Natalie and I had been planning a climb of Pyramid at some point this winter if weather and conditions would allow for relatively safe passage. We had climbed Pyramid’s NW ridge back in the fall in order to get a feel for the route finding challenges. We went on to traverse to Thunder Pyramid and then Lightning Pyramid, which raised the excitement level a bit. I’m always wanting to get back to Pyramid in whatever condition – definitely one of my most favorite 14ers. Even though I have many more responsibilities these days (a young wonderful daughter, a 14+ year old golden retriever), I still love to get a few 14ers in the winter each year. Its sort of the only season I still like getting on the 14ers unless its some technical route in the summer. Kristine and I still regularly do our trail running, skinning, and rock climbing these days, but just much closer to home. We certainly are not the weekend warriors climbing and skiing all over the state like we were a decade ago. But, that’s quite ok with us. Natalie has certainly been getting after it all winter with summits of Wilson Peak, Holy Cross, Snowmass Mountain, just to name a few. She is narrowing in on the winter 14er list. Pretty impressive.
Now, to the trip report, a plan was set for the last weekend of winter especially given the amazing spring-like weather that was forecasted. I recruited J to come with Natalie and myself as well as our young buck, Dylan. J has serious FOMO (fear of missing out) so there was no way he was going to miss this climb even if he said he was out of shape. Kristine had a plan to drive to Aspen Saturday night to ski a peak with Christy Mahon that Sunday, so my goal was to be back home by 8pm that evening. Natalie backpacked in the Maroon Creek Road from the T-Lazy-7 Ranch all the way to the other side of Crater Lake that Friday evening. J, Dylan, and I drove over late Friday night arriving around 11pm for a quick 2+ hour sleep in our sleeping bags on the pavement. After some coffee and oatmeal, we started skinning up the road at 2:15am for the 6 mile slog to Maroon Lake. I would typically use my telemark setup for this climb, but sort of wanted to climb in my older Koflach plastic boots and thus used my really old Silvretta 404 binding/ski setup I used on Denali in 2007. This was a mistake as the boots gave me some mega blisters in the skinning mode with these bindings/skis. Oh well. Live and learn. We ran into Mad (Dad) Mike Silvestro fat biking in on the road to climb Thunder Pyramid and Lightning Pyramid. Good to briefly chat with that guy for sure. We reached Natalie’s tent just before 6am, which was around 8 miles and 2,000′ vertical gain into the day. Natalie gave me the 30m/8mm rope she hauled in to her camp to pack and after some snacks and water, we skinned the rest of the way to the apron of the west couloir leading up Pyramid’s west face. Dylan was not feeling very well (unusually nauseous), so elected to stay behind and return to Natalie’s tent for some shuteye. J and Natalie and I then began the 2,600′ boot up the awesome west couloir to the saddle on the northwest ridge. I left my ski setup at the base of the couloir because there was no way I was skiing a 40-45 degree couloir on those skis! J and Natalie, however, packed the skis on their packs.
First light on the Bells to our west
Beginning the long ascent up the west couloir. Photo by Natalie
A steeper section. Photo by Natalie
Middle of the couloir. Photo by Natalie
J & Natalie
Me in the upper couloir. Photo by Natalie
I think it maybe took us 2-1/2 to 3 hours or so to climb the 2,600′ from the valley floor to 12,900′ on the NW ridge. I am not quite totally sure. Nevertheless, the top out where the snow ended had a great view of the Bells.
J in the foreground and Natalie behind topping out at the end of the snow
J and Natalie left their skis, we stowed the crampons, and we started up familiar terrain to the Keyhole Couloir.
The Keyhole Couloir was dry and loose
J climbing the loose couloir
Then, we abruptly arrived at the edge of the north face and took a right to take on the class 4 headwall. J and I climbed it and I trailed a rope to belay Natalie up.
J having fun on the short headwall
Me trailing the rope. Photo by Natalie
After some fun scrambling and route finding, we came upon the final crux bowl to access the summit cliff. By the way, the weather was spectacular. A little wind, but jeez I was scrambling in just glove liners. It was so nice. The upper bowl looked to be in great condition with safe and stable snow.
Rounding a corner…it looks as if we are both having to relieve ourselves, but of course we are not 🙂 Photo by Natalie
Natalie and J on a nice perch
The upper bowl and summit cliff
I led off and went up some previous tracks to the steep horizontal traverse, which leads over to the familiar JP Sneak gully. It was really fun and steep snow climbing with decent exposure.
