Peak(s):  "Thunder Pyramid"  -  13,932 feet
Date Posted:  05/08/2012
Modified:  09/12/2018
Date Climbed:   05/06/2012
Author:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   Stone_man, letsgocu, moon stalker, sdkeil
 "Thunder Pyramid" West Face (White Gully) Snow Climb - Maroon Lake TH   

No Storm With This Thunder!

Date: Sunday, May 6, 2012
Crew: moon stalker (Kelly), sdkeil (Shawn), Stone_man (Joe), letsgocu (Kyle), and I
Route: West Face (White Gully) ascent and descent (snow climb) from Maroon Lake TH
Stats: 10.5 miles; 4,450'; 13 hrs RT

Our ascent and descent route:

Topo of the route:

Shawn, Kelly, and I found ourselves in quite the conundrum of whether we should attend the Annual Spring Gathering or head for a snow climb of "Thunder Pyramid". But with Maroon Creek Road being open early and recent beta from the Baker boys trip to that area last weekend, it was an opportunity we couldn't resist. I invited my friend Kyle, Shawn invited his friend Joe, and we had a nice team of five. I met everyone at the West Portal lot late Saturday night for 2 hours of sleep (note: when you're 5'10", trying to sleep in a Toyota Yaris rental car the size of a jelly bean does not work; it just doesn't) and a 2:15am alarm. We were on trail at 3:30am to enjoy the rather large full moon. We made great time to and around Carter Lake to 10,550' where we crossed the stream and put crampons on near 10,750'. The next goal was to climb two access gullies that lead us to the upper Len Shoemaker basin. We headed northeast towards the obvious first gully at 10,850' then climbed the second chute to eventually reach the base of the cliffs.

Kelly, Joe, and I top out of the first access gully en route to Len Shoemaker Basin:

Photo: Kyle

The ledge system we took to reach the base of the gully:

Photo: Shawn

Kyle, Shawn, and Kelly head to meet Joe at the base of the cliffs:

It flattened out a bit and to avoid cliff bands, we aimed for a grassy patch to the right of the waterfall at the base of the White Gully. After removing crampons, we worked our way up a steep grassy ledge system over the cliff band to 12,100' and put crampons back on. From here, the summit looked like it was just right up there! But alas, we had 1,600' worth of crampon work ahead of us.

Kyle, Joe, Shawn, and Kelly working up through the ledges:

Snow conditions in the couloir were pretty bomber - in fact, so much so that front-pointing was difficult. Zig-zagging using le franÒ«ias technique proved to be the best and most effective way to climb this long couloir, although it drained the energy from our legs. As we made our way up, we couldn't help but frequently glance over our shoulders at the sunrise hitting the always-impressive Maroon Bells. Kelly measured this main couloir to be 35-37 degrees.

Kyle and Joe starting up the White Couloir on bullet-proof snow:

Photo: Shawn

Making our way up the couloir (12,300'):

Photo: Kyle

Around 13,150' we veered climbers' right into the snow-filled branch off the main gully. This branch measured 40 degrees and would eventually drop us off at the summit ridge to the right of the peak. We read from a previous trip report that it can be easy to stay in the left side of the couloir, leading to some class 4 moves on the north side of the peak; our route was supposed to be class 3. We reached the top of the snow in the branch and removed crampons at 13,700'. We had a few hundred feet to gain the ridge by climbing the Elks notoriously loose, rotten rock and scree. Kyle and Joe found some better white rock to climb on the far climbers' right side of the gully.

Kelly and I work our way up the loose, rotten rock for a few hundred to reach the ridge proper:

Photo: Shawn

For the sake of perspective:

Photo: Kelly

Once on the ridge, we re-grouped and knew things would get a bit more serious with the scrambling ahead that would spice up the day. The first task was navigating a loose ledge and around the first block on the west side of the ridge. There was also a short and mildly exposed snow patch to cross.

I cross a small snow patch on a ledge with a bit of exposure to my left! Crossing back over this on the way back down was easier:

Photo: Kyle

We rounded the corner on the ledge (marked by a cairn) and headed north again across the airy ridge to what might be considered the crux just below the summit. Kyle called this move the "stem point" and it was certainly a class 4 move. I will mention we felt this route was at least high class 3 with at least one class 4 move, and maybe marginally one or two more.

