Peak(s):  "Thunder Pyramid"  -  13,932 feet
Date Posted:  06/06/2014
Date Climbed:   06/05/2014
Author:  doggler
 But they're ALL white gullies...   

But they're ALL white gullies!

"Thunder Pyramid" "white" gulley ascent, white gulley descent
Date Climbed: 6/5/2014
Mileage: 11.6 miles per Garmin
Elevation: 5,059' per Garmin

I don't post many trip reports anymore, mostly because so many folks have done such a wonderful job of saying everything I would say. I guess I don't often feel I have much to add. The purpose of this one then is twofold:

    1)"Thunder Pyramid" is open for business.
    2)When snow-filled, the ascent and descent routes shown here are comparable, yet different.

Ascent(left) and descent(right)

The recent warm weather had me worried about wet slides. After climbing Cathedral in great conditions the day before, I knew the chances of catching "Thunder Pyramid" in a similar state were good. So, I stuck around Aspen for the day. I pulled into the main parking lot shortly after the daily 5:00PM ban on cars was lifted and proceeded to enjoy dinner and a book from a bench by Maroon Lake. I don't care how cliche or touristy it may be perceived - Maroon Lake is stunning.

A note about falling asleep the night before a big climb. I've been a bit apprehensive about "Thunder Pyramid" for a while, especially coming off of a broken foot that still has me not nearly 100% mobility-wise. Whenever I get too excited or apprehensive about something, the longer it takes for sleep to come. So as a defense mechanism, I continued to tell myself this was just another day at the office. Just work. Nothing more. It DID work, and I was out cold in the back of my Jeep soon after dark.

The 3:45 wake-up call wasn't even that painful. Two trucks pulled in shortly thereafter; each pair was planning to ski a different Bell. That would be the last I saw of civilization until hiking back by Crater Lake at the end of the day.

Creek crossing just past bent tree

Sunrise hit right about the time I made it to bent tree. While many lumps of snow impeded my progress to that point, the snow was solid enough to still walk over. Good! Soon after bent tree, I had to find a good creek crossing. The fear of falling through on a crumbling snow bridge is a powerful one, but I got over it.

More of a traversing ascent than an ascending traverse. TP's summit is directly above the snow gulley in the center fore

Crampons were a necessity as soon as the slope degree. It ended up being bullet-proof pretty much every step of the way.

Steepness, right out of the gate

I'll reiterate something about the lower route: it's as steep as anything else on this route. With the snow as hard as it was, I self-arrested a couple times to make sure I was dialed in. Definitely, the opportunities for daydreaming today were going to be sparse.


The ledges of Lightning...

Lower route

Previous trip reports showed people negotiating cliff bands, ledges and such to gain access to the lower part of the white gulley. I didn't feel like spending all day changing my points in and out, so I just took the line highlighted above. Since the snow was so damn solid, I wasn't front-pointing much anyway. The sidehilling of French technique kept me traversing to where I wanted to end up, so it worked out well. I figured I would just continue to ascend while traversing left until I hit the white gulley. Everything up to it was covered with plenty snow, so the world was my oyster!

Craptacular loose Elk ledges

Dangerous is definitely a word I would use to describe this mountain. So much loose rock just sitting on more loose rock. Caution is needed here.

North gulley, looking down

Things started to get a little interesting. I saw some white rock sticking through the snow. Following the line up, i could see it took me to a saddle. I saw a line split off to the right as well, going to another saddle. I couldn't see the entirety of the right line, but the left line was intact the whole way at a doable angle. By now, I began to doubt I was on the "proper" route and started calling on my memory bank. Knowing that the entire ridge line between 13,631' and Pyramid was doable, I knew that even if I topped out on the "wrong" saddle I'd figure it out.

Saddle, looking south at the ridge leading to the summit

Saddle, looking north at the ridge leading to Pyramid

Sure enough, I topped out around 13,600'. Still not sure where I was, I decided to go left first, as the standard route goes left upon reaching the saddle. The difficulty quickly exceeded class 3, which answered my question - I was likely at the Pyramid/"Thunder Pyramid" saddle, just to the north of "Thunder Pyramid". I also knew that I may have some tedious scrambling ahead of me in order to get to the summit from here. No surprise, no worries, no problem. I got to the top of "Thunder Pyramid" a little after 10:00AM.

Megamydial crew. Its been a quiet nine months

On these quieter peaks, it's always neat to see familiar names. Thanks again to Abe and co. for helping me solve the "Thunder Pyramid" puzzle.

I spent a few reflective moments at the top. Thinking about Steve. Terry. Jim. My family. And then I knew it was time to come down.

Not a short jaunt to Pyramid

Obligatory Bells shot


Sun had finally hit the west face of the Pyramid massif. Maybe the descent would be a tad softer? Speaking of descents...a decision had to be made. Descend the ascent? This is obviously a good rule. The known carries less risk than the unknown. Retracing my steps was definitely a feasible option. Or...I could descend the standard route. I decided that at the very least, I could scramble down to the top of the white gulley and make up my mind at that time.

The white gulley

The scramble to the top of the white gulley was much easier than the scramble from the north saddle to the summit. Seemed more 2+ than 3 to me.

Looking up white gulley. The ascent gulley at the far left

White gulleys! White gulleys everywhere!!!!1!11!!

The upper descent was arduous. The snow was sucking at its primary job, which was to SOFTEN THE @#$@# UP! Snow, you're fired! As for the slope angle, its hard to say but I think it was slightly steeper than my ascent route. When in, I'm not sure which route I'd recommend - the left gulley is easier but leaves you with more challenging scrambling. Pick your poison.

My newly-bionic healing foot did not like the sideways torque I kept putting it through, but it held. My first glissade didn't even happen until well below 12,500'. Finally, I was able to make decent time. The deadfall at Crater Lake was visible, but not horrendous. Maybe added three minutes to the trip each way.

Crater Lake slide damage

Days like this are why I love this hobby. "Thunder Pyramid" was a hard-earned summit. It was a perfect way to wrap up four days of spring climbing!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Comments or Questions
Cool stuff!
06/06/2014 19:01
On the first trip up, josephg and I took the left branch up and then the right branch down. Right was sooo much easier while we hit some sketch on left topout. Also, my water bottle froze on that aspect. That side of the mountain is freakin' cold and the snow conditions are nice and bullet-y.

Nice report!

Well-earned summit!
06/07/2014 02:40
Very nice. Almost exactly the route Monster5 and I took a few Memorial Days past: left branch up with a more challenging scramble to the summit, right branch down with an easier scramble to the Thunder/Lightning saddle. I preferred the more challenging scramble line, but then again I wholly did not enjoy the descent (for altogether different reasons) and am tall. But as Monster5 says, cold and frozen that left side.

You're absolutely right: no mental downtime. I attempted broaching that first gully without traction and took a nice short slide. Didn't set the best tone for the day for me. Hard summit; nice job! Great read.

Great job!
06/07/2014 04:42
I've to been up to that Thunder/Pyramid saddle. For some reason that things sucks people off the standard route! Glad to see you getting these Cents done.
Looking forward to being on Turret and Pigeon with ya.
Thanks for the write up.

06/08/2014 11:22
Britt, I also recalled your Thunder stories as I got to that saddle. I'm glad I had the databank to draw on!

and he's back
06/09/2014 14:35
really stoked to see you back in the saddle sean. Nice work on a non gimmie and on all the other cents you nabbed!

Lets get out this summer man.

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