Nameless Pyramid PD / CS

Aug 15, 2020

With: Sean Casserly
Iris Ma
Tom Grundy
Robert Wu
JD Morris
Clement Guillaume
Chris Henry
Jonathan Mason
Grant Miller
Sean Reedy
Fred Zalokar
Emma Lautanen

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


The oxymoron that is Nameless Pyramid lies atop the Sierra Crest a short distance south of Kearsarge Pass. I've gone by it on more than a dozen occasions while heading to any of a number of other summits in the area, often pausing to think, "I should climb that thing." What had kept me from doing it previously was the stiff rating of its exposed summit block - class 5.7x, where the "X" refers to the unprotectable nature of the ascent up the narrow, 45-degree granite fin. Tom Grundy had soloed it three years earlier during the Challenge and described it in nervous terms that contributed greatly to my apprehension. But it did have a bolt up top that he thought might help to set up a top rope and allow some degree of protection, even if mostly psychological. Because it is only about 30ft high and the approach is quite short, we didn't expect to have much difficultly getting it done in a reasonable time even if we had a large group. Tom graciously accepted the role of climbing manager for the day, choosing the gear, setting up the top rope, and managing a dozen folks up the short pitch. Additionally, JD was finishing the SPS list today. Originally, it was planned to be on Tinemaha, but that area was closed until the end of the year due to a fire. So it was moved to University Peak, a summit we'd already done on a previous Challenge, but was conveniently (or not so conveniently, as we came to find out) near Nameless Pyramid. The idea was to finish up with the Challenge peak as soon as possible, then head to University.

The obvious route is to take the Kearsarge Pass Trail from Onion Valley, then follow the ridge south to the base of Nameless Pyramid. Secor rates the ridge as class 3, and most of the participants followed this route. From the satellite view, I had spied a chute southwest of Big Pothole Lake that might shortcut the Kearsarge Pass route. I had described this option in the online description for the day's peak, but it seems I was the only interested, or curious enough to try it. Even with some tedious boulder-hopping to get around the lake, the route worked quite nicely, enabling me to beat everyone to the point on the ridge at the top of this east-facing chute. It was not a huge lead, however, as Fred and Clement both caught up to me rather quickly and were soon ahead for the last 20min it would take to reach the base of the summit block. Robert and Grant were the first to reach the peak well before everyone else, having ascended from the east via Heart Lake. Robert soloed up and down without a rope before anyone else had gotten there (described later as "not the smartest thing I've done") and went off to Snow Crown, another summit to the south on the crest. Confused, Grant went after Robert towards Snow Crown, thinking it was Nameless Pyramid. They were both gone before anyone else arrived. It was 8:30a before I had reached the peak and would take another 30min or so for the rest of the large crew to gather there.

Trailing a rope, Tom G climbed up the north side of the granite fin, then set up a top rope utilizing the old bolt on top with some additional backup. Chris then lowered him off the east side of the summit block, and we were soon ready for the production line. With various folks sharing belay duty, one by one the group made the ascent up the north side. There would be little protection were one to fall off either side of the fin, so the best Tom G could instruct was to straddle the fin should one fall or slip. Most of the climb is straightforward, but there's about a 3-foot section 2/3 of the way up where it's steepest and a little slippery, and it was here that the real action takes place. There was much hesitating and cursing here by almost everyone. JD went first so that he could get on with the business of his list finish by heading to University by way of Snow Crown. He was followed by Chris and Fred. Fred struggled at the crux, choosing to climb on his knees rather than trust his shoes and had some blood-letting to show for it. He was the only one to leave a bit of himself on the rock today. Sean R, Mason, Emma, Iris and Sean C went up in turn. After descending, I had each of them sign a register I would place on the summit when I went up. Because there were no stones on top with which to shelter the register, we asked each person to carry a rock up with them. Most of these turned out to be the size of golf balls, not terribly helpful, but there were enough to cobble something together. I was second-to-last, finding it about as spicy as the others had indicated, though it took less than a minute of actual work to reach the summit. I left the register under the pile of newly acquired rocks, took a photo looking off the rappel side, then went down. Tom B went last, only because he hadn't brought rock shoes and needed to borrow mine. Tom G went back up a second time at the end to collect the gear he'd used to back up the bolt before rapping back down. It was almost noon by the time we had packed all the gear away. A handful of folks had already gone after JD to University, but those of us still at Nameless Pyramid decided it looked like too much work - we would go back to Onion Valley to wait for JD and the gang and celebrate his list finish there.

There is an interesting series of ledges and ramps on the northwest side of the crest that I had used to reach the summit block, possibly the easiest way to reach it from the crest to the north. I led six of us down this 60-foot section that someone likened to a video game. We then continued north along the west side of the crest to the top of the chute I had used and descended that. After this, our group split up as we went about finding various ways around Big Pothole Lake and back to the trail. Tom B stayed high above the lake on the south side and reported easy sailing. Sean R and I stopped on either end of the lake for a swim before catching up with the others in the boulders and on the trail. Tom would get back 10min before the next group that included Sean, Mason and myself. Tom G and Iris would be an hour later still, stopping to take a couple of swims at the lower lakes.

Back by 2p, we settled in for a relaxing afternoon under Tom's pull-out shade on the side of his Jeep. Adult beverages and salty snacks were consumed over the course of the afternoon. Clouds had built up threatening rain, but only a few sprinkles ever materialized. JD and the others from University didn't return until 6p, by which time the rest of us were relaxed and feeling little pain. JD became only the third person to day hike the SPS list, ten years after the Matthew and I had done it in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Well done, JD!

For the first time in eight days, Fred was not first to return. Sean C got the stage win, though partially by accident. We had let him be one of the first to go up and back down so that he could return to Kearsarge Pass where his wife was waiting with their infant son. The plan was for Asaka to then scramble from the pass to Nameless Pyramid and take her turn. She didn't like the look of the ridge as a soloing exercise and declined. Fred ended up half an hour behind Sean C and an hour ahead of the next person. Meanwhile, Clement went off to Snow Crown, Rixford, Falcor and Mt. Gould in a wide tour around Kearsarge Pass. Not to be outdone, Grant did all those plus Glacier Spike and six of the Kearsarge Pinnacles. Once he realized he had missed Nameless Pyramid, Grant planned to revisit it at the end of the day to solo it as Tom G and Robert had done previously. Unfortunately, later afternoon rain had left the rocks wet and he deemed that an unsafe risk. It was the only Challenge peak he would miss from this year's list. Emma and Zee remained tied for the White Jersey with six Challenge peaks each.


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