Peak(s):  Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Date Posted:  02/25/2009
Modified:  10/19/2009
Date Climbed:   02/21/2009
Author:  sgladbach

 Winter Speed Record set on Pyramid's West Face!  

Well, at least the quickest new winter peak for me this year; I actually returned to my tent on the same day I left it! A full 3 1/2 miles roundtrip in only 12 hours!

Pyramid Peak 14,018'
Route: West Couloir to NW Ridge
Roughly the route of the August 31, 1909 first ascent by Hagerman and Clark
Distance: 22.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5118'

Since Martin Luther King Day weekend (North Maroon), I haven't been up to much. All of the new winter 14ers that I want will require a three-day weekend (or more.) I took my girls skiing every Saturday since MLK weekend, anxiously biding my time for President's Day weekend. I had a couple partners lined up for a trip back to Maroon Lake and an attempt at South Maroon or Pyramid.

Of course, as the weekend got closer, the forecast got dimmer. Snow was predicted all week long with partial clearing for the weekend, but with very high winds. Conditions were perfect for leeward loading of a slope. Oddly enough, no one wanted to risk their life for an Elk peak and the group broke up and went separate ways, all looking for safer terrain. Everyone went more conservative.

The racing team of Prakash, Jordan, Derek, and Doumall bagged Uncompahgre.

Sunday, I went with Bill (Bigtrout) to climb Bross, Cameron, and Lincoln for his 3rd, 4th, and 5th Fourteeners. Monday, Bill pulled off his first "two-14er-days-in-a-row". We were joined on the Crags route of Pike's by Barry (bjohnson17) for Barry's first winter 14er. It was a big weekend for friends.

My next opportunity to enter the Elks came the following weekend. It snowed 14" over the next 5 days with very little winds, warm temperatures and fairly clear skies predicted for the weekend. However, there were no partners available. It seems everybody was going to be out somewhere! The weather turned out to be wonderful on Saturday, but slowly deteiorated through Sunday.On Saturday,there was some impressive peak bagging around the state. A 14erworld party of Ken, Sarah, Dominic, and Dwight pulled off a one day (25 hour) ascent of Crestone Needle; become a member and read the TR. A new member, pglover, nabbed Little Bear from the car in 12 hours. Lots of other great reports went up this past weekend. Good going everybody!

But, I was determined to get a look at the conditions around the Bells, so Friday night I drove to the 8900' T-lazy 7 winter trailhead and dozed off about 10PM. Up at 5:30AM, I was on the trail by 6:30AM. You may remember that my 12-year-old homemade sled bit it on my last trip in here, so I was excited to try out my new version, built from this on-line booklet: (written by a member!) There I was pulking (is that a verb?) along chugging up the 6.5 miles to Maroon Lake on the well beaten snowmobile track and taking in the BEAUTIFUL views of this bluebird day.

First view of Pyramid

Close-up of the Bells from Maroon Lake

The distinct dragon-tongued Doulas Fir Cone

I was trying out something different. I'm a poor backcountry skier; I always rely on my snowshoes, but I had an idea. I used X-country skis and skins to reach the lake with climbing boots and snowshoes added to the rest of the 60 pound load on my sled. I had two ropes, 4 days food and fuel and all the normal winter accoutrements. At the lake, I detached the sled and its elaborate harness, changed boots (the ski boots had given me a small blister), and dropped the skis and one rope (I'd seen enough to decide which I'd need). I put the smaller stuff in a duffel bag and bunji-corded the full set into a pile. I left it all under part of the ¾ buried, summer, bus-shelter-area bathrooms. The gear was well out of plain sight, but not hidden. I left the Maroon Lake area about 10AM.

The trailbreaking thus far had been non-existent, but the next 2 ¼ were harder than last month. Mark wasn't there to do the majority of the work, I had ALL the gear, and the snow was deeper. However, by 12:30 I recognized an important landmark from last trip. It is located ¼ mile west of Crater Lake's north end at 10,100'; our camp was just behind the landmark.

The toilet tree; first established by Mark January, 2009

I set up camp on the same platform Mark and I had used a month before. Site #6 (Edit: Due to sizing, you have to select the photo and enlarge it to read the sign)

Or is it #5? Do you suppose there are turf wars during the three-pass-loop season?

Looking ahead to tomorrow, I broke a little trail to look for the entry couloir to Pyramid's lower west face. However, it was the Bell-Cord and Y couloirs of South Maroon that kept drawing my eye. They looked in fine shape and I even climbed part way up the Garbage Chute to dig a pit which seemed to yield very positive signs. However, like the North Couloir on El Diente last March, I couldn't bring myself to attempt either without an expert partner to second my opinion.

Bell-Cord and Y Couloirs: Taken the next day from high on Pyramid's west couloir

I retreated and completed my ¾ mile long trench from camp to the base of the long west-facing couloir coming off the 12,600' saddle of Pyramid's NW ridge. From the base, Pyramid is 1¾ mile and 4000' away. This couloir is directly across the valley from the Bell-Cord, each giving magnificent views of the other. The couloir tops out at the exact same 12,600' saddle that you would reach if you climbed out of the Amphitheatre to one of the two more standard Pyramid routes: the Keyhole (upper NW Ridge) route. It was this couloir that I took the next morning.

Awake at 3:45AM, dressed and ready to go at 4:30AM, I had a 20 minute round-trip to make in the opposite direction. Yesterday, it had been a little lengthier journey to find running water than it had been last month. Today, freshly loaded with water, I left the tent again a little before 5AM and reached the base of Pyramid's west couloir 20 minutes later.

The morning was cloudy and breezy, not as promising as Saturday had been. Later in the morning, things improved for several hours before deteriorating again. The clouds and the depth of the West Maroon Creek valley postponed good daylight for several hours. The snow route was uninterrupted, though icy in spots.

Looking down the lower half of Pyramid's west couloir

View of Len Shoemaker Ridge to the south. Shoemaker was a forest ranger, historian, and pioneering force in preserving the Elks for public use.

I was packing a full rope and the 37 essentials (15 of which are CIA secrets. I'd tell you but Obama is closing Guantanamo and we wouldn't have anywhere to put you.) I had been negligent about donning my helmet (It doesn't fit that well over my winter hat.) However, I kept getting pelted by marble to cherry-tomato sized rocks launched by Aeolus and careening down the hard-packed snowfield. I secured my pack on the slope and dug out the helmet and pulled it on just as another pebble hit me. Darn wind!

Photo of the darn wind pelting me with small rocks

I was able to climb the 2600' to the 12,600' saddle of the NW ridge by 9:00AM. Here, I stashed snowshoes and ski poles (should have left them lower, but I had a vague notion of descending into the Amphitheatre.) Well, since the first 2600' took 4 hours (more than I expected); the next 1400' should take three or so? I had been on the upper Keyhole Route twice. Once I climbed with a young friend on his 6th 14er (not interested in the easy stuff) and once I climbed it with Eric, member: emfortin. The first time I did it correctly. However, with Eric, we followed a set of cairns too low and had to finish with 80' of very exposed 5.6 rock. It was mainly for that contingency that I'd brought the rope.

This trip I found as good a route as you can expect. From the aforementioned saddle, I followed the highest set of cairns on rock all the way to the Keyhole. If you don't get all the way to the Keyhole, you are too low and on looser stuff than necessary. From here I put my crampons on again and began the set of three false bowls. Traversing snow across each bowl, you cross a ridge only to be greeted with another bowl. The second is exited via a loose Class 3 gully (snow filled today). After three bowls, you enter the final, much larger bowl.

View down from the summit into the final bowl which must be traversed

While crossing the bowl, climb the highest cairned traverse under the summit to a final loose class three gully (but, it is much less intimidating than the exposed class 5 pitch presented by the lower route.) On a ledge, eighty feet below the summit as measured by the GPS, I still couldn't figure out if I was going to make the top.

Final 80' pitch. The snowy gully starts on the far right and climbs to the left

I tried the gully in crampons, but it didn't feel right. I removed them and left some things on my ledge then scrambled up the rock to reach the summit at 1:30PM. In reality, it wasn't too bad. However, anxious anticipation of what's around the next corner (and there are lots of corners on this route) can make it all seem harder. The 1400' from the snowshoe cache at the 12,600' saddle took 4 ½ hours.

A few summit photos later, I was anxious to get back to the snowshoes. There were a few tricky spots to negotiate and the snow was softening.

The exciting summit

We should think of a name for that huge white peak in the center

Castle and Castleabra

I had one scary trip descending the 80 feet to my crampons, but caught myself without soiling my pants. As I shot for the valley floor, the skies got greyer and colder. From the snowshoe cache, I was able to link a few short glissades, but, in general, the snow was too hard to risk it. Mostly, I French-stepped down. Uneventfully, I reached the tent at 5:00PM, 3 ½ hours off the summit and about 12 hours roundtrip. I beat my fastest new 14er from this winter by 9 hours! Now snowing, I dropped my pack and made the roundtrip to the watering hole before snuggling up for the night. I zipped myself in the tent about 5:30PM.

Dry clothes and warm food and drink made me feel cozy as I drifted off to the sound of a very wet snow (almost like rain.) In the morning I woke to 10" of new spring-like snow; the visibility was 40' and it was still coming down. I packed my gear as completely as possible before venturing out. I quickly dropped the tent, slapped everything else on the outside of the pack, and gulped a quart of water (taking none with me, as there was hot drink to be begged at Maroon Lake from the snowmobile guides). I was already getting pretty wet. I couldn't wait to drop this 60 lb pack in the sled and ski 10K from Maroon Lake to my car. By my standards, I'd had a perfect trip.

View of the Bells from Maroon Lake at 10AM on the first day

Same view of the Maroon Bells taken from the bus turn-a-round exactly 48 hours later

But, my trips NEVER go perfectly. Was I dreaming? I reached my Maroon Lake cache to find my skis, boots, rope, and fancy 7' bamboo sled-harness right where I left them (though it had been rummaged through.) All that was missing was the sled. Some selfish asshole went through my stuff, leaving $600 worth of gear behind and making off with my $20 homemade sled. Mind you, he even left the harness to pull it. Guess he didn't like it. He must have thrown it on his snowmobile or dragged it with a rope. I searched all over the area for it. No sled. No snowmobile tours (shut down due to weather).

Thanks to this SOB, I now had another 15 lbs of awkward gear to get down to the car and no way to pull any of it. I changed boots, filled the duffel with boots, extra rope, snowshoes and all the formerly strapped-on gear. Then I cinched, bunji-corded and tied the huge duffel and 7' bamboo frame to my pack. I sat on the ground, buckled on the load, rolled to my knees and pushed myself up. After managing to get into the ski bindings, I took off. Fifty yards later, I discovered I didn't ski well enough to control this awkward load on touring skis. I stopped, switched everything around, except boots, and began lumbering may down the road. The whole process took one hour.

11AM and 10K of road to cover

I should have switched boots. The small blister they gave me on the way up was bothering me, but I figured I'd just keep my head down and keep going. The lower I got the wetter the snow got and by the time I hit the car it was rain. Moving, I stayed plenty warm, but I didn't want to get chilled changing boots. Besides, it was easier to carry the load than to put it down and get it back up. I took no breaks and hefted the load down to the car in three hours. Big mistake. If my Dad saw this blister he'd say, "You know, when I was in the Navy, it was a court-martial offense to get a sunburn or a blister." He's exaggerating, right?

Foot after two days of recovery

The Bells and Sleeping Sexton. Placed here because no Trip Report should end with a photo of that foot

I had a great trip. As usual, I carried way too much stuff. This is a good winter route. And, again, good job to all you who got out and had a proud accomplishment the last few weeks.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Thanks for the last photo!
02/05/2011 00:22
You‘re kind to have ended it on a much prettier note than that foot. Hope it‘s healed up in time for you to get some more of these impressive winter ascents in, only a few weeks left. Congrats on the summit. Thanks for sharing.


Just you!
02/26/2009 14:07
Wow that‘s quite a solo climb. Thanks for bumping my Pyramid report off the top of the list.


Awesome Report Steve!
02/26/2009 16:28
Whether Pyramid stays as my favorite Fourteener remains to be seen, but the experience from our ”Tour De Pyramid” will always top the list. I know we got off route, but I wouldn‘t trade standing in the mist with my toes hanging over that ledge and nothing but Pyramid Thunder in front of me and thousands of feet of vertical drop below for anything. If only I would have gotten a pic... Sensory overload

Hopefully we can meet up again during the ”mere mortal” season. I definitely hear some Elks bugling and some San Juans calling my name this year

Anyway, Great Job on the winter ascent! What in the world are you going to do after you finish the 14ers in Calendar Winter? Finish all the 12ers???


Holy Sweetness
02/26/2009 17:19
Awesome trip outlined by an awesome report, thanks for posting Steve. How many you got left before your winter grand slam??


02/26/2009 17:36
Nicely done. Sounds like you had spent more than a little time planning the route. I will have to take a closer look at the west side some day.

man, that is one bad blister. Some kid wanted a sled ride I suppose. Good to know, hide everything well if there are snowmobilers around. I don‘t mean to generalize snowmobilers as bad, its just that if its easy to get there its more likely that someone didn‘t understand the importance of that sled to you.

That brings up a question. Would you consider it against winter peak bagging rules to snowmobile to the summer Trail head? I know Ken Nolan would, the extra miles are part of the winter game.


02/26/2009 17:28
Beautiful report as always. It can‘t be a Gladbach trip without some adversity to overcome. Darn snowmobiling thieves!!!!


Stupid Snowmobilers!!!
11/30/2010 17:28
Great job, Steve. Looked like a great climb. You are the man! I continue to be amazed at your drive and excellent reports. Congrats on Pyramid!! Are you sure it wasn't a snowshoer that stole your sled? I've never trusted those darn snowshoers.

Dwight: Winter peak bagging rules?
Ok, I'll be the first to take the bait...

