"Thunder Pyramid" (White Gully) Snow Climb- Maroon Lake TH
No Storm With This Thunder!
Date: Sunday, May 6, 2012 Crew: moon stalker (Kelly), sdkeil (Shawn), Stone_man (Joe), letsgocu (Kyle), and I Route: West Face (White Gully) ascent and descent (snow climb) from Maroon Lake TH Stats: 10.5 miles; 4,450’; 13 hrs RT
Our ascent and descent route:
Topo of the route:
Shawn, Kelly, and I found ourselves in quite the conundrum of whether we should attend the 14ers.com Annual Spring Gathering or head for a snow climb of “Thunder Pyramid”. But with Maroon Creek Road being open early and recent beta from the Baker boys trip to that area last weekend, it was an opportunity we couldn’t resist. I invited my friend Kyle, Shawn invited his friend Joe, and we had a nice team of five. I met everyone at the West Portal lot late Saturday night for 2 hours of sleep (note: when you’re 5’10”, trying to sleep in a Toyota Yaris rental car the size of a jelly bean does not work; it just doesn’t) and a 2:15am alarm. We were on trail at 3:30am to enjoy the rather large full moon. We made great time to and around Carter Lake to 10,550’ where we crossed the stream and put crampons on near 10,750’. The next goal was to climb two access gullies that lead us to the upper Len Shoemaker basin. We headed northeast towards the obvious first gully at 10,850’ then climbed the second chute to eventually reach the base of the cliffs.
Kelly, Joe, and I top out of the first access gully en route to Len Shoemaker Basin: Photo: Kyle
The ledge system we took to reach the base of the gully: Photo: Shawn
Kyle, Shawn, and Kelly head to meet Joe at the base of the cliffs:
It flattened out a bit and to avoid cliff bands, we aimed for a grassy patch to the right of the waterfall at the base of the White Gully. After removing crampons, we worked our way up a steep grassy ledge system over the cliff band to 12,100’ and put crampons back on. From here, the summit looked like it was just right up there! But alas, we had 1,600’ worth of crampon work ahead of us.
Kyle, Joe, Shawn, and Kelly working up through the ledges:
Snow conditions in the couloir were pretty bomber – in fact, so much so that front-pointing was difficult. Zig-zagging using le franҫias technique proved to be the best and most effective way to climb this long couloir, although it drained the energy from our legs. As we made our way up, we couldn’t help but frequently glance over our shoulders at the sunrise hitting the always-impressive Maroon Bells. Kelly measured this main couloir to be 35-37 degrees.
Kyle and Joe starting up the White Couloir on bullet-proof snow: Photo: Shawn
Making our way up the couloir (12,300’): Photo: Kyle
Around 13,150’ we veered climbers’ right into the snow-filled branch off the main gully. This branch measured 40 degrees and would eventually drop us off at the summit ridge to the right of the peak. We read from a previous trip report that it can be easy to stay in the left side of the couloir, leading to some class 4 moves on the north side of the peak; our route was supposed to be class 3. We reached the top of the snow in the branch and removed crampons at 13,700’. We had a few hundred feet to gain the ridge by climbing the Elks notoriously loose, rotten rock and scree. Kyle and Joe found some better white rock to climb on the far climbers’ right side of the gully.
Kelly and I work our way up the loose, rotten rock for a few hundred to reach the ridge proper: Photo: Shawn
For the sake of perspective: Photo: Kelly
Once on the ridge, we re-grouped and knew things would get a bit more serious with the scrambling ahead that would spice up the day. The first task was navigating a loose ledge and around the first block on the west side of the ridge. There was also a short and mildly exposed snow patch to cross.
I cross a small snow patch on a ledge with a bit of exposure to my left! Crossing back over this on the way back down was easier: Photo: Kyle
We rounded the corner on the ledge (marked by a cairn) and headed north again across the airy ridge to what might be considered the crux just below the summit. Kyle called this move the “stem point” and it was certainly a class 4 move. I will mention we felt this route was at least high class 3 with at least one class 4 move, and maybe marginally one or two more.
Shawn climbs the narrow summit ridge: Photo: Kelly
Shawn and Kelly (inset) on the class 4 “stem” move just below the summit:
We topped out at 10:20am and took in the pretty amazing views “Thunder” has to offer. We had intended on doing the traverse to “Lightning Pyramid” but all agreed that it wasn’t in the cards for us that day. Instead, we enjoyed a 70-minute break on the summit with no wind and hoping the snow would soften a little for the descent back down the couloir.
Kelly, Shawn, Kyle, Joe, and I on the summit of “Thunder Pyramid” looking west – Pyramid emerges on our left:
A closer shot of the Maroon Bells and the Bell Cord Couloir; Snowmass and Capitol provide a nice backdrop. This set of Elks 14ers does not get old to look at:
At 11:30am we decided it was time to start back down. Crossing back the first snow patch was much easier. Soon after, we got back to the top of the gully and climbed (scree/talus-skied) back down the few hundred feet of rotten rock. Around 13,650’, we put spikes back on and started the descent down the couloir. It hadn’t warmed up very much, but enough to allow us better bite with crampons.
Heading back down the summit ridge to the top of the White Gully: Photo: Shawn
The group descends the couloir on softer snow:
We made quick time down the 1,600’ snow descent and found ourselves back at 12,100’ to remove crampons. At this point we all kind of felt like we were done. The ledge system down climb went smoothly and the post-holing began, although not a total nightmare. Each of us, particularly Kelly, got in some glissading en route from Len Shoemaker basin to the first ascent gully. This first access gully ended up being the steepest portion of the day – probably slightly exceeding 40 degrees. So, we faced inward to the slope and down-climbed backwards.
Down-climbing the first access gully – the steepest snow portion of the day:
The impressive Maroon Bells and their reflection in Maroon Lake (taken from the night before): Photo: Shawn
We all were pretty happy to be back down on flatter ground. We all were in agreement that doing “Thunder Pyramid” as a snow climb was the way to do it. Shawn compared this climb (in reference to the technical section along the summit ridge) to Pyramid and said it was harder – we all agreed with that too. The 3.5-mile trek back to the trail head put us back at the cars at 4:20pm. All of us were quite satisfied with the work done on one of the toughest Centennial 13ers – another solid day with a solid crew on a not-so-solid mountain!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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