| Thunder Pyramid-Pyramid Traverse
"Thunder Pyramid to Pyramid Pk Traverse
Me, Kiefer, Glen
11 hours 15 minutes
5400 ft elevation gain
1 hour 45 minutes on the traverse
After reading Jason Halladay's account of his adventure on the Thunder Pyramid-Pyramid Traverse last summer, Kiefer and I had been tentatively planning to give this a shot, just didn't know when. Glen gave me a call earlier in the week to see what the plan was, I mentioned something about a couple scrambles in the Never Summers, maybe a Gore Range peak and a traverse in the Indian Peaks. Glen's very next question was "what are your thoughts on the Thunder Pyramid-Pyramid Traverse?" The decision was instantaneous, wasn't a hesitation of doubt that this needed to be done, this weekend. Kiefer gave me a call Wednesday night and said he was in, despite having plans to do it later in August, I guess he just couldn't wait any longer, and after doing it, I don't blame him one bit.
We headed up there saturday afternoon and stayed at my cousin's boyfriends place in Snowmass. We crashed their fancy barbeque with our tattered t-shirts, hiking boots and large appetites, which was a surprise, anytime you can get marinated beef, cheese grits, key lime pie, caeser salad and Arnie Palmers for free is always a plus. After getting freaked out by the possibly gay bread cutter, we made our way for the hot tub w/ a view of Capitol Pk from their porch, then the couch around 10pm. The alarm went off @ 2am, it took about 3 or 4 snoozes to get goin, but we made our way to the trailhead and then the trail by 3:15am.
We decided to approach the traverse by climbing Thunder first, since a downclimb of Thunder would be possibly the worst idea in the history of climbing. To make a long story short and since I have no pictures of the early stages of the traverse due to no light, just hike passed the bent tree on West Maroon Creek trail, reach an opening where you have the reclusive Len Shoemaker Basin up to your left as you are looking South and you should be directly in front of the creek. The crossing was a tad problematic, since there were no logs down and the flow of the water was both high and fast. Glen and I concocted a quasi bridge out of the small logs in the area and made it across with no problems, as did Kiefer a little ways upstream.
To make another long story even shorter, I can't give great beta on how to climb Thunder Pyramid. There is no trail once you leave West Maroon Creek, the bushwacking is pretty easy actually, but once you hit rock, it goes all downhill from there. The White Couloir is pretty easy to find, despite it being mainly melted out this time of year, thats the best way to gauge how well you are staying on "trail".
View of Bells as morning approaches :
Len Shoemaker Basin, by the way, is a pretty cool place. I've never really noticed it when climbing the Bells and you can't see it anywhere along Pyramid's standard route (you can from the NW ridge route, faintly). There were a bunch of flowers up there, Columbines of ranging colors, some of which I'd never seen before, as well as two streams flowing down towards the valley below. Here's a shot of it as we ascended up towards Thunder :
The clouds were a topic of concern for the three of us. As we were ascending, on multiple occasions we brought up how dark and low the clouds were. This was VERY demoralizing, for Kiefer had already climbed Thunder and Glen and I were really dead set on going for the traverse. We came to the conclusion that we'd summit Thunder regardless, since it was still really early and then make a game time decision.
Shot of the Bells and the early morning dark clouds around 12,000 ft on Thunder's west slopes :
I have no idea which mountain or ridgeline this is, but it looked pretty cool :
The demorilzed state of mind had us taking a bunch of breaks, and at the very least, admiring the views and the cloud formations, which were making for some pretty solid alpenglow shots.
Shots of the ascent up to Thunder :
Where the hell is Thunder?
Scoting along the White Couloir around a little over 13,000 ft
Mother Nature must've wanted us do the traverse that day, because as we finally reached the summit around 8:30, the sky cleared and our spirits soared
Glen tackling Thunder and ready for the traverse and whatever else is thrown at us
We signed the register, which had a lot of interesting names on there, but very few in the last 5 years, this is a really seldom climbed peak. After a rest, snack, liquids and some researching, we decided that we could make this traverse, but we'd have to move fast cause the weather in the distance didn't look great, but in our defense, it was very far away and the stuff nearby wasn't threatening.
And our next goal
We began the descent down from Thunder to the ridge around 9:15am.
Glen and I descending off Thunder, about to commit to the ridge
The traverse, from Thunder, starts out immediately with some very low, probably even 4+ moves, all of which you have to downclimb. The rock was pretty loose, but manageable, the handholds and footholds were there when you needed them, just approach with caution. To downclimb, we didn't need to traverse to the left or right, we just walked to the edge, looked over and downclimbed right along the crest of the ridge. Once in the first of 4 significant notches along the traverse, we scouted out our route. We traversed left, kind of the same way you traverse left on the Bells Traverse, to avoid all the 5th class stuff encountered when staying along the ridge crest. This made for smooth going, with the occasional traverse across a steep cliff to safer ground.
Here's a shot of Kiefer along the left side of the traverse after the first large tower of the traverse, which we bypassed again, on the left.
