| Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
NE Ridge Ascent - Summit Ski Descent of Landry Line - GradeV D20 R5
Maroon Lake Basecamp
Crew: Adimmen, doumall
Sleep is tough when you have something planned like the Landry Line. I lay thinking in my sleeping bag about what lay in store for me the following day. Was I capable of this? Did I belong on a such a seldom skied route? Would the snow cooperate? So many questions… need to get some sleep. Eventually I did fall into that black hole which leaves no memory of its passage.
After a hot breakfast and some quick prep work, we were on our way along the banks of Maroon Lake toward Pyramid Peak. The moon was setting but still lit up the Bells enough to give that familiar feeling of this place; your on another planet.
We used a very efficient couloir stretching from the valley floor up into the stunning amphitheater below Pyramid's north face. The Elks are fantastically steep mountains. Not an hour after leaving camp and only several hundred feet above Maroon Creek we were booting up perfect snow on mid to high 40 degree terrain. The couloir makes its way through cliffbands and then opens up and mellows out through sparse trees. Andy took charge of the upper section here, pounding out hundreds of steps in the firm snow.
The reward for these steps was a look upon a stunning mountain, a mountain which was waking for just another day in its seemingly enternal life. Andy gets first sight of the goal:
The skins went back on the sticks for the tour below the North Face.
Pictures do little to portray the impressive nature of this high alpine wall. Has it been climbed? Herman Buhl would have certainly tested his might on this face, perhaps in his bedroom slippers.
This slot stretching up to the NW ridge is intruiging, any alpine climbers out there?
A look at the couloir we used to escape the amphitheater and gain the NE ridge.
The apron was full of refrozen avalanche debris. The snow was once again perfect for booting down low.
Wow, it felt like winter this morning, a blessing from the mountain gods. We knew the snow pack was locked up tight and the key had been swallowed for good measure. Digestion wouldn't yield its freedom without a strong push and a healthy does of sunbathing.
We decided instead of heading straight for the ridge, we would take a right and ascend a secondary steep couloir for some warmup.
A rock move through here provided plenty of natural stimulant on a brisk morning.
The very last 40 feet before topping out on the ridge was pretty steep.
Your psyche always changes when greeting your first sunlight of the day.
As if the task ahead wasn't enough reason to switch from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde:
A magnificent climb this Pyramid Peak presents.
I enjoyed climbing along this ridge more than anything else I have done in the mountains.
An incredibly dangerous place this would be without frozen conditions. You are often climbing directly on top of large overhanging snow sculptures.
Often times, upon looking straight up into the sky to look for a passing Cessna, all you see is your climbing partner:
It can be hard to focus with such beauty all around you…
At one point, there was barely room for both my feet on the top of the snow fin. An axe plant was not in the cards. A notch in the ridge is the final bridge to the steep face climbing ahead.
Note the cornices below Andy's perch:
A group of skiers and a solo snowboarder had completed the line five days and one snowstorm before us. A few of their turns were apparent on the face but their booter was gone. Making your own unaided progress up a route like this adds to the excitement. Looking straight ahead…
..and straight at Castle Peak…
…and down at Adimmen.
Traversing on this ground is tough on one of your legs, in my case the right. Some brief cramping gave Andy the go ahead to finish this beautiful face. There is something about trading lead with your partner, its so much fun.
At the first rock band which guards the summit ridge, Andy took a route slightly climbers left:
Then turned a mixed move to overcome the obstacle:
Unfortunately the supportable snow was only good for one climber's passage. I couldn't turn the move in the same spot; instead I stepped out slightly left onto the rock and found a solution to this crux move. Looking out right above this first band gives one a good idea of the snow cover the east side of the Elks have received this year:
The slope mellows a bit below the second rock band.
I headed straight through it. Andy decided the reduction in slope angle was no good and therefore headed out climbers left to turn a rock move over the 60 degree snow slope ending in the 400' cliff. Watching him come over this was better than any IMAX experience.
After that, it was a slow stroll to the summit:
The summit of Pyramid is my favorite in the Colorado Rockies. The Maroon Bells:
Snowmass and Capitol:
Skiing this route is no joke. If you don't hit it in condition, I could easily see getting trapped at the top with no escape. So if you feel the desire to go after this peak on skis, make sure you make the right decision before ascending the final face and ridgeline. Ascent is optional, descent in mandatory. The snow held firm and cold for us. We hit this mountain on the perfect day on a perfect year. A really hard freeze coupled with a brisk morning wind are very helpful.
Time to ski!
Andy led the first half of the upper ridgeline:
Side slipping and jump turns were our preferred means of descending this section of the route. I have heard Davenport cranked some turns out on the face. Well, I am no Chris Davenport. There is absolutely no room for error here. A tumble down every fall line possible ends in a pine box. It is really quite terrifying.
The most committing turn is the one required to overcome the lower cliff band. The jump turn involves dropping roughly your body length onto steep ground. Sticking that turn was amazing. A bunch of frazzled nerves later, we were out on the steep face above the main couloir. Here we could relax and begin to enjoy the skiing:
The snow was as good as you can expect on a route like this! The conditions are best described as slabby powder on top of an ice bulge pockmarked base. We would occasionally break off one of these ice bulges and send it down the mountain. In the White Room on Pyramid? Score!
Once your out on the face...
...and into the couloir...
...this terrain is a ski mountaineers dream come true. Here is Andy making some sweet turns. Note the slough pouring over the rocks on the left:
Looking up the elevator shaft:
Dealing with chocolate chips:
This couloir is continuously steep and straight. A line of a lifetime. Andy making the most of it:
It wouldn't be wise to let your guard down just yet however. There is still a large cliff covered in icefalls ready to swallow your tumbling body at the end of the cold slot. Here is Andy cranking some turns in good snow a hundred feet above the vacancy.
Hmmm, wonder what is down there?
Better check it out!
The exit couloir is the choice to skier's right when the cooler looses definition.
Its narrow, steep and ice lurks about:
Don't forget to take a minute to look around:
Its wide open corn time!
Working out skier's right had us into some easy turns on perfect snow:
A long apron:
The Landry Line stretches 4,500' above:
The look of the long trip back out (and up the road) to Maroon Lake: