| "Waiting for the time when I can finally say......
......That this has all been wonderful, but now I'm on my way" from 'Down With Disease' by Phish
Peak: Pyramid Peak(14,018ft)
Mileage: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft
Well, the time had finally come, I was down to my last 14er. Due to poor planning my final 5 were not peaks that my wife felt comfortable climbing, so we compromised and decided on Pyramid Peak, so she could enjoy the area around Maroon Lake. My long-time climbing partner Brandon and I’s schedules were not matching up, and with the monsoon approaching, I decided I needed to get this done sooner than later in order to up the chances of being successful on the first try
We babysat our friend’s kids until 12:45am on Sunday and hit the road to Aspen shortly after. With no traffic and me in a hurry to get started, I made the drive over Independence Pass from Broomfield to the day-use parking lot in just over 3 hours. By chance I had parked very near my partners for the day, Mike and Kay, and we were on the trail at 4:15.
Mike at sunrise
I took the point as I had been up the trail only a few weeks ago for North Maroon and knew where the cairn that marks the turn off for the Pyramid trail. After leaving the Crater Lake trail the Pyramid trail started out fairly flat, but with the sun beginning to rise the steep climb ahead to gain the amphitheater came into view. We were all surprised by the amazing work the CFI has done on the steep trail, and we made quick work of the 1,000ft climb because of the great switchbacks and trail conditions.
Alpenglow on Bells
First view of Pyramid
Once the switchbacks ceased we were greeted by the multitude of huge cairns and we took another break for fuel and pictures of the alpenglow on the neighboring Bells and the beautiful area in general. There was a narrow snowfield on the way into the upper amphitheater, but it was easily avoided to the left side, and we hoped it would mean a fast plunge-stepping descent when the snow had softened.
Looking out from amphitheater
The views of Pyramid during this time were amazing and intimidating at the same time, and only became more so the higher we climbed. Eventually we made a left turn, checked the route info, and started our way to the base of the gully that we had to climb to reach the Northeast Ridge. It was a deceivingly long boulder and talus hop but we finally reached the base of the gully and put on our helmets as we knew that rockfall was going to be an issue for the remainder of the climb.
Looking down towards Maroon Lake
The gully actually had a decent trail for most of the way, which was surprising considering how steep and loose it was. Mindful not to knock rocks on each other we worked our way higher and higher and finally pulled ourselves up to the start of the ridge, where the rest of the route came into view. Like the view of Capitol from K2, the view of Pyramid from the top of the gully is a classic shot and I was extremely happy to finally be seeing it in person.
Pyramid from base of ridge
Climbing up first gully to access ridge
While taking a break, checking the route description, and taking pictures we were first introduced to our constant companions and nemesis for the day, the mountain goats. They were all over the place! Normally I love having these guys around, but not on a mountain full of loose rocks ready to roll. There were a couple full families of goats, complete with some extremely cute little ones.
Cute but dangerous
Snowmass and Capitol in the back
The first part of the ridge is a great warmup of things to come, as it is some simple climbing without being too steep. After that introduction we all knew the rest of the climb would be serious and that we had to be on the top of our game and that teamwork was going to be key in keeping us all safe. It was at this point that the novelty of the goats began to wear off, as they seemed to enjoy following us from just overhead, threatening to knock rocks down on us.
Pyramid and the Bells
Routefinding on this mountain was more intuitive as I thought, and there seemed to always be a cairn when we needed a little guidance. It is apparent that many people all take different routes because there are cairns everywhere, some misplaced and leading nowhere. We soon reached the ‘leap of faith’, which for someone who is 6’5” was more a ‘large step of faith’. I had heard that the exposure under the leap was overrated and it was, only about a 20 foot fall if your leap comes up short. Don’t get me wrong, a fall here would not be fun, but not nearly as bad a consequence as a fall higher on the route.
Mike starting out on the ridge
After the ‘leap of faith’ we were on a very narrow ledge system that made for some good pictures and they were clear of loose rocks so we really enjoyed that section. Once past the first ledges we had some trouble finding the correct route to get to the green gully, but with teamwork and trial and error we found what appeared to be the easiest way over some loose ledges and ribs.
