| Winter Speed Record set on Pyramid's West Face!
Well, at least the quickest new winter peak for me this year; I actually returned to my tent on the same day I left it! A full 3 1/2 miles roundtrip in only 12 hours!
Pyramid Peak 14,018'
Route: West Couloir to NW Ridge
Roughly the route of the August 31, 1909 first ascent by Hagerman and Clark
Distance: 22.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5118'
Since Martin Luther King Day weekend (North Maroon), I haven't been up to much. All of the new winter 14ers that I want will require a three-day weekend (or more.) I took my girls skiing every Saturday since MLK weekend, anxiously biding my time for President's Day weekend. I had a couple partners lined up for a trip back to Maroon Lake and an attempt at South Maroon or Pyramid.
Of course, as the weekend got closer, the forecast got dimmer. Snow was predicted all week long with partial clearing for the weekend, but with very high winds. Conditions were perfect for leeward loading of a slope. Oddly enough, no one wanted to risk their life for an Elk peak and the group broke up and went separate ways, all looking for safer terrain. Everyone went more conservative.
The racing team of Prakash, Jordan, Derek, and Doumall bagged Uncompahgre.
Sunday, I went with Bill (Bigtrout) to climb Bross, Cameron, and Lincoln for his 3rd, 4th, and 5th Fourteeners. Monday, Bill pulled off his first "two-14er-days-in-a-row". We were joined on the Crags route of Pike's by Barry (bjohnson17) for Barry's first winter 14er. It was a big weekend for friends.
My next opportunity to enter the Elks came the following weekend. It snowed 14" over the next 5 days with very little winds, warm temperatures and fairly clear skies predicted for the weekend. However, there were no partners available. It seems everybody was going to be out somewhere! The weather turned out to be wonderful on Saturday, but slowly deteiorated through Sunday.On Saturday,there was some impressive peak bagging around the state. A 14erworld party of Ken, Sarah, Dominic, and Dwight pulled off a one day (25 hour) ascent of Crestone Needle; become a member and read the TR. A new 14ers.com member, pglover, nabbed Little Bear from the car in 12 hours. Lots of other great reports went up this past weekend. Good going everybody!
But, I was determined to get a look at the conditions around the Bells, so Friday night I drove to the 8900' T-lazy 7 winter trailhead and dozed off about 10PM. Up at 5:30AM, I was on the trail by 6:30AM. You may remember that my 12-year-old homemade sled bit it on my last trip in here, so I was excited to try out my new version, built from this on-line booklet: (written by a 14ers.com member!) There I was pulking (is that a verb?) along chugging up the 6.5 miles to Maroon Lake on the well beaten snowmobile track and taking in the BEAUTIFUL views of this bluebird day.
First view of Pyramid
Close-up of the Bells from Maroon Lake
The distinct dragon-tongued Doulas Fir Cone
I was trying out something different. I'm a poor backcountry skier; I always rely on my snowshoes, but I had an idea. I used X-country skis and skins to reach the lake with climbing boots and snowshoes added to the rest of the 60 pound load on my sled. I had two ropes, 4 days food and fuel and all the normal winter accoutrements. At the lake, I detached the sled and its elaborate harness, changed boots (the ski boots had given me a small blister), and dropped the skis and one rope (I'd seen enough to decide which I'd need). I put the smaller stuff in a duffel bag and bunji-corded the full set into a pile. I left it all under part of the ¾ buried, summer, bus-shelter-area bathrooms. The gear was well out of plain sight, but not hidden. I left the Maroon Lake area about 10AM.
The trailbreaking thus far had been non-existent, but the next 2 ¼ were harder than last month. Mark wasn't there to do the majority of the work, I had ALL the gear, and the snow was deeper. However, by 12:30 I recognized an important landmark from last trip. It is located ¼ mile west of Crater Lake's north end at 10,100'; our camp was just behind the landmark.
