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Peak(s):  Pyramid Peak  -  14,029 feet
Date Posted:  08/08/2014
Modified:  10/06/2014
Date Climbed:   08/08/2014
Author:  bbass11
 A Long way to the Top of the Pyramid   

Wrapping up 2014 on top of Pyramid

Pyramid was the perfect end to a wonderful 2014 season before moving back to Texas. My 30th 14er summit (19 new ones) since June 8th let me finish the season in style. Also, with this being my final summer working at Rocky Mountain High Adventure Base, Pyramid represented a culmination of the last three summers in the mountains. Two years ago my fourteener list consisted of Shavano, Antero, and Elbert. I had no intentions really of climbing all 58 of them. When I looked at pictures of the knife edge or read route descriptions of some of the Elks, my only response was "No thanks." My goal at the time was to finish 40 fourteeners.

Jeff, Kayla, Alihah and I all started as first year guides at Rocky Mountain High Adventure Base in 2012, leading kids on backpacking, mountain biking, and rock climbing/rappelling trips. It's amazing how much a few months of experience in the mountains can do. In 2012, I was uneasy around exposure; now I just smile when Jeff makes comments like "Exposure means 'good for pictures'". I also was scared of a bike; Kayla didn't even own a backpack; and Alihah was just a 16 year old kid to me. But now, after working together for six months over the past three summers, we have been able to climb mountains I only dreamed about not that long ago.

Jeff and I have actually hiked together every summer weekend the past three years. With the exception of Tabeguache, Blanca, and Ellingwood, I believe he has summited with me at least once for the other 47 I have done. We tried some last year, but this year we were more successful in getting Kayla and Alihah to join us for some memorable hikes, including Pyramid.

Date: Friday, August 8, 2014
Group: Me (Brian), Jeff, Kayla, Alihah


We were in the Elks for a week. All being college students, we didn't plan on paying a bunch for a tent site, so we had moved around a bit during our week in Aspen, trying to find a nice spot, but all the spots near the trailheads they want $23 a night for. We spent one night at Crater Lake, one along Lincoln Creek, one at the Capitol TH, one at Capitol Lake, and then we finally camped along Castle Creek and wish we had stayed there the whole week. Castle Creek is a bit closer to the Elk trailheads than Lincoln Creek, and if you are lucky, there are a few campsites there that don't require high clearance or 4WD to get to. It's my favorite spot for dispersed camping that I found near Aspen. We stayed there both Wednesday night before Castle, and Thursday night before Pyramid.

We left the parking lot at Maroon Lake at 4:20 am. After we had missed the trail turnoff to south Maroon earlier in the week, we were paying close attention for the cairn leading to Pyramid. The trail up to the amphitheater is pretty good, but in the first quarter mile or so after you leave the Maroon Creek trail there are several spots where the trail is hard to follow in the dark. Once you get a little further down trail it is very easy to follow, but right there at first be alert. We lost it several times but were able to realize quickly we were no longer on a trail.

The amphitheater has trail segments going through it, but we weren't able to follow them the whole way. We ended up just paralleling the long snowfield all the way into the bowl that sits right at the base of Pyramid. We did have to cross this narrow snowfield to get over to the base of the 1000 foot wall.

I actually found the trail up the 1000 feet to the northeast ridge to be quite enjoyable. We timed our departure perfectly and reached 11,900 at 6:10, just as we were getting enough light to put away our flashlights. The trail up this ridge is much more pleasant than the trail at the top of the 2800' east ridge on south Maroon. We had no issue following a trail. There are multiple trails in some areas but they all seem to meet up back together. They are easy to see, and we had no issues with anything loose on this section of the route. It took us 20 minutes to get to the top of the ridge, and we crested at 6:30, just minutes after the sun started to light up the Bells to our west. At this point we relaxed and started to really enjoy this route.

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Sun rising on the Bells
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A look at Pyramid from 13,000 feet


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Looking north over the Elks
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Moving along the early stretches of the northeast ridge


We walked around to the small saddle at 13,100. Then we continued to follow the cairns around the right side of the ridge and back to the crest. Instead of then crossing over to the south side of the ridge as described in the route description, we continued to follow cairns around the right (north) side of the ridge a little further until we saw cairns leading through this nifty notch. This puts you directly above the "leap of faith".

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Back on the crest of the ridge, we followed cairns up and to the right
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Cairns lead through this notch in the ridge
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Just through the notch, overlooking the leap of faith (Cairns circled in red)


The ledge traverse was significantly shorter than I was expecting. It's only a few steps across, but still rather fun.

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Looking up at Pyramid from the ledge traverse
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Kayla crossing the ledge
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Past the ledge traverse


You have to cross one loose gully then it's on to the green wall, which is rather distinctive. The scrambling through this section is fun class 3. On the way down though, we were able to find a way through the green wall section that felt more like class 2 than 3.

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Crossing a loose gully. Cairns lead through stable rock
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Crossing the gully, the green wall sits around the corner
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Starting up the green wall. Pictures dont do justice. It really has a green tint to it


Above the green wall, the route reminds me a little of Eolus, though much longer, rockier, and a little more extreme on the scrambling. But it has the same ledgy nature and I felt like exposure was similar for the most part. You're switchbacking back and forth through ledges with some loose rocks on them, searching for cairns as you work your way up. We were able to follow cairns most of the way up. A few times some of our party would miss a cairn, and it required some more loose and exposed class 3 scrambling to get back on route, but the cairns lead up the mountain through a pretty smooth path.

