Mark had been to Pyramid Peak before, soloing to 13,600 feet or so before turning back. But this wasn't a grudge match. There's no room for vendettas when you love the mountains this much. It was just an opportunity to get out with some friends and enjoy a day or two of late summer hiking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Several people were invited to come along for another attempt, but for various reasons I was the only one able to make it out with him.
Either we were operating under outdated information, or the guy working the entrance gate was new. We arrived at the gate around 4:30, and he told us that, even though we were overnighting, we needed to wait until the last busload of day visitors had run before he could let us drive through. So we parked on the side of the road and spent a few minutes in bafflement. But before too long we were allowed to pay our ten dollars and cruise up to the overnight lot.
|The Maroon Bells from the main parking lot|
|The light wasn't going to yield any postcard-quality photos this day.|
|Looking back at Maroon Lake|
|Campsite 10 above Crater Lake|
|A view from our campsite|
The weather held out as we went about the business of settling in, and it didn't begin raining in earnest until after we were ready to turn in for the night. But it kept up through the time our alarm woke us at 4:30 the next morning. Fortunately, it was just a gentle rain, without so much as a distant grumble of thunder. Laying in our sleeping bags for an extra few minutes, we briefly discussed the potential complications to our climb that would arise if the rain persisted. But it soon abated, and we ate breakfast and made ourselves ready for the hike.
We left camp at 6:00, the sun just beginning to brighten the horizon to the northeast. The cloud cover above us remained low, but the weather looked otherwise promising. We decided to get at least as far as the Amphitheater, where we would discover whether the night's rain had turned the trail up to Pyramid's northeast ridge into an impassible mudslide, or if we would be able to proceed.
|Crater Lake at dawn|
|Pyramid peak from the talus field below the Amphitheater|
But the ridge was gained without a full physical failure, and we took a break there at 13,000 feet to rest and contemplate the gloomy ceiling of cloud that now fully enshrouded the peak.
|Heavier cloud cover obscuring Pyramid's summit|
We weren't certain how the reduced visibility would impact our summit bid, but we decided to move on and find out. We went around the corner, made the leap of faith, and edged along the ledges toward the white rock. We were well into the mists by that time. Mark asked how I felt about the conditions. "The view sucks, but it doesn't seem to be impeding our progress." So we pressed on.
|Going into the clouds. Photo: Mark K|
|On the ledges (on the way out). Photo: Mark K|
We arrived at the top of Pyramid Peak on the north end of the summit around 10:30, where a cairn of a more reliable variety stood faintly visible through the fog. The air was unusually still and there was an unsettling feeling that the world below us had altogether ceased to be. A misstep over the precipitous edge could send a person falling forever into a bottomless void.
|Mark at Pyramid's summit|
|On the edge of nothingness. Photo: Mark K|
|Refueling on the summit. Photo: Mark K|
|On top of Pyramid Peak|
In time we departed the top of Pyramid, leaving our ghost-like guardian to her unyielding solitude as we made our way back down the various winding goat paths to where the route becomes more certain.
|The life of a mountain goat must, at times, be very lonely|
|Pyramid peak, now clear of its mantle of cloud|
|A pika on the cairn marking the trail junction|