Peak(s):  Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Date Posted:  06/24/2011
Date Climbed:   06/23/2011
Author:  hansolo35

 Pyramid:1, moi:0  

disclaimer- I wouldn't normally post a trip report on a peak that I failed to summit, but maybe this can serve as a current conditions report for a difficult peak.

So it's been a long time since i attempted a peak and didn't reach the summit. maybe 12 years. Come rain, snow, bluster, crevasses, exposure, long approach, altitude, etc., it's been a long time since I've been denied a summit. 12 years perhaps (on Rainier- which took me three attempts before success). Until yesterday.

I chased the June snowstorm from Utah to Colorado on Monday (the 20th). The solstice the next day found me summiting the Shav-Tab combo under sunny skies (with a sweet butt-slide down the Angel).

sliding down the Angel snowfield

the weather was superb and wanting to take advantage of it, decided to go get Pyramid. I haven't seen any recent trip reports on Pyramid, but knew there was going to be alot of snow, so I came prepared. Snow does not intimidate me and in fact i prefer to climb on snow rather than steep trails and boulder fields. Snow is my friend and has been very good to me over the years (being from Utah of course).

driving into Aspen on Tuesday, Pyramid's mighty summit poked the sky.


I was joyous at the wonderful sunny weather and at the forecast for the next day- more of the same. I drove up the Maroon Lake Road marvelling at the peeks to Pyramid along the way. The Ranger at the toll booth asked what i was going to be doing on my outing and i mentioned climbing Pyramid. He looked surprise and said it would be the first of the summer that he knew of (although i saw recent footprints, axe placements and picket marks on the summit ridge the following day). I camped at the Silver Queen campground amidst the newly blossomed aspens and under Pyramid's dominating gaze. I used the complimentary chicken wire to wrap my car to prevent porcupine abuse (two weeks ago, i found one under my car at the Redcloud trailhead after his noises woke me up, and it turns out he had chewed my brake line, causing $250 worth of damage). I tucked myself in at 8pm, unable to really sleep due to anxious anticipation of what was to come.

The alarm didn’t need to wake me up, as I was already mentally awake (but still groggy). I was on the trail at 3am, which as it turns out, was too late. To make a long story short, I made good time to the turn off to Pyramid just before Crater Lake. From here the trail was hard to follow in the dark at times and I got off-route at times. I ascended up the first few switchbacks before the trail disappeared into the snow. I donned crampons and made my way upwards to the tall prongs I saw up above, illuminated by the half moon. The snow at this point was very soft and I would sink more than I would stay on top. I wasn’t sure I was on the right route to get into the Ampitheater, so I just went up hoping it would lead me there. It went, but topped out a little high so I had to downclimb to enter it. The Amphitheater of Pyramid is definitely a spectacular place!

The Ampitheater in early morning light of the moon

I enjoyed the stroll thru the amphitheater as I made my way to the climb up to the saddle. On snow the whole way. Morning light was working its way across the land at this point, and sunrise torched the top of the Elks while I was mid-way up to the saddle.

A very snowy Snowmass and Pyramid touched by the first fingers of rosy dawn

I knew I was too late at this point. The snow thus far in the amphitheater was mostly solid, albeit just barely. It had been just a soft freeze overnight, and only the top inch or so had frozen. I didn’t know what I was going to get with each step. Sometimes the snow would hold, other times I would step and sink into the unconsolidated sugar. I made the saddle at 7am, behind my timetable. The snow up here, being east facing, had been in direct sunlight for about an hour, and it was already soft.

Me at the saddle on Pyramid’s northeast ridge (yes, the beanie has a be-dazzled heart on it- it’s my girlfriend’s and was the only one I had with me ;))

I made my way up towards the summit pyramid, and all I can say is WOW! It’s one thing to read about it and look at its photos from previous T.R’s, but seeing Pyramid’s summit triangle from the saddle, in person is another matter entirely. It definitely looked intimidating and scary!

The prize, and the map route to collect

I looked at this face yesterday from my campsite and it appeared very steep from there, but everything looks steeper than they often are. The Bell Cord on Maroon Peak for example looks a lot steeper than it really is. But Pyramid’s summit is every bit as steep as advertised. And the exposure is downright frightening. The famous Landry Line dropped off to the east in an airy sweep, and as I gingerly made my way along the ridge towards the last section towards the top, my heart (and cajones) were in my throat. It was then that I came across the snow picket hole near the last rocky rib before the final summit approach, and I realized that under the current conditions, it would be foolish to continue any further. The snow had softened already and I still had another 30 min-hour to the summit. The down climb would’ve been really scary in an absolute NO-FALL ZONE, and it was just a natural decision not to continue solo, unroped in these snow conditions. I really have a new-found respect for the few who make it up here in winter/late spring and climb this upper face. Seeing it in pictures is one thing, seeing it in real life is another.

Me at my high point reached on Pyramid

Looks like this face will not be melted out for another 3 weeks or so. As a result, Pyramid may not see the normal amount of ascents this year, seeing as how it’s about a month behind schedule. I would normally feel large amounts of grief about leaving a summit attempt without success, but not this time. I felt good about turning around so close to the top, knowing that now I will get to come back in the fall to see the leaves and the opportunity to get at Pyramid again.

The view down the narrow ridge to Aspen

Landry Line drops off to the east in a fair sweep. Can’t afford to fall here.

Snowmass and Cap in full light of day

The Bells

looking down the saddle to the amphitheater

looking up to the saddle

i'll return for round 2 when these leaves are gold

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/24/2011 19:01
Appreciate the conditions report - you know what they say - a bad day in the mountains sure beats the best day in the office! The mountain will still be there!


Good work!
06/24/2011 21:11
Despite the fact you didn't summit, its still an accomplishment! I climbed in in perfect summer conditions and I gained respect for its steepness and exposure... add snow and well its a beast. Good job and good luck on your next attempt!

Exiled Michigander

Wise Decision-Making
06/24/2011 21:24
I often find trip reports of failed attempts more interesting and helpful than those of successful ones, and your trip report was a great example of this. Your decision to turn back when snow conditions deteriorated was the right one; someone with less experience might have stubbornly kept going with disastrous results. Amateur 14er ascenders like myself can learn a lot from reading about how an experienced mountaineer overcomes summit fever and humbly retreats to climb another day. You'll get Pyramid next time!


Only a true man...
06/24/2011 23:22
would make the call to turn around...and could carry off wearing that hat!


06/26/2011 05:22
Always tough to make that turnaround call. Better than walking into a dead-end though, huh?

Nice work on a tough peak in tough conditions!

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