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 Peak(s):  Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
 Post Date:  07/22/2009
 Date Climbed:   07/19/2009
 Posted By:  KeithK

 Discovering the Edge of Limitation   

PYRAMID PEAK (14,018')
JULY 19, 2009
NORTHEAST RIDGE
ELEVATION GAIN: 4500'
ROUND TRIP: ~8 MILES
GROUP: KirkT, Chris (cldeck), Donna, ChrisP., Matt (native_mntguy), Liba (adopted solo hiker), KeithK


"Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him."

I made up my mind a long time ago that I would climb all of the Fourteeners. I began this year's climbing "season" in January, reaching the summit of Pikes Peak, and my confidence grew with each and every summit thereafter. I made up my mind that I would not shy away from any challenge, as early as this summer. As we returned from a winter day on Mt. Bierstadt, I told Matt that I'd very likely be up for joining him on any or all of his remaining peaks, a short list of some of the biggest, hardest and most dangerous. After all, they can't be climbed from an armchair, and we can't know our limitations until we face them, head on. I was more than ready to go find out just what my own limitations were.

A private message from Kirk arrived in my inbox, an invitation to join an expedition to climb Pyramid Peak, one of the big, bad Elk Range Mountains. It would be Chris Deck's 58th Fourteener, leaving just Capitol on his list without a check mark. It wasn't hard for me to say yes, as I already had plans to see the Maroon Bells up close and personal, but my partners changed direction, and Pyramid made a perfect replacement. Plus I'd be climbing with at least two experienced partners that had already stood on that crumbling summit. Knowing that Matt still needed to climb it, I extended the invite, and it was an easy one for him to accept. I had done my research, and talked to people that had climbed it, and knew that I, too, could safely stand on its summit. I felt good about this one…

Pyramid Peak enjoys its role as the centerpiece of the horizon on the Maroon Lake Road…


Chris P., Matt and I met in the West Portal parking area, as the Overnight lot was already full on this warm, comfortable summer evening. The guys were talking with two other campers, an older gentleman that was just enjoying the area, and a climber with his sights on the Bells Traverse. The Fourteenerworld sticker on my truck drew the attention of two other climbers already in the lot, and they strolled over to chat. Kevin and Darin Baker had climbed Thunder Pyramid earlier, and were resting up for a mellow day of "only" climbing Buckskin Benchmark and maybe a twelver or two nearby. At the mention of Fourteenerworld, the lone hiker introduced himself as well. I certainly recognized the name Mike Via, and it was really cool to hang out with people that I've only known from Trip Reports and forum posts. These chance encounters really are fun for me. As the sun began to set, I couldn't help but continue to stare at the un-seeable, seemingly impossible peak that I was here to climb. I don't know how many times I jokingly said "That's un-climbable."

Seemingly impenetrable Guardians of the Beast…


A restless night culminated with a boisterous cell phone alarm, and at 4 a.m., I began to stir myself into hiking mode. Headlamps flitted in the night, as Chris and Matt also prepared for the upcoming adventure. Kirk, Chris Deck and we thought Lance would be coming up a bit later, and would surely catch up to us on the mountain. We piled into Chris's pickup, and drove the short distance to the main parking lot. At 5 a.m., we set off along Maroon Lake, our headlamps bouncing off of the surface, a pleasant and charming start, providing startling contrast to what the day would actually bring.

My first personal look at the Maroon Bells…


Even for having grown up in Rifle, this was the first time I had ever set eyes on the Maroon Bells, as well as the absolutely stunning, neck-bending ridges and lower peaks around them. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but it's never too late, is it? There was definitely a magical feeling to this place, even for the hundreds of daily visitors that walked up and down this same trail. The San Juans are jaw-dropping, the Sangres are astonishing, and I found this valley, surrounded by three of the hardest Fourteeners, to be just as worthy of appreciation, awe and respect.

