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Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Colorado 14er peak questions and conditions should be posted here. 14er Trip Reports
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Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby KentonB » Sun Sep 23, 2012 8:37 am

A while back (in the Spring I think?) "djkest" posted a separate thread about the three Class 4 peaks in the Elk range in regards to their "danger".

Well, I just completed my first Class 4 climb in the Elk Range - Pyramid! And I absolutely loved it! In planning future climbs, I'm trying to get a feel for other Class 4 Fourteeners in the Elk Range. Not specifically how "dangerous" they are, but a comparison of the terrain. For those who have experience on Pyramid, Capitol, and N. Maroon, how similar is the Class 3/Class 4 terrain areas between these peaks?

Specifically...

1. Is the rockfall danger similar between the three?
2. Is the rock looser on any of them? More stable?
3. Any thoughts on exposure differences?
4. How does the duration of Class 3/4 climbing between them compare?

Thanks!

-Kent

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby ChrisinAZ » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:02 am

1. I would call the rockfall danger on all three fairly comparable, though in different ways. Pyramid, you're potentially in danger the entire last thousand feet, though for the first half or so, mainly due to mountain goats since the route doesn't double back or go straight up till the green wall. North Maroon, the top of the 2nd gully has fairly major rockfall potential (as we tragically found out recently), but the ridge above it and the first gully seem somewhat safer in that regard. Capitol, the main danger is having someone directly above you--try to avoid if at all possible. There's smaller stuff, and even some larger boulders and slabs that can come loose, but I don't remember it being as bad as Snowmass in that regard.

2. Rock seemed most stable in general on Capitol, at least the larger chunks of rock. The other two are pretty comparable, neither as bad as I'd gone in expecting. Pushing down on rather than pulling out on handholds is a good strategy on those two. Checking every hold is a good strategy on all three.

3. Exposure-wise: Capitol >> Pyramid > N Maroon. I was scared out of my gourd on Capitol, excited and exhilarated on Pyramid, and honestly expecting a bit more exposure on N Maroon (it's there, but some of it higher on the peak can be easily avoided).

4. Pyramid doesn't have much class 4 at all, IMO--most of the climb is class 3/3+. There are a few short pitches of 5 to 10 feet of easy class 4, but I ended up downclimbing the whole thing facing out, so make of that what you will. N Maroon, if you pick your route well, only has the 4th class chimney, and even that can apparently be avoided to the R. I found the chimney to be interesting and a bit challenging, but very doable, really not exposed, and fairly solid (you just have to find one or two key handholds). Capitol, it's hard to say--some might call everything from K2 on 4th class, some might call almost all of it class 3. The parts I'd definitively call 4th class were: ascending the last 40' of K2 on the way up, and the 100-200' just past the gray band up a shallow semi-vertical gully (looking at Capitol from K2, it's the indentation directly below the "summit"). I faced in about half the time descending the semi-vertical gully, and pretty much all of K2.

Overall, I found Capitol to be a notch above the other two in difficulty, and the other two to be very comparable to each other, not to mention pure fun (I liked only the Needle more). Capitol was too scary for me to completely enjoy it, but it's an incredible peak that demands respect. All three of these are among the best.
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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby taylorzs » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:08 am

Lets see, in my opinion N Maroon has the highest rock fall hazard of any of the three. You are scrambling up one of two gullies for a large part of the climb. They are not real technically challenging but they funnel rocks and you are at the mercy of the climbers above you to be careful. This is also the easiest of the three from a technical standpoint. Pretty much all class three except one class 4 chimney that is not real exposed compared to some other routes. The rock is looser here than Capitol (if you stay on route) but is still very managable and similar to the rock on Pyramid.
Capitol has more solid rock overall than Pyramid or N Maroon but it does have its loose sections. It is the most technical of the three, particularly the knife edge (which is very solid). Towards the end of the climb, a ways past the knife edge there is a place where you cross a gully and then cross back above the gully near the summit. When crossing the lower section you are exposed to rock other climbers can knock down. This is a short section. We just waited for the climbers above to cross before we crossed. Most of the scrambling on Capitol is traversing because you gain a lot of vertical before you start scrambling whereas N maroon's scrambling is straight up and starts near treeline so you will spend a greater period of time exposed to increased rock fall hazard on N maroon than Capitol. Good luck!
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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby --bb-- » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:10 am

Thank you for this thread and awesome info! I just finished Pyramid on Friday and was curious about the same.

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby milan » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:23 am

You know you will get multiple different answers because of personal preferences of each of us. Since I hiked those three within one month and in similar shape and conditions (nice weather, dry), this will not play role.

