| Rio Grande Pyramid
Parnter: Dan H.
Trailhead: Thirty Mile Campground
Distance/gain: 19.5 miles, 4,500'
Time: 7:53 round trip
Photos: My Picasa Web Album photos
A snow storm a week earlier had left 8-12 inches of snow in the high country of the San Juans but the weather during the week leading up to our hike was clear and sunny and things were melting fast. Not only that, our hiking day forecast was impeccable—Highs around 50, no clouds and no wind. Just loads of sun to keep us warm and happy.
We arrived at the Thirty Mile Campground around 10:45pm after departing the Los Alamos area around 6:30pm. The moon was full-on bright having just started waning a night previous. The temperature was a cool 32 degrees. I set up my tent in the parking lot next to Dan's SUV where he'd be sleeping. I slept solid and was ready to get up with our alarms sounded at 6:30am Friday morning.
With a forecast for a warm and sunny day, we went light. The hike to the summit of Rio Grande Pyramid is almost 9 miles one-way so we wanted to move quickly. We wore Gore-tex trail running shoes with shorty gaiters and took off with small hydration packs with just the bare minimum of clothing necessary. We left the parking lot at 7:40am enjoyed watching the early morning sunlight reflect off of the glassy surface of the Rio Grande Reservoir as we hiked along it's south bank. This section was snowy and icy but had seen recently seen tons of horse traffic from would-be hunters so the trail was broken and hiking was fast. We turned the corner to the left to follow the Weminuche Creek along its easterly side before crossing it on the good bridge a short ways up at 8:15am.
Crossing the Weminuche Creek.
The trail along the creek was also snowy because it stays shaded most of the time. Once we got a bit higher into the basin the trail was mostly clear of snow a lot of time but it was frozen mud that we knew would be nice and soggy on our return.
At 9:20am we came to the intersection with the Skyline Trail (a.k.a. Opal Lake trail). This intersection is marked with a five-foot high post that has the words "Skyline Trail" very fainted carved into it. At this post we headed right on a faint, poor-maintained trail up the hill side headed towards the Window at the head of the Rincon La Vaca basin. The trail here was mostly snow covered but it was only five inches deep at most and very easy to break. We did an ascending traverse to the southwest to finally turn the corner and see The Window and our goal, Rio Grande Pyramid.
The view of RGP was better than expected. Very dry!
At 11,900' the trail passed through a section of large trees that were blown down roots and all. These tress obscured the trail a great deal so we hiked above and around them when necessary. The fallen trees looked like they had fallen pretty recently and we hadn't heard any reports of this section before. We later learned from a woman in Lake City that during the snow storm the previous weekend, the winds were estimated at 100 MPH so it seems entirely possible these trees had fallen very recently. As I hopped and jumped over a few of the small ones, I took the time to break off limbs so that others should be able to pass over them cleanly in the future.
The jumbled trees of the blow down area.
Around 10:40am we dropped into a small basin and followed the trail through some willows. This went very easily given the new snow and the easy-to-follow trail. But with all the trail breaking in the snow, I was really happy to have the Gore-tex trail running shoes on. At about 12,300', we left the main trail and headed more or less straight up a shallowly-defined ridge of scree to access the upper shelf just below Rio Grande Pyramid's summit pyramid. To this point the going had been relatively low angle but from the shelf at about 13,400', things steepened.
We hiked through sections of dry talus and scree but also hiked through a good bit of snow en route to the final ridge scramble to the summit. As we got higher the views all around got much better.
Dan ascending RGP with Unnamed 13,278' in the background.
Following small cairns and/or signs of previous passage we picked a straight-forward way up the ridge and reached the summit at 12:10pm. It had taken us 4 ½ hours from the car to the summit.
On the summit the views of the Grenadiers to the west were simply phenomenal. With a light coating of snow on these rugged peaks, they looked even more impressive and daunting. The day was perfect! Not a cloud in the sky, sun and no wind. I was wearing a short sleeved shirt and was entirely comfortable. It's hard to imagine better October weather. We were psyched. We spent about 30 minutes on the summit snacking while identifying numerous surrounding peaks. The summit register can had no register in it so I made one up using the back of Dan's map. It won't last long I'm sure.
The Grenadiers looked amazing from the summit of RGP.
We began the descent around 12:45pm following our tracks when we could. Once we reached the more-level trail we stripped down to shorts and enjoyed running the very runnable trail for many miles.
Enjoying the trail running along the Rincon De Vaca.
We were slowed, however, in many places where the trail was extremely muddy. But no matter, the day was great and we made great time back to the trailhead arriving there around 3:45pm.
We drove into Lake City to find the "city" more or less closed up for the season. The liquor store and a restaurant called "Southern Vittles" were open so we dined on the house-specialty Chicken Fried Steak at Southern Vittles. After dinner we found one other establishment open, Mean Jean's Coffee Shop. This place is great! Open late with a nice ambiance. We had some coffee and utilized the free wi-fi to kill time because it was much too early to head to a camp and go to bed.