| That Little Guy
Pyramid Peak (that “little” guy)
Sunday July 7th, 2013
Right next door to the red headed sedimentary twin sisters is Pyramid Peak comprised of lichen covered shale, sand and siltstone. The rocks are only slightly tougher but still cleave easily under pressure. Seven years ago CFI-Colorado Fourteeners Initiative built a much better trail to access Pyramids’ amphitheater. The cutoff can be easily missed but on this adventure I invited the gentleman that saved a damsel in distress who slipped while glissading down Capitol. Tony has climbed Pyramid Peak 40 times and I had a feeling that Joe and I would be schooled today on real mountaineering.
I was the band leader up the Crater Lake trail setting a good 3.0 mph pace at 8 minutes past 5am. My legs actually didn’t feel too bad after completing the Bells the day prior. Also, yesterday we met a trail runner named Jay who ran the Four-Pass loop in 7 hours 30 minutes and that was only because he took an unintentional side trip to Geneva Lake. For those who know this route it is essentially a 26 mile; high alpine loop around the base of the Maroon Bells that traverses two passes. Jay reminds me of a carefree floating butterfly. He is light and fancy-free on his toes. Today, Sunday he wants to run again to get a better time since his Leadville 100 is right around the corner. We ask him to join us for the first two miles as we enjoy his company and infectious laugh. Jay and Tony have a lot in common actually and talk the whole 2 miles. Joe is the silent caboose and I suspect his legs are a little fatigued. The time comes to part ways and Jay waves a friendly goodbye. We are sad to see him go.
Tony finds the trail cutoff and then takes off. Apparently my measly 3.0 mph pace is slowing him down. Not only does he take off but he never looks back. Joe asks, “Can you keep that pace”? “Sure”, I reply, “but it wouldn’t be any fun”. We decide to let Tony go… and go… and go. The CFI trail through the forest is thoughtfully planned and wastes little time to access the amphitheater. Eventually, Tony is waiting for us at the second large cairn just before the tongue of snow leading up to the amphitheater. He jokes, “What took you two so long”? We are not amused. Then he briefly points out an alternate West facing route and decides, “We can climb the West ridge direct so let’s angle to that small patch of tundra up there where we can access a small saddle to gain the ridge”. And without further discussion, off he goes, again. Within minutes he is already halfway up the tundra and I’m guessing he just climbed 300 feet in 10 minutes. Joe states he is not comfortable continuing. One glance at the West ridge with its gnarly teeth and I silently decide that we should continue with our original plan. We discuss our options. One: try to catch up to Tony on unknown territory with no other information or Two: stick to the plan. I’m a safety girl so our decision is easy. Joe shouts up at Tony, “hey, we’re going this way,” and northwest bound we go. You know, Joe and I keep a good moderate to advanced pace and now I’ve seen what advanced to extreme is. There is always someone stronger and faster and it sure is impressive to see.
While circumnavigating the tongue of snow to the left we find a trail through the amphitheater’s boulder field. Semicircular echoes occur as these large boulders move beneath you. We meet two hikers also attempting the route proper who witness the whole SNAFU and ask why we separated. We explain that we three never discussed an alternate plan, which was sprung upon us and having no information and no real guide we decided to proceed with our original plan. Four of us now make our way of the steep dirt slope to gain Pyramids’ saddle at 13,000’. Again from the previous night’s rain the trail is nice and tacky. Traction is good. I’m crackin’ the whip up the hill and eventually our four pack becomes two. They tell us to continue without them so we do.
Once on the Northeast saddle the remaining 1000’ is visible and insidious. An older man is there taking a break with his daughter and we all decide to navigate the last 1000’ feet together because after you make it to the cliff traverse the remaining trail is tedious, loose medium sized take your head off kind of rock. He is right because all four of us are slipping and sliding and dislodging rocks this way and that. Soon however, we find the green rock and reach the ridge crest. The last 500’ are even more tedious now with some class 4 scrambling but the rock is a little more stable so Joe and I proceed without them. Finally the slope eases and we summit at our usual 4 hour pace. Once on top there are four other hikers waiting for the dad and daughter duo. One hiker from Hawaii has no shoes. His feet are gangly. We spot Tony on the far South end of the summit and no one speaks. Awkward. Joe and I decide to sit down, relax and enjoy the view. I eat my traditional marshmallow sandwich and contemplate doing my celebratory 46 push-ups.
Slowly Tony makes his way toward us and we are both thinking, what the hell? We make small talk, snap some pictures, I chicken out of the full gamut of push-ups and do 10 but hey, yesterday I did 45 man style on top of North Maroon. Who’s a beefcake? Joe states, “Have you ever noticed that you’re wearing the same outfit on top of all the 14ers”? I reply with a smirk, “well Joe you see, I don’t come up here to look beautiful, I only come here to see beautiful”! We laugh it up and then click our heels three times and cruise on down. Tony follows.
The class 4 ledges that I was dreading coming down are not as bad as I conjured them up to be and we quickly loose the 500’ to the green rock. Now Joe is about 30’ below and to my left, Tony is directly lateral to me and from above the daughter dislodges a softball sized rock and she screams “ROCK”. Tony and I see the rock and scream to Joe, “DUCK”. I am breathless as time seems slow motion now and watch this rock gaining massive speed and heading right toward him. Joe looks up briefly and quickly tucks into the mountain ledge just as this rock flies right smack over his head. I am not kidding. This is by far the scariest thing I’ve seen while climbing. We all stop for a while in silence. I question, “Everyone is fine, okay; now let’s get the hell out of here”! The next crisis after the chop your head off rock is one of the guys we were hiking through the amphitheater with is shouting, “help, help, someone help”. Mountain goat Tony effortlessly bounces over to try to locate him while Joe and I nervously continue down the ridge. Tony comes back and says the guy is lost on the other side of the ridge but that his buddy is there helping him. Phew, okay, now can we get outta here?
We find the “leap of faith” we missed on the way up and I eventually get the courage to juuuuuummmmppp! Oofta. We are all moving rather quickly and before we know it we’re at the saddle. Tony says the best way down scree is to run it and I tell him to go knock himself out. We see the shoeless guy struggling over the boulder field. We safely descend to the boulder field and all-of-a-sudden hear a “Crack”. We look to our left and see a mini rock slide coming off Pyramids’ North headwall. What a sight to behold. We finally make it to the tongue of snow and Tony foot glissades down like he has skis on. Joe and I manage through the boulders and we are at last to the good CFI built trail down.
There are a few details missing on this report about the physical climbing and descending because although it was a day of celebration for completing the Elk range what is more visceral to me were the people I met along the way. For the most part while mountaineering I meet like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who are easy to talk to. Helpful even. I am proud that Joe and I stuck to the plan even though a more exciting challenge was presented. Sure, I want to hike crazy ridges and see all the beauty the mountains have. But as I somberly stared at Thunder Pyramid while on top of Pyramid Peak I was reminded of an expert mountaineer who just lost his life a few weeks ago doing what he loves. I am obsessed with climbing Colorado Mountains and in some sublime way enjoy the feeling of insignificance amidst all the grandeur. Most importantly, I want to come back and embrace the ones I love and live tell my tale.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):