Power of Pyramid | AspenTimes.com

Power of Pyramid

Ron RashAspen, CO Colorado

One of the most stunning local views is looking up the Maroon Creek valley from Highway 82, just past the golf course clubhouse, at Pyramid Peak. When driving by, no matter how busy I am or what I have on my mind, I always look at Pyramid Peak and its imposing north face. I’ve climbed the mountain countless times and never tire of dreaming of being on the summit.In 1988, another man dreamed of standing on Pyramid’s summit. He was visiting professor and acclaimed author Heinz Pagels, a man with a considerably more active mind than I will ever possess. Heinz was here for the summer session of the Aspen Center for Physics.On the morning of July 23, 1988, Heinz and another companion started their climb from the Maroon Lake parking lot. A tall, thin 49-year-old, Heinz was well-suited for strenuous hikes involving physical discomfort where he could use his overdeveloped mind on quantum physics problems as the miles rolled by. The men probably started early enough to necessitate headlamps on their way to Crater Lake. About a quarter of a mile from the lake, they would have started looking for the large cairn on their left marking the climber’s trail leading to Pyramid – a trail that back then would have been difficult to find. Today, the trail is a well-used footpath. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiatives has worked hard on it the past two summers to prevent erosion from multiple trails wandering up the mountain. Volunteers have placed rock steps at critical locations.After crossing the valley, the men would have encountered the first serious steep section of the day. The trail at that time went up a steep, forested area before exiting into the giant boulder field directly below the north face.Now the men would have had the choice of two routes – the Northeast Ridge or the Northwest Ridge. I have no clue which route they chose. I do know that, after crossing the boulders in the cirque, they would be walking up very steep slopes again.I recommend using the rest step when climbing steeper sections. The rest step employs a tall stance as you try to use your bones instead of tensed muscles. If you keep your quads firing all the time while climbing, the lactic acid development will cause excruciating pain.The same advice for the Bells applies for Pyramid: Beware of rockfall from the loose, unstable rock. Your three biggest threats will be potential rockfall, lightning and falling. In 1982, Heinz wrote the popular science book “The Cosmic Code,” near the end of which, he tells of a dream he has of climbing a mountain and on or near the summit he has a fatal fall. Heinz called it a dream; I would call it something else. If the men went up the Northeast Ridge they would’ve had 1,000 feet of climbing to gain a large flat section that is ideal for extended rest breaks. From this spot, only 800 feet separates you from the summit. This final 800 feet is the steepest section of the climb, and some of it is on surprisingly solid rock.Either route from the cirque has tricky route-finding problems, with the Northwest Ridge route being the trickiest by far. The Northwest Ridge route also has a couple of sections where you will feel just like a rock climber as you scale up steep rock sections where many people have opted for the security of a rope.On the Northwest Ridge route, just after you’ve climbed up the hardest of the steep sections, you will find yourself standing on top of the ridge that connects the summit. When climbing on Pyramid, stay as far back from the edge as the terrain will allow you. Remember to yell “Rock” loudly when you dislodge rocks – you most certainly will.If rockfall is coming from above, keep your eyes on the bouncing rocks. Do not run back and forth. Move only if the rocks come your way.Somewhere along the summit ridge, Heinz moved to close to the edge, and either the rocks broke free or moved, causing him to lose his balance and fall into the void below. The dream he had years earlier instantly became his reality. Some dreams are better off remaining just dreams. Ron is a local mountain guide who recommends that first-timers climb Pyramid with someone who has done it before. Ron has wandered all over the Northwest Ridge route in years past, feeling lost in a maze of gullies. Ron can be reached at ronlrash@aol.com for possible route selections.


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