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Pyramid Peak South Face and Bushwhack 2013 February 18

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  • Pyramid Peak South Face and Bushwhack 2013 February 18

    Duration: 11 hours; 8 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Route: 12 miles/4,150 feet elevation gain. St. Huberts – Ausable Lakes via Lake Road – Pyramid/Sawteeth col – Ascend trail to bushwhack – Ascent S Face – Bushwhack ridge to Pyramid Summit – trail to Lake Road and St. Huberts.
    Temperature: about 10 Fahrenheit with 40 m.p.h. gusts,
    Trail Conditions: packed snow.
    Partners: MudRat, Nangaparbat
    Diet: 3 monster brownies (thanks Deb!), starburst, powerbar, e-gel, gorp, 3 litres water
    Gear: Capilene, Heavy Fleece bottoms, Columbia Titanium snow pants, Rain jacket (shell), Northface TKA100 micro-fleece, heavy wicking layer, primaloft jacket while climbing Gothics, Black Diamond sabertooth crampons, BD viper & Charlet Moser Axar tools, Koflach Arctis boots, OR Absolute Zero mitts.
    Pack Weight: 30-35 lbs.


    VIDEO Well, this video should give you a little idea what some of the climb was like. It's a first attempt using a helmet mounted GoPro, so it's less than perfect...far less.


    The direction of my interests this winter have taken me on a series of open faces for the most part. Each outing has filled my memory with indelible impressions to draw upon during the week; a respite when I need a mental break from the daily routine. Memories of frigid blasts of the air rushing up a mountainside, views down iced faces--the sound of crampons biting into ice. Thus far, the climbs have been in less than stellar conditions. This climb, however, found me under a deep blue sky and a bright sun that took the edge off the cold temperatures and gusty winds. Our quarry was another expansive face: Pyramid Peak’s South Face.

    NP had been contemplating this for quite some time, gathering beta last summer. Rik posted a picture set in mid-February that showed the face and where it was holding snow. That was all we needed for inspiration. Thanks Rik!

    Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the house and would remain such throughout the day. Strong winds buffeted the house overnight, a concern since we were going to be exposed on a face. The winds were forecast to decrease as the day went on. The approach was via the Lake Road to Lower Ausable Lake and up the trail to the Sawteeth/Pyramid col. We climbed slowly, me nursing a pulled calf muscle and taking care not to make it worse. It took a bit over three hours to reach the Sawteeth/Pyramid col where the winds howled on the other side of the trees; the face was obviously being blasted. We stood in an area of relative calm, however, with the morning sun strong upon us as we ate a snack and enjoyed the warmth.

    NP led the way and followed the trail up Pyramid just high enough to bypass the blowdown near the col. Perhaps two feet of snow covered the ground, but gravity helped as he broke trail down through the loosely knit conifer forest. It wasn’t long before I could see the snow on the eastern side of the face reflecting through the trees. We were close. Contouring down through the forest, we intercepted the slab about 150 feet above the lowest portion on a precipitous incline. It had taken a mere twenty minutes from the trail.

    South Face
    Snow allowed us to climb to a stand of trees where we readied our gear. The western part of the slab dropped away below toward the runout in the southwestern corner. We stood at an even elevation with the East Face of Basin and the Johanssen Face of Haystack. A more perfect setting, I couldn’t imagine. It was noon so and the wind was still strong. Gusts forced us brace ourselves on several occasions and sent small cyclones of spindrift dancing across the face.

    NP approaches some iced ledges during a gust. We climbed left from here onto the face.

    The slope was a bit over 35 degrees with a thin crust of ice and snow on the face. We couldn’t see a clean line to the top so we descended in search of better perspective. Kicking deep, I felt the crampons bite into ice where the snow was deeper. As I descended and traversed toward the low central slab, the snow thinned and I felt metal on stone; not a good thing. A nearby shelf of soil under the snow secured my stance as I looked upward, an inspiring and humbling view. A line of trees trended left (northwest) above. Beyond (about 500 feet higher) was the massive wall of the upper slab, perhaps 80 feet high. This also trended to the northwest. Scanning to the west, much of the face didn’t hold snow. The browns and greens of a long-exposed slide contrasted against the stark white.

