Date: 27 July 2003
Route: Ascent - Northeast Ridge From Maroon Lake; Descent - Same; Difficulty - Class 4
Elevation: Base - 9,600 (est); Summit - 14,018; Elevation Gain - 4,450
Distance: From Maroon Lake Trailhead to Summit - 3.0 miles; Summit to Maroon Lake Trailhead - 3.0 miles; Total Distance - 6.0 miles (est)
Time: Start - 8:45 AM; Summit - 1:00 PM; Finish - 4:45 PM; Total Trip Time - 8.0 hours
Route: The Northeast Ridge route for Pyramid Peak is well-described by both Dawson and Roach with a couple of exceptions. I found the trail from the parking area at Maroon Lake to the cutoff for Pyramid Peak to be unremarkable, especially for anyone who has marched back and forth along it going to/from the bells. Some folks have reported difficulty in finding the climber's trail which breaks off of the main trail just a little bit after 1 mile. Indeed, the two cairns which are on the south side of the trail can be easily overlooked. At this time, there is also the remains of a charred tree trunk which is laying perpendicular to the trail on the south side, to mark the cutoff.
I would describe the cutoff as approximately 300 meters along the rocky trail, once you have gained the high ground which is the glacial moraine that serves to block the valley and form Crater Lake. This debris field is unmistakable. Additionally, the trail intersection can be noticed by high ground immediately to the south. Once you have turned SE to approach Pyramid Peak, the trail is difficult to follow, being old and not well-cairned, but experienced hikers should have no difficulty following it. Several guides report the trail "fizzles out," but this is untrue.
In fact, there is an outstanding strong hikers trail which allows one to climb all the way to the hanging cirque below Pyramid's north face. Once you are in the glacial moraine area, take a moment to look south in the direction of Pyramid Peak. The summit will no longer be visible, being masked by the towers which guard the northern entrance into Pyramid's cirque. However, as one looks to the north, three prominent towers are evident. The middle tower is your aim point, and just to the left (east) of that tower, is a noticeable pillar, very prominent, yet much smaller than the other ridges. The small pillar has a wooded slope below it. The climbers trail ascends through these woods, and while climbing in the morning, is shaded from the sun by the prominent ridge to the east. The trail takes a gradual and then steep traverse, and then switchbacks up dirt, scree and then talus as you enter the hanging cirque and are introduced to the boulder field.
As I climbed, I kept the low ground and the underground stream that flows north into Maroon Creek to my left. I also noticed a thin but long snowfield to the left that can be used to glissade down during the descent. This obviates the unpleasant traverse over long stretches of talus at the end of the day. Once I was well into the cirque I turned left and traversed southeast to gain the approach to the scree gully described by Roach. This departure point is just south of an enormous crater that has a small pond in the bottom of it. The entire boulder field is very rough and is poorly marked with cairns. There is no trail per se. One is best served just following cardinal directions.
The approach to the scree gully becomes self evident when one is in the cirque proper. The beginning of the trail going up the steep gully to gain Pyramid's NE ridge is well cairned and the route up is obvious. Rockfall hazard is great, and the dirt and scree cause one to work hard, but the climb is unremarkable. Views of Pyramid's north face are in a word, breathtaking. Once on the saddle at 12,980 feet, turn south and then southwest and pick up a well-cairned trail that moves climbers to the south side of the ridge. Route finding is important as it appears that more than a couple of routes have been marked. The route is characterized by Class 2 and Class 3 climbing on exposed, broken ledges at times. It is not as difficult as the NE ridge of North Maroon, but care must be taken, nonetheless.
As one ascends on the southern side of the NE ridge, one comes to a gap, followed by a shelf that is about 100 feet long. At one point in particular, this shelf narrows to perhaps 18 inches in width, and rock overhangs cause one to gingerly inch along the ledge. If traffic is coming the other way, one party must retreat, as it is impossible for two people to pass one another on the precipice. Once the obstacle is overcome, the pale-colored rock described by Roach comes into view.
This Class 4 pitch was not difficult, but could cause some climbers to be apprehensive. Once again, cairns are present literally everywhere, and one must use logic and forethought as one decides which route to take. For the final few pitches up to Pyramid's summit, there are basically two approaches, after one has climbed above the pale colored rock just SW of the notch. By moving to the left, as one climbs (SW), one can enter a bit of a gully that is characterized by scree, dirt, and some occasional Class 4 blocks usually less than 8 feet in height. This is a tough scramble to the summit, but does not have radical exposure. Alternatively, by veering to the right as one climbs (W) the blocks are cleaner, are easier to climb, and there are no erosion gullies to contend with. However, this route takes one extremely close to the cliffs on Pyramid's north face. Exposure is great and it may be unnerving to some climbers.
I chose to ascend this route and descend through the scree gullies previously mentioned. I gained the summit at 12:30 and spent 15 minutes enjoying very nice views. After the usual photos, I prepared to descend. I scrambled down the scree gullies directly below the summit to the top of the light colored rock vein. Thereafter, walking the ledge is somewhat more comfortable because one has already negotiated the route before hand.
Upon arriving at the saddle, the descent down the scree gullies is best accomplished by staying to the right by the cliffs. As previously mentioned, use of the snowfield for the descending trek across the boulder field is also recommended. All in all, Pyramid was a first class climb. It was somewhat steeper than North Maroon Peak, but not as long in distance. It's a good day's workout and a climb all can be proud of.
Conditions: Weather - Partly Cloudy; Temperature - 60 degrees at summit; no wind; partly cloudy.
Climbing Companions: None - Solo