We noticed from the summit of Thunder, that the entire middle section of the traverse would be along a flat, wide catwalk and would most likely be the quickest part of the ridge. To reach this section involves a bit of creativity. Right before the catwalk, there is a small notch and a large tower you need to bypass. Heading left or right is simply not an option, you have to climb straight up the middle of it and the three of us agreed this was probably the "crux" of the traverse, but not the toughest moves in terms of climbing, that would come later. Glen went first, climbing the left side of the tower via a mid-5th class chimney. The moves here were probably in the 5.3-5.5 range, it was steep and exposed, but not extremely exposed and the rock was very solid. Glen peaked his head through a notch at the top and saw a feasible route to gain the catwalk, hollered down to me and Kiefer we were good and continued on.
literally jogging across the catwalk
The catwalk was the most fun part of the traverse, cause one, the weather was cooperating at that point, and two, it was simply a cool section and if we had more time, we'd spend a good amount there. The drop off to the left is sheer, the right a little further down, but the ramp is wide enough to make it manageable. Downclimbing off the catwalk to the final notch along the ridge was a tad tricky. The rocks that were loose were now much larger, so we had to take extra care with foot placements and how much weight we'd put into one or the other.
Downclimbing from the catwalk
And looking back on our progress, which was very stellar up to this point
On the summit of Thunder, we agreed to not take one break, and only stop traversing for water, food or a quick picture. We knew weather was going to reach the basin at some point, but we also knew that if we got done the traverse in under 2 hours, we'd beat the rain and whatever else mother nature had in mind.
Once we downclimbed from the catwalk and reached our final large towers and notch along the ridge, we decided bypassing this section to the right was our best option. This involved a lot of scaling along an edge with significant cliff drops below us, kind of like the one along Pyramid's standard route, only much longer. The weather was beginning to get a little too close for comfort and we all knew we had to keep moving at a decent pace to make for a reasonably safe descent off Pyramid. As we finished traversing around the final tower, we reached a point where the only way to go was up through loose scree and boulders. We gained the ridge crest and were presented with the last tough section of the route, this traverse just wasn't going to let us off that easily. Adrenaline was keeping our feet moving and we reached the base of the last crux section.
Here are some shots of the last couple pitches to reach Pyramid's summit ridge
Kiefer took this excellent shot of Glen and I beginning the climb up to the summit ridge. This part you see here was not the hardest move, but was very steep and exposed, it was 5th class, but I can't really tell you an exact rating, my blood was pumping and mind too focused to remember anything vividly.
A closer look at the moves involved and the steepness of the face, Kiefer really did a good job with the camera with this one
This was the last pitch to reach the summit ridge, the route was nearly vertical and you had to use footholds on both sides of the narrow chimney to lift your weight up, this was an exciting moment, both due to the moves we were making and the realization that one this section was over, the traverse would be a success
By the way, I have no idea how Jason Halladay downclimbed this. While I should have been focusing on my foot and handholds, I couldn't help but think in sheer amazement how someone could find a way down this thing. It almost felt like it was at a 95 degree angle.
At 11am, we reached the summit of Pyramid, an hour and 45 minutes after leaving Thunder, we all 3 let out a roar of accomplishment and appreciated the moment, but thats all it was, one quick moment. Here was our motivation to get down......
The summit of Pyramid went as follows. All 3 of us reached the summit at about the same time, I pulled out the register, signed all 3 names, left a quick description, put the paper back, took a swig of gatorade and headed straight down the standard route of Pyramid.
Kiefer and Glen on Pyramid with traverse in back
We lucked out with the weather big time. It hailed on us on the first couple hundred feet of the downclimb off Pyramid, but our boots gripped well to the rock. As the hail subsided, thunder was heard in the distance, but it never threatened us and somehow stuck to the basin north of us and disapeared about 15 minutes later. We reached the saddle of the NE ridge and finally we able to enjoy our one year long dream of successfully completing the Thunder Pyramid-Pyramid Traverse. To be perfectly honest, going into it, I was more worried about a route than I've ever been before. The only write up on it we'd seen was from a guy who consistenly leads 5.10 trad on some serious routes throughout the country and throw in its reputation of being seriously exposed and loose just enhanced our doubts. I figured we'd get up there, give it a look and say maybe in the next life, but that would prove not to be the case. Next stop is a 10 day trip through the Weminuche Wilderness with the same great climbing companions, pretty pumped to say the least....
Some notes on the traverse :
- To start, I wouldn't recomend this traverse to anyone new to loose rock or new to climbing in general. This route demands a lot of methodical patience, testing every single foot and handhold on the downclimbs and upclimbs wouldn't be a bad idea and being comfortable with creative moves on exposed, low to mid 5th class rock faces would be plus.
- There are surprisingly a few solid bail points along the traverse, 1 or 2 of which looked more appealing than the downclimb off Thunder. They are all loose gullies of scree, but they seem to not cliff out and aren't too steep. All the bail points are at each of the large notches along the traverse. Bailing to the east side is not recommended.
- Since this is a 14er based website, I'll compare this traverse to one of the 4 "great" ones. Its significantly tougher, more exposed, looser and longer than the Bells. Its similar in the sense that you can bypass tougher stuff on the left and right, but there are times when this is not possible and a 5th class, steep upclimb is required. From experience, I thought the Little Bear-Blanca traverse was scarier and tougher for a number of reasons, but not by much. There are sections of LB-Blanca where an exposed knife edge section or a scale along an absurdly exposed tower is unavoidable. On this one, bypassing tougher sections is usually an option, but where they aren't, single moves are tougher, looser and more exposed than any section of LB-Blanca. I think the main reason for this is because there isn't much written up about the Pyramid Traverse, which was our main appeal to it. For anyone who has done Snowmass-Hagerman traverse, Pyramid is a lot harder and exposed.
- Unless you are a very fast climber with uncany route finding abilities, do not start this climb much later than 3am. This is mainly due to the ascent of Thunder, which is tedious to say the least, that was the part that took up the most time at the start of the day. And don't climb with anymore than a group of 3, so don't plan a 14er summer outing here, it would probably end poorly for a number of people.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):