Peak(s):  Sleeping Sexton  -  13,460 feet
"Thunder Pyramid"  -  13,932 feet
Unnamed 13722  -  13,722 feet
Unnamed 13631  -  13,631 feet
Date Posted:  08/06/2017
Modified:  09/02/2019
Date Climbed:   08/04/2017
Author:  Mtnman200
Additional Members:   RandyMack
 Elk Hunting (SAR to the Rescue)   

Tuesday, August 1, 2017
My oldest son, Randy, and I were backpacking on this warm sunny afternoon up the West Maroon Creek Trail on a quest to bag four Elk Range thirteeners. We were just below Crater Lake at 5:58 PM when from above us on the trail we heard an unusual sound: the triple blast of an air horn, followed shortly by the arrival of a breathless young woman, Melissa. She told us she needed help for her injured friend, Karen, who was near the intersection of the Maroon Peak Trail and the West Maroon Creek Trail. Karen had apparently collapsed, hit her head, and was having seizures and trouble breathing. We told Melissa that we had an InReach satellite communicator and would get help on the way. Randy and I activated the SOS on our InReach at 6:00 PM, provided the info that we had, and then continued backpacking up the trail in an effort to find Karen. Meanwhile, Melissa continued to the trailhead and caught a ride to the Forest Service Welcome Center, where she notified the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office of the situation.

When Randy and I reached the creek crossing at 10,500', we didn't see anyone. I called out three times, SOS-style, and soon a hiker named Rusty came down the trail on the east side of West Maroon Creek and said Karen was a few hundred feet further up the trail. Randy and I waded the creek and followed Rusty to where several people were gathered around Karen, who was lying in a sleeping bag adjacent to the trail. Karen was semi-conscious, in shock, and her breathing was extremely labored. We informed the group that we had requested help at about 6 PM and that a search & rescue ground crew was already on the way. Randy and I used the InReach to provide updated info about Karen's condition and requested that she be given a helicopter evacuation due to the seriousness of her condition and the time it would take to move her 3.5 miles down the trail to the trailhead at Maroon Lake.

At 8:42 I received a message that the CareFlight helicopter had an ETA of 20 minutes and passed that info along. Around 8:45, the ground crew appeared on the other side of the creek. They ran across the creek (there is no bridge) and up the trail to Karen, took her vital signs, and got her stabilized and placed onto a stretcher. As promised, the helicopter arrived at 9 PM and, because it was now essentially dark, used its extremely bright lights to find a suitable place to land near the creek.

Here comes the CareFlight helicopter in the dwindling daylight

The CareFlight helicopter landed near the West Maroon Creek Trail, just above the creek crossing at 10,500' (Photo by Mo

Loading the injured hiker into the CareFlight helicopter (Photo by Mountain Rescue Aspen)

Soon, Karen was en route to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, where she is now recovering from cerebral edema and severe acute altitude sickness with hyponatremia. Happily, Karen is expected to be discharged after she's enjoyed a full week's worth of delicious hospital food. Kudos to Mountain Rescue Aspen and CareFlight for a job well done. Those folks are awesome! Also, kudos to the nice woman (Brandi) at the International Emergency Response Coordination Center in Montgomery, Texas who handled the InReach SOS activation and kept passing info to and from the authorities.

Now on to the Elks that Randy and I were hunting...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017
We had gotten shorted on sleep due to yesterday's excitement but were determined not to let that keep us from reaching today's objectives: "Lightning Pyramid" (Unnamed (UN) 13,722) and "Thunder Pyramid" (UN 13932). We left our campsite at 10,680' (just up the trail from yesterday's rescue operation) and made our way east and southeast through a couple of cliff bands that guard the large basin west of the peaks. Due to the forecast (60% chance of afternoon thunderstorms), we decided to start with Lightning Pyramid in order to have the harder ascent first, followed by an easier descent from Thunder Pyramid.

UN 13631 (left of the clouds) stands guard at the south end of the the basin west of Thunder Pyramid, Lightning Pyramid, and

Once in the basin, we headed ESE to a couloir that leads to a 13,420' saddle north of Lightning Pyramid's summit. We climbed on ledges and rock on the right (south) side of the couloir to avoid snow. Once at the saddle, we turned right and scrambled to the summit of Lightning Pyramid (13,722'), where impressive views of the surrounding peaks awaited us.