The toilet tree; first established by Mark January, 2009
I set up camp on the same platform Mark and I had used a month before. Site #6 (Edit: Due to sizing, you have to select the photo and enlarge it to read the sign)
Or is it #5? Do you suppose there are turf wars during the three-pass-loop season?
Looking ahead to tomorrow, I broke a little trail to look for the entry couloir to Pyramid's lower west face. However, it was the Bell-Cord and Y couloirs of South Maroon that kept drawing my eye. They looked in fine shape and I even climbed part way up the Garbage Chute to dig a pit which seemed to yield very positive signs. However, like the North Couloir on El Diente last March, I couldn't bring myself to attempt either without an expert partner to second my opinion.
Bell-Cord and Y Couloirs: Taken the next day from high on Pyramid's west couloir
I retreated and completed my ¾ mile long trench from camp to the base of the long west-facing couloir coming off the 12,600' saddle of Pyramid's NW ridge. From the base, Pyramid is 1¾ mile and 4000' away. This couloir is directly across the valley from the Bell-Cord, each giving magnificent views of the other. The couloir tops out at the exact same 12,600' saddle that you would reach if you climbed out of the Amphitheatre to one of the two more standard Pyramid routes: the Keyhole (upper NW Ridge) route. It was this couloir that I took the next morning.
Awake at 3:45AM, dressed and ready to go at 4:30AM, I had a 20 minute round-trip to make in the opposite direction. Yesterday, it had been a little lengthier journey to find running water than it had been last month. Today, freshly loaded with water, I left the tent again a little before 5AM and reached the base of Pyramid's west couloir 20 minutes later.
The morning was cloudy and breezy, not as promising as Saturday had been. Later in the morning, things improved for several hours before deteriorating again. The clouds and the depth of the West Maroon Creek valley postponed good daylight for several hours. The snow route was uninterrupted, though icy in spots.
Looking down the lower half of Pyramid's west couloir
View of Len Shoemaker Ridge to the south. Shoemaker was a forest ranger, historian, and pioneering force in preserving the Elks for public use.
I was packing a full rope and the 37 essentials (15 of which are CIA secrets. I'd tell you but Obama is closing Guantanamo and we wouldn't have anywhere to put you.) I had been negligent about donning my helmet (It doesn't fit that well over my winter hat.) However, I kept getting pelted by marble to cherry-tomato sized rocks launched by Aeolus and careening down the hard-packed snowfield. I secured my pack on the slope and dug out the helmet and pulled it on just as another pebble hit me. Darn wind!
Photo of the darn wind pelting me with small rocks
I was able to climb the 2600' to the 12,600' saddle of the NW ridge by 9:00AM. Here, I stashed snowshoes and ski poles (should have left them lower, but I had a vague notion of descending into the Amphitheatre.) Well, since the first 2600' took 4 hours (more than I expected); the next 1400' should take three or so? I had been on the upper Keyhole Route twice. Once I climbed with a young friend on his 6th 14er (not interested in the easy stuff) and once I climbed it with Eric, 14ers.com member: emfortin. The first time I did it correctly. However, with Eric, we followed a set of cairns too low and had to finish with 80' of very exposed 5.6 rock. It was mainly for that contingency that I'd brought the rope.
This trip I found as good a route as you can expect. From the aforementioned saddle, I followed the highest set of cairns on rock all the way to the Keyhole. If you don't get all the way to the Keyhole, you are too low and on looser stuff than necessary. From here I put my crampons on again and began the set of three false bowls. Traversing snow across each bowl, you cross a ridge only to be greeted with another bowl. The second is exited via a loose Class 3 gully (snow filled today). After three bowls, you enter the final, much larger bowl.
View down from the summit into the final bowl which must be traversed
While crossing the bowl, climb the highest cairned traverse under the summit to a final loose class three gully (but, it is much less intimidating than the exposed class 5 pitch presented by the lower route.) On a ledge, eighty feet below the summit as measured by the GPS, I still couldn't figure out if I was going to make the top.
