July 16th, 2005
Pyramid Peak is an aptly named peak just across the valley from its more famous neighbors the Maroon Bells. Typical of peaks in the Elk Range, Pyramid Peak is composed of loose and dangerous rock and should be approached with caution. Pyramid Peak was first climbed in 1909 by Percy Hagerman who remarked, "The climb is an intensely interesting one." The climbers trail that departs the trail to Crater Lake leading to Pyramid Peak can sometimes be hard to find. Below are the directions we used to find the trail without any problems. About a mile past Maroon Lake, the trail will level off (for the first time), and you will reach a moraine field, mostly on your right side. After about ~150 yards look for a trail heading up the hillside to the left. There may or may not be a cairn marking this trail, seems somebody keeps knocking it down. Finding the climbers trail:
Pyramid Peak would be my first new 14er of the summer. I hadnít added a new 14er to my list since Culebra Peak last September. With Pyramid Peak on the agenda, Amy and I departed Boulder Friday afternoon to Aspen via Independence Pass. After some tasty ribs at the Hickory House in Aspen we headed up the Maroon Lake Road with Pyramid Peak dominating the scene. Arriving at the pay station at 6:45 p.m. the attendant kindly told us if we waited until they closed at 7 p.m., we wouldnít have to pay the $10 dollar entrance fee. We put on our hiking boots while we waited for the pay station to close since we planned to hike up the trail to Crater Lake and locate the cutoff trail to Pyramid Peak. We had heard of parties having a hard time finding this trail and didnít want to waste time looking for the trail at 5 a.m. in the dark.
The pay station closed and we continued on our way to the Maroon Lake parking lot. Neither Amy nor I had ever seen the Maroon Bells in person and our first views of these majestic peaks definitely did not disappoint. The mighty peaks of the Elk Range rise up abruptly from the valley and lakes below. We began hiking towards Crater Lake and following directions I had received from 14erworld, we found the cutoff trail to Pyramid Peak no problem. We followed the Pyramid Peak trail for a short ways just to make sure it was the right one. Taking some photos looking down on Maroon Lake we headed back to the main trail, convinced we found the correct route.
We still had a little daylight left so we continued the rest of the way to Crater Lake to admire the Maroon Bells in the waning daylight. Maroon Peak and North Maroon tower to a neck bending height above Crater Lake and definitely stir some excitement in climbersí souls. Daylight was fading fast so we headed back down the trail and arrived back at the 4runner at 9 p.m. We drove down Maroon Lake Road for a few miles and found a nice, quiet side road to set up camp in back of the 4runner. It was an extremely warm night in the high country and as I was about to drift off to sleep, I heard a thumping noise coming from under the 4runner. I pounded on the floorboards to scare our midnight visitor away, and as I turned on the headlights, a porcupine waddled out of sight into the bushes. It only seemed like 5 minutes later the alarm was telling us it was 4 a.m. and time to get going.
After a quick breakfast and some gear packing, we drove back up to the Maroon Lake parking area and began hiking just before 5 a.m. It was an extremely warm morning and I was overheating from the beginning even though I was only hiking in a t-shirt. After about 30 minutes we reached the Pyramid Peak cutoff trail and began the steep grunt up the new CFI trail. The photo below shows Pyramid Peak from the Crater Lake trail, obviously it was taken on the descent since it was still dark at this time.
From the cutoff trail the route gains over 4,000 feet in just 2 miles, so you earn every foot from this point on. The CFI trail was in great shape for about 2/3 the way up into the amphitheater below Pyramid Peak. The remaining 1/3 of the trail had you ascending through bushes and trees that havenít been cleared out yet, but still are much better than the old trail. The sky began to lighten and North Maroon was glowing in the early morning sun.
Once into the amphitheater, Pyramid Peakís north face casts an imposing spell on climbers who dare approach closer. There were some lingering snowfields in the basin so we opted to travel over the snow and forgo the boulder hopping.
We followed the snowfields until we were almost directly under Pyramidís north face where we then turned left to head to the northeast ridge. We stopped to take a short break and I sucked down a few Piranha Energy Bombs. They donít taste that great but for 10 cents apiece at the EAS sale, they seem to do the job. It was a short boulder hop over to the scree slopes that climb up to the northeast ridge where the going gets steep once again.
There is a fairly decent trail through the scree that we were able to follow until it disappeared under a lingering snowfield. We opted to travel on the right side of the snowfield since the snow was in terrible shape for self-arresting. There was a party of three climbers shortly behind us so we were very careful not to knock any rocks down on them.
