Two amazing summits; 11,060 ft. elevation gain, 21.5 miles... and a whole lotta' fun.
Last year, I had plans to complete my long quest to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers. I had the calendar all lined up, trips planned, gear ready and my legs were in great shape. If all went to plan, I was to finish on Windom Peak after a long summer of knocking out some of Colorado’s toughest peaks. Unfortunately, as is so common in this sport of mountaineering and peak-bagging, those plans were interrupted. An unsuccessful attempt on Snowmass Mountain in June left me with one less weekend available. A complete re-arrangement of the calendar ensued and for the third straight year, my plans of climbing Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak were delayed. However, this worked out to my advantage – as I had always dreamed of completing the 14ers on Maroon Peak and then on Pyramid Peak, which purportedly is one of the most difficult mountains as well as one of the most rewarding summits. Finally, my time had come to complete this incredible journey that started when I was six-years-old – the completion of the 14ers. Lots of hard work over the past 3 years have culminated in this moment.
My first 14er - Mount Sherman - at age 6.
Ever since I was a child, I recall being mesmerized by the Maroon Bells, for both their scenic wonder and beauty and their dangerous mystique. My dad, Ray Payne, climbed the Bells back in August 1987 and returned home regaling his conquest with stories of incredible mountaineering feats (it must have sounded insane to my then 9-year-old ears) and near-death encounters with “The Deadly Bells.” Here's an old-school shot of my dad (yellow helmet) asending Pyramid Peak, rope in tow.
Per Wikipedia (and per my own witness of the sign), the term “Deadly Bells” refers to a U.S. Forest Service sign on the Maroon Lake access trail which calls the mountains "The Deadly Bells" and warns would-be climbers of "downsloping, loose, rotten and unstable" rock that "kills without warning". Sounds like my kind of mountain! Unlike other mountains in Colorado, the Maroon Bells are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened into rock over millions of years. This mudstone is weak and fractures readily, giving rise to dangerously loose rock along almost any route. This same mudstone is responsible for the Bells' famous and distinctive maroon color. The Bells got their "deadly" name in 1965 when eight people died in five separate accidents. Since then, many climbers have perished while attempting these dangerous peaks, including Spencer James Nelson in 2010.
In fact, just before leaving for this trip, I had learned that there was a missing hiker on the Maroon Bells. This news had cast a shadow on the trip and I had hoped he was found safely. The hiker was a New York City Paramedic named Lenny and had not reported to work. It later turned out that he took a fall and perished on North Maroon and was found the very same day we arrived.
Given the danger factor and overall awesome factor surrounding the fact that I was planning to complete the 14ers on these deadly mountains, I was quite nervous the week leading up to this trip. I think I had started packing four or five days before the trip, which is uncommon for even me and my neurotic trip planning. To make matters even worse, the trip had quite a few loose ends on the logistics side of things – originally I had planned to head-out Tuesday night with my climbing partner, Sarah, we’d climb some mountains, and then our other climbing partner, Ethan, would join us at Crater Lake on either Saturday or Sunday. Then a few wrenches got thrown into the mix – Sarah found out she had to work a cycling event on Sunday, and Ethan would be unable to join us on Friday. To make matters even more interesting, my Jeep Wrangler came up with some mechanical issues the day before we were supposed to leave. It was not looking good for team Payne. I called Sarah and we finally worked out all the details. Ethan would not be joining us after-all, and Sarah could drive. Crisis averted.
I decided to backpack using my Osprey Talon 44 instead of my regular backpacking pack – the huge and insane discontinued Dana Design Terraplane - a monstrous 95 Liter pack. Instead, I opted for the smaller 44 Liter pack so that I would force myself to take less gear and food and hopefully save some damage to my knees, which were still recovering from the massive 45 mile trip Sarah and I took last year to the Chicago Basin. To round things out, I opted to also purchase a knee brace, in hopes of preventing pain and further damage on this trip.