Looking down at Maroon Lake from the Pyramid Trail…


Following the Crater Lake Trail up and into the basin, I could not help but to be anxious to find the familiar cairn that would lead us east towards our target. I finally caught up to Chris, who was breaking right next to a cairn pointing out a trail up the slope in the correct direction. This was not the trail that we knew, however, so we continued around the bend ahead to the traditional start of the Pyramid Trail. As it turns out, the lower trail is viable, and shortcuts directly to the main trail. We began hiking up increasingly steep terrain, winding through the pine forest and over rock slides, across talus slopes and back into the forest. Good switchbacks and significant stretches of rock steps testify to the Colorado Fourteener Initiative's hard work on this section of trail, making the 1,000' of gain somewhat manageable, but tiring nonetheless.

Matt gazes out over the basin, perhaps considering one last trip to complete his 14er quest…


Finally reaching the top of the headwall, we gained entrance into the Pyramid Peak Amphitheater, a sea of talus that was once attached to its surroundings. Huge cairns led the way across the sometimes wobbly rocks, and the trail soon turned to snow. The gentle grade was easy to walk upon, and we continued hiking up and into the lower reaches of what was now the only peak to be seen. A lone hiker appeared ahead of us, and a group of three could be seen ascending the route half way up the scree gulley that would provide the next thousand feet of work.

Sheer cliffs fall from our destination…


The "trail" works up the center gulley…


A father and son team, Steve and Ethan respectively, caught up with us and we began to leap frog. At least I did; Matt and Chris were moving much more quickly than I, and I could see them catch the lone climber ahead, as I took my time and managed my pace the best I could. This was quite possibly the steepest climbing I have ever done to date, and solid ground was scarcely available. Continuing the climb, one foot in front of the other, time fell away with the terrain, and it was hard work to gain the next few feet.

The Elk Range begins to complete itself…


The "trail", more of a worn path, incredibly steep and loose…


Reaching the ridge crest brought welcome relief, and I joined the crew for a much needed break. Chris was off exploring, while everyone else ate, drank, and contemplated the true task at hand, the reason we were up here. We were now a group of six, with the lone climber, Liba, and Steve and Ethan. We could hear voices far below, as Kirk, Chris and Kirk's friend Donna were making their way up the scree gulley. I felt good, although tired from the effort of climbing over 3,000' to this point, and I was surely ready to consume the main course. Helmets on (sans Steve and Ethan), we began to work along the ridge, with a very daunting, intimidating view ahead.

The introduction is over…


Chris P. works on some extra credit…


Immediate exposure caught my attention, and I realized within the first minute or two that this could very well be more than I bargained for. The route traverses the ridge climber's right, and there are spots where a fall would clearly be fatal. For most experienced climbers, this is likely nothing but class two terrain, but for me, I felt like I was already making moves more difficult and dangerous than those on Longs or Wetterhorn or Castle. This was the Big Leagues.

"This isn't the California Penal League, Vaughn, we're professionals here!"


I continued to deliberate along the ridge, Steve and Ethan following my tracks through the snow filled saddle before the real ridge line to Pyramid Peak's highest reaches. Chris, Matt and Liba were moving much more quickly, negotiating each obstacle with relative ease. Steve and I, on the other hand, were not so keen to hurry. Although not what I would call difficult, the loose rock and continuous exposure made each and every step important to me. I would not be a newspaper article. Ethan and Steve began to lead the way, and as we rounded a corner, the famous ledge crossing finally appeared. Matt, Liba and Chris were already across, waiting for me.

Navigating the infamous ledge, with a good look at the "leap of faith" feature, installed by Mother Nature just to add some spice…


Our new friend Liba, enjoying the exposure…


There is no denying that I was already beginning to spook on the side of this beast of a mountain. The terrain was steep, unpredictable and dramatic, and I felt like I was doing this alone. I voiced my displeasure as I caught up to the group. Little did I know, the worst was yet to come. Chris P. led the way to the Green Monster, and the real climbing began. I followed Ethan and Steve, who was obviously more uncomfortable than I. He looked at the weather, and remarked that it didn't look good. What was really on his mind, though, was what would happen next. "ROCK!" rang out from the wall, as baseball sized stones cascaded down from above. That was enough for the helmet-less father, and he shouted to his son that he was done. I could not blame him, but knew that I would not forgive myself if I followed his lead.

