Tuesday, September 3, 2013

False Start- Pyramid Peak

False Start, on the offense. 5 yard penalty, repeat 1st down. Football season is here, so forgive my football reference- although it's entirely appropriate based on what happened.

Pyramid Peak  

14,018' ; 8.0 miles RT, 4500' of gain

Pyramid Peak. We've heard so much about it, and reports certainly vary. Loose, crumbly, steep, exposed. I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but after a sometimes frightening trip to the Mt. Wilson group 2 weeks ago, we set out for Pyramid. We had lots of plans and ideas, but it turns out the mountain had other ideas.

If it looks like this, you might want to turn around.

We started up the Crater Lake trail as storms were gathering. I thought that maybe it would be a quick rainstorm, or maybe just a light rain. NOPE! It poured rain and quickly soaked us to the bone, wetting all our gear (save our cameras). My expensive rain shell proved to be little protection from such a persistent deluge.

So there we were, scrambling over rocks and roots, searching for a flat spot on a muddy hillside.  The numbered campsites were full, and far from the Pyramid turn-off. 

Amanita muscaria, a poisonous mushroom (SZL)

Super thrilled to be heading back to the truck

And the rain falls (SZL)

After hiking and hunting for about an hour in rain that came down in torrents, we turned heel and marched back to the truck, sopping wet. Nearly 2 hours from when we set out, we got back in the truck, trying to organize our drenched gear as the rain continued to fall, puddling and running in the parking lot like an asphalt Slip n Slide.

Sometimes you think you have it all figured out, and then your plans just fall apart. What then?

It everything goes according to plan, it makes things more simple. But when things start to unravel, that's what really tests your mettle. Some say that adversity builds character.

In the now cramped confines of the truck I tried fruitlessly to get some quality sleep, but the semi-upright position with bent knees was not kind. Luckily, since sleep was seldom had, it wasn't so bad when we were finally setting off in the morning, at 4:15. After all, we had a long way to go. The trail to the turn-off seemed quite familiar, and it seemed we were the first ones up that day. The trail was slick with rain and pocked with muddy puddles, some quite large.

A first look at the route up to the saddle (SZL)

Panorama from high on the slope as the sun rises (SZL)

Little cut on my finger after a slip (SZL)

So while we were climbing up the slope, a large rock broke loose in the softened mud, and I slipped, cutting my finger on a smaller, sharp rock as I caught myself. I took a couple minutes to wrap my finger in a tissue with medical tape, and then we continued.

From the saddle at 13,000', the summit looks quite imposing.
 The route up Pyramid is pretty steep. After the initial hiking, you gain about 4,000' in less than 3 miles of hiking! We did most of the hard work in the pre-dawn darkness, but I was itching to see that sunlight. Like many humans, I get some energy when the sun comes out. I didn't get my camera out until we stopped at the 13,000' saddle!

A look at the route ahead

That would be fun to play on, if we had time to screw around.

S Maroon, N Maroon, Sleeping Sexton, Snowmass Mountain, Capitol Peak (L to R)

It sure looks like a Pyramid from here

Some initial stuff near the saddle (SZL)

Scott on the Narrow part of the ledge. Honestly no big deal.

Myself at nearly the same spot

From whence we have come. The saddle is dead center.

Small class 3 chimney

Me climbing stuff (SZL)

Scott ascends another short chimney

The Maroon Bells have a tendancy to take your breath away
Super mega panorama shot!
It's at least 3,500' down from my foot to the valley below
Snowmass Mt., Capitol Peak (center), Mt. Daly
Beautiful country
Looking down some 4,000' to the valley floor
Scott stands alone on the summit
Looking down into the amphitheater and the valley back to Aspen (panorama)
Scott got some major air
Climbers coming up!

Class 3 downclimbing

Exiting the "green gulley" on the way down.

I recommend you increase the quality to at least 480p for this video of the ledges/ leap of faith.

Looking back on the summit
Panorama from the saddle
Looking ahead from the second saddle. The first saddle is just right of center

Cool point above the entrance to the amphiteater (SZL)
Looking down on Maroon Lake and the tourist area from the mouth of the amphitheater (SZL)

And now it's time for my honest opinion on Pyramid Peak. Keep in mind the heavy rains through the night made a few parts slightly more difficult than normal. This climb is probably best done from the parking lot. There aren't any good camping spots near the turnoff anyway. Reaching the saddle at 13,000' requires a lot of effort, but no real difficulty. The last 1,000 feet is just fun stuff. While there was loose rock and exposure, it never seemed that bad. The climbing was fun and interesting, and the runouts were never huge. Getting up to the next area was almost like a puzzle. None of the class 3 pitches were very sustained, which eased the difficulty. The summit has one of the BEST views of any 14er in Colorado, IMO surpassing the Bells and Snowmass Mountain. This mountain should NOT be taken lightly, but those with experience and conditioning need not fear this summit. If you find yourself doing class 4 moves, you probably missed the easy way up. Moving fairly quickly, you can expect car to car to take you 8 hours or more.

The famous Maroon Bells shot across the lake
Another shot from a different vantage


  1. Loved your post. We did Maroon Peak standard and now know very well what to expect when we come back for Pyramid.

  2. Thanks for reading, Steve! I liked Pyramid Peak quite a bit, and wouldn't hesistate to go back. The only bad part is the boulders in the amphitheater. Just think of it as the "view tax" :)