Choosing camera equipment for a trip such as this was a challenge, especially given the fact that I wanted to keep my over-all weight low without sacrificing my ability to take great photos. So, I opted to bring my Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod (which is quite solid and somewhat heavy despite being crafted out of carbon-fiber), Nikon D7000, a few filters, a shutter release cable (for long exposures), and two lenses – the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 and the Nikkor 18-105 VR f/3.5-5.6. This would give me the ability to shoot very wide shots and some versatility with a zoom in the 18-105.
Day 1: The drive in
Loaded-up and ready to rock – Sarah picked me up from my house in Colorado Springs at 7 PM. We departed for our speedy adventure up Highway 24, which afforded us some pretty gruesome views of the damage caused by the Waldo Canyon Fire just the month prior. We stopped at the top of Wilkerson Pass to check-out the remnants of a thunderstorm there, hoping to capture some of that footage on film; however, all I was able to get was a long exposure of the cars driving through South Park below.
Thanks to some recon data provided by 14ers.com member Bill Wood, I knew our goal was to find the over-night parking lot just below the Maroon Lake trailhead. We found that lot at around midnight and prepared for what would become a very short 4-hour nap in the back of Sarah’s skinny pick-up truck.
Day 2: The backpack in to Crater Lake and an attempt on Maroon Peak
We were rudely awoken at around 3:45 AM by some guys next to us prepping for their hike, who were loud and even making jokes about how we were probably not too happy about how loud they were. Such is life at popular 14er trailheads, even on a Wednesday morning. We debated the night before about our intents and goals for this first day in the area, and decided to wake-up at a reasonable time (4:30 AM) to begin backpacking up into the basin to find a campsite, with the option to attempt Maroon Peak (weather dependent). We rose groggily from the truck and prepared our backpacks, which for me is always an interesting challenge with a large tripod attached. We began the hike in the dark and were passed quickly by a solo hiker looking to tackle Pyramid Peak by himself. Best of luck to that guy. The hike up towards Crater Lake was quite uneventful, and after a quick 1.5 miles, we stopped shortly before sunrise so I could quickly bushwhack up a hillside to photograph the Maroon Bells while the light was good. I did several versions at various focal lengths and lighting.
During this photo shoot, I made a nearly dire mistake when I switched lenses. I put my Tokina in my camera bag, which was attached to my chest. I forgot to zip it up, so when I leaned over, the lens rolled out onto the rocks. Fortunately, absolutely no damage was done. Close call!
After shooting sunrise at the Maroon Bells, we made our way up the rest of the way to Crater Lake, where we would try to locate a campsite. Upon first arrival at the lake, the reflections of the Maroon Bells in the very still water and post-sunrise light were absolutely fantastic.
A wider view, including the Pyramid Peak massif:
The search for a campsite was on, and I had been given some good tips from Bill Wood that we should shoot for campsites 6-11. We finally landed on campsite 9, slightly south and west of Crater Lake on a large hillside. Sarah later joked it was no wonder the campsite was open, because you have to hike up a hill away from the water to reach it.
We quickly made camp, setting-up the tent and all of our stuff, and finally had summit packs ready by 8 AM. Not exactly the best start time for a 14er of Maroon’s caliber, but we thought we’d give it a shot either way, so off we went. We followed the trail quite a long ways up the valley to the south and reached the oh-so recognizable warped tree described by the 14ers.com guide.
After the tree, the real work was before us, and the Maroon Peak southeast slopes trail lay before us in all of its steep glory. The trail started quite steeply, much like the Manitou Incline.
We reached well above tree-line before my stomach started to really give me issues. I could not figure out why I was not feeling well, so we stopped at around 12,400 ft. This turned out to work out just fine, because weather was starting to build above, the clouds that were hanging low all morning had never really left. I later figured out that the culprit to my stomach issue was the Cliff Bar Builder’s Bar I had ate.
Sarah and I sat around for a bit, contemplating our options.
We had picked a pretty great place to stop. The views in all directions were great. We did not feel rushed at all.
Even though my stomach was in pain, we found ourselves near a large meadow of wildflowers, which made for some fun photography.
It was a really cool spot, and since it seemed were not going to do any more climbing, I took the liberty of taking a ton of shots.
