| Thunder Pyramid & traverse to Lightning Pyramid (Pt 13,722)
Thunder Pyramid (13,932 ft) & traverse to "Lightning Pyramid" (13,722 ft)
Trailhead: Maroon Lake Trailhead
Total Elevation gain: 5,050
Mileage: 11.4 miles
Class III – IV
Climbing Party: Jamie N, Jamie P (Shanahan96), Kiefer (Skasgaard), & Mark Milburn
After weighing a few climbing options for the weekend, I decided to meet up with Jamie N, Jamie P (Shanahan96), and Kiefer (Skasgaard) for a return trip to the magnificent Elk Range to climb Thunder & Lightning Pyramid. These two peaks would complete the Pyramid ridge points that I had left to finish, as I have already climbed Pyramid Peak and UN 13,631.
We slept in our vehicles at the Maroon Bells overnight parking lot and woke up at about 2:30 am. We started on the trail at 3:00 am and made our way past Maroon Lake & up to Crater Lake (1.5 miles). We continued up the trail for approximately 2 more miles, looking for the bent tree which marks the turn-off for the standard route up Maroon Peak.
Along the trail we were trying to find the "White Couloir" that would hopefully be snow-filled so that we wouldn't have to deal with so much loose rubble in climbing Thunder Pyramid. Our objective eventually came into view and our spirits were lifted as we knew we would have a good snow climb up to the steep cliffs that block direct ascent onto Thunder Pyramids' summit.
We continued up the trail, looking for a good place to make the crossing of West Maroon Creek. We spotted a snow bridge a few hundred yards up which we proceeded to use to cross the creek.
This is where our trail ended and the bushwhacking began. We made our way up the cliffs, traversing in a north-easterly direction.
We came to the first boulder field where we donned our helmets in preparation for any falling rocks we might encounter.
Upwards we climbed until we came to the start of the "White Couloir", at which point we put our crampons on and proceeded onto the hard snow. As Gerry Roach might say, "The introduction was over".
We were unable to take many pictures of this couloir when we were climbing it as the sun had then crested the ridge and was directly above us looking up. It warmed up very quickly and all extraneous layers were then removed. Kiefer & Jamie N. then put on their after-burners and moved ahead up the couloir.
Jamie (Shanahan) eventually decided he had enough of the snow and moved off to the (climbers) left and onto the rocky ridge for some scrambling.
I followed Kiefer and Jamie N for a bit up the couloir until I started punching through the snow. This was very annoying because I really wanted to stay on the snow, but it was heating up considerably and I could hear the water rushing beneath my feet under the snow. I stayed on the snow for a bit longer, languishing in what was quickly becoming slurpified snow. After having a few unsavory exchanges with the snow, I crawled my way to the (climbers) right where I then reached the edge of the couloir and took off my crampons. I then worked my up cliff bands towards the summit. At first, it was slow going because every step taken was a slide down. Tiring quickly of this stair-master progress, I was able to route-find my way to larger, more "solid" bands of rock, at which point my speed up the cliffs increased greatly. After a point, I reached the same elevation as the rest of the party, directly across the couloir.
They began working their way south beneath the summit of Thunder Pyramid. Can you find Kiefer & Jamie N in this pic??
while I continued up, making my way to the south ridge of Thunder.
After a few class III moves on this ridge, I attained the summit.
The views were breathtaking! There was a string of prayer flags that were laying on the summit which I set up so that they could flutter in the wind. It was very picturesque & perfect!
Maroon Bells & the Bell Chord Couloir:
A few moments later, I took some video of Kiefer & the Jamies scrambling the last way to the summit.
Soon, we were all basking in the warm sun on the summit of Thunder Pyramid. One down, one to go!
Here is a shot looking down along the White Couloir to the West Maroon Creek basin
After some snacks and summit shots, we began our traverse to Lightning Pyramid.
Thankfully, we had perfect weather. I would NOT wish to be in that area in adverse weather. Jamie (Shanahan) mentioned that the traverse should be relatively simple and straightforward as he believed Roach classified the traverse as Class II. We all laughed at this after a short while when we were encountering what was easily Class III – Class IV climbing with A LOT of exposure! But don't take my word for it (or Roach's), see for yourself
Now it wasn't all like this, there were some easier parts, but don't expect a class II ridge walk the whole way.