The green gully is appropriately named and made for some really fun scrambling as the rock was pretty stable and there were a plethora of hand and foot holds. Towards the top of the green gully the route to the summit really became a choose your own adventure type of climb. This is because there are a ton of viable options as well as that it is smart to spread out away from each other in case of a rockfall situation. A descending climber warned of us an aggressive male goat on the summit that he had to throw a rock at to fend away in order to make it to the summit proper. I knew one thing, no goat was going to stop me from finishing.
Kay crossing the ledges
We had taken our time enjoying the climb since the weather was phenomenal, and I finally topped out just before 10, I had done it! It was awesome that I made it up first and had a few minutes by myself to get emotional and reflect on this awesome journey, truly a very special time for me. Soon the summit had a group of 6 or 7 of us on it, some who came up from the south side, two on purpose, one on accident after getting off route way down in the amphitheater.
Summit!!! S and N Maroon, Snowmass, Capitol in the back
The views of the rest of the Elk Range and beyond were stellar and of course my camera battery died while taking my picture standing out on the diving board. Guess I shouldn’t have taken so many pictures of the cute baby goats on the way up! Mike got a summit picture of me though, so it was all good and kind of nice on the descent knowing I didn’t have to be dealing with the camera on the tough downclimb. I had also forgotten my celebratory Avery IPA in the car, but no big deal, nothing could have ruined the moment.
We started down and stayed close on the steepest parts to lessen the danger if any rocks decided to move. At this point the mountain had a bunch of people on it and with the goats added in the sounds of rockfall and the yells of ‘ROCK!’ kept our utmost attention and we were all anxious to get out of the danger-zone. Instead of climbing down the green gully we took a different route that I spotted that took us above and around it, not sure if it was a better or worse choice, but it worked.
Soon we made it back to the narrow ledges and ‘leap of faith’. We met another group and we gave our opinion on the weather moving in as well as some pointers about the remaining route to the top. The multitude of routes and cairns came into play and we ended up taking a different way than we had earlier and followed the ridge for most of the rest of the way to the top of the gully as opposed to dropping down to the east side as we had done on the way up.
Rock formation on descent
Before we knew it we were back at the top of the gully, with only the steep descent down the loose gully to go as far as difficulties were concerned. Mike and I got there a few minutes before Kay so I took the opportunity to climb the awesome rock formation further down the ridge. It was extremely loose but short, and the view of Pyramid was great.
Pyramid and goat
The gully descent went well and we were finally down into the amphitheater again, where we took of our helmets and were finally able to relax. While sitting on a boulder eating some beef jerky, I looked back up at the peak and it really hit me that I had climbed them all.
Love of my life with her goat pals
At this point I bid farewell to Mike and Kay, as I knew that Lauren would be wondering where I was. She had been hanging out near the big cairns for a few hours enjoying herself by taking pictures and bonding with a family of goats. It was great to see her and get a congratulatory hug and kiss. Without her support and permission there is no way I would have completed this task, and I am so glad we were able to share 15 climbs together, hopefully with many more 13ers in the future, I love you babe!
The hike down the switchbacks was uneventful and we soon joined the crowded Crater Lake trail. It is always fun passing all of the tourists who are wondering why you have so much gear at the same time you are wondering why they have no water and are in flip-flops, if only they knew. After a quick stop at the ‘Deadly Bell’s’ sign to tap it and let it know I had won this round, we made it back to the car at 3, where the Avery IPA tasted just as sweet as expected.
Now that I have climbed all of the 14ers in Colorado, I am left wondering what next? I am already certifiably addicted to the 13ers so that is a gimme, and I am still figuring out if I am going to pursue any west coast 14ers or international climbs, who knows. I do know one thing, I am not done with the 14ers, but it does feel great knowing that any climbs of them I do in the future will be purely because I want to, not because they are on some list!
There is not enough room here to list everything I have learned about myself and the mountains on this journey. I would also like to thank from the bottom of my heart anyone who I have shared a mountain with, even if only on a lowly 13er. I can assure you I learned something from every single one of you and I look forward to our next adventure. Also, a big thank you to all of the people I have not met in person but who have helped me with beta and questions, your help has been pivotal and I look forward to finally getting out into the hills with you. Gaining the summit of all 58 14ers does not even begin to describe what I have taken away from this, but the summits weren’t too shabby either!
Onward and upward!!
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