After about 30 minutes we reached the ridge at 12,900 feet around 8 a.m. and had a nice view of the Maroon Bells as well as the pertinently named Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak.
r guidebook, Ďthe introduction is over.í The views from the ridge of Pyramidís upper flanks are quite daunting. We decided our trekking poles were no longer needed and decided to stash them at the ridge. Reading previous trip reports many parties noted marmots eating the handles off their poles they stashed, so I hung ours over a 30-foot ledge. Just trying eating these handles you little marmot b@stards, youíll plunge to your death. Ok, so Iím still a little bitter from the whole marmot/Gannett Peak experience last summer. Read my Gannett Peak report if youíre curious what Iím talking about.
We began an ascending traverse on the ridge side of the ridge, just below the ridge crest. The route is pretty well cairned and climbs slowly up to the large notch that is visible from the amphitheater below. Just before the notch the route traverses over to the left side of the ridge and the route follows some ledges until you get to the famous Pyramid shuffle ledge below. The ledge has about a 30-foot drop but is nice and flat with abundant handholds everywhere, so it isnít much of a problem.
As I was shuffling across the ledge, I had my chest pressed into the rock, and my GPS came unclipped from my shoulder strap and fell down the 30-foot drop. Ainít that a b!tch!!! Almost any other piece of gear and I would have left behind, but that GPS was a Valentineís Day gift from Amy and quite expensive as well. I dropped my pack, downclimbed to retrieve it, and thankfully it was fine aside from a few scratches.
Not far from the famous ledge is the pale-colored green/grey wall Roach notes as the class 4 crux of the route. I had read of a class 3 bypass on 14erworld, but the climbing looked straightforward enough, so we headed up the pale wall. I have a photo of Amy downclimbing this section later in the report. We climbed up the pale wall for probably 100 feet or more before we exited onto some ledges to the left.
Above the pale wall Roach notes that Ďmuch route-finding remainsí. Cairns guided the way fairly well and we made an ascending traverse mainly to the left. I was surprised how much scrambling remained above the crux and we encounter several interesting sections, fortunately they were only 6 to 10 feet high. The difficultly on Pyramid Peak all depends on the route you choose.
After about 30 minutes or so from the crux, the summit suddenly appeared and we topped out on Pyramid Peak at 9:30 a.m. Our ascent took us 4.5 hours, a bit slow, but the weather was great and we were in no hurry. The views of the surrounding Elk Range and the variety of colors on display were astounding. The Maroon Bells look impossibly steep and Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain stand majestically against the horizon. The other party of three climbers reached the summit shortly behind us and we exchanged summit photos and conversation. I was very happy to finally have a new 14er under my belt, #49 and just 5 14ers remaining for me. After a hard-earned 30-minute break we departed the summit, with the other party agreeing to give us a 15-minute head start.
Going back down we had to be even more careful on the loose rock. It would be really easy to step on the wrong rock and take a tumble down the steep slopes. Fortunately the exposure was never really that bad. Roaches comments about Ďany fall on the last 1000 feet of Pyramid Peak would likely be fatalí had us pretty nervous, but we found that there were only a few sections where this could be likely. Just be really careful what handholds and footholds you use.
After retracing most of our ascent route we were back to the pale wall section and scouted around for an easier way down. I had read the gully to climberís right of the pale wall is only class 3 so we decided to check it out. Unfortunately for us, the gully was full of soft snow and testing the snow with my ice ax, I could easily pull my ice ax out of the snow even though it was pressed into the snow all the way to the pick. A self-belay would never hold in this snow. Looks like we are definitely not going down this way, back to the pale wall. We decided just to downclimb the pale wall and didnít think it was that bad.
From here it was a descending traverse towards skiers left, shown below, back to famous shuffle ledge and the notch on the ridge. Just beyond the shuffle ledge we encountered a party of two that decided to bail on the summit, figuring they were moving too slowly.
We arrived back at the ridge around 11:30 a.m. and I took great pride in that fact that our poles were still intact. I guess no marmot wanted to risk suicide for a chance to chew on some plastic. I snapped some pictures of Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak before we departed back to the amphitheater.
Descending down the scree slopes to amphitheater we decided to stick to skiers right this time and found this side to be a more pleasant descent. We were able to avoid the snowfield by sticking to the right side of the gully.
Arriving back below Pyramidís north face, the amphitheater was an absolute oven. It must have been 80 to 85 degrees and I had to stop and zip off my pant legs. This Wyoming boy was baking, give me 30 below zero any day. Rocks could be heard tumbling down the north face and the snowfield below the face was covered in rock and debris that has broke loose from high above. After a short break we were off again making quick time down the snowfields and back to the CFI trail.