Peak(s):  "Thunder Pyramid"  -  13,932 feet
Date Posted:  06/23/2019
Date Climbed:   06/08/2019
Author:  osprey
Additional Members:   climbingcue
 The Lofty Sky  


( Pictures 1,12 and 13 kindly shared by, and used with permission of, WildWanderer.)

Thunder Pyramid has had near mythical status in my mind due to its threatening reputation and stories of prior climbers experiences. Thus I was happy when climbingcue and I were able arrange a climb together. Climbingcue is a strong, competent and fast climber as I learned when we did Little Bear in April and Casco in May.

We met at the Maroon Lake Day Parking area at 0215. Two other nearby climbers were gearing up for a Bells traverse. We started out at 0230 under overcast skies and a light rain with temperatures in the mid-40s. Lightening flashed to the south. Thunder Pyramid was already living up to its reputation.

Climbingcue's headlamp rapidly receded into the night. I was able to catch up with him only when the trail became buried in snow and avalanched tree debris, such that we had to frequently consult the GAIA GPS route ( downloaded from the Thunder Pyramid TR of SnowAlien) on my phone.

We were a short distance above Crater Lake when suddenly there was a loud KERPLUNK! Climbingcue had been crossing Maroon Creek on a seemingly solid snow bridge which most rudely collapsed and dumped him into the creek. He emerged with a mere splashing of water on his clothing. The near cold water bath in the pre-dawn was quite invigorating to him and I was now forced to redouble my efforts to keep up with him.

We crossed on solid snow to the east side of Maroon Creek at 10,500. Gray light was making an appearance and the skies were clearing. We stopped to put on our crampons and ice axes at 0530 to ascend a steep gully immediately to the north of Len Shoemaker Ridge.

Entering the first gully. A rare view of climbingcue. He is usually far ahead. 19411_04

Climbingcue near the top of the entrance gully. The north terminus of Len Shoemaker Ridge is to his right. 19411_06

Dawn making Her appearance on the Bells.


A more typical view of climbingcue perched on a rock and waiting, waiting, waiting.....


The terrain flattened as we entered the drainage between Thunder Pyramid and Len Shoemaker Ridge but soon steepened as we started up the gullies that led to the Thunder summit. It is difficult, as others have noted, to make out which of the points on the ridge is the actual summit. I mis-identified three of the points as the actual summit before looking at GAIA to identify the summit.

Crossing the drainage to the summit gullies. Will the real summit please stand up?


Heading up a gully.


Climbingcue sitting around again. He spends so much time sitting that I do not know how he manages to climb anything.


I made a course correction after checking GAIA to get us into the gully leading to the ridge south of the summit but did not check GAIA again as we headed towards the proper gully. Thus we crossed the correct gully and kept heading left and upwards until we topped out at the small saddle to the north of the Thunder summit.

Climbingcue on the small ridge separating the gully on the right, which would have taken us the correct way to the south side of the summit, from the left gully which led us to the north of the summit.


Climbingcue near the top of the left gully. The summit is to his right. Yes, that insignificant bump is the summit.


Climbingcue at the small saddle to the north of the summit. He is still looking happy as I had not yet given him the bad news that we were on the wrong side.


I looked up with dismay at the imposing north face of Thunder Pyramid. We were supposed to be on the south side. Climbingcue looked up with disgust and disgruntlement at my inability to follow a simple GAIA route.


Route of WildWanderer on the north face of Thunder. Too hard for mans. For woman only.


The only thing to do was cross a rock ridge and head south. Climbingcue saw a steep snow gully on the summit's west face. The snow was quite firm and icy in the gully and climbingcue, who had only one ice axe, exited the gully about halfway up and summited via a rock ridge to the left of the gully. I had a 57 and 64 cm axe and rigid boots with ice climbing crampons so I was able to ascend the complete gully and topped out a few feet from the summit at about 1040.

Looking down from the summit at our tracks after crossing the rock rib. 19411_16

Climbingcue on the summit. Pyramid Peak in the background.



Out ascent gully was too steep to descend so we followed the GAIA route of SnowAlien on the descent with climbingcue in the lead as he had been on the ascent.


I had to descend facing into the slope the first 200-300 meters or so. The slope flattened out slightly and I turned facing outward to look at the route ahead. I was immediately above three rock outcroppings interspaced by small bands of snow. Suddenly I was falling on my back and crashing through the rock bands unable to stop or arrest until after going through the third rock band when the slope lessened and the snow became soft enough that I slid to a stop. Climbingcue later told me several rocks had come down the slope to his right.