The stakes increase, as the group begins to explore the green wall…


I've never felt the anxiety that I felt on this day, as I began following the more experienced, more comfortable, and more confident climbers above me. "Rock!" was becoming an all too familiar sound, and it was at this point, as a rectangular stone tablet shot in the air directly ahead of me, turning in slow motion as it fell on a clear line towards my head, that I began to cling to my self-preservation. I lowered my head to the ledge in front of me, put my left arm up to shield any possibility of shrapnel hitting my face, and held my breath. The world stood still, without a sound in the air. I still do not know where it landed, everything was quiet. My friends above me asked if I was okay, and we all continued with the task at hand. There was no potential for rock fall on this peak, it was a guarantee. Everyone began to guard themselves by following separate lines, and concentration flooded the air as we all protected one another from the mountain.

Chris Deck climbs towards the sky…(photo by KirkT)


There is a lot of neck bending on this mountain…


Climbing the Green Wall was the least of my worries, as it was reasonably solid, even for the frightening missiles that found their way into gravity's clutches. Above the Green Wall, the intensity actually increased, as each cairn was separated by steep, loose, dangerous route finding. While I'm an absolute novice at technical climbing, I do understand the English language, and this terrain did not meet the definition commonly given class three terrain. This was three and four points of contact at all times type of climbing, with little to no relief at each and every ledge. This was like climbing a ladder.

Exposure? What exposure?


Matt was kind enough to keep me in his line of sight, as I breathlessly continued upward, past the point of return. He admitted to me that he, too, was a bit sketched, but I think he was trying to keep my spirits up more than anything. He certainly seemed to be handling this beast rather well. Chris and Liba were already out of my sight, and I know he was chomping at the bit to stand on this summit, his 53rd 14er. As I reached a cliff of significantly harder moves, he yelled down that the summit was just around the corner. I'm not sure if I really believed him.

Matt attempts to guide me up the route, as a native looks on…


I chose a line to the right, in spite of Matt's recommendation to go left, and found myself working along wet, mossy ledges. Great, just what I need, water. With great care, it was all I could do to keep my legs from shaking, as I attempted to block out the exposure; very real, threatening exposure. Pulling myself onto dryer ground, I regrouped and looked ahead. I was still not encouraged. The ridge still blocked my view of anything but the next disintegrating section of broken rock, and I clung to my last nerve as I moved to the next step. Sure enough, Matt had been encouraging me, and there was the summit. I did feel relief, but more than anything, I felt like I had survived. I've never in my life felt such sustained intensity.

The summit party finally comes into view…


Matt captures me making the final few steps to the summit ridge…


The group ahead of us greeted me as I walked onto the summit, and I mumbled something along the lines of "can't talk yet." My friends congratulated me, I think. I dropped my pack, sat down, and lowered my eyes to the ground below me. I needed some time to grasp what had just occurred. Realizing that the descent would be harder and even more dangerous, it was with a major effort that I finally snapped to my senses and let go of the stress of the morning. This place was breathtaking.

Liba shared some fantastic European chocolate with all of us, and I eventually grabbed the camera. I was impressed with this young lady, hiking this peak alone, and obviously enjoying it. From the Czech Republic, but making her home in Albuquerque, she seemed to fit right in with our group, and was kind, gracious and encouraging. She assured me that I was having fun.

Kirk, Chris, and Donna found their way to the summit, and we all shared in mutual congratulations. This was Chris Deck's 58th Fourteener in only a couple of years, and I felt a huge sense of respect for him. Kirk, of course, made it look easy, and if you know Kirk, his enthusiasm and bravado are infectious. But on this day, my guard was up beyond compare, and it was difficult to truly relish this one the way I should have. Still, it was the first time that Kirk and I have shared a 14er summit, and it was special. We met back in 2007, as we carpooled to the 14ers.com Winter Elbert Extravaganza gathering on March 3rd. Kirk climbed the peak; I made it to 12,400', my first time on snowshoes, and my first actual 14er attempt. I've watched his tenacious assault on Colorado's Fourteeners with appreciation and admiration, marveling at the boundless energy that is KirkT. Thanks for all of the encouragement, my friend, you've made a big difference in my quest to experience the top of every 14,000' peak in Colorado. I'm positive that you'll be along for the ride as it continues.