Would Ken also not consider it a winter climb if there wasn't enough snow to cover the road and you could ride a bike up to the lake, in winter? I get a kick out of the "strict" winter route guidelines that some people try to put on stuff. Who cares. If you climb it in winter, using a sled to bang out some of the approach shouldn't matter. I understand that there is an attempt to also set a "level playingfield" but, again, that road could be dry next winter when someone else goes for their winter ascent. If we have a serious winter drought and someone bangs out a bunch of peaks using a motorcycle on the approach, did they do something wrong? Will some people turn their noses up at that climber's winter list or demand an asterisk next to those climbs? Let's hope not.

Hell, plenty of people ride the lift up Mt. Hood before heading for the summit. I know I would. If I ride my sled to Maroon Lake and climb Pyramid in winter, it's an ascent in winter. Was my ski of Peak 10 the other day just a dream because I rode the sled to 11k? I think not.

I understand why we set personal goals, but I really don't understand why some people care so much about others' winter climbs.

If skiing out the approach is against the "rules," I'm hosed!


Total Agree!!
02/26/2009 18:42
You start closer in the summer on the majority of the peaks and people are‘nt saying you must start at the winter trailhead to make it official. To each his own with climbing mountains.No one is going to be in the playoffs of mountain climbing for someones rules of correct ascent.

Kevin Baker

Huge effort
02/26/2009 19:00
Wow, that is a huge solo effort, Steve! It sounds like the west face is the safest way to go in winter if there is such a thing. So was the final scrambling moves low 5th class? What about the slope angle in the couloir? It looks like you caught some pretty firm snow.


07/13/2009 02:15
Congrats, Steve.
Excellent report and truly pheonmenal climb.
Bloody thieves!
Take care of that heel - yeowee!


02/26/2009 19:38
I really don‘t have much of an argument against what you say Bill, I don‘t care for rules much myself. I believe its mostly the motorized aspect that bothers him, although using a trail packed by sleds is fine. I have never heard anyone saying skis are unfair, a helicopter yes. Then again you could say its not a contest so none of it matters, why even have lists to check off.

Chicago Transplant

Great trip!
02/26/2009 20:20
Steve you never cease to amaze with your trip reports, another gem! I can‘t believe someone stole the sled and left all the gear, its like he did it just to make you have to carry your stuff

”Rules schules”, the only ”rules” that matter are your own, I know I am not in this game to impress others, just to get out and enjoy myself!


02/26/2009 22:28
Awesome trip report. Love the pics. Glad you had a good time, and too bad to hear about your sled!!

Easy Rider

You‘re the real deal
02/27/2009 00:33
Informative, and entertaining report!
How very Aspen to have your sled stolen up there. That‘s a croc.
I don‘t know how that area attracts so many assholes, but I have met some good peeps over there too, so I try not to judge, but still, how juvy, how redneck, how deliberately insulting.


Great report
02/27/2009 16:37
Looks like this one went like clockwork, Steve. I admire your perseverance, congrats!


A book...
02/27/2009 17:41
You should write a book about your adventures and pictures. Nice TR as usual.

Bill - speaking of those ”Stupid Snowmobilers” , I had one pass me on Sherman last Sunday as I was on my ”Death March” out (wasn‘t feeling well and probably should not have been there). Wes told me it was probably you, correct?


Nice, nice, nice one
02/28/2009 01:22
Congrats on that. Looks like a great route.

Bill, for more info regarding just how much importance some people place on the snowmobiles, start digging in to the whole Steven Koch Exum guide who just got fired for finding a loophole and skiing Moran internet saga.


Thanks everyone
10/20/2009 03:26
I REALLY appreciate the support and sentiments. Thanks for reading.

Hey, when posting this report, I realized, for the first time, that you could see full screen photos by clicking on the photo and then enlarging again when the photo comes up. Then you can actually see what the photog saw (i.e. the source of the winds of Aeolus).

Bill, it had to be a snowmobiler. The skate-skiers were too busy adjusting their Abercrombie & Fitch togs and the snowshoers were too drunk to tell which of the three sleds was the real one.

Winter rules(if you care): see my post on this link


11/30/2010 17:28
dcbates80911: yeah, that was me. I had a limited amount of time on Sunday, so I blasted up to 12,200 and climbed/skied the peak and hauled out. The skiing wasn't that bad and I met a few members - great day!


In a word - Wow!!!
03/01/2009 05:31
What fantastic photos (x-foot!) and even more fantastic experience for you! Do you have and would you be willing to share a hi res image of that last photo? I would like that on my desktop!!! ;) Nice work!!!


Great Report - Gross Picture
03/05/2009 02:17
Great report, as always. Curse those snowmobilers! Now your toe can talk to your heel.

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