Shawn climbs the narrow summit ridge:

Photo: Kelly

Shawn and Kelly (inset) on the class 4 "stem" move just below the summit:

We topped out at 10:20am and took in the pretty amazing views "Thunder" has to offer. We had intended on doing the traverse to "Lightning Pyramid" but all agreed that it wasn't in the cards for us that day. Instead, we enjoyed a 70-minute break on the summit with no wind and hoping the snow would soften a little for the descent back down the couloir.

Kelly, Shawn, Kyle, Joe, and I on the summit of "Thunder Pyramid" looking west - Pyramid emerges on our left:

A closer shot of the Maroon Bells and the Bell Cord Couloir; Snowmass and Capitol provide a nice backdrop. This set of Elks 14ers does not get old to look at:

At 11:30am we decided it was time to start back down. Crossing back the first snow patch was much easier. Soon after, we got back to the top of the gully and climbed (scree/talus-skied) back down the few hundred feet of rotten rock. Around 13,650', we put spikes back on and started the descent down the couloir. It hadn't warmed up very much, but enough to allow us better bite with crampons.

Heading back down the summit ridge to the top of the White Gully:

Photo: Shawn

The group descends the couloir on softer snow:

We made quick time down the 1,600' snow descent and found ourselves back at 12,100' to remove crampons. At this point we all kind of felt like we were done. The ledge system down climb went smoothly and the post-holing began, although not a total nightmare. Each of us, particularly Kelly, got in some glissading en route from Len Shoemaker basin to the first ascent gully. This first access gully ended up being the steepest portion of the day - probably slightly exceeding 40 degrees. So, we faced inward to the slope and down-climbed backwards.

Down-climbing the first access gully - the steepest snow portion of the day:


The impressive Maroon Bells and their reflection in Maroon Lake (taken from the night before):

Photo: Shawn

We all were pretty happy to be back down on flatter ground. We all were in agreement that doing "Thunder Pyramid" as a snow climb was the way to do it. Shawn compared this climb (in reference to the technical section along the summit ridge) to Pyramid and said it was harder - we all agreed with that too. The 3.5-mile trek back to the trail head put us back at the cars at 4:20pm. All of us were quite satisfied with the work done on one of the toughest Centennial 13ers - another solid day with a solid crew on a not-so-solid mountain!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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

Comments or Questions
05/08/2012 16:44
Nice TR and congrats to your teams summit Good work you can be my guide up Thunder next time!

George James
It's a small world
05/08/2012 17:24
Saw your headlamps moving up the basin from the apron of the Bell Cord and wondered which members they belonged to.

Nice report. Looks like a good time.

Good stuff, Caroline et al
05/08/2012 19:06
Thanks for posting

”It's a Small World”...
05/08/2012 19:45
George James : As did we yours... We also got a pretty cool show while we were on the summit, watching you guys ski the Bell Cord... Good work!

Al: Still want to get in there at some point and traverse to Thunder Lightning (a Bi)... You better work on your speed for that one though! This one took us 13hrs... Granted we spent like an hour on the summit and somewhat took our time. ;)

Caroline: Good work on the post... you are the best at these! What happened to the title we discussed at the post climb Qdoba session?? ;)

Kevin Baker
05/08/2012 20:36
Awesome outing, folks! Glad my Lightning TR could be put to good use. You guys must have had firmer snow than Darin and I because we just plunged stepped right down that last steep gully. Your tourist shot of the Bells is a classic, Shawn. You should submit that to the CMC calendar or to Backpacker! Nice work as always on the TR, CM!

05/08/2012 23:49
Your a pro at Splatski pics

Very nice TR and job!

moon stalker
Fun day!
05/09/2012 00:21
It was a fun and interesting climb. I'm glad we did it with snow. If that crap rock at the top was any indication of what the rest of that gully was like, the snow helped us. I like the last bit, solid crew on a not-so-solid mountain. Great report. And see, you're sooo much better at TRs than I am - merely a novice in your shadow!

Small world...
05/09/2012 01:50
George: That is a small world! We watched you guys (microscopic!) ski the Cord from the comfort of Thunder's summit. Did you ski off a summit, or the Cord itself? Nice!

Al: Thank you! Yep, Kyle said he'd be happy to be your guide, especially up the Bell Cord!

Matt: Thank you!