Finally, a chance to absorb the scenery…


Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak…


The West Elks…


Castle Peak, with Conundrum appearing as nothing more than a ridgeline…


The Sawatch…


Sort of a group summit shot…


Matt and Donna savor the view…


Kirk and I share a 14er summit for the first time…


The weather was on our side, and I was thankful for it. After almost an hour on the summit, we began the tedious, daunting task of down climbing the Beast, as I have come to know it. I remember my first confrontation with "The Beast", the giant wooden roller coaster at King's Island amusement park outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. My brother and second cousin drug me onto that thing when I was quite young, and I was terrified by it. I think that was the day I discovered my fear of heights. Now, nearly 30 years later, I felt that same anxiety. This time, there were no safety devices, no seat belts, no lap bars. This one was up to me, my balance, my strength, my judgment.

Show of hands, who wants to get off of this thing???


I could not have asked for better climbing partners on this day. Matt helped me make it to the summit, while Chris, Donna and Kirk kept me in check on the descent. Chris P., Matt and Liba quickly made their way down, dropping out of sight within minutes. The rest of us carefully dropped from crumbling ledge to crumbling ledge, doing our best to not drop every rock on top of our friends below. This place is a shooting gallery. Chris led the route, and spotted me at every potential crux, pointing out every option for my feet and hands. I'm not ashamed to admit that I even asked for an artificial hold a time or two, with him supporting my weight to make things just a little easier, and more importantly, safer. Thanks Chris, I truly appreciate the effort that you made on my behalf. Sure, I could have made the moves on my own, but climbing partners should help and support, and that's what we all did.

Dropping out of sight…


Chris leads the way…


As I write this, Chris Deck has returned from the summit of Capitol Peak, and is the newest 14er finisher!

It was a true pleasure to share #58 with you, Chris!


Somehow, we down climbed to the left of the Green Wall, not actually on it the way we had come up, but the route worked. As we reached the low point before beginning the ledge traverse, a solo climber caught up to us from above. Kirk had mentioned seeing a silver helmet coming up as we dropped off of the summit, but I never did see anyone. Now, the guy had already summitted and caught us. His Crested Butte Guides shirt gave away his vocation, and he nonchalantly said that he had done this so many times, he knew to climb away from us to avoid rock fall. He also mentioned, almost in passing, that he had rang the Bells earlier in the day. The Bells traverse and Pyramid in a single day??? I thought Gerry Roach was joking when he published that "route". We watched as he vanished around the next corner, and continued our way along the last few hundred yards of the Beast's haunches. Negotiating the ledge was a little more nerve racking for me this time, for some reason, and the "leap of faith" was not happening. Instead, I used holds to carefully step into the alcove and gain the other side. Everyone else jumped across like it was a puddle on a side walk.

As we stepped onto the snow and approached the last bit of ridge scrambling, I could see Matt and the others already far below in the gulley. We would not catch up to them. Reaching the saddle, free from the ridge's difficulties, we were greeted by one of several members of the Pyramid Peak patrol that we'd seen off and on all day. This guy was clearly enjoying something delicious, and really did not want to leave. We didn't want him to, either.

Hello Goat!


The Beast…


Taking a well deserved, and necessary, break, we deployed trekking poles and started the trek down from the saddle, yet another 1,000' of torturous, loose, potentially dangerous terrain. I took the last drink from my water bladder, and realized that I was dehydrated and tired, without water. Great.

Kirk begins the arduous descent…


Fortunately, Chris had his Nalgene bottles at the ready, and I found a perfect fountain of water springing directly out of the mountain. With a few comical attempts to play catch, I finally gathered some water; ice cold, pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water. I've never tasted better. Kirk and Chris went ahead, while Donna and I deliberately worked our way from nasty scree pile to nasty scree pile, with slick, steep dirt in between. As we reached the bottom of the gulley, Donna chose the snow, and an involuntary, but fun, glissade to the bottom. I maintained course on the scree, easier now. The mountain was not done with us, though. As I made my way across rock to catch up to the rest of the gang, I heard the tell tale sounds of rock fall, directly behind me. I scurried onto a solid boulder and turned around. A shower of stones was rocketing out of a gulley to the side of the route, literally peppering the trail I had just descended. One rock in particular, a boulder, actually, crashed across the trail, and landed directly on Donna's glissade path. We beat this life threatening force of nature by less than two minutes. I ran to catch up with my friends.

