attention towards solving this dilemma… I assured Matt that Colin, in training for his Peruvian high peaks, must certainly have blasted ahead with the intention of hauling giant loads of fresh manure up and down the ramparts of one of Thunder Pyramid’s loose neighbors, whilst waiting for us to catch up… or something like that.
Matt and I crossed the base of the bell cord and the standard trail up South Maroon and arrived at the creek crossing location for thunder at 6:10AM. I found a few protruding rocks and hopped across. Matt found a snow bridge he was able to use.
A look at our objective for the day…
Looking back down Maroon Ck drainage.
We crossed the creek, bushwhacked through some shrub and hiked up a few talus blocks at the base of the West Face and decided at this point to stop and grab a bite to eat. At this point, the inert stew in my head had begun to wonder if perhaps Colin was behind us… not before Matt had mentioned it several times. The kid is sharper than I was at 22 (or am now). Sure enough, Colin walked up to us 10 minutes later. In his own words, Colin “took a different trail cutoff, bushwhacked, cursed, and then pooped”… in that order.
The ClimbEncouraged by this happy reunion we fiercely attacked the first snow “field” which looked like this…
I love how the Elk range is so green…
The Bells started growing bigger as we gained elevation
Soon we arrived at this cavernous black crack in the lower west face which is ironically the base of the “White Gully”. As you see, the white gully isn’t very white any more.
The black crack reminded both Colin and Matt that they needed to poop, so they headed their separate ways (as one of the ‘Happy Folk’, I played soothing music in my head over the “castrophany so immense it could be heard far away in space”) as seen in this picture.
Words are exceeded by the majesty of the Elks so I will post this next picture and shut up.
While the majesty of the Elks is fantastic from across a valley, the reality is different, and thunder is no exception. Mounds and mounds of loose, sharp talus blocks slide a couple feet for every three climbed.
A couple west-face gullies of snow were traversed en route to the summit. Not quite bulletproof, but those can be difficult to navigate with trail shoes and microspikes. Matt did a great job of it nevertheless. I was too lazy to pull crampons out but just having the whippet was adequate.
When we sickened of god-awful talus blocks we turned and looked across the valley… Snowmass and Capitol form the backdrop behind the Bells.
The climbing felt relatively simple. I’d put it at Class 3, except that each rock must be tested before it is weighted. There is some exposure on the summit ridge but is manageable if you are comfortable on loose terrain. Bear in mind that this is all very subjective. I wouldn’t recommend this peak to someone who isn’t used to scrambling around on loose terrain.
Here's my first attempt at stitching together GoPro helmet cam clips into a video. I welcome any tips on shooting, video processing, audio tracks, etc - The Summit Ridge and West Face Descent - Helmetcam Video
Summit and DescentWe reached the summit at around 10AM. It was a perfect, wind-free summit. "Hey Pyramid… don’t panic… I mean… I’m only crushing your head…" - Kids in the Hall, anyone?
A summit shot with the Bells in the background.
We left the summit and began descending our ascent route at around 10:40.
The West Face is a blast to scree ski. It does hold some precariously set up booby traps like this one though. It’s easy to step on this one from above (or grab it from below as a hand-hold – for that matter) and send it hurtling on climbing parties below (or onto oneself) –
We stayed together for most of the time so as not to send rock slides down on each other. By 12:30 we were off the West Face and back at the creek crossing.
Here is one last look at Thunder before we began hiking back down the trail…
The bell cord looked wet and slushy. Matt shared that he’d encountered a team on top of S. Maroon that had climbed the bell cord and had talked about sinking knee deep frequently on their way up despite a relatively early start.
The overnight freezes aren’t good enough and east facing stuff is iffy. Crater lake…
We were back at the TH at around 3PM for ~10 hours car to car. The summer hoards are there but it is still possible to sneak a surreptitious dip in maroon creek when no one is looking.
Post-hike MealI think this section is relevant to a climbing trip report since the next thing after mountains that piques an uber-metabolic climber’s interest is a LARGE MEAL. This section is dedicated to Brian Miller. He has the right idea. We walked around Aspen for a bit before Urbanspoon pointed us to Little Annie’s Eating House with two $ signs next to it meaning that our hides were not going to be excoriated and laid out to dry on Aspen's very expensive pavement in return for a meal… it is my belief that any place named “Little Annie’s Eating House” cannot be bad. Salads, sandwiches, mashed potatoes and dessert flew furiously from fist to mouth for the next hour and air was displaced from bellies… A sample of what was inhaled…
After this we bid goodbye to Matt who was headed back to Maroon Creek area for an attempt on Pyramid. I swung by the City Market to get trail food for the next day and drove down the Castle Creek road to meet Colin at the Cathedral Lake Trailhead. We turned into our respective vehicles at 8PM and slept in fits as we were woken up first at 11PM as one party left the trailhead and 2AM as another arrived.
