- Date: September 15, 2018
- Partner: Matt Odierna
- Height: 14,018 feet
- Range: Elk
- Route: Northeast Ridge (Class 4)
- Overall Distance: 8.25 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet (TH to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 25 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 28
- Road Condition to Trailhead: This is a very popular destination spot in the fall in Colorado for tourists and photographers. Hence, the logistics can be a little tricky and you should do some research online and plan ahead to avoid surprises. Just outside of Aspen, we arrived at the ranger station after 5 PM and, after showing a NPS pass, were allowed to drive up the main paved road to the Maroon Lake trailhead. Parking for overnight hikers is only allowed at 48 designated spots. You will also have to fill out a backcountry tag at the check-in box at the trailhead
Pyramid Peak is a serious climb routinely ranked high among the most difficult Colorado 14ers. This is not a walk-up; it is a true mountain climb that requires focus, route finding, comfort with exposure, and the appropriate equipment. With this introduction being said, my mountaineering buddy Matt Odierna and I left the trailhead at around 6 PM. We walked roughly one mile beyond Maroon Lake on a rocky, gently inclining trail until we came to the trail that turned off towards Pyramid Peak.
It was getting late and the weather was nice enough that I just throw out my sleeping bag on the ground, instead of setting up my tent. Shooting stars came in periodically over the Maroon Bells as I drifted off to catch a few hours of sleep.
Matt and I hit the trail around 5 AM. The weather was perfect for climbing. The first mile of the trail was well-defined and climbed steadily up towards the entrance of a large valley. From here, the trail stopped, and it was a sea of loose talus that stretched back towards the mountain, probably for half a mile. Hiking poles were almost more of a nuisance rather than a help. Also, when you are hiking in the dark with a headlamp, distance perception is not what it should be. Watch your footing …
As the sun was coming up, we eventually made our way into what is known as “the amphitheater”, a large glacial, scoured bowl. Across the amphitheater we went, hopping from rock-to-rock. Once across, we had to ascend a very steep, scoured 1,000′ slope to gain the northeast ridge of the mountain. It was slow going and I seriously wished I had brought along my Kahtoola microspikes. By the time we crested the ridge, we had already ascended 2,800′ in a distance of about 2.5 miles. The final approach to the conical summit of Pyramid Peak was now in full view to our right.
The rest of the climb is where things got much more serious. The remainder of the route was a mixture of Class 3 scrambling and Class 4 moves, stretching for another half a mile and gaining another 1,000′. We had to work together to pay close attention to cairns and the downloaded track on Matt’s GPS watch. In several places, we had to cross narrow, highly exposed ledges or jump across gaps in the rocks. We were careful to test footholds and handholds before bearing our weight on them.
Finally, we hit the summit, about 3 hours after setting off from camp. It was a glorious, warm autumn day and we had epic views of the iconic Maroon Bells, with the yellowing leaves of quaking aspen scattered through the surrounding valleys. After resting and grabbing some snacks, we started our descent. Pyramid Peak is renowned for its resident herd of wild mountain goats and we had the good fortune of seeing several of them on our descent.
I think this post speaks for itself in terms of giving Pyramid Peak a rating. I’d give it a 8.5 or 9 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty. This assumes good weather and dry rock. While maybe being a touch easier than I initially thought, I would definitely say Pyramid Peak was a good challenge and easily ranks, to date, as one of the harder 14ers I have done.