Lightning Pyramid from the basin; we ascended the obvious couloir to the saddle

Maroon Peak and North Maroon, seen from the couloir on Lightning Pyramid, look a bit different from this perspective than the

Eddie on the summit of Lightning Pyramid (Thunder Pyramid and Pyramid Peak behind)

Another view of Thunder Pyramid and Pyramid Peak from Lightning Pyramid's summit

Randy on the summit of Lightning Pyramid

The Lightning Pyramid summit register contains a few familiar names

We returned to the Thunder - Lightning saddle and contoured on ledges on the right (east) side of the ridge. Initially, our plan was to climb a steep couloir back to the ridge, but the snow in the couloir changed our minds. We scrambled up the ledges left (south) of the couloir and found ourselves back on the ridge at about 13,800'. A scramble north up the ridge brought us to the summit of Thunder Pyramid (13,932').

Randy by Thunder Pyramid's summit cairn with Pyramid Peak in the background

Storm clouds are building over the Maroon Bells

Eddie on Thunder Pyramid's summit

Skies don't look great in any direction

The CMC summit register was full (and falling apart), so we retrieved it and left a makeshift register in its place. Due to the threatening clouds, we beat a hasty retreat about 300' south on the ridge to an obvious white rock couloir. We descended west down the couloir to about 12,000' and then headed SW into the basin. Twice, rain and hail fell as we descended but weren't a problem. Once back at our campsite, we cooked dinner and went to bed early to catch up on sleep.

Home, sweet home

Thursday, August 3, 2017
Some rain had fallen during the night (never a good sign), and it was overcast when we once again headed through the cliff bands into the large basin.

Looking back toward the West Maroon Creek drainage

Rain fell off and on as we hiked southeast toward UN 13631. After crossing a snowfield at the edge of the basin, we began climbing a nasty scree slope toward the 13,300' saddle north of UN 13631. The climb was made even nastier by snowfall that followed us almost all the way to the saddle. Then, to our surprise, the snow stopped, the clouds blew over, and suddenly it was warm and sunny.

A creek emerges from under rock and snow near UN 13631. The route uses the saddle to the left

Rain, rain, go away...

From the saddle, it's only 331' to the summit, but there are numerous ridge steps to bypass. Still, it was a fun scramble. Unfortunately, the summit register (in a heavy metal pipe canister) was soaking wet. We returned to the saddle and ate lunch there before heading back the way we'd come.

Looking toward Lightning Pyramid from the Lightning - UN 13631 saddle. It's hard to believe there was a snowstorm only 2

Looking southeast across the large basin toward UN 13631

Thunder Pyramid and Lightning Pyramid from the large basin west of them

A closer look at Lightning Pyramid

Back at our campsite, we were packing up when a couple arrived, looking for a site. They were happy to wait 10 minutes for our campsite. We backpacked to Crater Lake and set up in site #9 near the lake's inlet.

Friday, August 4, 2017
Today's objective: Sleeping Sexton. Besides having a really cool name, an ascent of Sleeping Sexton includes traversing the famous "secret ledge," making this peak one of the most memorable thirteeners we've climbed. The best beta for Sleeping Sexton is Furthermore's 8/5/2013 trip report, for which we are grateful.

Shortly after we began hiking along the West Maroon Creek Trail, we intercepted a couple of guys who had missed the turnoff to Pyramid Peak. Randy pointed them in the correct direction, and hopefully they reached Pyramid's summit. We turned onto the Buckskin Pass Trail and followed it to a creek crossing at 11,040'. After topping off our water supply, we hiked west across a meadow, bypassing willows and a mildly swampy area as needed. We headed WSW up an avalanche gully to about 11,750', realized we'd stayed in the gully too long, but decided to start the southward traverse where we were rather than lose elevation. When we reached a break in the cliff bands, we ended up descending about 100' rather than risking getting cliffed out. Soon, we reached Sleeping Sexton's northeast ridge.