Boot skiing the amphitheater…


Chris and Kirk wait for Donna and I to complete the talus hopping portion of the program…


That familiar sense of relief finally erased the tension of the day, as we found the final cairn at the top of the headwall, and began the more traditional hiking down the hill side. Thirsty and exhausted, it was still important to appreciate the day's offerings, and I stopped to snap a photo or two. We took our time down the trail, admiring the incredible scenery, and finally found the shortcut trail that would spit us onto the Crater Lake highway, where we could hob knob with the more casual patrons of the valley. One lady caught me taking a parting shot of the Beast, and remarked "How beautiful." I said "It is from this angle, I'm not going back up there any time soon." She then realized that we were carrying helmets, ice axes and looked to be completely exhausted, not because we were hiking, but that we'd climbed that mountain. I felt proud of my accomplishment.

Never forget to stop and smell the flowers…


Yes. Yes I did…


An expectedly over priced dinner at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Aspen was our reward for the day's work, and I took plenty of good natured ribbing for my lack of desire to return to Pyramid Peak. Our new friend Liba joined us, and we enjoyed the camaraderie that is only felt by those that have shared such an amazing experience. I have never felt so completely drained, mentally and even physically. This mountain took it all out of me, but I survived it. I'm even beginning to really appreciate it. Matt, Kirk, and Chris D. all assured me that it's the hardest 14er in their estimation, and a note from my friend Sarah Thompson stated the same. I'm proud to have safely returned from the summit of Pyramid Peak, and am looking forward to seeing him again, from the tops of his neighbors.

 


  • Comments or Questions (25)
KrazyK


Nice work KeithK!     2011-02-04 17:22:15
I‘ve always enjoyed reading your trip reports, and this one is outstanding as usual!


lordhelmut


a beast indeed     2009-07-22 17:30:31
Keith, this is by far my favorite mountain in probably the world to date, and your report pretty much summed up my sentiments. I guarantee, after its all sunk in, you‘ll want to revisit this guy time and time again. Nice work man.


Chicago Transplant


Nice Job Keith!     2009-07-22 16:17:28
Congrats on a huge accomplishment, and for breaking into the ”Class 4 Club”. The Beast was a great peak, and you captured it very well in words and photos. I am looking forward to reading more adventures as you continue to tackle the ”bad boys” of the 14er community!


rob runkle


Much Excellent!     2009-07-22 20:56:28
Great job. I forgot about the leap of faith. That definitely put an exclamation point on the climb. For me, the begining of the decent - after an hour resting the legs - was the toughest. The legs were stiff, and a bit wobbly. Not a good combo for the decent... Didn‘t last too long though.


KirkT


There is a reason...     2009-07-22 19:46:24
I wanted you to write this trip report. You have a true way with words and the way you capture the moment is truly remarkable. I was very honored to climb with you on this trip. It truly makes a difference to hike with people you know and trust! Thanks for the kind words and ...... lets do it again soon!

Kirk


Kevin Baker


Kudos     2009-07-22 18:48:01
Kudos, Keith! Glad to meet you the night before. You have an infectuous enthusiasm for the mountains. Pyramid was my first class 4 14er too.


Chris P.


You write good!     2009-07-22 18:23:07
Good job Kieth. It was a fun trip for sure.


d_baker


cool...     2009-07-22 12:46:02
Congratulations Keith!
Good job overcoming your fears and sticking with your goal.
Nice write-up as well.

And it was cool to meet you and your team in the parking lot on Saturday evening.


scottfarish


gratz     2009-07-22 12:57:42
Your original Bells partners who changed direction on you sound like real losers. I bet they opted to do something pansy like Little Bear ;)

Good job on getting this one done. I would have re-climbed it with you, but I wasn‘t the biggest fan of that mountain the first time.

