The massive ridge. With the start labeled, we first climbed south to Len Shoemaker Peak and then followed the ridge as it swung north, all the way to Pyramid. Click to enlarge.
Totally psyched and somewhat surprised to have actually pulled it off, Neal Beidleman and I sat on Pyramid’s narrow summit in the afternoon sun and processed it all.
It wasn’t that we thought it couldn’t be done. Through the years there have been scattered reports of groups completing different sections of this traverse. Our concern had to do with the time and weather. The horseshoe-like ridge is so long, with so much loose, semi-technical terrain to navigate, we didn’t know if there was enough time in the day to cover the ground. Plus, we were in a stormy pattern and it had been raining every afternoon, and we thought it was a good bet that weather would send us fleeing off the ridge before we could complete it.
Neal, en route to Len Shoemaker Peak out to the left, heads across one of the airy sidewalk-like sections of the ridge. There wasn't too much evidence of travel up there, by people or animals.
To give credit where it’s due, Neal hatched the idea. On a ski trip here a few years back (story here), we got an up close look at the Len Shoemaker Ridge and wondered what it would be like to climb. Prominently labeled on most topo maps yet seemingly absent from the average peak bagger’s radar, it looked like an interesting route up to a seldom visited summit.
We decided to climb the ridge and the peak, and if weather and time permitted, we would see how far we could take it north. From Len Shoemaker’s summit, we figured we could make it to Lightning Peak, or maybe even to the more distant Thunder Peak, but thought Pyramid was probably out of reach. You never know though, so we agreed to just go and see, like we always do.
From the peak that shares its name, the curving Len Shoemaker Ridge can be seen with the Maroon Bells standing behind.
And off we went. Long-story-short, we left from Maroon Lake a little after 5:30 and made the summit of Len Shoemaker, via the ridge, about 5 hours later. After a brief break, we started north on the ridge at 11am, and made it to Pyramid Peak a little past 4 o’clock. With the summit all to ourselves, we took a well deserved break, eventually making it down the Northeast Ridge and back to the trailhead in a total time of about 13 1/2 hours. It was the first day in several that it didn’t rain.
Without going into all the details of the route, it was much like you’d imagine. Airy sections, chimneys, loose rock, route finding– in sum, it was like one really, really big Maroon Bells Traverse.
In other words, it was a super fun day.
Neal shows the way. Pyramid is the tiny sharp point in the middle of the summits way out there.
That's me, down climbing somewhere. We brought a rope, rack, harnesses and climbing shoes in case it was required, but as is often the case, bringing the gear usually ensures you won't need it. We never pulled it out.
Neal signs the register atop Lightning. Thunder is the big peak with the rounded summit and gray stripe in the distance. With clouds building, we thought to traverse between two peaks by those names guaranteed getting caught in a nasty storm. We got lucky I guess.
Snowmass Mountain out in the distance. N. Beidleman photo
W.W.L.S.D.? What would Len Shoemaker do? A question Neal often asked in regard to the route finding. This feature in the photo was one of the climbing cruxes along the way.
I sliced my leg on a sharp rock at one point and repeatedly knocked the scab off. A couple of sets of my blood-scribed initials can be found along the route we followed.
With Thunder behind us and our patience being tested by the endless travel on crumbly rock, we neared the final highpoint before Pyramid. As testimony to how loose it all was, we actually began to talk about how great it would be to finally get to the clean and stable trail that descended Pyramid. Most people complain about that being horribly loose. It's all relative.
Neal contemplates the homestretch, finally.
Really? We made it without getting weather? I guess, like the rope and climbing gear, packing heavy on rain gear helped serve as the anti jinx against it. There's a reason those peaks have the names Thunder and Lightning. The start of the ridge can be seen in the middle of the photo to the right, down in the valley.
As we descended, Neal got this shot of Pyramid's shadow down in the East Maroon Valley below. What a day.