| Early Elk Fun on Thunder, Lightning Pyramids and Others
Thunder Pyramid 13,932
Lightning Pyramid 13.722
Belleview Mountain 13,233
Pt. 13,180 B
June 7-9 2010
Total Milage ~22.5
Total Gain ~11,300 feet
Belleview Mountain and South Maroon from the false summit of Belleview.
After three weeks in Florida for work, and several months without climbing a 13eener, I needed to get back to altitude. Reading a trip report from a week ago on Thunder Pyramid, I wanted to get into the Elks while the peaks were still snow covered to avoid the junky rock.
Since I have been at sea level for 3 weeks (returned home on the 4th), I decided to have a high camp above Crater Lake to help adjust back to altitude. My wife and I left Denver around 11:00AM and made the leisurely drive to Aspen. We paid the 10 bucks, parked and started our hike up towards Crater Lake. It seems the water level of Crater Lake has risen 10 feet as the trail disappeared into the lake and returned on the other side of the lake. About ˝ way around the lake, on the west side, we encountered a problematic river crossing. I think the stream from Minnehaha Gulch decided to take a new path. After crossing the river we crossed a bridge with no water running down it. Go figure.
We set up camp at ~10,500 in the West Maroon Creek gulch just below the northern end of Len Shoemaker Ridge. Near our camp the river was raging, and I was worried about crossing it in the morning. Fortunately, there was a snow bridge about 200 yards from camp.
Raging River by camp.
I woke up at 4:15 AM and was hiking at 4:45 AM. My wife was planning on staying in camp and sleeping in. I crossed the river via the snow bridge and bushwhacked through some soggy willows aiming for some snow chutes that would lead me into the upper basin between Len Shoemaker and Thunder Pyramid. I wasn't feeling great but still managed to make my way into the upper basin. Once in the basin, I aimed for some cliff bands to the right of a waterfall which would lead me into the White Couloir. The day before I noticed the edge of the White Couloir peeking out of the snow. Some class 3 moves were required above the initial cliff band to get into the couloir. At this point, the view of the Bells was amazing in the rising sunlight.
View of Thunder Pyramid. The summit is the middle point, and Lightning Pyramid is the point to the right. The white rock can also be viewed. (taken the night prior)
Sunrise on the Bells.
Slowly, I made my way up the couloir staying near the edge. I somehow managed to go left of course and ended up at the Point 13,820-Thunder Pyramid saddle. For some reason I thought the summit was to my left (Point 13,820) and started climbing upwards towards Point 13,820. After a few class 4 moves, I knew I was off track, but from this lofty perch, I had a great view of my route up Thunder Pyramid and of Pyramid Peak.
Looking up the White Couloir.
Looking down the White Couloir.
Thunder Pyramid from my lofty perch.
I backtracked to the saddle and made my way up the class 3 north ridge of Thunder Pyramid where I arrived on the summit at 7:45 AM. I was feeling better than earlier, but was starting to feel the affects the altitude. The views of Pyramid, The Bells, Snowmass and Capitol were amazing. After a short break, I started my way towards Lightning Pyramid. Shortly after descending from the summit I came to a 20-30 foot cliff which I bypassed via a short gully on the right (west) side of the ridge. After this notch, I knew the ridge went proper, so I stayed directly on the ridge which was lots of fun. There were a few short class 3-4 down-climbs with plenty of exposure.
Pyramid Peak from the summit of Thunder Pyramid
The Bells from Thunder Pyramid.
Looking down the south ridge of Thunder Pyramid at Lightning Pyramid.
Ridge down Thunder Pyramid.
The climbing up Lightning Pyramid was much easier at class 2 and had less exposure. I reached the summit of Lightning Pyramid at 8:30 AM and was feeling pretty tired. Now I had a decision to make: the traverse to Point 13,631, back down into the basin of Len Shoemaker Ridge and back up 13,631 or back to camp. Going back to camp was not an option. I knew the traverse from Lightning-13,631 went but with 3 pretty serious crux down-climbs. I was alone and feeling tired. Plus, I didn't want to push my luck on a hard, junky rock traverse. I figured I could do more mindless climbing up a snow field from the Len Shoemaker basin instead of doing the hard exposed traverse.
Thunder Pyramid from Lightning Pyramid.
The Bells with Capitol from Lightning Pyramid.
Looking down the Lightning-Thunder couloir.
Looking up the Lightning-Thunder couloir.
My decision was made and I returned to the Thunder-Lightning saddle. I descended the couloir on the west side of the ridge and since it was completely snow filled, I never encountered the class 4 cliff bands Roach speaks of. I returned to the high basin and started traversing south at ~12,200 towards Point 13,631 staying as high as I could. Luckily, the traverse was all snow covered and if it wasn't, it would have been a bitch.
