To the Mountains...Mountain: Pyramid Peak (14,018’)
Route: Started at Maroon Lake TH (9600’) and climbed the N.E. Ridge to summit.
Elevation Gain - 4500’
Roundtrip Mileage - 6.75 miles
Roundtrip Time - 9:15 hours
We were faced with another bad NOAA forecast for the second weekend in succession. 50% chance of snow on Saturday courtesy another Pacific system from the SW. After relying heavily on this forecast and missing out on a good climbing weekend the last time, we decided to go check it out firsthand. We reached the Maroon Lake TH at around 10PM and camped in the vicinity. There were passing showers overnight and we woke up at 5:30PM to heavily overcast conditions. We drove to the trailhead and ate breakfast and the downpour began accompanied by lightning strikes on the high ridges and loud thunder. The bells and anything above timberline seemed to be getting snow and/or graupel. We wondered if a climb would be possible in these conditions. Our original plan of trying out the NW Ridge route was a distant dream now. Just getting on the mountain would be a bonus.
We decided to wait out the rain and were rewarded with a slight break in activity. We set out at 7:35AM with a plan to get up to the amphitheater and assessing weather and snow conditions before deciding whether or not to go on. We packed helmets, crampons, winter clothing, mittens, and my newly acquired set of ice tools which we thought might come in handy for the Class 4 sections. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the amphitheater. We encountered sporadic showers of rain and graupel on the way up to it. Much of the talus leading up to the amphitheater was covered in ice and hoarfrost making it rather slick. Our first look at the mountain was not very morale boosting. There was erratic activity in the upper mountain and it looked cold and icy.
We were prepared for the cold however, and since the thunder had stopped for a while and we were moving at a steady pace, we thought it might be worth heading up to the ridge. Our route is marked in red.
The passage up the gully was rather slick because of the dusting of snow/hoarfrost. There was some wind and blowing snow from time to time, but it was mostly quiet. There was still no thunder or intense activity anywhere.
Halfway up the gully we met a solo climber returning from a successful summit bid. He quoted similar conditions in the upper mountain and that it was variable. He said that the Class 4 sections were icy, but manageable. This positive reply was all we needed and we decided to press on.
Of Hoarfrost and Blowing Snow
We were up on the ridge at 11:20AM. A thousand feet of 3rd and 4th class mixed rock/ice climbing awaited us from this point upwards (the summit pitch is seen through the second notch from the left, engulfed in haze).
There are solid 2nd class ledges that weave around the ridge crest and eventually lead to the left side of it.
The rest of the climbing is all to the climber’s left of the ridge crest. Much of it is on exposed ledges such as this one. Test your holds.
The route is cairned reasonably well, but check occasionally to see if you’re headed in the right direction since cairns are often misleading. The ice added to the fun and it was necessary to tread very carefully.
We decided to stay high and avoid climbing part of the 4th class green wall since an exposed ice wall was more excitement than what we were seeking. At noon we reached the base of the summit pitch. The terrain was very steep and icy from here. Most falls would end tragically, a long way down the face. Here’s looking down a short section of the face.
There were several short 3rd and 4th class sections but we also found several Class 2+ ledge systems, which were easy, but exposed all the same.
There was a lot of wind and blowing snow on this face. There were a couple traverses across steep snow slopes such as this one.
The 3rd and 4th class climbing was generally uncomplicated, but the wind, ice and verglass made it seem harder than it was.
We were getting close now. There was the occasional clearing in the cloud cover, and sunshine flitted through every once in a while just enough to warm a few hairs. The weather looked menacing over some of the neighboring mountains though so there was no opportunity to relax quite yet.
We summitted at 1:10PM, in questionable weather. Here’s some beta on the Bells in the background. Pyramid was Debbie’s 56th 14er… A worthy summit. A very tough young lady hides behind this unassuming smile. Through several nerve-wracking climbing expeditions over the last year or so I’ve been continuously amazed by her drive and resilience in the most adverse conditions.
We signed the registers and bore witness to a muffled roar of thunder coming from not too far away. This was accompanied by half a dozen rather powerful gusts of wind enough to cause lost footing on icy rock. We scurried for cover, leaving the summit at 1:15PM. The next picture stop came 19 minutes later at this, almost ludicrously exposed 4th class down-climb.
The section was followed by this icy down-climb of a 4th class chimney with decent holds to be found for the one who looks hard enough. The holds were layered with ice and if I were climbing Pyramid again this week I would watch out for that.
Past this down-climb we needed to decend a snow-filled gully back down to ledges.
The gully tops off a set of cliff bands and slipping down it wouldn’t be the greatest idea. In icy conditions negotiating your way into the gully from above entails an awkward side-wise shimmy across slick, exposed rock.
We got on ledges again at the bottom of the gully.
Here’s looking back up at the route up to summit.
At 2:15PM we were back close to the notch that led up to the NE Ridge. The final 1100’ that had taken 1:50 to ascend had taken one hour to descend. We found the descent down the gully easier than our ascent up the hoar-frost ridden talus and steep dirt. Most of the dusting had melted already.
At 3:30PM we got back down to the amphitheater for a meal. The sky had now cleared up above Pyramid. I despise the Weather Gods' tomfoolery. Shaking my fists at their shenanigans has become a regular feature of my climbing adventures.
The rest of the trail was uneventful and we were back down at Maroon Lake by 4:50PM. Here’s one more look at the Bells, at perhaps the best time of year to visit them. Yet again, Doumall outdid himself with the camera on this trip. Doumall always sets the bar high. Something to remember if you climb with him. Thanks for the pictures Homie…
We packed up and headed out to Capitol Creek TH to get a look at Capitol before deciding whether or not to attempt it. After camping out on Saturday night we drove up to the trailhead at daybreak and found that more snow had accumulated overnight up high on Capitol. We decided rather cheerlessly that it would be a very long, extremely dangerous day to climb in those conditions.
Here’s a look at the East Face.
There looks to be a warming cycle this week after a Pacific storm tonight (10/01) and I might head up to give it my best shot on Saturday (10/06) or Sunday if the weather stays good. If you’d like to join me on my last Official Colorado 14er, you know where to find me. Happy Climbing and Stay Safe!