Since you didn‘t tackle Crestone this week as planned, are you going for attempt #2 some time this year? I‘d love to get that one done in late Aug. or Sept. Let me know.


Presto


The Beast ...     2010-11-30 10:28:47
Hey, I've ridden that rollercoaster ... and what a ride it was! Just like this peak was for you. Keith, I have watched with great admiration as you've evolved into a MOUNTAINEER! I appreciate your keen writing style, your photographic eye for detail and beauty, and your willingness to step outside your comfort zone. I think we‘ve all experienced this in our climbing careers. Keep up the great work. Always thankful for your postings ... Happy Trails!


CUaaron25


Great job!     2009-07-22 12:59:03
I was hoping you‘d post this one soon. Looks like you climbed that bad boy in fine style! Congrats!


Shad


Good work     2009-07-22 13:04:12
Great write up there buddy. Looking forward to climbing with you soon.


covfrrider


Well done!     2009-07-22 13:07:07
I‘m proud of you brother, you‘ve come a long way in the last couple of years... it‘s been a privilege to admire your personal growth! Climb on!


mtgirl


WOW !     2009-07-22 13:41:18
What an awesome write-up, Keith ! While reading this, I actually got the sense of being there in the moment. I felt the anxiety, the fear, and the accomplishment ! Good for you ! I hope our paths cross one of these days. Wishing you many more safe adventures in the future.


bergsteigen


Impressive report!     2009-07-22 13:58:58
It brought a tear to my eye just reading this. ”One day”, I‘ll get to this one too...


kimo

Well done!     2009-07-22 21:45:23
I know just a little about you and your journey from your trip reports...congratulations on Pyramid - one of those storied peaks. Sounds like you hooked up with a great bunch of climbers to scale this thing. Another well-written and touching trip report.


bckcntryskr


Great TR     2009-07-22 22:07:50
I felt like I was there with you. Very nice.


native_mntguy


Always entertaining!     2009-07-22 22:14:43
I was glad to be there for your first class 4. You still interested in the bells in two weeks? Kirkt has me pysched for the traverse!


donnastar48

Pyramid climb     2009-07-23 11:40:06
keith It was great to meet you and it was a blast to climb down pyramid with you! look forward to more climbs. You know reading your report it just hit me that the boulders came crashing down where I was at.


Wilderness_hike


Awesome     2009-07-24 16:07:19
Great stuff. I too plan on eventually summitting all the 14ers, and the class 4 stuff makes me a wee bit nervous. Reports like this ensure me that I will get to that point someday, nervous or not!!!


KeithK


A sincere thanks!     2009-07-26 21:10:51
Wow! I don‘t know what to say, other than thank you for all of the comments and super kind words. I appreciate them, more than I can properly describe. Thanks to everyone for reading.
Chris P., that was the funniest thing I‘ve seen in a while, it‘s awesome that you remembered that line.


globreal


Great report!     2009-07-26 21:32:16
Really nice write up. Made me feel like I was there with you. I‘ll be reading this again!...as I hope to do Pyramid in two weeks.
Congrats on jobs well done....both the climb and this report.


rleclair


Pyramid Appreciation!     2009-08-09 10:18:12
Keith - excellent job on the TR and the ascent. I read and re-read your TR in the days leading up to my bid for Pyramid. I found your description of the route spot-on and it helped to prepare me mentally for ”the Beast”! My climbing partner and I summited on a blue-bird day along with at least 10-15 others yesterday. Climb On!


doggler


THANK YOU!     2009-08-10 11:18:23
Keith, thank you for the detailed - and extremely captivating - TR. I am departing for Pyramid tonight with infrequent poster sdizzle. The information and emotion you have shared will hopefully help carry us without incident to the top of ”the beast” as well!


randalmartin


Funniest line ever......     2010-08-10 21:09:48
”She assured me that I was having fun.”

Thanks for the detailed report Keith. I know this is a very tardy comment considering you posted this a year ago but I am doing some research for my upcoming trip to Pyramid this weekend. I have to say your commentary now has me swung back to the viewpoint ”Do I really want to do this?”



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