Thunder Pyramid – 13,932 ft.
I’ve been looking forward to skiing Thunder Pyramid for years, so I was excited to have had an incredible day climbing and skiing the West Face this past weekend with Ted, and friends Darcy Conover and Adam Moszynski. Located in the heart of the Elk Range, just .6 miles south of the well-known 14er Pyramid Peak, Thunder Pyramid can be loose and dangerous during the summer, so it doesn’t see a lot of traffic. Interestingly, it doesn’t get skied much either, and many Aspen locals are not too familiar with the peak.
At 13,932 ft., Thunder Pyramid is just 78 feet shy of being a ranked Colorado 14er, so it’s not as well known as it’s taller neighbor, and that contributes to its mystique. The views from the summit and those taken in while skiing down its west side are absolutely stunning, with unique perspectives of the Maroon Bells, Pyramid, Len Shoemaker, West Maroon Pass, and Belleview Mountain.
Ted and I climbed Thunder Pyramid back in the summer of 2010, and Ted and Dav skied the Southeast Face in 2008, so we knew the route and what to expect. This Centennial is considered to be one of the more dangerous peaks on the list, but also one of the most rewarding.
We got an early start from T-Lazy 7, snowmobiled up the road to Maroon Lake, and skinned up the summer trail to Crater Lake. As we traversed over the lake and started to climb up into the Len Shoemaker Basin, the sky began to lighten and the Bells revealed themselves like something out of a surrealist painting. It was absolutely stunning.
Soon we were climbing up the snow of the West Face of Thunder, along a similar path as the summer trail. In 2008, Dav and Ted had climbed the main couloir that splits the west side of Thunder and Lightning peaks. This put them further south down the ridge then they had hoped, and they had to do a spicy traverse across the East Face to gain the summit. The route we took went very close to the summit, but still had a few crux moves to figure out. I think any way you go, you can count on some steep, mixed climbing on the final pitch to the summit ridge.
Once on the ridge, I was able to get a long awaited look down the Southwast Face. The first 100 feet off the east side are REALLY steep, definitely comparable to Pyramid’s East Face. Unfortunately, it looked to be in pretty bad shape after the warm temps we’ve had and the three recent dust storms. The snow had slid and the slopes were a runneled mess. This side of the mountain also gets a lot of sun, and the exposed dark maroon rock collects heat and rots out the the adjacent snow.
Slightly disappointed we turned our attention back to the west, where we actually found better snow and great skiing. We skied a couple turns on the ridge from the summit before finding a narrow gully that led to the west facing snow we climbed. Once through the pinch, the real skiing began, we had steep, wintry snow and amazing views all the way down to the valley floor. Our take from the day was that our area’s 120% snow pack is melting fast and the dust is having serious effects on our spring skiing. We were just psyched to have gotten to ski from the top and have an awesome ski down. I would be exciting to do this one again and try for East Face in better conditions.
What a day. The Elks never seem to disappoint.