Trail: Fancy Pass - Missouri Lakes Loop
Trailhead Begin: Missouri Creek Trailhead
Trailhead Elevation: 10,020 ft.
High Point: 12,408 ft.
Trip Elevation Total: 5228
Trip Mileage Total: 13.45 miles
We drove the long dirt road into the Missouri Creek TH to get started. This was a pretty easy first day as we didn't have far to go. We made our way over the stream crossings of Missouri Creek and up the drainage to Fancy Lake for our first camp. The lake is a few hundred feet shy of 12,000 feet and sits in a beautiful bowl with a tall headwall of rocks behind it. Like many of our other trips, we did get some rain on this day, particularly in the evening while we were at camp.
Route Name: Northeast Ridge
Start Elevation: 9600 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,018 ft.
Elevation Gain: 4500 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 8.0 mi (from Maroon Lake)
My story of our climb of Pyramid has to begin with this: we hired a climbing guide to take us safely through the route-finding nightmare that is the last 1000 feet of Pyramid. Up to this point, we'd been climbing class 1-2 14ers, and then Longs Peak, arguably class 3 at points. We'd dealt with nothing near class 4 and we'd definitely not dealt with route-finding on steep climbs. Route-finding in the trees and at trailheads is one thing, but route-finding when the wrong route cliffs you out is something else entirely. I can't to this day recollect which outfit we used in Aspen, or the name or our very kind guide, but they were of great help to us in making this a safe climb which was the ultimate priority.
We met our guide the day before to ensure we all had helmets and the proper harness gear for the hike. The day of the hike we met at o-dark-hundred in the Maroon Lake parking area for the hike in. This was our second trek starting with headlamps, Longs being the first. Starting in the dark made the initial hiking go quickly which is always a bonus. We found the turn-off for the Pyramid trail and started the first of many steep ascents for this day. The initial ascent on the Pyramid trail to gain the amphitheater wastes no time climbing through the trees. As we neared the amphitheater sunrise was starting to hit us.
The hike through the amphitheater was the only easy hiking of the day. The hike runs through a shallow gully on the west side and makes a direct approach on Pyramid's north face which loomed ominously in front of us. Just before the north face we made a big left turn in the amphitheater for the 1000 foot ascent to the Northeast ridge. This was an incredibly steep ascent on a mix of scree, dirt and grass to gain the NE ridge.
The NE ridge climb begins with a moderate climb along the ridge which serves as a warm-up for the main event. The first serious obstacle is the narrow ledge that serves as an entrance to the real climbing (and route-finding) along the green rocks. We ended up short-roping with our guide along the narrow ledge, mostly as a mental tool to give us confidence. The hiking difficulty was not great but this was the most exposure we'd ever dealt with. After passing the narrow ledge my memories are not great as to what route we took from there. The concentration we had on what lay before us was immense. We roped up at least 2-3 more occasions after that. Sometimes it was short-roping through a short patch others it was an anchored protection climb through a class 4 pitch. Below us lay harrowing exposure which seemed endless. For us it felt like a climb straight up the northeast face of Pyramid but the maps show us actually traversing and ascending to the southwest as we went. The one thing I won't remember is the feeling we had as we hit the top. What a success (and relief!) we felt to stand upon the summit. We couldn't believe that we had made it and we were just thrilled. Of course, this relief is usually short-lived as the prospect of descending still looms.
Our guide helped us greatly in understanding what it takes to be safe and smart when working through class 3-4 terrain. He helped us rappel a few short pitches as well as doing safe down-climbing through the steep rock. When we hit the saddle at the base of the NE ridge we stopped for pictures knowing the most dangerous climbing was over.
It was amazing for us summiting Pyramid as this was definitely a step to the next level in our goal of hiking all of Colorado's 54 14ers. Knowing we could get to the top of Pyramid gave us great confidence in looking forward to the other 5-6 that are on par with it. The only reality looming over our heads was can we do the others without guides. Was that a crutch for us or simply a great beginning learning tool and nothing more. For several years after Pyramid I wondered if guides would be necessary on all the Elks (the Maroons and Capitol in particular) or if we would be able to handle these on our own. With the help and the guidance of wonderful 14er sites on the web, we are ready to tackle the others still to come.
I did not have the original track from this hike so I have included one from a more recent hike on Pyramid:
Route Name: Northeast Ridge
Start Elevation: 11,200ft
Castle Summit Elevation: 14,265 ft.
Conundrum Summit Elevation: 14,060 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 3350 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 9 mi (my estimate)
We headed up the road as far as our vehicle would take us for this hike. We ended up starting around the Peal Pass/FR 102 junction which is at 11,200ft. From here the hike is easy-going hiking the old mining road as it winds its way northwest into Montezuma Basin. The road switchbacks 2-3 times and then makes a sweeping traverse around the north side of the basin until it flattens out and ends around 12800. We enjoyed several nice photos along the way and enjoyed our first views of the aptly named Castle as we neared 12800.
There the real hiking begins. From 12800 the hike ascended steadily to the southwest until we began to hit the upper basin at around 13300. Here the views really began to show us what we had in store ahead of us. The next 400 feet were a well-defined trail up the scree slope that gains the Northeast Ridge of Castle. This got us to about 13700 and the ridge crest. From there the climbing was a real scramble. It never felt exposed or overly steep but it was a scramble over the talus and loose rock ahead of us. This was in fact incredible practice for us on this new type of terrain upon which we hadn't spent much time. It was great learning to routefind amongst rocks and to handle the class 2+ style of climbing. We gained the summit of Castle and the weather was holding nicely for us so we decided to make the push for Conundrum as well.
At first glance, the hike over to Conundrum looks like quite the challenge. As is typical of the Elks, you see plenty of loose rock and ledges to be dealt with. We found it to be a decent challenge and the real name of the game was loose rock. If you could keep your footing well moving along the ridge and above the saddle to Conundrum, you could do well. We made it to Conundrum and took our pics and promptly started making our way back to Castle.
We were privileged to run into several people along the trail there that day and it was a great first experience in the Elks.
I do not have the original track from this hike so I have included one from a more recent hike. We started at 11,200 or so along the 4WD road which cuts off much of the distance tailing out to the east.