We headed on down and later ran into a group of three guys coming down as well. They were attempting Maroon as well and were turned back due to the weather just short of the ridge. These three guys were very cool, and we had a nice conversation about the area and climbing the Centennials. We all headed on down to the main trail, where we intersected two more hikers coming up to investigate the location of the Maroon Peak trail turn-off. This would not be our last encounter with these two guys, as we would later run into them twice more the following day.
Sarah and I hiked back to camp and took naps. After our short naps, we cooked up some food and I prepared my camera equipment for a walk down to Crater Lake for sunset shots and later night photography.
Upon arriving at the lake, I was immediately in my happy place, having many quite interesting landscape shots to attempt. I waited for the sun to set and the magic started to happen, lighting up the tips of the surrounding mountains to our East, which were part of the Pyramid Peak massif. I also tried out my ND filter and did some longer exposures of the clouds and Maroon Peak.
Sarah was able to sneak a shot of me geeking out on my camera.
Composing the shot...
The sun was setting and the light started doing its thing.
After the sun went down, Sarah went back to the tent to get some sleep. I stayed out and set-up for something I had been planning for a long time - star trails over the Maroon Bells, reflected in Crater Lake. This worked out pretty nicely, there was a group hiking in the dark up the trail and so my long exposures got their head lamps in the shot too, which I opted to keep in. The "break" in the trails is from my intervalometer stopping unexpectedly on me and me having to restart the sequence. Bummer! Still turned out great though, I think. You can see where the moon had just set over Maroon Peak's upper left cliff bands.
While photographing the star trails using the intervalometer on my camera, two sets of eyes appeared near me at the lake. I rose and walked closer to find two deer, one a quite large buck. I was both relieved and amazed. I’m not really sure how well I could defend myself against a mountain lion.
After shooting star trails above the Maroon Bells, I took advantage of the scene and clear night and took some fantastic shots of the Milky Way. My two favorite was this single shot of the Milky Way reflected in the lake, and the next one, which is a 9-shot panoramic of the Milky Way above the Pyramid Peak massif. Click on the single shot if you'd like to learn more or purchase it.
I just could not get over how clear the sky was!
After capturing what I felt at the time were some great photos, I decided it was time to hit the sack, since our departure time for Maroon Peak was looming just a few hours away. I came back to the tent, where I found Sarah wide awake still. Apparently a field mouse had managed to find our tent and was crawling over the top of it, which kept freaking Sarah out. In fact, about 30 minutes later, the mouse bumped past the side of the tent next to Sarah’s face, which caused her to freak out and elbow me like she was trying to win a Karate match. It was awesome.
Day 3: Early start and successful summit of Maroon Peak - 14,156 ft.
Sarah’s iPhone alarm sounded off and sounded just like a self-destruct sequence, in fact, it was just like this YouTube video.
Mixed with my dream that President Obama had confiscated the valley we were in for national security reasons, and my head was all kinds of whacked out – too much, too early.
Nonetheless, we rose like zombies and hit the trail at a brisk pace at a quarter past 4 AM and head back up the valley to the Maroon Peak turn-off, in the dark. By the time we were working our way up the steep trail, the sun had begun to illuminate the mountainside and we were moving at a very steady pace.
Two of the three climbers from the prior day passed us quickly, having a deadline to meet – they were extremely fast – good on them! We kept our pace going at a good rate and eventually caught up with the two gentleman from the day before that were looking for the trail.
They were moving very slowly and had mentioned that there was only two others ahead of them other than the two we knew about – a photographer and their friend.
A photographer you say? This piqued my interest instantly. Who was ahead of me? Did I know them or of them?
The trail was one of the steepest I could remember. Exhausting, but a wonderful workout all the same.
Before long at all, Sarah and I crested the ridge after 2,800 feet of grueling non-stop high angle grinding. As Bill Middlebrook describes on the 14ers.com route description, “Conquering the East Slope is a major achievement, but now the more technical terrain remains.” Indeed. Time to refuel.
Sarah had maintained an excellent pace up Maroon Peak so far and was kicking my butt. Did I mention that while I'm at home editing photos, she's out racing single speed mountain bikes? Yeah. Wonder who's in better shape?
