| The Fun of It
Climbers: Zambo & Awknox
Conditions: Summer conditions, with almost zero snow to worry about. The field remains in the amphitheater, and there is a small (but easily navigable) field at the saddle. Only one or two very short (15-20 feet) drifts on the face. On the whole, snow free and in near complete summer conditions.
Summary: A beautiful day on a spectacular peak. It doesn't often get better than this.
Maybe it's just me, but one of the things I notice about the high places of Colorado, is that each peak seems to have its own personality. As the hours, steps, and feet quietly roll by on each climb, I can't help but feeling as if I am getting to 'know' the peak. Each seems to have its own unique traits, characteristics, and personality that somehow transcends being 'just' another pile of rocks.
Perhaps I am inferring far too much about the mountains, but after spending time in them, I can't help but feel that specific mountains take on a distinct spirit unto themselves. There is no doubt than any peak can turn on you in an instant, there is always danger, and nothing should ever be taken for granted, but the feeling remains.
In any event, this seemed especially clear to me this weekend on a climb of Pyramid. Reflecting at the end of the day, I couldn't think of any better way to describe the climb than one simple word: fun.
Pyramid really is magnificent from it's approach. It's a shame (or maybe a blessing) that it remains hidden from Maroon Lake. (awknox)
There is no substitute for a partner who likes to start early, as the reward is often solitude. A 4:15 start had Andrew and I moving quickly and silently up to the amphitheater alone in the pre-dawn morning. Given just how chaotic the valley becomes in the day, we were quite content to soak in the peace and quiet of the morning.
The turn to Pyramid (on the way back). Easily the most important route-finding moment of the day, and made that much more difficult in the dark.
A speedy ascent had us to the amphitheater just as the darkness was relenting. Moving amongst the rocks, the beautiful and wild North Face of Pyramid slowly came into view.
The haunting expanse of the amphitheater, the rising rock towers, and the the eerie shrieks of unseen marmots made the entire scene feel pre-historic. Feeling so tiny in that place, the screams almost felt as though they could have been from pterodactyls perched high above on the face.
As the darkness relented, we got a sense for just how spectacular, open, and impressive this place is. Truly, this is one of better spots on the 14ers.
The dawn of yet another day in paradise.
Sadly, the pictures can never do the mountains true justice.
Hugging the left side of the boulder field may or may not have been the best option. However, it seemed straightforward enough and I was easily distracted by the great views.
If nothing else, it afforded some nice views of some of the strikingly green ledges on Pyramid's lower slopes.
Realty strikes again when confronted with the 1,000ft slog up to the saddle. Steep, loose, and generally unpleasant, there is little choice but to simply place one foot in front of the other. If nothing else, at least the effort is straightforward, and the views only get better with each step.
Andrew taking a few much needed breaths. This slope is a drag for anyone.
The haze melting off in the early morning sun on the approach. (awknox)
Ever improving views. (awknox)
After much slogging and cursing the rotten slope, the reward was worth all the effort and the pains were quickly forgotten.
All at once the misery of the slope was over, the sun was awaiting us for the first time, and the striking East Face of Pyramid finally loomed up out of nowhere. An excellent spot for a brief rest and to sit back and take it all in.
The route to come. (awknox)
To this point, the climb had been very enjoyable, but this is truly where the fun begins. Sipping Gatorade, nervously adjusting helmets, and peering at the route to come, I think just about anyone would be nervous surveying that slope for the first time. It certainly looks exposed and impassable.
Only one way to find out.
With an excited nod of the head and an encouraging word, we began the final 1,000 feet.
The snowfield at the saddle obscures the route a bit. Other parties chose to cross the snow and remain lower. While limiting the exposure and initial scrambling, this seemed to lead to a more loose and confused route. We took climbers right and stayed along the ridge for the initial 100 feet or so to miss the obstacle, gaining back up with the route proper somewhere near the Ledge.
The snow field from the saddle. (In the afternoon) This party chose to cross over and go quickly out onto the face. We stayed high and right.
Easy to overdramatize - with 15ft of exposure, plentiful holds, and general simplicity, I'm content to call the Ledge a bit overrated.
