It’s not often that I’ll put up a post about an unsuccessful summit bid, but last Saturday was such an enjoyable and educational day in the mountains that I have to. It was an ambitious plan – drive from Denver, hike all the way in up East Maroon Creek to the base of Pyramid, climb it, and ski back, all in one continuous push. We were moving at 1:45am, covered the first few miles very quickly, and started running in to difficulties involving creek crossings and bushwhacking by 3.
When we hit occasional aspen stands, life was good. There was snow and plenty of room to maneuver. Unfortunately, this was rarely the case. We wasted lots of time on the West side of the creek (East aspect), mistakenly expecting it to hold snow better than the West aspect. We lost an hour and a half and lots of energy with this mistake. Lesson learned, there’s a mostly-open trail on the East side that would have made travel much faster. We caught our first glimpse of Pyramid just as it was starting to lighten up.
We pushed on, figuring that even though we were behind schedule, we’d have until late morning to get to the top. We occasionally traveled on the previously-mentioned hiking trail, but never really recognized it for what it was. Part of this was due to occasional obstacles, like this pile of avalanche debris.
The going got steep and icy – I wished I had ski crampons, and will be taking them on any future trip back in this basin. I could have gotten by booting if the snow was consolidated, but it was hollow and unsupportive. The warm night went to incredibly hot the moment the sun hit. It may have only been 35 or 40 degrees, but it felt like 90. There was no breeze and the snow became less supportive by the minute.
It was beautiful, but being in the middle of a 2,000′ tall debris field in a rapid warmup was cause for concern; all the debris we passed was rather old, however, so we pushed on. No longer confident we would make the summit, we just wanted to get a look at the choke at the bottom of the main climb.
A few minutes later I thought I heard snow moving somewhere in the valley, but didn’t see anything and YC didn’t hear it, so we slowly continued, now confident that we would not make it but still wanting to get a look at the choke, and enjoying the view before the slog out.
I suggested we could hit one of the small bumps on the ridge as a consolation prize, but this idea was quickly dashed as a small wet slide poured over the cliffs to our south. We decided to immediately rip skins and get out of there, which was good timing as we passed some fairly fresh debris (a day or two old max, potentially just an hour or two), and a wet slide came around the bend above us as we began descending.
I’ve said “that was the worst snow I’ve ever skied” a lot of times – but this time absolutely takes the cake. Unavoidable frozen chunks of debris ranging from baseball-sized to basketball-sized made for a horrible, jarring experience. Fortunately we were out of it without too much trouble, when YC spotted what looked like a road-cut on the other side of the valley. We went for it, and found a snow-covered trail that worked well for the trip back.
Though easier than the ascent, there was nothing fast or easy about it. The snow was extremely sticky and the route out flat, which made for very slow travel. A couple hours later we were back (almost) to the road, just needing to cross the creek. After a few minutes of looking for a dry crossing, I rolled up my pants and waded through, water pouring over the top of my boots. Once on the other side I went barefoot for a while, resting my feet before throwing my liners on for the walk out.
I’ll be back, with the benefit of learning from the 18 miles and 4,000′ of climbing. Maybe it will be this year or maybe it won’t; whenever it is, I’ll be taking the education I received last Saturday with me.