The remaining section of the ridge was more of the same; however, we had much better views of the surrounding area.
Once we reached the ridge, it was only a short section of maybe 400 feet to tackle before reaching the hard part.
The ridge section was still fairly steep, but the excitement of seeing the rest of Maroon Peak's impressive face kept us moving quickly.
Reaching the crest of the final ridge was exhilarating as always, made especially sweet by the awesome visage of Maroon Peak, which loomed in front of us like a giant sentinel.
Sarah and I followed the rest of the route religiously, having had a bad experience off-route last year on Snowmass. We took a break for food, and I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle which was delicious – these things are the real deal. The fun begins.
From the ridge crest, the route went very easily, much to my surprise and partial disappointment. I was expecting an epic class 3 adventure; however, Maroon Peak is more like class 2 with a sprinkle of class 3 in some lame locations. It looked intimidating as hell though.
The trail is very obvious most of the route and there are actually only a few spots you need to actually make a decision and “climb.” That being said, the terrain was still quite dangerous and we were vigilant. The views... oh man. So amazing. Intense.
Shortly after entering the more dangerous terrain, we ran into the other companion of the two guys we had passed earlier. He wanted to know how far behind they were. He was not very thrilled to learn about their slow pace, but the weather seemed to be holding so I felt like they still had a shot.
For the most part, the first section after the ridge involves following the trail up and over a bunch of small gendarmes near the ridgetop. As predicted, we found ourselves having to climb a small gully into a small and secluded alcove, which offered great views to the west.
Just at the top of this gully rested our next problem - a small gully with great hand and foot holds heading up.
On the other side of this gully, parts of Maroon Peak were back in view. The route certainly did not look obvious from here, but it worked out.
The most dangerous section was probably the set of gullies you can choose to ascend about 2/3 of the way through the route as pictured here.
We chose to climb the second gully and then follow a ledge system to the left. I feel that under the right circumstances and a lot of climbers, this section could be quite dangerous due to rockfall. Most of the rest of the route seemed quite safe with the occasional ledge area that was exposed. It looks worse than it is, trust me. Here's a view from the top of the gully, looking back across where we had come from.
At this point it felt like a great time to stop and soak in the views. It does not get much better than this.
The rock features on Maroon Peak were quite remarkable and made for a wonderful hiking experience. There were many times where I kept saying to myself, "I'm really here, this is one awesome place!"
Looking up or down made you feel so small. The sheer ruggedness and steepness of these peaks is easy to appreciate.
The final stretch of the climb includes a large boring dirt and rock section that reminded me of Columbia Peak, meaning, it was fairly awful – the kind of stuff that goes two steps up and you slide one step down.
Once at the top of this area, you climb a really short but interesting ledge system onto the flank of the peak and follow a long series of quite solid and fun-to-explore ledges before reaching the final summit ridge.
Pyramid Peak dwarfed Sarah.
Sarah, while only equipped with an iPhone, took some awesome shots on this trip as well. One of my favorites was this one she took of my near the summit.
Upon reaching the final summit ridge, I saw a man with a yellow helmet on the summit, in fact, the same yellow Edelrid helmet my dad handed down to me and seen in the photos of him in this report. He yelled down at me that it “was a great photo” and to “stay put if I didn’t mind.” This must be the photographer we learned about. While I waited for the light to get right for him to take my shot, I took a high contrast shot of him and Sarah on the summit.
He then snapped off this cool shot of me climbing the final section to the summit.
We got up to join him and he pulled out his business card. It was none other than the legendary Glenn Randall. Readers may recall Glenn’s name from an article I wrote earlier this year where I shared my thoughts on the twenty best Colorado landscape photographers. In fact, Glenn’s revered in the mountaineering-photography community as a pioneer, for, as he later explained to me, he has photographed sunrise from thirty-eight 14ers. This is a most impressive feat. Glenn explained that he was just on a recon mission today, because he was going to be doing Maroon Peak tomorrow as well to photograph sunrise from there. He was setting waypoints and familiarizing himself with the route. He had just done sunrise at Pyramid Peak the day before. Glenn’s dedication to this sub-set of photography is most impressive – in order to achieve sunrise on a peak like Maroon Peak – he would need to begin hiking at midnight and carry over 20 pounds of photography equipment with him to the summit. I was humbled to have met such a great photographer that I had modeled a great deal of my own personal work after.
