| Pyramid - Standard Northeast Ridge Route
Steve, Tyler and I spontaneously decided on Friday evening that we would leave Topeka on Saturday morning, arrive at a Colorado trailhead on Saturday night, summit the mountain on Sunday morning, and then drive all the way back on Sunday afternoon/evening. So the 3 of us left Topeka at about 10:30 on Saturday morning, headed for somewhere in Colorado. As we drove, we considered our options, and we decided on Pyramid Peak. I knew immediately when we chose Pyramid that this would be my toughest and most intimidating climb to date, but I had some solid introductory climbs to Colorado’s harder 14ers with my climbs of the Crestones, Kit Carson/Challenger, Snowmass, Longs and Blanca/Ellingwood, so I was confident I could climb Pyramid despite its tough billing. We arrived in Denver around 4:30, made a quick stop at REI for some gear, gassed up, hit a grocery store, and then we were off to Aspen.
We drove over Independence Pass and were on the Maroon Lake Road just as it was getting dark. We arrived at the Maroon Lake trailhead around 9:30, found a parking place, and got our gear ready. Our first goal was to pack in to Crater Lake and set up camp there. With the half moon, we decided to keep our headlamps off, which was a mistake since we missed a sign on the north side of Maroon Lake indicating the turnoff to Crater Lake. We finally realized our mistake after about 15 minutes of extra hiking, which caused us to retreat back to Maroon Lake to study the route a little better. We found the sign and then made our way up the trail to Crater Lake. On our way to Crater Lake, we came across the turnoff on the trail for Pyramid Peak, which we took note of for the next morning’s summit climb. We continued about 0.25 miles up the trail to the Lake, where we set up a tent for the 3 of us. We organized our gear, ready for a 4:00 wake up the next morning. We awoke at 4:00 and packed up all of our gear, leaving Crater Lake at around 4:30. We took our heavy gear down to the Pyramid trail junction, and dropped it off at the junction behind a rock outcropping, only taking our day hike gear up Pyramid with us. The trail was easy to follow all the way up into the rock fields above treeline. At that point, the trail became cairned and was less identifiable. Steve and I found a series of cairns to the right of a snow couloir which we followed up the rock slope, while Tyler ascended talus on the left side of the snow couloir.
After climbing up the rock slope, we reached the amphitheater below Pyramid’s north face. We easily crossed the top of the snow couloir, and we found another cairned route across the amphitheater to the base of the ridgeline below Pyramid’s northeast ridge. We easily found a trail which led to the saddle of the ridgeline. This trail was extremely steep scree all the way up to the saddle, but the trail was easy to see and follow. Here is a pic of the route up to the saddle from the amphitheater:
Once we made it to the saddle, the views opened up all around us. We could see Castle Peak to the east, and Snowmass, the Maroon Bells and Capitol to the west and north. The weather was perfect allowing us to see all of these mountains. I was happy to have these views, because the last time I had climbed in the Elks (Snowmass in 2001), I was socked in by clouds and couldn’t see much. Also from the saddle, we could see Pyramid’s summit and much of the remaining route. Here are some pics taken from the saddle:
From the saddle, it appeared to start out as a ridge climb, and then ended by ascending Pyramid’s Northeast face. After studying the route for a few minutes, we began the ridge ascent. For a little while, we made our way along the right side of the ridgeline on a cairned route, and then crossed the ridgeline at the end of a snow cornice on the left side. The route stayed on the left side of the ridge for the remainder of the climb. A little while after crossing to the left side, we encountered a step-across followed by a narrow ledge with a rock wall to its right and a drop-off to its left. Up to this point, the terrain had been relatively easy, but the introduction was over once we hit the step-across. The step-across was two large rocks separated by about two feet. If you fell in the two-foot gap, it was an abyss below, but the step to cross it was not much more than a regular step. The ledge began right after the step-across, and it was about 2-3 feet wide. Again, it was not much more than a walk across a narrow section of rock, but falling off to the left would have been a fatal drop. There was one section of the ledge in the middle where the rock to the right jutted out a little bit into your chest (if facing in), and you had to lean back slightly to get by it. It still wasn’t too difficult but it was more interesting than the rest of the ledge. Once across the ledge, we continued scrambling over to the infamous “green wall”. This was a section of greenish rock which was relatively solid, but definitely infringing on hard Class 3 and Class 4 terrain. We “climbed” here more than on any other section on the mountain. This was an enjoyable portion of the climb on solid rock with good hand and foot holds. Just above the green rock section, we encountered 7 mountain goats who began to follow us all the way up the mountain. At this point above the green rock section, the rock became a little bit more loose, and we essentially zig-zagged up the face trying to find the points of least resistance. This last section of zig-zagging was relatively enjoyable climbing and tested our climbing and route-finding skills.
A couple of pics which give some idea of the terrain:
There were many moves in this last 800-1,000 feet which were probably Class 4 and required some solid concentration of foot and hand hold placement before undertaking the move. After consistent Class 3 and Class 4 sections with exposure, we finally made our way to the summit, which we reached at 8:50. Here is a pic of me on the last section just before the summit (I had to gently explain to the mountain goats that they needed to get out of my way):
It was a huge rush for me to be standing on the Pyramid Peak summit. As I have pondered the Colorado 14ers over the past 10 years and made decisions on which mountains to climb year after year, I was never completely sure if Pyramid would be a mountain I would have the gumption to summit. This was despite the fact that one of my major mountaineering goals has been to eventually summit all 59 14ers in Colorado (58 named + North Massive). But this climb makes me believe I can achieve that goal one day, as Pyramid is definitely one of the hardest and most intimidating 14ers in Colorado. This was a coveted summit to be sure, and one to build on with my future endeavors in the mountains. We had this summit to ourselves. Here are some pics from the summit:
After relishing the Pyramid summit for over 30 minutes, we began our descent at around 9:30. The descent was in many ways more dangerous than the ascent, as descending this type of terrain can prove to me much more difficult than climbing it. There were several moves we encountered which required downclimbing facing in. Although I have downclimbed sections facing in on other mountains, I have never been faced with such a series of them like we had on Pyramid. Specifically, a significant section which required a facing-in-downclimb was the green wall, which was probably around 20-30 feet down on solid rock. Once below the green wall, the angle eased and the downclimb was much easier from there. However, the scree slope from the saddle to the amphitheater was no fun at all. After a long slog down the scree and talus below, we finally returned to the Pyramid Peak trail and eventually to the Maroon Lake trail (coming across 9 other people on the Pyramid Peak trail). We then picked up our camping gear, and descended back to the Maroon Lake trailhead. Even though I have seen this picture a million times before, I HAD to snap one pic of my own of the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake:
We were back driving on the road around 1:30, stopped in Silverthorne for a late Chipotle lunch, and we drove all the way back to Topeka that evening, arriving at my house at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning. We encountered major traffic getting back into Denver on Sunday evening, which we estimate cost us about 2 hours. This trip was unforgettable due to the incredible mountain we climbed, the whirlwind aspect to the trip, and the spontaneity of it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):