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Alihah moving up the green wall
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Some short class 4 moves
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Continuing up


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Above the green wall, plenty of scrambling remains
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With beautiful views on all sides and below
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You dont have to get far from the easiest route to find some more airy moves


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Crossing a narrower ledge
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Kayla getting close to the top


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Ascending more steep, ledgy terrain
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Alihah, within 100 feet of the summit ridge


The route description says the slope eases in the last 150 feet. Unless they are talking about 150 horizontal feet, it seemed to us like the slope didn't really relent much til about the last 10 vertical feet or so. As soon as you crest the summit ridge the incredible views that are some of the best in the state stretch out in all directions around you. We summited around 7:30 and had the summit to ourselves on a perfect weather day.

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View from the summit
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The Maroon Bells


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Alihah and Kayla on the summit
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Big number 50 for me. Only eight left
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Our 20th peak together this summer


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Jeff, Kayla, Brian, Alihah
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Jeffs and my 59th summit (47 unique) together


The descent was uneventful. We were able to follow the same cairns down with no difficulty route finding. After the leap of faith, we chose to go back through the notch again. From the crest of the ridge, we could see the cairns on the south side of the ridge leading along the marked route. From above it looks like the route described online and the variation we took are about the same difficulty. I noticed the amphitheater seemed much bigger on the way down than on the ascent, but that's typical. Hiking in the dark makes everything seem to go by faster. Also, the amphitheater had seemed flat on the ascent but in fact there is a fair amount of elevation gain through the rocks there.

Some pictures from the descent:

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Just below the summit ridge, heading back down
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Coming down steep terrain
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Looking back at the green wall


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Jeff leading back across the ledge traverse
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Alihah coming across the ledge
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Kayla and the leap of faith


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Nearing 13,000 feet
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Coming back into the amphitheater


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In the amphitheater, looking back at Pyramid
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Trail builders had some fun with this giant circle of cairns


Final Thoughts:

I was nervous heading into all of the Elks besides Castle based on my readings of the route descriptions and trip reports. The range turned out to be nothing but a ton of fun though, and Pyramid is no different. Everything from 13000 feet up was a blast, and really everything from 11,000 to 13,000 was significantly more interesting than your average trail walk. Throw in the perfect weather, and the fact that it was the last one of the year for me, and Pyramid is certainly one of my favorites. In fact, I have Pyramid listed as my favorite 14er on the website here.

Pyramid is certainly not a beginner peak. Its scrambling difficulties, steepness, and potential loose rock near the route certainly make it more dangerous and difficult than the majority of the peaks in the state. However, I wouldn't say the scrambling is any more difficult than the class 3/4 routes in the San Juans or Sangres if you've done any of those. If I was making a difficulty ranking of the peaks I have done, Pyramid would probably be between five and ten somewhere.

Two years ago when the four of us met, we had less than 10 fourteener summits total between us. Now we have over 200. Getting this experience the past three summers allowed us to feel much more comfortable and relaxed on Pyramid than we would have in 2012. We also are much more confident in our route finding now than we were two years ago. With only 8 fourteeners left, my goals have changed a little. Now I'd like to finish the fourteeners, and additionally do the two great traverses I have remaining, and finish the centennial peaks some day. I may or may not get the opportunity to do all these, but a mere six months of experience in the mountains has at least let me know that given enough time, I do have the ability to make these summits.

For reference on the relative length of some of the trail sections, our times were as follows:
TH to beginning of 1000 foot wall: 1 hr, 45 min
End of Amphitheater to top of ridge: 20 min
13,000 feet to the summit: 1 hr

Be safe, Maybe we'll see y'all up top in years to come!

Videos:

Pyramid Ascent



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
DeTour
User
Great report, thanks
1/17/2015 4:13am
Surprised there haven’t been comments on this TR. It’s a great writeup, and the photos and video are as detailed as I think I’ve seen on any Pyramid TR, especially from the green wall up. It really gives me a good feel for what to expect up there. My family group attempted Pyramid a few days after yours – we turned back for a variety of reasons, including sketchy weather, before we reached the ledge traverse. Hope to get back there soon, like maybe summer 2015!


bbass11
User
Thanks
2/2/2015 5:40pm
Thanks, we were at Capitol Lake the day you attempted Pyramid. I definitely understand and support the decision to turn around. If you can get good weather though, Pyramid is a gem. Good luck on your return trip!


kevnsmth
User
Great TR
9/10/2015 12:35am
I’m planning to do Pyramid in a few days, and I’m looking through old reports. This is definitely one of the best I’ve seen.

Happy climbing!


bbass11
User
Thanks
9/14/2015 7:29am
Thanks a lot, and good luck!
Pyramid is one of my favorites!


thill
Difficulty of Pyramid
7/3/2016 10:34pm
Thanks for the report. I've done Longs and Wetterhorn and am planning to do Pyramid in a couple weeks. How does Pyramid compare to these two peaks as far a difficulty? .... particularly exposure?

Thanks,



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