Glenn gladly took our photo with Sarah's phone.
Glenn and I talked shop for quite awhile and he decided to head down. Shortly after though, two mountain goats came strolling up the side of the mountain from the descending route area with none other than Glenn behind them.
It was such a fun day on the summit, sharing the photographic experience with a true pro. I had fun composing images of the goats and of Glenn. I might be geeking-out a little, but it really was an incredible experience.
Sarah was able to get some incredible shots of all of the action too. Some of my favorites.
These were quite friendly goats, often coming within feet of me.
Pyramid Peak made for a killer backdrop for the goat.
I bet Glenn got some really great shots of the goats... he was sporting a quite nice Canon Fx camera and a 70-200 lens.
I took so many fun shots of the goats, and I hesitated to post so many here, but they turned out so great, I had to share.
My favorite shot of the mix was this shot of this goat peering out towards Pyramid Peak, foreshadowing the day to come, where I would complete the 14ers.
Through all the excitement, I had to stop and take some shots of Sarah and a couple panoramics.
The traverse over to N. Maroon looked like a lot of fun, but it was not on the agenda.
The obligatory 360 panoramic... which demonstrated how large of a summit Maroon Peak really had... and how amazing the views around us were.
The white coilour for Thunder Pyramid stuck out like a sore thumb above Len Shoemaker ridge.
The weather began to look a little shaky after a long time spent at the summit, so we all decided to head down together. On the way down, Glenn was a really great mountaineer, concerned with safety and route selection in many of the same ways Sarah and I were. It was such an honor to spend the afternoon chatting about photography methods, gear and stories while down-climbing. I felt kind of bad for Sarah but she rolled with it and contributed a great deal to the conversation, having many stories of our mountaineering adventures to convey.
On the way down, at the earlier described gullies, we opted to go with Glenn down a different gully. I think the original gully we took on the up-climb was sturdier (the second of the two when coming up, the first of the two when coming down). Other than this small section, we sailed down the mountain’s route, eventually running into the lone guy we had encountered earlier that was waiting for his friends. Indeed, he was again waiting for his friends and explained that they were very slow and he was concerned because he said they were very set on doing the traverse between Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, which is very dangerous and requires a great deal of time. He asked that we try to convince his partners not to attempt the traverse based on the weather and their slow speed.
Shortly after this, we ran into the ambiguously odd duo again as Glenn tried to convey the seriousness of the traverse given their speed and the weather. They did not seem convinced this was problem for them and so I hoped that I would not be reading about them on 14ers.com in the Memoriam section (if you guys are reading, I hope you got down safely). We continued on and eventually reached the ridge safely without any issues.
The hike down was relaxing. No threat of weather to worry about.
From here, we casually followed the steep trail back down from the summit, stopping occasionally to take photos of flowers and a small group of mountain goats, which consisted of two adults and two tiny baby goats (so adorable). This prompted me to wonder about the breeding habits of mountain goats and the herd consistency, so I made a mental note to read about that when I got home. I did learn that it was likely that we saw two females (nannies) with their two kids (babies) – as I learned from this almighty Wikipedia article.
The wildflowers were so fantastic on this hike, it reminded me a little bit of the wildflowers we saw the prior year on our hike up into Lead King Basin.
Glenn left us about halfway down to move a little faster so that he could get some rest before his epic sunrise hike. Sarah and I continued down at a decent pace and found ourselves back at camp at approximately 1:45 PM. The weather was holding quite well for the Elk Mountains, and we were starving. We cooked some food and took naps that lasted well into the late evening and eventually the night. We were certainly well rested for the next climb.
Day 4: Early start and successful summit of Pyramid Peak - 14,018 ft.
