| Pyramid Redemption
Earlier in the year MikeyC, Cliff and myself attempted Pyramid in snowy conditions. We got to the upper saddle around 13k before shifty snow threatened to avalanche and we turned back. http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=6157&parmuser=JB99&cpgm=tripuser
Cliff and I talked about our return as we passed through the amphitheater under Pyramid's steep north face. Unfortunately the timing didn't come together and I missed what should have been our return trip, Cliff, Trevor (centrifuge) and Jason had a successful day and the awesome trip report Trevor posted only fueled my desire to get my summit. http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=6675&parmpeak=Pyramid+Peak&cpgm=tripmain
MikeyC let me know that he had Thursday 7.30 to climb so of course I suggested Pyramid. We had a bold plan, meet in Denver around 12:30AM and drive to the trailhead, hike and then drive home. When we awoke the weather looked unpromising; 50% chance of thunderstorms all day. With no weather window we both agreed it just wasn't our day and crawled back to bed. In retrospect I am kind of glad the weather spared us such a long day, 10 hours of driving and no sleep tacked on to this climb would have made it a lot more difficult.
Knowing that I had the weekend open to either try Needle or Pyramid I decided on Pyramid, mainly because I have been up S. Colony road three too many times already this year and am just plain sick of it. I even talked Jessica into coming and climbing to the saddle with me with the option to go higher. We left Fort Collins Saturday afternoon and after a stop in Aspen for dinner at Little Annie's we were in the overnight parking at Maroon Lake. Hiking into Crater Lake seems counter productive to me to climb Pyramid so we just slept in the back of the Jeep. The forecast called for it to be "Sunny" so we weren't concerned about an early start.
We got up and rolling nice and late hitting the trail around 7:45 with the sun already out. As we passed the "Deadly Bells" sign we decided to ignore it until we were safely done, it seemed appropriate. We made quick work of the trail to the turn off for Pyramid, passing the conga line of day hikers reminded me of a Sunday drive on 285.
The trail from here to the amphitheater is great, thanks CFI. Steep but good trail takes you to the aptly named "rock glacier." Right now there is some snow that lends a little easier passage up than the rock.
It was around here that we spotted our first mountain goat cruising up to the NW ridge. I counted at least nine different ones throughout the day.
Finally working our way up toward the saddle we got our first close encounter with a mountain goat. He walked basically right up to us and then posed for some pictures with a Capital and Snowmass backdrop.
As we neared the top of the saddle it became clear that Jessica was going to be waiting here for me. The clouds were around but none were threatening anything more than a light drizzle. I didn't wait long before moving on alone toward the menacing final 1000 feet and unknown portion of the route. The ledges start quickly and you need to get used to them. Most of the upper route is a very good ledge system tied together pretty easily if you take the time to look where you are going. I had been anticipating the gap jump for awhile now. It isn't too far but I'm only 5'4 so a three foot gap is a little further for my legs than some. When I got there I barely thought about it and just jumped, it felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie and the rush of excitement upon safely landing on the other side was awesome. Since I was solo I didn't get any good pictures of it but Trevor has some in his trip report; http://www.14ers.com/usercontent/trips/2009/47_2009072619342110_l.jpg
Peering down the gap
The ledges are nothing to be worried about, the gap isn't either. The exposure here and throughout the route is far more bark than bite. While it looks like you may fall several thousand feet down there are only a few places where you would fall more than 20-50 feet. Not that I'd recommend falling 20-50 feet, but cognitively it is much easier for me to move passed 20-50 feet of fall danger than thousands.
Four different climbers passed me on their way down from the summit, the last two let me know that I was on my own up there. Sounds good to me, less rockfall danger and there is a cool satisfaction in being on a summit alone. Especially a harder summit. One of the climbers stopped to sit with Jessica for a bit and they watched me climb from the saddle. It's cool because we could see each other almost the whole time; I'd look down and wave from time to time. As they sat there watching the other climber said to Jessica; "oh my, I don't wanna tell you this but he's going the wrong way. Oh yeah, he's gonna have to get down from there… if he can." Thanks, just what she needed to hear I'm sure… I think I started up the green rock way lower than I should have because coming down I passed way above where I started climbing. It was really steep and I felt like this was definitely class 4. I came up to some really loose rock and had to work my way up over onto it with a huge drop below me. It was the only time that I felt worried and mostly I was worried about coming down here. I've tried to make it a rule of thumb to not worry about coming down though until I'm doing it so I pushed those thoughts aside and continued up.
It is an intangible feeling to be alone, high on a mountain in unknown terrain with a chance of getting rained on. I wish I could put it into words better than to just say it is an invigorating sense of detachment from the regular world; but I can't. Jessica and the other climber watched me safely get back onto the "route" and continue up. As I moved onto the upper route I was getting more worried about getting rained on during my descent so I hustled. There is still a lot of scrambling from here and some pretty awesome exposure on the north side; if you follow the same cairns I did anyway. Nothing too difficult though and the summit comes pretty quickly. I got from the saddle to there in about 45 minutes. Once around the top I could look right at Jessica and gave her a big wave before walking a few feet to the true summit. I made an effort at my first panoramic shots and considering I don't have a tripod I think they came out ok.
I got moving back down pretty quickly with nervous anticipation of the green rock down climb. My anticipation dissolved when I got off the green rock high above where I had climbed before and followed some more ledge puzzle pieces that connect the dangerous terrain to safe passage. I never once needed to down climb facing the rock more than a couple feet and mostly went face out the whole way. If you aren't numb to the exposure by now then the descent would be the worst part, the good news about descending is that it's mandatory, so you'll find a way. Just passed the part of the climbing I was worried about the clouds joked with me and let out a light drizzle. The jump back over the gap with lightly wet rock was just as exciting as the last. I got back to Jessica about two hours after I left her, it was around 2PM. The rest of the descent was about what you'd imagine. The rock glacier felt longer than it should have, the descent steeper than we remembered from the morning, the car further away… Exactly what you'd expect after a long day on a hard mountain.
All in all I was surprised that Pyramid has such a nasty reputation, don't get me wrong, it's for someone who has done this before but if you are capable of getting up Longs then Pyramid is not out of reach. The exposure looks much worse from a distance and the route much more intimidating than when you actually rub noses with the rock. If you're thinking about trying this mountain then I'd say give it a shot. Take each section one at a time and place your feet and hands carefully and before you know it you'll be at the top. Worst case scenario just getting the view from the saddle is well worth the hike.