It was very time consuming because we would complete sections and wait for the rest to complete the moves as well. It was quite tedious at times and mentally taxing due to the extremely crappy rock we had to deal with. But all in all, I would say it was extremely nerve-wracking to blissful fun. The exposure was extreme & exhilerating!
The views back from which we had come were quite sobering.
We stayed atop of the ridge for almost the whole traverse to the saddle.
We arrived at the saddle (13,420 ft) and saw what lay before us in ascending Lightning Peak. It was a little misleading because the ridge appeared to not go all the way to the summit. Kiefer & I made our way ahead on the east slopes of Lightning, working our way around to the south side of the peak and then onto the summit. Had we investigated the ridge from the saddle, we would have found a MUCH EASIER ascent route to the top of Lightning Peak. After a few moments on the summit, the two Jamies made their way to the top and joined us. We basked in our accomplishments for a few moments and looked upon what we had just done with a bit of awe. We certainly earned our summits this day!
We made our way down the ridge back to the saddle at 13,420 ft. and proceeded to down climb the gully of extremely loose and steep scree. We made our way two-by-two in order to prevent pushing rocks down on each other. We would work our way down to an area that was out of the way of falling rocks, then yell up for the other two to come down and join us, and then start the process again. It was very time consuming. We finally came upon an icy finger that signaled the start of another snow-filled couloir. Kiefer donned his crampons and proceeded to climb down this. The snow was more like ice and it was quite difficult for Kiefer to gain adequate purchase, but he made his way down.
The Jamies and I decided to down climb some more rocky cliffs to bypass this first section of the couloir. Further down, the couloir was completely filled with snow, but it was not very consolidated. We all donned our crampons and began making our way down.
The couloir steepened considerably, making for some very tricky down climbing.
Kiefer gave us a bit of a scare and slid down about 10-15 ft while side-stepping down. He arrested his fall, but it shook all of us up a bit as we realized that this climb was far from over and we had a long way to go down this dangerous couloir. I pulled out my ice ax and ice tool and began front pointing down, kicking each step in to make sure I wouldn't slip. Near the mouth of the couloir, it opened up a bit and it was here that I caught up with Kiefer. There were many rocks in the couloir that had fallen down, but at this point, I was done with the tedious affair of down climbing this sloppy couloir and began a controlled glissade into the Len Shoemaker basin. I had long ago run out of water and was ogling the creek below with longing eyes. Kiefer joined me at the creek shortly thereafter and we lounged around while watching the two Jamies descend the couloir and join us. You can see them in this picture, they are the two little dots on the lower left side of the couloir:
The rest of the day progressed without incident, although we had a small adventure while bushwhacking down to the main trail. We ran into a cliff band that had to be carefully negotiated as it was again quite steep and loose. We all let out an inner groan at this because after what we had done today, we were in no mood for more gravity defying feats of down climbing. But we made it through safely and made our way across the now raging West Maroon Creek. Kiefer had gone on ahead as he needed to get back to town a.s.a.p. because he had to work that evening. We looked for ways to cross this river and found a narrow, single log that had fallen across the creek. Jamie (Shanahan) decided to shimmy his way across it. I took a few deep breaths, focused myself, and walked across to the other side. That water was moving very swiftly! Jamie N decided she would cross through the water, using the log as support. She took out the liners in her plastic boots and then put the boots back on. She was about halfway across when the current swept her legs out from under her. This gave Jamie (Shanahan) and I quite the scare! She was holding on to the log for dear life, while her feet were lifted up and off the creek bed by the madly rushing water. She said "I'm losing my boots!!!" The water had filled up her boots and were threatening to be swept away by the force of the current. Jamie & I rushed to the creeks' edge to give what help and support we could, but Jamie N regained her footing and was able to make it the rest of the way. BIG sigh of relief! After a bit more bushwhacking, we found the West Maroon Creek trail and the "Bent Tree" and knew we were home free.
Here is Kiefer's (Skasgaard) report:
A terrific climb with some terrific people! After 19.5 hours, we made it back to the cars after a truly epic day!
Sunset in the West Maroon Creek basin:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):