The alarm went off and we climbed out of the tent and started hiking at 4:15 for Pyramid Peak. The hike down to the lake and to the trail split off in the darkness was a fun experience as always. Once we found the turn off for Pyramid Peak, we were greeted by a couple that was heading up to do Pyramid as well. They were moving quite quickly and left us in their dust in no time at all. We were both thankful to have a really well-constructed trail to start the day on - the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative built an absolutely bomber trail up the first section of Pyramid in 2006 and it does not disappoint. The trail climbs steeply out of the valley over large boulders and is very well-maintained. Before we knew it, we were starting to get the first sunlight of the day at pre-dawn.
After switching back and forth up the steep slopes, the trail deposited us at the base of a giant boulder field, nick-named the "Ampitheater" due to the fact that it has three of its four sides surrounded by steep sections of Pyramid Peak.
As we rose up the Ampitheater, the views to the north became better and better, with the soft light of sunrise illuminating the surrounding peaks.
Eventually, we reached the top of the Ampitheater and were greeted with our next task, climbing up a very steep scree and dirt gully to the ridge. We were both overcome with glee over the prospect of such fun hiking (just kidding). Fortunately, the views behind us were starting to get good, with Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak poking above the ridgeline in the Ampitheater.
In addition to this, the clouds above were looking phenomenal, and the Maroon Bells were beginning to poke up above the ridge too.
The hike up this section was gruelling to say the least. It was steep, loose and unrelenting. The occasional break to look back was worth the climb though.
At last, we reached the top of this devilish section of climbing and our day's objective finally came into view for the first time. Pyramid Peak erupted above us like some freakish volcano. Here's a groovy photo with all of the mighty Elk 14ers in view - Pyramid, Maroon, North Maroon, Snowmass and Capitol.
Sarah and I stopped for a bit at the top of this section to rest, eat and study up on the route. Sarah enjoyed what had become her signature staple food of the trip - PB&J on a hot dog bun. Yep.
The clouds continued to provide a very dramatic feel for the whole morning.
After a short rest, two climbers joined us on the saddle - they were named Doug and Martin and asked to join us for the rest of the climb so that we would not kick rocks down on each other. This seemed like a great plan to us; although at first glance, Sarah and I were both a little taken back by Doug's bicycle helmet. Fortunately, it turned out he would be one of the safest climbers I've been with.
Doug snapped off a group photo for Sarah and I and we departed for the difficult section of the climb.
The route was quite obvious for most of the remaining part of the climb, with several cairns and a clear trail in many sections. At one point, we found ourselves at a section that was a huge crevasse in the trail, which totally reminded me a photo I remembered seeing of my dad when he climbed Pyramid Peak. Indeed, the crevasse was jumped by me both up and down. Here's a photo from the 1980s of my dad jumping a similar crevasse.
We reached the infamous "ledge" which proved to be a challenge with my camera bag affixed to my chest. Sarah captured this photo of me being quite relaxed while crossing, with camera in hand.
I had the camera out for a reason though, as I wanted to get a closer shot of Doug and Martin crossing this awesome section.
At last, we reached the infamous green gully, which turned to be the most enjoyable section to upclimb. It was quite solid and easy going, with little to no loose rocks to contend with. It was very steep though, and a miscalculation would prove fatal. Climbing to the top of this section was quite a lot of fun.
We then reached what many consider to be the crux of this route up Pyramid Peak, a section where you can choose between a very exposed class 3 section or an unexposed but more dangerous class 5 section. Coming down from this area were the two climbers we met earlier in the morning near the lake - they had already summited and were coming down, so we waited for them before continuing. As a group, we had a nice discussion about the route and the other two climbers departed.
The crux move was spicy but nothing too hard. I thought the summit block on Mt. Wilson was harder and more exposed for sure. The rest of the climb was as simple as weaving our way up cairned sections of ledges. Before we knew it, we were on the summit. Sarah was up first and captured a photo of me summiting my last 14er.
As I reached the top, I took one last look back behind me at the east Elks - they looked so good.