Kyle: Thanks! I kind of like writing TR's and a main goal is to answer all of the questions I had prior to the trip when I do write them. Hey, it was nice to finally get a climb in after ~2 years of planning one! We should probably make it more than once every 2 years! And, for the TR title, I chose to go the PG route, and not the title that the men of the trip suggested!

Kevin: Thanks as always Kevin Baker! Yep, your TR definitely helped motivate this trip. And we certainly had firmer snow the entire climb than you guys had - must have had some nice freezes in the area that week!

FireOnTheMountain: Thank you! I just looked up what a Splattski photo was - I suppose those fish-eye photos fit that to a t! I've been having fun with my new camera!

Kelly: 100% agreed that doing this as a snow climb was the way to do it and I'm glad we took advantage of it. Yeah, a not-so-solid mountain --> it's definitely one that wants to come down on you! And you're not a novice!

Well done!
05/09/2012 02:27
Great work on a big, gnarly climb you guys. And another excellent TR, Caroline... Hope we can get out together sometime this summer!

That snow patch on the ledge looks insane...

Congrats to everyone!

05/09/2012 02:54
Way to go Caroline on your awesome TR. This is definitely making me excited for cathedral. Overall, were conditions good for glissading?

Thanks for posting!
05/09/2012 05:19
I hope this and the Baker Boys report will come in handy soon.

Great report!
05/09/2012 06:29
I was wondering what conditions were like. This and the Baker boys TR are very helpful. Anyone else heading this way the week of 5/13?

Looks Good
05/09/2012 13:58
For hiking that is! I can't believe how dry the Elks are, it's early May for crying out loud! Nice job everyone, and nice TR Caroline.

Thanks everyone!
05/09/2012 14:59
Sarah: We studied your trip report from when you guys did the traverse to Lightning pretty well hoping we could do it. It looks fun, but not in my plastic boots! Also, I was actually going to send you and Papi a message to get our winter group back together and get some sweet 13er climbs on the calendar this summer!!

Jorge: Thanks! The only time we glissaded was from below the cliffs in Len Shoemaker Basin and below. No way any of would have glissaded the main couloir or branch due to pretty bullet-proof snow condition at a 40 degree angle.

CarpeDM & jnmattin: Thanks! Hope you guys have a great time whatever peaks you plan on climbing!

Ben: Thank you! I, too, thought the Elks would have more snow! Looking towards W Maroon Pass and that direction had a bit more coverage.

the goods
05/10/2012 01:07

from the other Baker Boy

First come first serve mountain
05/10/2012 04:52
Kane (from SP) said it best. I wouldn't want to be climbing that mountain with anyone above me, thats for damn sure. I say you chose your climbing plans wisely Caroline.

I agree with Ben, place looks bone dry. Its years like this where I wish I was a trust fund baby and could fly to where the snow is on a whim.

Nice work on TP. Definately more complex than P and the traverse between the two is worth going back for!

Bad. Ass.
05/10/2012 16:47
I wonder who is going to be next on the Thunder-Lightning dance card this spring? The Baker Boys definitely set the bar pretty high.

Congrats to all.

05/10/2012 21:27
Nice TR, did you need snow shoes at all for the approach around the lakes?

05/11/2012 11:45
kushrocks: Thanks! No, we all brought them up but left them in the car - and they are not needed. Once you get past Crater Lake, snow becomes patchy so there was only minor post-holing and a lot can be avoided. Other than that, it's bone dry.

Darin: Thank you - and for going up there last weekend!

Brian: I agree - especially when that peak just wants to fall down on you. I also agree on the trust fund baby part - hands down! Maybe I'll do the traverse once I get getter at climbing! Thank you!

Kevin P.: Thanks!! Your TR (Summit Lounger's) was one we studied quite a bit, and it was very helpful. Looking forward to a bunch of 13ers this summer!

Fred Moore
Great Report!!
05/13/2012 20:57
Sug, soooo... glad you did Thunder. I've always wanted to get it since we saw it from the Bells.

Thanks Dad
05/14/2012 11:17
As always! I'll repeat Thunder with you and Randy, but it's gotta be done as a snow climb!

05/14/2012 16:45
Good to see ya finally got up there! Thunder is a way-cool mountain. Probably some of the most enjoyable scrambling, imo. Whatcha think of the summit compared to say, Pyramid or the Bells?
Nice job! I see yo dad is here too!

My pops
05/18/2012 00:34
Yep, he's on 14ers! Thanks Kiefer!

Hope to get some climbs in with you this summer!

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