First I hiked North Maroon. There is loose rock on it but I was surprised that it was much more solid than I expected. My imagination from trip reports was that the mountain falls appart. I didn't feel it that way. Yes, you have to check every hold you want to use but I do this all the time. This peak is very similar to Pyramid, little easier and less exposed.
Pyramid is similar to North Maroon, the rock was more loose but there were a lot of options to climb around places that seemed bad. It took longer than North Maroon.
Capitol. The knife edge is super solid but there is some loose rock after that, in the gullies. I am scared of exposure so knife edge was the most difficult part of Capitol. Exposure there is ridiculous. Other than that, I couldn't believe how "technically" easy it was. I felt it was rather class 3 than 4. Still it took us (and I was the slowest in the group) longer than both Pyramid and N.M.
So answer:
1. Yes, there is rock fall danger on all three of them. Pay attention and be careful. It didn't feel much different.
2. I feel the loosest rock was on Pyramid. However, in those exposed ledges which had class 4 climbs were solid.
3. Capitol is much more exposed than the rest. Pyramid is exposed but only in short areas. On NM I didn't feel exposed at all. Note, that while climbing NM, I was convinced that a fall in the crux chimney would only result in 15-20 feet fall and I wasn't scared of it at all. Recent unfortunte accident proved me terribly wrong!
4. Capitol takes longer than Pyramid and it takes longer than NM. Depends on your speed how many hours.

Those three actually seemed to me pretty similar, same level. Very enjoyable but long time in the "no fall" zone. I red that people put Capitol far above Pyramid, I would not. After the knife edge, it seemed to me pretty similar. Knife edge is unique.
Last edited by milan on Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:32 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby milan » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:25 am

And I agree reading the other comments. Snowmass was looser and seemed to me much more dangerous with rockfall. I thought the mountain is a landslide to happend. Also Mt Wilson and El Diente seemed worse to me.

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby KentonB » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:29 am

Thanks for all the great info guys!

BB: Looks like we missed you by 1 day!

milan: Yep, I knew I'd get a wide variety of answers. :-) Still, it helps to see lots of different perspectives!

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby milan » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:33 am

KentonB wrote:
milan: Yep, I knew I'd get a wide variety of answers. :-) Still, it helps to see lots of different perspectives!


I do the same, read multiple opinions and usually figure out who is similar to me. :)

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby cftbq » Sun Sep 23, 2012 10:56 am

1. (Rockfall): N. Maroon has the greatest danger of (apparently) uncaused and random rockfall. That's one reason I rate it more difficult and dangerous than Pyramid. Capitol has the least; it's surprisingly solid for the Elks.
2. (Loosness): Same order as #1, although it's a short spectrum.
3. (Exposure): Pyramid actually has more dramatic exposure than the others except, of course, for the Knife Edge. But the exposure on Pyramid is mixed with actual technical difficulty, whereas the Knife isn't really very difficult, technically, at all. Again, however, a short spectrum. You'll deal with one kind or another of exposure off and on on all three.
4. (Duration): Pyramid offers 1,000 feet or so of sustained Class 3/4 climbing with both rockfall danger and exposure. Capitol has a bit less (800 ft.?) but it's just as demanding and might take you longer. The difficulties on N. Maroon are more intermittent, interspersed with relatively mellow sections where all you have to worry about is loose dirt and steepness (the "tilted sandbox" effect).
Hope this helps!
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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby TravelingMatt » Sun Sep 23, 2012 12:13 pm

I enjoyed Pyramid. Not sure where the Class 4 was supposed to be. Maybe one pseudo-stemming move. The part past the saddle was very reminiscent of the last 300 feet on Eolus, just longer.
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Th' increasing prospects tire our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby KentonB » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:33 pm

Thanks again everyone. I definitely appreciate the replies. I was under the impression that N. Maroon would be significantly more "sketchy" than Pyramid, but it appears there isn't too much difference between the two. I guess I need to get out there and do them now! :-)

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Re: Elk Range Class 4 Comparison

Postby Tatra » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:43 pm

I don't know if you have done class 3 Elk routes, I think some of them are worse than class 4 standard routes. I think the worst rock fall danger is on South Maroon, it is not a technical route but it is crazy loose. My team and I had 2 massive slides on the way up, probably caused by the goats. The mountain itself doesn’t have exposure and too much class 3 though. We did the traverse (South to North) and it was very exposed, the rock unstable and there were some hairy moves. The biggest challenge on North Maroon was route finding, it was such a long way down (I thought that it was more stable than South though). We never were able to find the chimney and went down a very hairy way (class 4 and 5) but it was not the standard route.
Pyramid was probably the easiest and most pleasant for me. I don’t know why it is called one of the hardest 14er. The last 1000 feet are scrambling but it was stable and pretty easy.
Capitol was definitely my favorite 14er from all the 58. It has a long approach and climbing K2 (class 4) with half rotten snow was very treacherous but the knife edge was super stable, easy and fun. After the knife edge there is still a lot of climbing to the summit and it is harder than the knife edge but it is fairly stable. I was lucky because I had a little bit of snow climbing, glissading together with rock scrambling during this adventure. I felt that it was a true classic Colorado climb and I would love to do it again.
I thought that Snowmass was physically demanding. We climbed the West slopes in April in full snow and it was crazy steep, cold and the summit ridge (class 3-4) was all covered in snow and ice. I wouldn’t like to climb that route in summer because of the loose rocks though.
Overall, for the summer season, I would think that South Maroon and Snowmass are probably the loosest (safer to climb it in spring in full snow), Capitol has the most exposure but it is the most stable (and fun), North Maroon has challenging route finding and is long and Pyramid is definitely overrated.

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