The feeling was surreal, exciting, sad, happy and relieving, all at the same time. It was a flood of feelings for sure, but they were all welcome feelings. I felt like I had accomplished something quite remarkable (even though thousands have done it before me). Perhaps it had something to do with the length of the time it took to finish, or the length of the time I had had the goal. Either way - it was pretty darn awesome! Sarah gave me a big hug and then dropped a huge surprise on me. She prefaced the surprise with the something like the following words, "Angela wanted me to give this to you when you got to the top... I ensured it was not a divorce letter or anything like that, but don't shoot the messenger!"
She then handed me a white folded envelope with my name on it. Inside was the most thoughtful, humorous and loving message I could ever ask for from my wife. Sarah said, "she said you might cry." Which of course, I did a little.
Sarah and I celebrated the amazing day and basked in all of the glory that I knew would come from the views from Pyramid Peak. It was the perfect mountain to finish on. The views of the Maroon Bells, Len Shoemaker ridge, Snowmass Mountain, Capitol, Castle, Conundrum, Cathedral and the rest of the killer Elk Mountains were absolutely surreal and wonderful.
The famous Pyramid Peak diving board was a very inviting spot for photos, and Sarah decided to go surfing. I did an HDR and a non-HDR of this, for fun. You can mouse-over or click to see the non-HDR version.
...and my celebratory pose!
It felt like a small little party up there, spirits were high, weather was looking good, and the views were to die for.
After some food, I fired off a 360 degree panoramic from the summit. One of my favorites to date.
The same 360 degree pano made for a wonderful planet too... for more on those see this article...
One of Sarah's more awesome traditions is that every Friday she wears a tie and takes a photo of it. This Friday would be no exception!
Weather was starting to build to the west, so we decided to start to pack up our stuff. I still was in awe of the sheer nature of the valley below - how steep the walls were, how amazing the features of the rock were. I'm not religious at all, but this is as close as you can get to a religious experience.
Before we left, I wanted one more parting shot from Pyramid with the USGS marker.
Downclimbing Pyramid Peak was slow going. It always feels much more awkward to downclimb the steeper terrain and Pyramid was no exception. Our group took special care not to dislodge any rocks onto each other and we staggered our decents and ensured we were each clear of a run-out section before the next person started. It was pretty fun climbing though.
Pyramid was one steep mountain, with lots of loose rock to beware of.
I was still amazed at how rugged the terrain was on Pyramid - it looks so unclimbable from all directions, and even when you're up there it feels quite surreal.
The slowest and most challenging part of the downclimb was the green gully. We took turns decending into sections and just as we reached the bottom of it, small rain drops started to slowly fall. We had made it through the hard sections just in time.
Luckily for us, the rain lasted only a short time and we were able to reach the saddle quickly and safely. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lone mountain goat, who was probably licking up the urine others had deposited there earlier in the day...
This mountain goat was quite photogenic and decided to pose just for me on the rocks above.
After enjoying the company of the goat, we decided to head on down the most wonderfully exciting and enjoyable dirt and scree fest that was the descent off of the ridge back into the Ampitheater. We both ran out of water at this point and decided to hoof it down as fast as we could, with plans of heading on out of the valley that evening. The thought of a celebratory meal in Aspen was too much to pass up. Once out of the ampitheater, the CFI trail down was quite solid. I could not really imagine how awful this trail would be before this work was done. I took one final parting shot of the Maroon Bells on the way down Pyramid.
Sarah snapped off one last shot of me hiking back to camp. This is one happy dude.
We got back to our campsite and packed up after refilling our water. Our legs were tired. Our souls were refreshed. It was time for beer and pizza. We headed out and I took one final "classic" shot of the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake with the "Deadly Bells" sign. "DO NOT ATTEMPT IF NOT QUALIFIED."
I'm not sure if I was qualified or not, but I felt greatly accomplished and quite humbled to have experienced them either way.
A final look at the route map. Click on it for a larger version.
We decided on a restaraunt called Mezzaluna in Aspen for our celebration dinner. I had a vegetarian pizza (did I mention I'm a vegetarian) with truffle oil and Sarah had a sausage pizza. Two margaritas were served and congratulations were in order.
After leaving Aspen and dropping off of Independence Pass towards Buena Vista, we were greeted with a rare double rainbow, which capped off our most excellent trip in fine order. I could not have asked for a better trip, partner, or experience to finish the 14ers.