    It was time to ascend. Back at our packs I put on the GoPro video camera I borrowed and began to climb the learning curve of that little toy. In retrospect most of the footage looks like we were on a roller coaster, but that’s a different story. About 50 feet above our packs, a 3 foot ledge of ice broke the slab. It was on.

    Above, we moved out onto the face as much as safety would allow and climbed in shin deep snow kicking steps through the thin crust to the underlying ice. A hundred feet up we found the first runs of good ice glistening in the sun. We weren’t roped, so the thick ice and good sticks were much to my relief. Switching leads occasionally, we took pictures of each other for scale in the ever-changing landscape. The face grew steeper as we neared the crux, a bulge in the face at around 3,900 feet in elevation or roughly 400 feet above the forest below. Meanwhile, views of Basin were astounding. A ridge had obscured some of its face below, but at this elevation it was nearly in full view…glistening under a cloudless sky. It too begged to be climbed.

    Just below the crux, Basin's East & SE Face show over the ridge.

    As usual, NP hooted every now and again with the joy of being free in the Adirondacks backcountry. As usual, he waited until I was in various precarious positions to yell, “Stay there and look back!” As usual, I complied and returned the favor in turn. Catching up to me just above the crux we sat in the snow and looked around. The slope declined slightly, but there was still a great deal of climbing to do. He trekked up another snowfield to more runs of ice about 500 feet above the base. Steep tiers of anorthosite at the top of the face didn’t hold the snow and loomed high above as worked his way upward. By now, he was even with the beginning of the northeastern slab wall, a most dramatic addition to the face and something that's held my curiousity for years.

    NP approaches the upper slab on some good ice.

    Wide angle shot of the above pic with the wall of anorthosite on the right.

    Kevin climbs up the snowfield, the crux of the face just behind.

    I caught up to him in time to hear what sounded like a train barreling up the ridge. We braced ourselves as another (of many) gust blew swirls of snow around us and raked the face below. It was the last such gust we’d have to deal with.

    Put yourself in our place and soak in the moment…you’re now about 500 or so feet above the forest below. To the southeast lies Sawteeth marred by slides facing Pyramid. Beyond lies Nippletop, Colvin, Blake and a plethora of surrounding mountains. The bottom of the face is obscured from view due to the bulge you just climbed. The pitch seemingly falls away into thin air drawing you forward if you let it. Imagine standing near a nearly vertical wall that’s 450 feet long ascending toward the awaiting ridge at a 35 degree angle. Paint the wall with hues of browns, greens and grays of every shade. Looking up along the wall to the northwest leads into the maw of a 20 foot wide gash in the ridge that narrows hundreds of feet higher. Now fill it with a few feet of snow. Add some small consolidated pieces of snow that bounce down from above on occasion. Your job is now to follow the wall up through a couple feet of snow to the crest of the ridge where a whole new world of fun begins…the bushwhack.

    We soaked in the panorama and then began the slow trek up the gully. The snow was deepest in the center so we hugged the wall where it was only knee deep. Plunging the axes gave us some leverage as we leaned into the task. The work was hard, but the scenery was more than worth the effort. The mountain swallowed us as we ascended along smooth anorthosite on the right and layered ledges to the left. For over thirty minutes we climbed the trough which ended in a 10 foot wall entombed in ice. The tortured formations of melting ice sculpted by wind added the perfect winter touch. A break in the forest sat just beyond. The temperature was about 10 degrees, but the crest was sheltered, the sun was strong and our layers of fleece were warm.

    Looking along the wall up into the gully and top of the ridge.

    NP climbing along the wall, Sawteeth in the background.

    Stomping a comfortable hole in the snow, we lazed around for about 20 minutes discussing options: descend, head for Gothics south face or bushwhack Pyramid via the ridge. The time stood at about 2:45 p.m.
    We opted for the bushwhack, the most efficient option given the choices. The summit was a few hundred vertical feet higher and about 800 ground feet away through a sea of cripplebrush. The path was only about 450 feet away. Being a bit of a purest and realizing I’d likely not set out to do a winter bushwhack of Pyramid anytime soon, I led us on a summit-direct track.

