Pyramid Peak P500 SPS

Fri, Nov 2, 2007

With: Matthew Holliman

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

It was not only getting late in the season, now November, but Matthew and I were running out of west side SPS peaks that we could do together. I still had more than a dozen to do, but Matthew was getting down to the final ones he had yet to dayhike. Thunder Mtn and Pyramid Peak, both accessible out of the Roads End TH just east of Cedar Grove, were the last two accessible peaks that neither of us had dayhiked. We chose Pyramid of the two, primarily because we had already done the long hike up to Reflection Lake earlier in the year when we went to Jordan and Genevra on the Kings-Kern Divide. Learning our lesson from Senger the previous week, we got a much earlier start, heading out just before 2a. To no great surprise, there was only one or two other cars to be found in the parking lot, and we wouldn't see another soul for most of the day.

For four hours we plied our way up the South Fork of the Kings River, passing through Paradise Valley, crossing over the bridge at the upper end of the valley, and continuing up the Woods Creek drainage. We more or less followed Secor's description for reaching the upper bench area around Arrow and Pyramid Peaks, following the drainage of a small creek that comes down the north side of the canyon formed by Woods Creek. What we found was a bit more difficult than we had expected, with some thick bushwhacking blocking first one side, then the other side of the small stream. Cliffs on the left side halted progress there, causing us to backtrack and return to the right side. Continuing up we found class 3 slabs, some of them wet from the stream, and all of it made more difficult in having to navigate by headlamp. Matthew was less than happy with the slab climbing, choosing to do a bit more bushwhacking in the stream channel rather than trust his life to the stickiness of his boots. We met up again a short ways above, just as the difficultly eased off and the sky began to grow light with the new day.

We packed away our headlamps as we continued on through forest, unable to make out the surrounding peaks through the trees. We followed the stream drainage north then northeast as the forest thinned out, to be replaced with a good deal of talus and boulder and small patches of alpine grasses. It was nearly 9a when we finally climbed above treeline and had our first views of Pyramid Peak off to the northeast. We had a good view of the standard class 2 route up the west side, but it had all the appeal of a slog. On the other hand, the South Face was a good deal more enticing, a fractious collection of aretes, chutes, and steep slabs. Secor had no description of routes on this face, but it certainly looked like it ought to have a class 3 route on it, at least when viewed from a distance.

As we climbed higher towards the base of the peak I decided I wanted to give the South Face a go. Matthew was less convinced of its merits, choosing to take the standard route to the summit instead. We split up, each going our separate way. At the base of the South Face, the two chutes in the middle and to the right that I had spied as the most likely routes, now appeared to have steep slabby entrances that I was not at all sure I could surmount. But to the left was another chute, one that had been hidden from view earlier, that looked to offer a relatively easy way up. And so it did. Mostly class 2, the talus-filled chute led me up to the Southwest Ridge (or Arete - it wasn't all that distinctive). There were only a few class 3 moves in the entire chute, but the climbing was fairly decent - not the loose sandy talus one might expect to find in such a chute elsewhere in the Sierra.

At the top of the chute I looked around on the west side for Matthew, but could make out no sign of him, no movement to be detected anywhere. I continued up the ridge, now a collection of large blocks that went class 3+ and probably the best climbing I found on the peak. It would have been easy enough to move left onto the easier class 2 of the west side, but I found it more interesting to see if the ridge would "go," or be blocked by some impasse. It went. It was almost 11a when I finally reached the summit, taking nearly 9hrs from our start at Roads End. We had hoped that the peak would be easier than this, but the scrambling out of Woods Creek had been tougher than expected and had taken quite some time. There was snow even on the west slopes in the upper several hundred feet of the peak, and with a chilly wind blowing, I was not long in seeking shelter out of the cold and wind on the leeward side of the summit. I put on my jacket and balaclava, perusing the summit register as I waited for Matthew to make an appearance. The register dated back to 1962, with entries from many familiar names including Smatko, MacLeod, Lilley, Mantle, and others.

Matthew was nearly 30min in making it to the summit, by which time I had grown pretty cold even with the additional clothes. Mercifully, Matthew did not insist on staying long at the summit and we were soon thereafter on our way back down. Earlier we had talked about doing the traverse off Pyramid's South Ridge to Window Peak, about a mile and a half in that direction. But during the ascent and from the summit we got a much better view and realized it was not a trivial undertaking by any stretch, and we had not the energy or desire to give it a go. Still, I wanted to head down the South Ridge and see if I couldn't drop down the notch on that side we had seen earlier. The route is described by Secor as class 3, but Matthew had doubts since the upper part of the chute might be blocked by hazardous snow. So again we split up, myself taking a chance on the South Ridge, Matthew returning the way he had come up.

The South Ridge was easy enough, mostly class 2 with only a bit of class 3, though still enjoyable. The chute turned out to be a non-issue, with almost no snow to be found in its shaded recesses. Once out of the chute, I traversed right along some ledges, heading for an easier descent path and avoiding the loose boulder field lying in wait for me directly below the chute. The extra traversing along the base of some cliffs on the South Face was worth the effort as I was soon down to the easier ground below. Not long after I met up again with Matthew, both of us taking the same time to descend the peak. Together we descended back down to Woods Creek, stopping only for water and then again when we reached the trail to empty the rocks and sand from our shoes that had collected over the last several hours. For much of the descent we followed what appeared to be a decent use trail, though it may have been travelled more by animals than by people. We lost the trail with about 400ft of descent still to go, resulting in some ugly bushwhacking that had me cursing more than a few times.

It was 2:30p when we were finally back to the trail, with another 3.5hrs of hiking to go from there. Along the way we passed through the very large Paradise Valley (it seemed much longer in the afternoon than it had in the morning). There was one party camping at one of the sites as we hiked through, and there were several other parties we passed further down who were heading to the same place for the night. It was just after 6p when we finally made our way back to Roads End, making for a fairly long 16hr day. Whew! The legs were beat and the toes were quite sore, but they would have another week to recover before heading back for more.


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