Conclusion and acknowledgements
A goal that takes 27 years to complete is one worthy of relishing, reflection and sincere acknowledgements to those that helped make it possible.
After fracturing my L5 vertabrae in 1995, I was not sure if I would ever be able to realize some of my goals. Fortunately, through hard work and incredible support from my family, I fully recovered from that and learned a great deal about work ethic. This quest for the mountains has tought me so many valuable lessons about life, about people, about myself...
Most importantly, it has taught me that despite people having severe differences of opinion on matters such as religion, politics or otherwise, something like the great mountains of Colorado can bring those people together to share in life-changing experiences that bind people unlike any other force. I hope to build on those lessons and continue to better myself as a person - my friends and family know there is plenty of room for growth.
To Sarah Musick: Thank you so much Sarah! It was such an honor to share those last two summits with you - you have been a true inspiration to me and my quest to finish. Your support over this past year has been fantastic. You are truly an amazing human being.
Of course, an achievment like this is never possible without the support of others, who are for sure some of the finest people I've had the pleasure to meet.
1. 1st - to my wife, Angela Payne (one fine Vegan chef with a killer sense of humor) - who has given me more support than I ever could have asked for - allowing me to chase my dreams is the best gift a person can give!
2. To my parents, they have been an inspiration for this life-long goal and I would have never have started without them introducing me to the mountains of Colorado at such a young age. My dad's goal to complete the highest 100 began in the 1970's and it quickly became my own goal as well.
3. To my family’s close friend – Dave LeShane – who also was on the quest for the highest 100 when I was a child – and inspired me to dream for the stars while climbing various 13ers with me as a child. Your wisdom, guidance and support over the years was like having a super-awesome uncle with bad-ass climbing stories.
4. To my regular climbing partners - Sarah Musick, Ethan Beute, Jeremy Park, and Regina Primavera (Yalegirl09) - you guys have been absolutely awesome to climb with! Your support, humor, talks, patience, insight and overall awesomeness has grounded me and reaffirmed my faith in mankind's future.
Sarah - you are one of the most amazing people I've ever met - our short but fantastic friendship has been such a blessing for me.
Ethan - our talks and hikes are always some of my most enjoyable days and most memorable experiences - I hope we can continue what I believe to be an incredible friendship!
Jeremy – while we have not done any 14ers together, we’ve known each other since high school and have been amazing friends ever since. Our epic adventure on Vestal’s Wham ridge will always be one of my fondest moments in my life!
Regina - you are one crazy, amazing and true friend! Our hikes are always a great time and I have enjoyed our talks!
5. To my other climbing partners, mostly from 14ers.com –
Terry Mathews (tmathews) - it was so great getting back into climbing with you back in 2009. Our adventures and introductions to class 3 on Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Blanca, Ellingwood, Kit Carson and Challenger were fantastic.
Micah (mountainmicah83)- dude – our epic day on Harvard and Columbia will never be forgotten - while I had hoped we could get out more – it was still awesome to learn rope/climbing skills from you and Matt!
Mike Vetter and Travis Arment - what can I say Mike - anyone who would drive all the way from South Dakota to climb Huron Peak with me is one awesome dude. Our adventure up Capitol Peak with the accomplished Travis Arment was unforgettable. You guys are fantastic people.
Barry Johnson (Johnson) – our climb of Shavano in 2009 was my re-introduction to the 14ers after a long hiatus – thank you for joining me on that fantastic day!
Mike (fiemus) and Bob Hay – our hike up Yale was great – learning about all of Mike's SAR stories was one of my favorite days in the hills.
Kara Bauman, Will (WillV), Alli Kolega and Tom Shaar – our climb of Mt. Wilson was absolutely wonderful! Thank you for allowing me to join you guys on such a fabulous adventure!
6. To Bill Middlebrook for creating and maintaining 14ers.com – it has been very helpful for me in this crazy pursuit.
7. All the other awesome mountaineers, climbers and hikers in this community - we need to continue to focus on our common goals and dreams.
Thank you for all for the inspiration to write these, and thank you for reading...