I’ve been antsy since April 1st. Pyramid Peak was the road block in my five year goal of skiing all of Colorado’s fourteeners. One of the most intimidating of the fourteeners, it is the only one I’ve had to attempt more than twice, and I was hoping that the third time was the charm. But April never brought the window I was looking for. Winter simply wouldn’t leave. Pow day was followed after pow day. Spring wasn’t ready to arrive and I was left wondering if the window would shut before it ever opened. I kept a constant eye on the weather, and repeatedly watched high pressure after high pressure forecasted in the long term crumble into a winter storm warning. I’ll admit it, I was stressed, and even grumpy at times. The pressure of getting my last two fourteeners done was weighing on me.
Photo courtesy of Caleb Wray
So, when the weather window looked like it was going to open, I called Jordan White- our faithful Aspen-valley friend. He provided me with the necessary beta regarding the Maroon Lake road as well as his opinion on the local snowpack. We rounded up a crew- Matt Kamper, Caleb Wray, and Frank – an excellent mix of strong climbers and strong skiers. And my thoughts were consumed for days about skiing this peak. Am I ready? Because of repeated storm systems, I’ve had so few ski mountaineering days this year…. I can count the times I’ve boot packed this season on one hand and my crampons have been used exactly twice.
On Tuesday, we decided Thursday would be the day. And of course, my mind would not stop racing. I woke up at 3 am on Tuesday night in a cold sweat and was unable to sleep the rest of the night, much to my disappointment. I knew I needed the sleep- I did not want to repeat my first Pyramid attempt where I was forced to turn around because I was falling asleep while climbing. That’s why I nearly cried when Frank and I packed up the car at 6 pm on Wednesday, knowing it would take over four hours to get to Aspen and we had a 1:00 wake up time. Do the math for that one and you’ll find that there are less than 3 hours of time built in for “sleep”. But, who can really sleep the night before a line like this. “I don’t know if I can do this on three hours of sleep in two nights,” I said to Frank. “But, you have to.” “Okay.” I knew he was right.
Of course, everything took longer than it should have and we didn’t even make it to Aspen. We pulled over somewhere on the road west of Carbondale and “slept” for a couple of hours there before waking up at a time that most people call night, but we were calling it morning. We met up with Jordan, Caleb, and Matt at Aspen Highlands and made our way to the trailhead.
Snowmobiling on a road in the dark is one thing. But, snowmobiling for a mile and a half on pavement with plowed banks beside you is not only frustrating, but silly. Overheating was an issue and we were thankful when we reached unplowed road.
We left our snowmobiles a little bit before 4 am at Maroon Lake and made our way toward the couloir that led to the northern amphitheater on Pyramid. The skies were clear and it was cold. “You’re moving fast,” Jordan commented. “Well yeah, we gotta DO this thing!” I knew today was going to be the day. Three hours of sleep for the last two nights didn’t matter anymore. I’d found some strength deep inside that I didn’t know I had, and it was carrying me through this. It was my dream to ski this and I was living it. I was dreaming and living at the same time.
Booting was frustrating up the northern couloir. The snow pack had not yet transitioned to spring. It was still winter there. The first sunlight that pierced the north face of Pyramid was alarming.
Photo courtesy of Jordan White
The saddle offers the first view of the Landry line itself. Last year, I stood on this saddle in mid-May but was forced to turn around due to uncooperative weather. I was hoping it would look less intimidating this time around. But that was not the case.
At the saddle, we sadly said our goodbye’s to Caleb. Today was simply not his day, and he opted to turn around. But, he kindly hankered down for a bit and took some great pictures. Thank you Caleb!
The knife edge almost broke me. The exposure to the northwest (1000 foot cliff) was unnerving. I have the boys to thank for help keeping me level headed. I was glad when we paused for a short break before attacking the east face itself.
Photo courtesy of Jordan White
Frank and I- happy to be together on the summit of the peak that is the reason we met. Long story short, Frank and I met in 2006 shortly after he skied Pyramid for the first time. I was looking for partners to help me ski the fourteeners and his name caught my attention after his Crested Butte crew made the third known full descent of the Landry line- Chris Landry skied this line in 1978, not to be repeated again (at least, that we know) until Chris Davenport and his crew descended it in 2006.
We sat there at the bottom of the East Maroon creek valley floor, relaxing, and admiring the line from below, in awe of what just happened. The Landry Line is in Davenport’s book the Fifty Classic Descents of North America for a reason. It is a classic line. A 4000+ foot sustained steep line like this is nearly unheard of in Colorado. But, here the Landry Line sits in all it’s perfection. I would gladly ski it again.
While I relished in the joy of skiing such a fantastic line, my thoughts turned back to my over-arching fourteeners goal. Pyramid was my second to last fourteener I had left to ski, and I had just skied it. In skiing it, I had overcome a hurdle that had been causing me far to much anxiety for the last year. The pressure, the stress – it all magically disappeared in this moment. I was elated. Yet I was sad that this magic moment was now over. Was it all a dream? It sure felt like one. We couldn’t have had a more perfect day.
While I wanted to sit and bask in the sun below the best line I have ever skied, magic moments, like all things, have to come to an end. Smiling, we packed our things, and made our way down the East Maroon Creek valley. We were already making plans for what we were going to ski next.
Frank’s helmetcam. It’s a little washed out and foggy, but still enjoyable for some.