Thursday, August 1, 2002

Pyramid Peak (8/1/02)

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:


Here are my photos from this amazing climb:

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