The remaining route is difficult to describe from a beta perspective. Much has been documented before, so I will not try to reinvent the wheel in describing it here. Also, as usual, Bill's description is pretty much spot-on with the details needed.
Specific beta aside, my lasting impression of the climbing is just how fun it was.
Standing on the saddle, the face looks imposing and dangerous. You wonder, how exactly will I climb that? However, as I moved out onto the face and upwards, I realized just how accommodating Pyramid is.
In retrospect, it felt as though the mountain was welcoming us to come and have fun on the face. True, you could very easily find yourself in a steep and scary spot, but I always opted for the path of least resistance, and Pyramid never let me down. Moving from one shelf system to the next, there was always a relatively easy and enjoyable Class 3 move awaiting me. More difficult options were always there, but only if I opted to take them. Whenever I did, I was still rewarded with a fun and short scramble to the next shelf. Making it any more difficult than it needed to be was nobody's fault but my own.
Careful to stay relatively on-route, I found the exposure to be fairly relaxed and the climbing to be superb. Indeed, the true danger is rockfall, but not as much as the Bells I thought. Furthermore, being the first ones up the route and with no one below, the worry was minimal.
Andrew opting for the more interesting options.
Decent beta shot of some of the ledge systems. (awknox)
There is no doubt this is a serious peak, and a dangerous one at that. I would never want to downplay that. This route has some very serious consequences and the dangers are nothing to take lightly.
But approaching it with respect, caution, and experience made for a wonderful day. I just got the impression that if you take care of Pyramid, Pyramid is only too happy to take care of you.
A beautiful day, fun scrambling, a good partner, a spectacular peak...this is Colorado at its best.
Of course, as if all that wasn't enough, Pyramid rewards you with what must surely be Colorado's finest summit.
Colorful Colorado (awknox)
Looking back down the Amphitheater (awknox)
Snowmass and Capitol. Despite August approaching, Snowmass carries its name well.
It rarely gets better than this.
Opting for the more relaxed approach.
Props to Andrew for running 30 feet along the cliff to get in the frame for this pic. Ballzy.
Between the sun, calm, and closest party just ascending the saddle, we were content to enjoy this Saturday summit to ourselves for a full hour. Million dollar views in every direction, I kept finding myself turning back in the direction of The Bells, Capitol, and Snowmass.
Looking out to the peaks, I thought about my experiences and the 'personality' of each. The Bells ever content to be flashy and show off their beauty to everyone, Snowmass proud and strong, Capitol regal and intimidating, and then there is Pyramid, who just seemed to be content to sit there and smile at each in his own friendly way. Again, maybe inferring way too much about the peaks, but I just got the sense there is something 'more' to each.
Eventually the trip down had to be made. We bid farewell to the top, and picked our way down. While the proper trail was much easier to distinguish from above, parties below and loose rock made for very careful and concentrated moves. The descent was definitely the crux from a danger perspective. Testing every hold and being very careful not to move any rocks, thankfully we managed to not dislodge anything, and made it back to the saddle safely.
Making the leap of faith into something badass!
Another guardian met us back at the saddle. Maybe just to make sure we actually would leave. (awknox)
Again, the slog down the gully was no fun, but quickly put behind us.
Rejoining the throngs along the valley trail, it was difficult to not let pride get the best of us at where we had just been. Good thing I have friends who ski these peaks to keep me humble and remind me we all operate at our own level. ;)
Almst down the gulley. Quite the drag...
No matter how many million times I've seen this exact picture, it just never gets old.
Hitting the car, I couldn't remember the last time I was so fresh, happy, and content after a climb. Given the short approach, the majesty of the amphitheater, the beautiful East Face, the fun scrambling, and the unrivaled summit, I just don't know how else to describe Pyramid as simply, fun. If you respect the mountain, make wise decisions, and climb at your own level, why shouldn't it be?
This was a great reminder for me of why we do this. Lists are great, epics sometimes just need to happen, and doing very challenging/dangerous terrain all have their place, but ultimately if it's not fun or you can't find a deeper meaning behind trekking up these peaks, then why bother doing it at all? For me, Pyramid was the perfect mountain to go out there and enjoy it. I can't wait to go back at some point.
And finally, one last thank you to Andrew for making the trip out there. It was a great day and I look forward to many more together. Here's to great partners!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):