Final 80' pitch. The snowy gully starts on the far right and climbs to the left
I tried the gully in crampons, but it didn't feel right. I removed them and left some things on my ledge then scrambled up the rock to reach the summit at 1:30PM. In reality, it wasn't too bad. However, anxious anticipation of what's around the next corner (and there are lots of corners on this route) can make it all seem harder. The 1400' from the snowshoe cache at the 12,600' saddle took 4 ½ hours.
A few summit photos later, I was anxious to get back to the snowshoes. There were a few tricky spots to negotiate and the snow was softening.
The exciting summit
We should think of a name for that huge white peak in the center
Castle and Castleabra
I had one scary trip descending the 80 feet to my crampons, but caught myself without soiling my pants. As I shot for the valley floor, the skies got greyer and colder. From the snowshoe cache, I was able to link a few short glissades, but, in general, the snow was too hard to risk it. Mostly, I French-stepped down. Uneventfully, I reached the tent at 5:00PM, 3 ½ hours off the summit and about 12 hours roundtrip. I beat my fastest new 14er from this winter by 9 hours! Now snowing, I dropped my pack and made the roundtrip to the watering hole before snuggling up for the night. I zipped myself in the tent about 5:30PM.
Dry clothes and warm food and drink made me feel cozy as I drifted off to the sound of a very wet snow (almost like rain.) In the morning I woke to 10" of new spring-like snow; the visibility was 40' and it was still coming down. I packed my gear as completely as possible before venturing out. I quickly dropped the tent, slapped everything else on the outside of the pack, and gulped a quart of water (taking none with me, as there was hot drink to be begged at Maroon Lake from the snowmobile guides). I was already getting pretty wet. I couldn't wait to drop this 60 lb pack in the sled and ski 10K from Maroon Lake to my car. By my standards, I'd had a perfect trip.
View of the Bells from Maroon Lake at 10AM on the first day
Same view of the Maroon Bells taken from the bus turn-a-round exactly 48 hours later
But, my trips NEVER go perfectly. Was I dreaming? I reached my Maroon Lake cache to find my skis, boots, rope, and fancy 7' bamboo sled-harness right where I left them (though it had been rummaged through.) All that was missing was the sled. Some selfish asshole went through my stuff, leaving $600 worth of gear behind and making off with my $20 homemade sled. Mind you, he even left the harness to pull it. Guess he didn't like it. He must have thrown it on his snowmobile or dragged it with a rope. I searched all over the area for it. No sled. No snowmobile tours (shut down due to weather).
Thanks to this SOB, I now had another 15 lbs of awkward gear to get down to the car and no way to pull any of it. I changed boots, filled the duffel with boots, extra rope, snowshoes and all the formerly strapped-on gear. Then I cinched, bunji-corded and tied the huge duffel and 7' bamboo frame to my pack. I sat on the ground, buckled on the load, rolled to my knees and pushed myself up. After managing to get into the ski bindings, I took off. Fifty yards later, I discovered I didn't ski well enough to control this awkward load on touring skis. I stopped, switched everything around, except boots, and began lumbering may down the road. The whole process took one hour.
11AM and 10K of road to cover
I should have switched boots. The small blister they gave me on the way up was bothering me, but I figured I'd just keep my head down and keep going. The lower I got the wetter the snow got and by the time I hit the car it was rain. Moving, I stayed plenty warm, but I didn't want to get chilled changing boots. Besides, it was easier to carry the load than to put it down and get it back up. I took no breaks and hefted the load down to the car in three hours. Big mistake. If my Dad saw this blister he'd say, "You know, when I was in the Navy, it was a court-martial offense to get a sunburn or a blister." He's exaggerating, right?
Foot after two days of recovery
The Bells and Sleeping Sexton. Placed here because no Trip Report should end with a photo of that foot
I had a great trip. As usual, I carried way too much stuff. This is a good winter route. And, again, good job to all you who got out and had a proud accomplishment the last few weeks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):