This long, sprawling ridge is the indirect way up Pyramid Peak. While the standard route provides easy and relatively smooth access to this classic Desert Peak, the West Ridge is convoluted, involving difficult route-finding, exposed scrambling, and many other difficulties. While it is "not for the faint of heart", as has been said, it is also not too difficult. Quick-moving parties can expect a long but enjoyable day, full of moderate scrambling with the occaisional more spicy bit.
From Furnace Creek, head west on 190. From Death Valley Junction, head east on 190. Stop somewhere around 10 miles east of Furnace Crk/19 miles west of DVJ. Basically, stop wherever you chose, wherever you have the best view of a good route up to the base of the West Ridge.
I'm going to be intentionally somewhat vague with this route description (or at least I'm not going to pencil in the exacts on the pictures), because half of the fun of this route is finding creative solutions to daunting route-finding problems.
Our chosen access to the West Ridge
We approached the West Ridge from 190. We probably parked too far east, as we had to ascend and descend many washes in the bajada, as we crossed to the West Ridge. To gain the ridge, we chose a canyon that ascended from some red rock piles. The canyon was beautiful red conglomerate rock. At some point, we exited the canyon, and made for a scree slope that gave the vague impression that someone had hiked on it before.
Further up toward the West Ridge proper.
Above the scree slope, some nice Class 3 rock was encountered. Here, like on many many other points on the route, there are options to make it more challenging. Two of us ascended a Class 5 buttress, while another ascended a Class 3 gully.
The point is: Gain the main West Ridge
. You will know you're there when you can look west and see Furnace Creek/Death Valley proper, and look east and see Eagle Mountain down in the Amargosa Valley. Tilted strata will often provide long ledge systems that make traverses to higher ridges easy.
The first false summit.
Once you have reached the West Ridge, you will being a long long traverse. You will be climbing much of the time, but there are countless towers and smaller bumps along the ridge. Downclimbing will prove as challenging as upclimbing much of time time, though many difficulties can be avoided by dropping off the ridgeline. Use caution though
: some difficulties CANNOT be avoided, and you need to climb over them, as avoiding them will take you into regions of incredibly broken, loose rock and huge dropoffs.
View from the first false summit towards the second and true summits.
The first, most prominent, false summit contains two white bands of rock. You will not be able to stick to the ridge here... traverse left on broken slopes through the lower black rock, and the first white band. Then climb directly up and right on Class 4 black rock to the easy Class 2-3 final white band.
Scrambling on the Class 4 knife-edge.
From here, there is really one more large false summit, which can be seen a long way away. The climbing is easy to the next black bump on the ridge, from which point the crux of the climb begins. The traverses along towers here become somewhat hairy, and extreme care is needed, as rock can be loose and dropoffs long. There are some mandatory knife edges, which are probably Class 4. Staying to the ridge is the best bet, as dropping down to avoid difficulties can lead to impasses.
You will eventually come to the base of the summit pyramid. This will take you to the second prominent false summit. Easier rock can be found by staying left in a gully (class 3), while the more adventurous will choose to stick to the West Ridge proper, where Class 4-5 rock can be found. The moves are solid, the exposure unreal, and the views spectacular- I highly recommend.
From the second false summit, it is a simple walk to the real summit, which is the white and sandy summit beyond.
This took us 4.5 hours from the car-to-summit, and that was moving very fast with no breaks, for 3 climbers in top shape. I would recommend allowing at least 6 hours for most parties, just to summit.
I would recommend descending the Standard SE Ridge route
. Descending the West Ridge would be incredibly time-consuming and possibly quite difficult.
Just follow the use-trails down the SE Ridge. DO NOT follow tracks down a sandy scree chute. It will take you to a land of impossible drop-offs and anguish.
I have rated this Class 4. While, with excruciatingly delicate route-finding, one could conceivably climb this at Class 3... it's not really realistic. The ridge is very long, and often the time spent finding a Class 3 route would be so great that you'd never finish the climb. So Class 4 it is.
External LinksShots from a winter '08 ascent of the West Ridge.