Sleeping Sexton at 6:30 AM from the trail to Buckskin Pass

The traverse from the avalanche gully went below these cliffs

Looking toward Buckskin Pass

The view up Sleeping Sexton's northeast ridge

We bypassed most cliff bands on the left, but a couple went well on the right. It's generally obvious which way to go. When climbing directly up the ridge became too difficult, we traversed left into the white gully just south of the northeast ridge. It seemed best to stay on the right side of the gully until we could climb back onto the ridge. From here to Sleeping Sexton's false summit ("The Crown"), the climbing became easier.

North Maroon (center) and The Chin of Sleeping Sexton

The white gully just south of the northeast ridge

Looking down the white gully

The first false summit (aka "The Crown") of Sleeping Sexton from the northeast ridge

A few well-placed cairns were helpful in bypassing obstacles on the northeast ridge

Randy is on The Crown, where the snow is up to six feet deep in places

The view from The Crown toward North Maroon, Maroon Peak, and Sleeping Sexton's true summit (The Nose)

We reached The Crown and took a short break to refuel while watching several climbers standing on the summit of North Maroon. We then headed south toward The Eyebrow, downclimbing on the west side of the ridge until were in the notch between the Crown and the Eyebrow. A descent from the notch down the steep gully on the west side of the ridge for 125 - 150 feet brought us to the point where it was obvious we needed to begin traversing south (descender's left) to the "secret ledge." The ledge doesn't look like a very plausible route, yet it goes well. Randy and I wondered aloud who discovered the "secret ledge" and was the first to try it out. That was a brave person! We both stayed on the "secret ledge" for as long as possible, which kept the route at an easy, though quite exposed, Class 3.

Eddie on the "secret ledge." This is definitely a place to give the mountain your full attention

Looking toward the saddle between The Eyebrow and The Nose from the "secret ledge"

A short walk brought us to the saddle between The Eyebrow and The Nose (i.e., the true summit). From here, we scrambled via the path of least resistance (sometimes left, sometimes right) to the summit of Sleeping Sexton (13,460').

Mike Garratt's summit register has been on Sleeping Sexton longer than Randy's been alive!

More well-known names in the summit register (Jennifer Sears is now Jennifer Roach)

After enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains, we returned to The Crown, ate lunch, and headed back to our campsite. The rain waited until we were ready to backpack to the trailhead. We didn't mind, as we were still pumped up from successfully climbing what is arguably one of the most challenging tricentennial peaks. That, and bagging all four Elks we had targeted on this trip.

Here are a couple of followup photos that Melissa sent me. Also, Karen will be heading home on August 7, 2017, so she will not get quite a full week of tasty hospital food. Everybody loves a happy ending, right?

Karen, looking like she's feeling much better on August 6, 2017 than she did on August 1

An MRA team leader drove two hours to visit Karen on August 6, 2017

More followup info is available here:
Sept. 3, 2017 Article in the Aspen Times

ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM (8/1/2019 Message from Karen)
As an update on me, I am improving with my health every week and I know that will continue as time progresses. Earlier this year I retired medically with 19 years of military service from active duty Air Force, due to my injuries. It was a tough decision to retire, but the right decision. Right now I focus on my healing and recovery everyday. I am grateful and thankful for life.
Everyday I begin on a positive note. It has to start with me. Everyday is an opportunity to begin again. Thank you all again for your selfless acts of kindness.

Blue = ascent route on Unnamed 13,631', Lightning Pyramid, and Thunder Pyramid; red = descent route from Thunder Pyramid

Route on Sleeping Sexton from the Buckskin Pass Trail

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 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

Comments or Questions
missed you by a week on the Sexton
08/06/2017 08:23
Nice work out there!

08/07/2017 07:00
Interesting story. I suppose I too might drive two hours to see a smiling survivor. It keeps the spirits up for when things don't turn out well.

And congrats on your summits.

08/07/2017 08:24
Nice job Eddie on the help you provided. As usual, great report with some nice pictures, and congrats on reaching those peaks..good huntin'!

08/10/2017 13:27
Thanks, Dillon, DArcy, and Vadim. With MRA having to conduct two recoveries in the past week, I can see why visiting a survivor would help keep their spirits up.

She's cute
08/15/2017 15:20
I would've visited too...haaaaa! Randy has more hair than I do. Guess your back is doing better? The secret ledge looks scarier than anything we encountered on Peak 15.

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