The story of Prince Andrei, felled at the Battle of Austerlitz, describes it perfectly: "What is it? am I falling? are my legs giving way under me?...and fell on his back. He opened his eyes...but he did not see anything. There was nothing over him now except the sky - the lofty sky...with gray clouds slowly creeping across it. How quiet, calm, and solemn, not at all like when I was running, shouting and fighting... - it's quiet different the way the clouds creep across this lofty , infinite sky. How is it I haven't seen this lofty sky before?...And how happy I am that I've finally come to know it...There is nothing, nothing except that...except silence, tranquility."

And like the Prince, for several minutes I was quiet happy to lie motionless, looking up at the lofty sky, no longer falling and sliding or hearing the horrible sounds of crampons scraping rocks. But one must get up eventually and when I did my right arm hung helpless and the ax dangled useless by its leash.

My rescue beacon was at the bottom of the pack and I was not able to access it. Climbingcue was of course out of sight by now. The only option was to continue a slow descent which I would need to do even if I had been able to send a rescue signal or if climbingcue had been nearby. And so began the descent. Sometimes facing into steep slopes with one ax in my left hand and the right ax hanging by its leash. Sometimes it was less painful and more efficient on less steep areas to sit on my buttocks and pull myself forward with my crampons. Some very short areas with safe run outs were glissaded. Finally I could see the flat drainage area by Len Shoemaker ridge. I could not see climbingcue but knew he would be waiting there and so gave loud whistles on my emergency whistle and soon saw him reascending the slope. He had been waiting for 1.5 hours for me to reappear.

By now I was exhausted and felt sure I would need to be evacuated. I explained the situation to him when he reached me about 1:50 p.m. and he immediately set off his SPOT. He guided me down to where he had been waiting and removed my pack and crampons and gave me water from my pack. I spoke words of shame, humiliation and fury that I had fallen on easy non - technical ground resulting in injury and need for rescue. He listened quietly and replied " Be happy you are alive."

After about an hour rest I felt we could continue down and meet up with the rescue team as low as possible. He helped in strapping my pack on me and we resumed the trek out.We descended and were almost to the Maroon Creek crossing around 5:30 p.m. when two advance members of the Mountain Rescue Aspen team arrived. They removed my upper clothing and it was immediately obvious the right shoulder had an anterior dislocation. We tried a field reduction but it was unsuccessful due to having been dislocated for more than 5 hours. Clothing reapplied we started the hike back to Maroon Lake.

I was more than happy to see MRA, but tried to apologize to the MRA for causing them to come out on a Friday afternoon/evening. They rejected it saying they were having a training exercise at the time of the SPOT message and they welcomed the opportunity to put their training to real life use.

I heard a roaring sound as we descended which I thought was from Maroon Creek. The closer we got to Maroon Lake the more and more MRA people appeared. We reached the trailhead about 9 p.m. and I was happy to be able to show MRA my COSAR card before going to the Aspen Hospital for a shoulder reduction. Climbingcue had stayed with me the entire time. He could, and should, have left when MRA arrived. Words cannot express my appreciation to him for his unselfish aid. It would have been a much longer day without his assistance. MRA also, of course, gets a big thank you. They were a huge moral boost simply by their presence.


Donna had been expecting a call from me by no later than 4 p.m. The worst part of the ordeal was, upon reaching her late in the evening, hearing the frantic worry in her voice, and listening in the darkness to her weeping.


The roaring has persisted and is now recognized as the tightening circle of age and infirmities leading me to wonder how much longer left to climb? To life?

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

 Comments or Questions

Thank you for sharing.
06/23/2019 07:09
Good to hear you're still in one piece. Thunder Pyramid is a tough peak, for sure. The pictures are beautiful and I wish you a speedy recovery.


06/23/2019 10:35
Thanks for posting Tom. I know it's probably not easy to talk about, especially when it's hard to know exactly why this happened.

I know you'll bounce back stronger than ever!


Keep moving...
06/23/2019 14:26
...and don't worry too much or too long about those questions, which are completely normal after an accident like this,
and will be answered in due time, no matter how much reflection you do.

Glad you're ok, and glad you wrote this up.

Heal up! Look forward to hearing about your future endeavors!


War and Peace
06/23/2019 15:40
You had me at the title, but seeing the Tolstoy quote was quite moving. There are many places on this mountain where a fall would have been much more consequential. Get well soon and maybe we can hike some 13ers in the future. 👪


Happy you made it out
06/23/2019 16:30
I am super happy we were able to get you out under your own power. Heal up and will find many more mountains to climb.