Day 2 StatsSaturday, June 9th, 2012
Crew: Colin and Prakash
Peak: Cathedral Pk A (13,943’)
Route: Standard East Face couloir from Cathedral Lake TH
Stats: 9 miles, 4063’
The ApproachThe alarm went off at 4AM and after some brief (but necessary) cursing I left my sleeping bag at 4:15 and woke Colin at 4:30. We left the trailhead at ~5AM. Colin set a race pace, possibly anxious to summit his nemesis peak and get done with it. As a result, we knocked off the 2000’ elevation approach to the Cathedral Lake – Electric Pass trail junction in 1:15. It seems a lot easier to hike without skis on your pack. The trail meanders around cathedral lake from here and follows a well cairned route to the couloir. Cathedral Lake…
While Colin sensibly followed the trail, I saw the couloir in the distance and made a beeline for it like a schmuck. My ridiculous behavior came from my idea that “13ers don’t have cairned trails… what are they 14ers?” After clambering up and off of boulders for the next hour like an idiot I met up with Colin who had followed the mellow, cairned trail and then enjoyed a nice and easy stroll up snow to the base of the couloir. He appeared to shake his head from side to side, perplexed at my choices in life... when I saw him.
That said this was the first time I was preparing to climb a couloir where there was more snow on the approach than on the actual couloir itself. Here's a picture of the couloir taken later in the day…
The ClimbWe cramponed up at the base of the mud, sorry couloir… I did so more because I felt sketched out by the idea of spending time putting on crampons within the body of the couloir, while all the time being subject to rockfall. The snow was icy beneath a 2” surface layer of slush. The snow was pockmarked with rockfall and mud. We made good time up the snow and as we were 3/4 of the way up we ran into Shawn (a 14ers.com user) who mentioned that it was a quick jaunt to the summit from there. Shawn, it was nice to meet you.
We topped out at the couloir at 8:25AM and took a food / drink break.
From there the trail is cairned well and mostly stays on the West side of the ridge crest. We wandered off trail on to the East side for a bit and Colin pulled off a large loose block that gashed his hand. He hung tough and completed the rest of the trail to the summit with a bleeding right hand.
Summit and DescentWe summitted at 9AM.
Castle and Conundrum Peaks from Cathedral…
Colin slapped on a makeshift band-aid, delaying a more thorough fix since the wind was getting to be really annoying. We were back at the top of the couloir again at 9:25AM and Colin strapped on his crampons. I opted to go without but pulled out my axe for purchase. We down-climbed the snow facing in. The snow had not changed much since our ascent and still retained the icy base with a 2” deep slushy surface.
At one point I stepped to the side and downclimbed the walls of the couloir. I soon decided that treacherously loose 4th class down-climbing was slower than face-in downclimbing of a icy-slushy snow. We were soon at the base of the snow…
From here we scree-skied the rest of the couloir back to the base.
For the return I followed the cairned trail and it was pretty easy and put us in great position above Cathedral Lake…
We followed the trail all the way to the junction with the electric pass trail. The rest of the trail through the trees went pretty quick and we were at the trailhead by noon for a ~7 hour round trip time.
Post-hike MealColin scrambled to get back to Denver for a nap before other appointments, leaving me to find a protein source on my own. After finding Quincy’s (Leadville) closed I drove down Harrison Ave to Golden Burro. I started with the beef-vegetable soup… Mark, I feel bad that you ordered "...something bland with chicken so as not to offend a potential climbing partner's religious sensitivities...". That was nice of you, but I like beef and will buy you a steak some day to make it up to you :) (ref: Halfway to Heaven, page 132)
And moved on to the pork chop entrée… two pork chops, broccoli / cauliflower in cheese sauce, mashed potatoes + brown gravy and applesauce…
I ran out of potatoes half way through and pulled a sad enough face that the waitress gave me another large helping of mashed taters and gravy on the house. The applesauce left me wanting more sugar so I topped it off with the Kentucky Bourbon Pecan pie and vanilla ice cream…
I love a place where the wait staff doesn’t flinch when you ask which entrée brings the largest quantity of food. That place is Golden Burro.
Colin went to Subway.
Colin / Matt, it was a good weekend guys. Thanks for coming out to play.