Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pyramid Peak Trip Report - Sept. 2011

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells taken during a climb of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells - Prints Available

Date: September 4, 2011
RT Length: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
Partners: James and Brad

Pyramid peak was an exciting and challenging peak to climb.  We arrived at the trailhead hours before dawn and began hiking from Maroon Lake in the dark.   The turnoff for the Pyramid Peak trail was difficult to locate in the dark and we missed it the first time.  After backtracking, we left the Crater Lake trail and started up the steeper trail until it ran out in the Amphitheater.  This area is essentially a very large field of talus to cross below the north face of pyramid.  The sun rose and we had some breakfast.

Sunrise on Colorado 14er  Pyramid Peak
Sunrise on Pyramid Peak

Sievers Mountain sunrise during a hike of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Looking back down with Sievers Mountain behind

We traveled to the edge of the amphitheater and reached the base of the steep slope fondly referred to in the 14er community as the "Thousand Feet of Suck".  I feel this is an accurate description.  This section consists of steep "hiking" with loose sand, scree and rock making for a torturous up two steps, down one step kind of climb.  We had to be very careful here not to lodge any rocks loose from their position because they could fly down the hill with increasing speed putting any climbers below us in danger.  James made it part way up the slope and decided that this was a little beyond his comfort level.  He headed back down and waited while Brad and I continued up.

Colorado fourteener Pyramid Peak taken during a climb
Pyramid Peak from the ridge - Prints Available

Once on the ridge, we started up the next 1000 ft. to the summit.  Now the climbing begins!  The first obstacle we encountered is called the "Ledges".  Here you basically walk/cross a thin ledge while hugging the rock wall next to you with a drop off under you.  There are no real physical difficulties here, but the exposure is dramatic and requires steady nerves.  In fact I would say that there are maybe only a couple hard moves on the entire route.  Most of the challenge is mental.  While walking along the ledge we came to a gap in the ledge where you are forced to either jump across to the other side or make a long step across.  Some call this the "Leap of Faith".  We didn't think it was quite as intimidating as some reports had made it sound, but definitely required careful execution to cross.  Brad actually stretched his body across the gap to show how far the jump is.

crossing the ledges section on Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak with dropoff below
Ledges - photo credit: Brad

leap of faith on Pyramid Peak
Jumping over the Leap of Faith

Brad stretching across the leap of faith on Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Brad stretching across the leap of faith

Once past the ledges section, the rest of the climb involves route finding up steep rotten rock. We focused on keeping three points of contact at all times. There were more than a few "no fall" spots to keep you awake and alert.

Part way up, we met a couple who were climbing their second to last 14er and planning on finishing the next weekend. As we were visiting with them, the husband was standing on a rock that suddenly came loose underneath him, and he fell to his butt on the edge of a drop off. His wife instinctively grabbed his backpack and helped prevent him from falling. It gave us all a good scare and reminded us of the unforgiving nature of the mountain…how easily something bad could happen if not taken seriously.

Pyramid has one of the best summit panoramas of all the 14ers. The Maroon Bells dominate the view, and the valley below them is just dramatic. One unique feature at the top is called the "Diving Board" where brave (or crazy) people step out on to this plank of a rock that sticks out the side of the mountain over a cliff below. Brad stepped out on to it with no fear. I crawled out on to it briefly with a lot of fear.

Panorama from the summit of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak with Maroon Bells Capitol and Snowmass Mountain
Summit Panorama

The Maroon Bells from the summit of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
The Bells form Pyramid - Prints Available

Brad  on the diving board

Excited to be up there, but eager to get back to safety, we began our slow and careful descent back down the mountain.

climbing back down the green wall on Pyramid Peak
Climbing down - photo credit: Brad

We finally met James back in the amphitheater who had taken a pleasant four hour nap while waiting for us.  The sense of accomplishment and the feeling of being back down away from the difficulties was awesome.  We were the only ones at Maroon Lake in the early morning hours, but there were hundreds of tourists at the lake when we returned that afternoon.  Pyramid Peak is considered one of the most dangerous 14ers in Colorado due to its poor rock quality, significant exposure, and class 3/4 scrambling moves.  It is one of the most difficult on my list for sure.

Parting shot of the Bells