Peak(s):  "Thunder Pyramid"  -  13,932 feet
Unnamed 13722  -  13,722 feet
Cathedral Peak A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  11/19/2017
Date Climbed:   03/18/2017
Author:  Dad Mike
 Closing Out the Elk Cents   

One more from last winter...

Thunder & Lightning Pyramid
Date...Saturday, March 18th
Time...3:15am - 2:45pm
Distance...22.3 miles - 12 on bike, 10.3 on foot
Elevation Gain...6056 feet
Trailhead...Winter Closure on Maroon Lake Road at 8230'
Route...East Face / White Gully on Thunder - Traverse to Lightning - Descent down East Gully from Thunder / Lightning Saddle

I thought a lot about Steve on this trip. If you were fortunate enough to spend time with him, you know he was the ultimate story teller. For someone like me that doesn't like to talk, it was great. I didn't need to say anything. Just wind him up on a topic or a peak and let him go. Some of Steve's best stories were about his trips to the Elks and thankfully a lot of them are captured on this website. When I started to think about how I wanted to climb Thunder Pyramid, I thought about Steve's 20-hour, solo, epic. I'm pretty sure he was caught in an avalanche that day. (Darin will have to confirm that detail) Thunder was also the last peak that Steve climbed. So this one was for him.

I have tried every possible way to make the walk up and down Maroon Lake Road more enjoyable...snowshoes on, snowshoes off, frozen snow, slushy snow, sled, skis, sober, drunk, high, with partner, without partner, with partner that left me in the dust...they all sucked. Abe and I talked about trying fatty bikes the next time and so I decided to give it a shot. And yup, this is the way to go. It was still a struggle, but it only took me an hour to get from the ranch to Maroon Lake. And the ride back, in the slush, cruising past all the skiers, snowshoers and runners, was sheer joy. I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud.

This would be my 4th time back here in winter and this was by far the busiest I've ever seen it. I even ran into some familiar faces...Brandon Chalk and crew, Natalie (didn't see her, but saw her campsite), and Will in the parking lot later. I also saw a group at 4:30am that was on their way back to Maroon Lake. They turned around because they were behind schedule and were worried about how late it was...most aggressive turn around time ever! Around 5:30am I saw a solo headlamp that looked like it was heading toward Len Shoemaker. The only other person I could think of that would be after TP was Sarah T. I was determined to find out who this mystery person was so I put my head down and picked up the pace. I caught up with Jeff (Mickeys Grenade) at the entrance to the white gully. I only knew Jeff by his 14er name and that he had finished the winter 14ers earlier this year. After being alone on most of these peaks, it was nice to have the company of another person, even if it was just for a little bit.

First light on the Bells

Ascent in red, descent in yellow

Options...we chose to go left and I think Jeff came down the right side


Having a little fun on the north ridge

Pyramid traverse...damn it Abe, that thing is beautiful

Summit shots



Tribute to Steve

At this point Jeff and I parted ways. He headed back to his camp to pack up and hike out and I went over to Lightning.

Ridge to Lightning

Looking back at the most exposed section of the ridge...Thunder in the background


Brooke & Ben cairns and a failed attempt at a handstand

The descent from the saddle between TP and LP was interesting. At the constriction, there was a short section of alpine ice that took some creative down-climbing.

The hike back to Crater Lake was amazing. You go from staring at one stunning thing to another...Len Shoemaker Ridge...Y and Bell Cord Couloirs...Crater Lake...Pyramid's North Face...Sleeping Sexton...Maroon Lake...I'm back at the bike before I know it. Not sure when I'll get to soak in this view again so I take my time and eat everything left in my bag.

Strava map

Date...Sunday, March 19th
Time...4am - 11:15am
Distance...10 miles
Elevation Gain...4505 feet
Trailhead...Cathedral Creek Road Winter Closure in Ashcroft at 9520'
Route...Southeast Face to East Ridge - Descent of Standard South Ridge to East Couloir

That night I slept in the a parking lot in Ashcroft and got an early start on my last peak of the winter. This would turn out to be one of my favorite peaks of the season...stable conditions, perfect weather, the whole valley to myself, a fun line, and the excitement of my upcoming reverse hibernation all helped.

I had a little trouble following the Castle Creek Trail in the dark and ended up too high on the right side of the valley (see map at the end). But the early start was worth sunrise of the year.

I wanted to do something other than the standard route, but didn't want to make a decision until I saw the face. At this point, I knew the snow was in great condition and I could give the SE face a go. I tried to take as direct of a line as I could, and this is what that ended up looking like.

On the face...



East Ridge...


The Castle from the summit

Cathedral Lake from the top of the standard route couloir

Looking back at Cathedral from the lake. Another potential line comes into view from here. I think this might be the skier's line?

Here is where I made the mistake in the dark. Best to stay close to the creek on the left.


Strava map

Here's to a safe and successful upcoming winter climbing season. Thanks for reading.

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 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Comments or Questions
T minus 1 month
11/20/2017 10:02
December 21st is right around the corner, Mike. Nice report. I met Jeff on a sub zero winter ascent of Massive a couple of years ago. Hopefully, one of these days I'm gonna see your head lamp in the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere. Well done on these 2 outings man.

Nice Write up!
11/20/2017 09:45
Thanks for report! That Thunder and Lightening day is a big day. Nice work.

I definitely,L O L'd when I saw your headstand picture.

Thanks for the write up, enjoyable as usual.

11/20/2017 17:15
Nice addition to your list of reports, Mike!

As I recall, Steve triggered and road a slide in the first gully going up from the valley floor. He stayed on top, and when it stopped, he got up and collected himself, minus a trekking pole, and continued to the summit. I imagine his steel balls were still with him.

He also road a spring slide on Maroon some 10 or 15 years before that. Sad that the valley eventually took him from us.
It's likely his pack was found in your descent gully back in October by stratosfearsome but Britt hasn't heard back from Pitkin Mtn Rescue yet to know if they still have it.

Amazing last weekend of winter in the Elks
11/20/2017 16:54
I am still drooling. Camaraderie, conditions, scenery - everything was perfect. Cheers!

11/21/2017 14:19
The team work, the pics, holy crap you are killing it. Love the tribute to Steve also.

Well done, Mike
11/21/2017 17:47
What a great last weekend of winter 2016/2017. You certainly made the most of it! As always super impressive. The downclimb of the Thunder-Lightning west couloir looks a lot safer in winter than in summer. I would never ever do that thing dry again. Cheers dude

uppers, downers
12/03/2017 20:58
Everything you could think of...Bells road sucks ass. Amy spearheaded the fat bike, thats all her haha

Dang I don't recall pyramid being that from from TP. What are you doing around Xmas this year, busy in the weimi i bet......

Whoa thats crazy about Steve's pack. Glad you got to enjoy this one man

Nice TR Mike!
12/04/2017 19:56
And nice job of getting these two peaks last winter. You are one amazing climber. Would love to climb again with you someday.
I need to get Lightning climbed but find it so difficult to go there. Great tribute to Steve using his photo from his last climb.

Dad Mike
12/04/2017 22:15
I'm pretty sure it was you that made those picture cards of Steve for his funeral. Thanks for doing that Britt. I carry it with me often.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022®, 14ers Inc.