J and Natalie
Up close in the upper bowl
Traversing towards the JP Sneak was a very steep snow bulge in solid snow. This was the steepest snow of the day though only maybe 10′ in height.
J and I on the steep part to access the JP Sneak. Photo by Natalie
J climbing the steep snow pitch with good exposure
The snow really went pretty high up into the JP Sneak gully making for fairly smooth climbing.
J and Natalie climbing the JP Sneak gully
The summit ridge was a mix of snow and dry rock, but was gorgeous all around. What a day we had to top out on ole man Pyramid. I believe we all summitted around noon or shortly after. Warm temperatures, endless views to all the ranges, and zero wind greeted us.
Pyramid winter summit (14,018′). Photo by Natalie
J coming back to the summit from checking out the Landry Line down the east face
J and myself
The three of us on top of Pyramid
I hated to leave the summit, but I had a long way to go to be back in Edwards by 8pm. I think we started down by 12:45pm.
J and Natalie downclimbing the summit ridge.
Once we got down to the bottom of the JP Sneak, the 10′ section of steep snow gave us a brief pause. I then just decided to throw the rope down for a handle as we downclimbed this section. It worked well. I joked with Natalie that this is grade A typical fixed rope Himalayan stuff here.
The rope over the steep snow section
Me lowering myself. Photo by Natalie
Natalie lowering herself over the steep part
Descending the horizontal traverse in the upper bowl
And then some downclimbing to the dry ledge
Back on dry rock, we de-cramponed and made our way back down to the short class 4 headwall and had a nice rappel.
Leaving the upper bowl
At a nice perch looking at the awesome north face of Pyramid
And, that’s a rap
The Keyhole Couloir went fast and loose and we were back down at the top of the west couloir in no time. Much to our surprise, Dylan had showed up and was relaxing in the sun! I was so glad he rested and felt good enough to climb the 2,600′ couloir and brought his skis to boot! Now, he would get to enjoy the fantastic ski down. Since my awful silvretta/ski setup was down in the valley, I left to try and plunge step/couloir run down the couloir as fast as I could and stopped lower down to get some pics of the skiers.
J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie
Dylan and J skiing the upper west couloir. Photo by Natalie
J slashing with Len Shoemaker Peak behind
Dylan felt better at this point
And, of course, Natalie
Me doing my best to keep up on foot
I clicked into my ski setup and hobbled my way thru the trees back to Natalie’s camp. A tree well ate me for 5 minutes, but I managed to right myself and ski out. Back at the tent, we delayered, ate, drank, chatted for maybe 30 minute, and said our goodbyes to Natalie as she would stay another night and climb South Maroon Peak the next morning. It was now close to 4pm and we had 8 miles out. The descent to Maroon Lake was rough for me on my ancient setup, but once we got to Maroon Creek Road, things went faster and easier. We met up with three ski mountaineering dudes who we had seen off and on all day near Crater Lake and chatted. They had climbed South Maroon’s Y-couloir, skied South Maroon’s east face into the Bell Cord Couloir and wrapped around to climb North Maroon’s north face and ski it. They finished up as we were crossing Crater Lake. Nothing really surprises me anymore with folks in Colorado. Anything in the mountains seems possible. Super nice fellas and we chatted back at the cars for awhile as well.
J slowly skiing out the Maroon Creek Road with Pyramid in the distance
We packed up and actually got on the road a bit after 6pm for the drive back to Edwards. After a stop at Whole Foods and Starbucks, we cruised home rehashing the memories of the 15.5 hour day finally arriving at the house a few minutes after 8pm. Not bad timing. Sawyer had just gone to bed, Kristine and I saw each other for 15 minutes, and then she was off to Aspen to stay with the Mahons. We hated we saw each other so little all weekend, but hey its the last weekend of winter and the weather was unbelievably spectacular. We had to make the most of it. Kristine and Christy had a nice 6-7 hour day skinning and skiing the 13er Pearl Mountain at the head of Pearl Basin on Sunday.
Views of Castle’s east face and Cathedral from Pearl Mountain
The gals on top
Kristine on top of Pearl Mountain
Sawyer, Rainie, & Kona, and myself relaxed most of the day watching March Madness off and on and going to the park. It was much needed for my almost 40 year old body after Pyramid on Saturday. A great way to cap off a nice winter for both Kristine and myself. We’re now so looking forward to spring ski-mountaineering and rock climbing. Bring on the warm weather!