A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pyramid Peak


  • Route: Northeast Ridge (standard)
  • Distance: ~8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~4,500
  • Start time: 4:09 AM  
  • Time: 8.1 hours (including 45 minutes on the summit) 
  • Climbers: Alan, Terry and Sandy

We raced traffic out of Denver on Friday, hell bent to trade the worries of work for the rarified air of a single alpine pursuit, Pyramid Peak. This is my final 14er in the Elks Range. Often maligned as choss piles, these scenic mountains offer a blend of rugged beauty, aesthetic lines and exposure.

There was a quick stop for groceries in Frisco and then dinner in Leadville. With the Leadville 100 this weekend, half of the town’s occupants made Alan and I look morbidly obese and feel fantastically lazy, but I guess casual athleticism (think lithe and chacos clad) is one of the rewards of training for and running 100 miles.

The skies above Mt Massive and Elbert were stunning, with a mix of clouds, sunshine and rain setting the atmosphere ablaze in a highly textured theater of color. It was my monthly reminder as to why I live in the Rocky Mountain West. I am sure the Midwest has a subtle beauty and the scrublands a certain austerity, but nothing makes feel more expansive than a mountain viewshed in low angle light.


Things only got better on Independence Pass, whose zenith we perched upon as the sun set in the west and lightning flickered to the north. Nearly every passerby stopped, with plates from Illinois, New Mexico and Colorado all representing. While blessed with timing, I could not help but be thankful that this was just part of another Colorado weekend.


Rain greeted us at the trailhead, so we abandoned the open air bivy and shacked up in the Subaru Inn. It kept us dry, but given the narrow confines, not comfortable. The night passed in fits and starts with the alarm ringing at 3:30 and actually providing relief as we had more or less given up on sleep.

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Enjoying a Tecate at the trailhead.

Packed up and ready to go we noticed a climber heading straight for us across the parking lot. Upon introductions it turned out to be Terry Matthews, who I have never met, but know from his postings on 14ers.com. Terry had gotten word of a bear attack* near Crater Lake. With search and rescue alerted there was little we could do, but recognizing safety in numbers, we formed a trio and headed upvalley.

*The victim suffered a bite to his calf. He was able to walk out and was transported to a local hospital. The bear has been tracked and euthanized.

We made short work of the trail up to the cutoff for Pyramid Peak. One thing to be said for hiking in the dark, you fail to notice the elevation gain. Minus that visual cue the suffering is somehow less and the pace that much quicker. We passed our first mountain goats of the day ascending into the Amphitheater and quickly found ourselves traversing beneath the bulk of Pyramid’s North Face.


Having walked past this sign three times this summer, I look forward to leaving it behind for a little while.

Alpenglow creeping onto Pyramids upper flanks

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Alan in the Amphitheater.  He forgot a belt so was wearing a shockingly bright yellow bight of webbing. It made him easy to spot. 

The gully leading to the summit ridge is loose and steep. That did not stop Alan from scorching up it in 27 minutes and then climbing to a high point while waiting on Terry and I. Approximately a 1/4 mile in distance and 1,000 vertical will set your calves to burning and push your heart rate up.

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Alan (upper right) seeking bonus vertical feet

For scale. I am on the trail, just right of center.


Panorama taken from 1/2 way up the gulley. Maroon Bells are in the left corner, Minnehaha Gulch is dead center, with Snowmass and Capitol on the horizon behind the Gulch.

The Leap of Faith, an infamous ledge and the Green Wall all lay ahead. We were a 1,000 vertical feet from the summit with what has been described as loose rock, exposure and challenging route finding in our path. The three of us have had an active summer, with 75 14er summits between us this year, including much class 3 and 4 terrain. Thus, this trio of “inquisitive alpinists” could not stop smiling in excitement while staring upward at the summit ridge.


From saddle to summit

Me jumping the Leap of Faith, or for those of us with a long inseam, the Long Step of Faith

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Alan airing out the Leap of Faith while the world’s brightest belt helicopters

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Alan casually crossing the ledge, with large drops below…oh, and nice belt

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Terry adding a little challenge

Me at the base of the Green Wall

Terry and I headed up

After the Green Wall the trail braids with cairns located in many places. Being comfortable with the terrain we all took slightly different variations, but knew that up was the way to go. By looking for solid rock and bits of obvious path, none of us were ever outside our comfort zone.

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Alan approximately ~400 vertical feet from the summit

With the terrain so steep we quickly consumed the remaining vertical feet to the summit. An early start paid off as we spent 45 minutes on the top without another soul in sight. Time for summit shenanigans and food, in that order.

Classic flexshot on the diving board, there is a really long drop off that thing

Classic flexshot on the diving board, I am basically ruining a really nice view of the Maroon Bells

I held this for at least a 1/4 second


Throwing down Egyptian style a top of Pyramid

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The buffet: beef jerky, hummus, chips, tuna, triscuits, a trio of spanish cheeses, breakfast burrito, bars, bloks and gels

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Hero shot

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These guys showed up, neither sweating or breathing heavy

Summit shot

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Summit shot

The descent was quick. We passed 24 people who were headed up and at least 7 mountains goat who were doing what could be best described as mountain goat things; which mainly consisted of seeking salt in human urine.

Goat with kids

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Oh that, I just left its summit

Alan and I attempting dancer pose while Terry walks up from behind probably wondering why he ever chose to climb with us…

Alan and I already wearing flip flops and sandals, Terry said he looked forward to the ensuing “toegasm” upon doing the same. That is the best word I have learned all summer.

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This guy barely made it to Maroon Lake

We stopped at the Grottoes on our way over Independence Pass. Some 10 year old kids turned us onto the Ice Caves and the Cascades so we headed upstream. Next thing you know Alan is launching off a 10 foot ledge into the plunge pool, while I am taking a more modest 3 foot leap. The water is refreshing, in that it is so cold it takes away your breath, burns and demands that you find any shoreline ASAP. It was the perfect end to the climb. Lots of people were taking pictures as the frigid lunacy continued. As Alan noted, “people on vacation were taking pictures of our weekend.” We are obviously doing something right, at least two days a week.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! I was probably about 7 out of 24 on your way down. What a day!