Slogging my way across the basin and climbing up a snow field I reached the saddle between Point 13,586-Point 13,631. I enjoyed the scramble up the north ridge of Point 13,631 where some short class 3 cliff bands were assaulted. At 11:00 AM I reached the summit of Point 13,631. Whew, that took a while and I was feeling my leg muscles. Still had excellent weather and good views.
The north ridge of Point 13,631.
Belleview Mountain from Point 13,631.
Pyramid, Thunder, and Lightning from 13,631.
Before the snow started to soften up, I decided to get moving back towards camp. I descended a large firm snowfield on the north face of Point 13,631 which took me back into the basin and took me back to camp where I arrived at 12:30 PM. I took a quick nap and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with my wife.
Looking up the north face of Point 13,631.
Why do I do this to myself? The alarm went off at 3:00 AM and we found a friend outside our tent. A big porcupine. Due to some major wet-slab activity in the area, and warm temperatures in the last few days I wanted a really early start to avoid any problems with wet-slab avalanches, especially since I had a longer approach today. I was hiking by 3:30 AM. I was able to follow the trail for the most part until ~11,000. This is when the post holing started. I did a pretty good job managing to stay on firm snow, but those knee deep post holes every so often weren't settling well.
Really big wet slab avalanche. No thanks! Taken from my descent on 13,180.
What do I enjoy the most? Willows. I just love 'em, and I had plenty of them. As I battled my way through some snowy willows, I searched for a good place to cross the river. Again, I was able to find a good snow bridge. Around ~11,700 things got bad; I was post holing up to my crotch and boy did it suck. Not exactly what I prefer to do after a solid day. Just before I was about to throw in the towel, the snow firmed up, miraculously. I made my way up to West Maroon Pass and made a quick dash to Belleview Mountain.
Sunrise on 13,631 and 13,180B
Sunrise on Pyramid.
The southwest ridge of Belleview had some cliff bands would could either be bypassed by a gully on the left (west) side of the ridge or climbed directly (class 3). I reached the false summit and made the quick traverse to the true summit where some blocky class 3 scrambling was involved. I arrived on the summit at 6:40 AM. Beautiful morning light on the neighboring peaks.
Belleview Mountain and South Maroon from the false summit of Belleview.
Sunlight on Capitol and Snowmass from Belleview Mountain.
Out in the distance I could see my next objective Point 13,130. It was going to be a long ridge traverse. I returned to West Maroon Pass and started heading south-southeast. The traverse was pretty uneventful at class 2 and the only crux was avoiding cornices and the ridges' length. For the most part, the ridge was pretty well snow covered.
The long ridge traverse from Belleview to 13,130.
As I neared 13,130, I noticed two summits. I went ahead and climbed them both; the southeast summit seemed higher and had the register. The traverse from the summit of Belleview took 2 ˝ hour as I arrived on the summit of 13,130 at 9:10 AM. There were some excellent views of Precarious Peak.
Yum. I downed a gel packet and I was on my way towards 13,180B. The north ridge of 13,130 had some short class 3 sections and some towers which I was able to avoid by following ledges on the east side of the ridge. The climbing up the south ridge of 13,180 was easier. Once I reached the false summit just west of the true summit, I found the couloir off to the north that I was going to descend. I left my pack at the top of the couloir and made the scramble to the summit of 13,180. The climbing was the most enjoyable of the trip and I reached the summit at 10:10 AM. Consequently, Point 13,180 was my 319th ranked summit over 13,000 feet marking the halfway point of all the peaks in Colorado over 13,000 feet. Still plenty to do!
Looking back on the north ridge of 13,130.
Blocky summit of 13,180.
Belleview from 13,180, where I started today.
I returned to my pack, and strapped on my helmet for my descent down the couloir. Fortunately, the snow wasn't sun baked too long, and was still firm. Just a little slushy near the top which is to be expected. There was evidence of a major wet-slab avalanche in the couloir just adjacent to me. I descended north down the couloir and once I reached a small high basin, I stayed as high as I could on firm snow traversing my back towards camp.
The north face couloir off of Point 13,180.
Luckily, I was able to avoid any post holing on my route back to camp. I stayed as high as I could on the east side of the West Maroon Creek drainage which worked out well. I returned to camp at noon packed up and made it back to the car at 2:00 PM.
Once I reached the car, I was pretty spent. I thought it was a pretty aggressive first trip of the year and could definitely feel the effects. I haven't summited a peak in over 2 months. Ouch. However, those 5-10 mile runs in Florida paid their dividends even if I did sweat my ass off. Perhaps next time, I will do a warm up on Sniktau instead. Ok, maybe not.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):