Rio Grande Pyramid

21 Jul 2000 - by K Miller

Garratt and Martin give a accurately-detailed account of how to ascend this peak, but thought I'd add some tidbits pertaining to this year's climb of this wonderfully beautiful peak and area.

To Lake City from Gunnison, they are repaving the road (l49). So I did a lot of sitting in my car (30 minutes at one point) waiting for the pilot vehicle to escort traffic each way. If you are driving from Lake City, it's 41 miles to the trailhead from the last gas station in Lake City with none available after that point, so plan accordingly. 520 isn't well marked, so be on the look out. The l2-mile drive on this dirt road is quite smooth, and signs at the "Thirty-mile Camp Ground" are readily visible. I had gear packed for both backpacking and car camping as I didn't know how late I'd arrive (wound up being 6:30), so when I drove up to the fee area and the cost to camp was $11, I quickly got in gear for a back-pack. Drive by the fee box and a little way up there's a free spot for backpackers. Also available are numerous drinking water spickets, so you can fill up your water bottles there.

The elevation of this climb is in three spots--beginning, middle, and end (ha ha). Seriously, the first two miles takes you up 1000', but because of the rolling up's and down's of the trail, it seems like a little more. Shortly after the foot bridge, a little more elevation brings you to a switch back, and after that it's relatively level for 3 miles to the pass. Be sure to notice the water fall descending the cliff walls of Weminuche Creek to your left. After the footbridge, you will cross streams three times, the third being at Weminuche Pass. If you are backpacking, the first spots for campsite will be 3 miles into the trip; the best spots are at the Pass.

You will know when you have crossed the third creek crossing at the Pass as there is a 6' pole directly after the creek. You can't see it in the morning, but I noticed coming back that the pole has "Sky Line Trail" carved into it. This is the signal to turn due west and catch that trail if you plan to take the "high road" to the peak. Otherwise, keep going straight if you want to stay in the immense, lush valley and save all of your elevation gain until the end of the climb (Not!). From that juncture, at 280 degrees you can spot high on the ridge a 12808' knob that will tell you you're going in the right direction. Before you go any farther, load up the water bottles. There is NO other source for filtering water after this third creek crossing if you take the high trail, and it's another 5 miles from here. Here is your second elevation climb--1200' in l mile--kind of like Mt. Sanitas at altitude. Garratt and Martin describe this section as a newly constructed trail. Well, there wasn't much thought put into the construction because it has eroded out into a deep, thin ditch, and if you actually try to walk in it, you'll be using lots of energy stepping over boulders. At the top of this grunt, your rewards come into view. The trail crests the Continental Divide and crosses over the south side at 12,100' where your first view of the Peak and the Window come into view. Your reward in that climb is that the trail is again flat for the next 3 miles, and views the valley 1000' below.

The switch back up to the saddle is now prominent and not hard to miss. Unfortunately, two skree trails on two lower levels of the summit pyramid are very visible as well. Walk up on the rocks to the left of these skree trails. Once past these two lower levels of the pyramid, you are ready for the main block. I found this peak to consist of mostly loose rock--both large and small, so footing must be made carefully. You will be ascending the east rib (the one directly toward you as you are viewing it during your walk). There are 3 bumps in this rib that you will climb around on your way to the summit. Work your way around to the left side of these each time. Because of the loose rock, I was using 3-point contact most of the way up. If you're doing this with a group, helmets are highly recommended! At the summit, you will have ominous views of the backside of the Windom, Sunlight, and Eolus group, and further north, good views of the El Diente group. Of course, you can see the entire Lake City group directly to your north/northeast. On your way down, be sure to stay directly to the right of those three bumps you climbed around, even though it looks less steep and there are cairns that direct you to go further right. I did this and wound up in an area of loose rock over some cliff ledges. So after backclimbing up a ways and getting over to the bumps, I was once again on safe ground. Also, stay away from the occasional gravel path....too slippery.

Once off the peak, you can enjoy moose, weasels, and an occasional grouse back to your camp site. I was the only one on the Peak on Friday. I ran into two other groups that evening.

This 20-mile trip is well worth the 300-mile drive from Denver.


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