Pyramid power

Bob Ward
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” A couple of weeks ago, I made my first trip up Pyramid Peak, and it was one of the highlights of my summer.

Part of this is because of the fact we did it right ” brought all the right things, including plenty of food and water, left early in the a.m. (never mind that I was a worthless wreck upon arriving home) and lucked into a beautiful day. The other part is simply that Pyramid is an enchanting peak, and a blast to climb.

We left Basalt at 4:30 a.m. and were home around 2 p.m., and never felt a drop of rain. I don’t much care for hiking in the dark, but I sure love summiting before 10 a.m.

Pyramid is not so much a mountain as a huge pile of rubble, arranged by God, Mother Nature or some psychotic celestial architect into wild, gnarled and dramatic shapes. My climbing partner said it reminded him of a Gothic cathedral that’s been blasted to bits by a howitzer, and I like that description.

All the way up, I gawked at the craggy ridges and crumbling towers of Pyramid, and they left me with much the same distorted awe as the creepy, hilarious gargoyles that guard old European churches.

If Switzerland’s Matterhorn and Yosemite’s El Capitan are examples of perfect alpine architecture, then Pyramid is like a crumpled rough draft ” not a straight edge or solid rock or flat slab anywhere. Which, of course, makes it a fun ascent.

When the Colorado Fourteener Initiative decided to fix the “trail” up Pyramid, they didn’t even bother with the top two thirds, because it’s nothing but busted rubble, jagged piles and teetering boulders. What’s there to fix?

Of course, this barren, rocky austerity is one of the peak’s defining characteristics. And the fact that every step represents a potential twisted ankle (or, on the mountain’s upper flanks, a deadly fall) requires focus ” to route-find, to pick the right holds for hands and feet, to avoid kicking rocks onto your friends below.

It’s the opposite of the proverbial “slog” up the gentle flanks of a friendlier peak. I was so engaged in what I was doing on Pyramid that I hardly noticed where I was in relation to the top. When I pulled myself over the last loose rock and took in the view from the summit, it was literally a sudden and pleasant surprise.