That mountain terrifies me
06/23/2019 18:04
That injury sounds painful but I'm glad you were able to walk out of this one. I will not be attempting this peak until I have many more years and mountains under my belt. Thanks for writing this. Reports like these always serve as a wake up call to those who are willing to listen and heed the dangers of our beloved mountains... expected or unexpected.


Larger than life
06/24/2019 03:38
Thunder pyramid has a reputation of being more difficult than pyramid, I believe you did everything right and there is no shame in calling for help , itâs a damn good thing you weâre not climbing alone . Love the photos but very happy you have made it out and can plan more adventures.


Thanks for sharing
06/24/2019 05:08
Iâm glad the fall wasnât worse. That peak is unforgiving. Thanks for sharing your experience and best of luck as you heal the shoulder up. Brad


06/24/2019 11:38
Glad youâre ok, Tom. I hope the should heals quickly and youâll be back at it in no time. Thanks for sharing.

06/25/2019 12:33
I appreciate all the comments.
Rob and bmcqueen - thank you for the wishes for recovery.
Eric and Kirsten - I hope to be able to rejoin the group for some easier peaks relatively soon.
Sunny1 - you are absolutely right. It is best to resume our loved activities as soon as possible and not dwell on the past.
SnowAlien - I was sure that if anyone recognized the quote as being from Tolstoy it would be you.
Cloudkicker and Jillygoat - despite my misadventure, I found Thunder as a snow ascent to be much easier than expected. A climb without snow would certainly be a different beast. Yes, thank goodness for a partner.
And Bill - you were the hero of the day.


Glad you're OK.
06/27/2019 15:20
Glad you're OK.
" I spoke words of shame, humiliation and fury that I had fallen on easy non - technical ground resulting in injury"
Don't feel so bad, accidents can happen anywhere on the mountain.

06/28/2019 14:08
Yes, it ultimately does not matter how or where one falls.


Yay! You're Alive!
07/07/2019 06:53
Agree with the other comments, sentiments above. Thank you for posting. It is amazing how quickly things can change in a split second and how important it is to have a dependable partner, like climbingcue. You kept your wits about you and did what you had to do to get down. SO glad it was not worse. Wishing you a speedy and thorough, recovery!

And agin...Yay! You're alive!

07/07/2019 08:13
Thank you for your kind words and well wishes.

Rob Schichtel

Climb on!
07/08/2019 07:37
We will go hard again, it is just what we do.

Rob Schichtel
07/08/2019 10:50


Glad your ok!
07/09/2019 15:48
Hope to bump into you again on another 13er or two. Glad that you made it out safely!

07/09/2019 19:50
Yes I hope to see you and many others on numerous peaks in the future.

Echoing what others have said
07/19/2019 21:45
I'm glad you made it out ok. After Steve Gladbach died on this peak my wife looked at me and said that I was done with the centenials. After permanently dislocating two toes and being told by an orthopedic surgeon never to put on climbing shoes again I had to re-evaluate my own life. These days? I bird watch, collect flowers, and scuba dive.

07/20/2019 15:59
Yes such events cause a great deal of introspection regarding the advisability of pursuing the activity especially if one has a spouse and/or dependent children.
"But one can stumble on even a smooth road, and such is human fate." Chekhov


Same Place Same Fun
04/30/2020 14:06
I had a similar incident on Thunder in nearly the same place. Was taking a break while descending facing out and the snow slid out from under me. Immediately I was on my back speeding down the slope when luckily, or unluckily, Iâm not sure, the rocks pinched into an hourglass and I slid into them. Iâd gone less then 100â but picked up speed fast and was unprepared for the required quick self arrest. What should have been a broken leg or ankle was only a bad sprain and I got out on my own power but Thunder spooks me to this day. The entire Elk Range spooks me a little. Four years later the ankle is still sore on occasion but it could have been so much worse. Glad you made it out ok.

04/30/2020 14:40
Yes, it could have been much worse for each of us.
Your descent with a badly sprained ankle must have been near epic. Were you with a partner who was able to carry your pack?


11/20/2020 22:54
I was with partners but I could carry my pack. Hiking poles were very helpful but I still took hours to get to the parking lot. Luckily it was June 25 the latest sunset of the year. The drive back to the Front Range was epic as the ankle sprain really took off after I stopped walking on it. I was a kayaker for many years and saw several shoulder dislocations like yours on the river and every time someone just popped it back into place. Didn‘t know that wasn‘t an option after a few hours.

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