    Snowshoes helped keep us from post-holing deeper than a couple feet, but were a big hindrance in the tight trees and up our first obstacle, a steep and thankfully short run of stone. The forest vacillated between the tall-stiff and short-dense-stiff varieties of spruce. In other words, there was no easy way through. The 800 feet took us just over an hour. We surveyed Gothics’ nearly bare South Face from Pyramid’s summit at 4:20 p.m., still buffeted by strong winds. I’d broken trail up the ridge which sapped the last of my reserves. It was time to call it a day, and a magnificent one at that.

    Below, we reached the dam at the Ausable Lakes at about twilight for a snack and a break. The remaining 3.5 miles down the Lake Road was lit by the bright glow of a half moon. Headlamps were unnecessary and we arrived at our vehicles at 7:00 p.m., 11 hours from the start. I still feel like I’m on the face, and know that I’ll return to this ‘little’ Adirondack’ gem.

    NP at the top of the gully.
    Last edited by mudrat; 11-27-2020, 10:17 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

  • #2
    <sigh> After reading this, I feel so terribly hemmed in by trails! Thanks for the vicariously thrill and inspiration, gentlemen. I now have something new to try after finishing my winter round.

    Great TR and photos! Thank you for taking the time to share your adventure!
    Looking for Views!


    • #3
      Wow, that is way cooler than anything I will ever do! The trip report made for exciting reading and the pictures make the reader feel part of the adventure. Really, really well done!
      Limped thru the Northeast 115...


      • #4
        Excellent climb on a beautiful day. The deep blue skies in the photos are unreal.
        Did you guys find yourselves on any bare rock or was there always ice or snow under your feet? That view of Basin's east face from pyramid is probably the best view of it from anywhere.
        I felt like I was reading a trip report by Robert Frost......great job creating a "virtual climb" for the reader.
        The only thing missing in your photos is me. Lol

        Hopefully it stays cold and we get more snow so the winter climbing season last a few more months. I could care less about a March 21st deadline, I want to have the crampons on until May.
        The greatest precept is continual awareness.


        • #5
          Wow! Kevin, you have outdone yourself (again) with that report and those pics! Am I remembering correctly that NP did an exploratory hike for this approach a few months back? Anyway, what a beautiful route!


          • #6
            Was this outing a great outing or what???????

            As usual, I have studied pics of the face knowing that after some snowfall the outer rightmost part of the lower face would yield a route.

            I have been there last july, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the area.

            That outing did not yield any success in term of completing a route up the south face, but I have learned enough to know that I might get my reward later.....

            Talking about reward, I was with my usual partner Mudrat, now after about 9 outings together within the past year or so, we start to feel like a real team.

            I was planning to get there sooner or later, but kept postponing due to lack of snow or motivation to drive down the I-87.......

            Last Saturday, I saw pics taken from Rik, then I knew my chance was there for the grabing.....

            I also knew that Mudrat had a plan to go see the Wolfjaws......

            So I tried to convince him to change his plans.

            Now we were on for this next adventure. Great weather, wind and a perfect place to be was all we needed for an outstanding day in our favorite park, the High Peaks.

            Since I have been on that face last july, I knew well how to avoid the terrible blowdown directly across the Sawteeth/Pyramid col.

            I also knew where the rock field was, BIG rocks that you dont want to fall in between, unable to remove your snowshoes and unable to get out....

            The rest of the day is history. One of the best outing I have ever done in the high peak.

            Spectacular views, great weather a feel of being out there with my trusty partner, led me to the top of this face.

            My original plan was to downclimbed the NW face and climb the South face of Gothics..... NO No, it is much bigger than the energy you have left .....

            Poor NP how did you forget about your own weakness......, anyway the BW from the top of the face was mostly pleasant, I did not led it......

            I am smart enough now to let Mudrat handle the hardship of navigation....

            We end up on a small funny rock in the middle of nowhere, this took both of us more energy to climb than 200 feet of the lower face....

            After a few expectives and a good laugh I finally manage to get over this unforeseen challenge.

            What a great day, I am looking forward to our next outing, which might be very spectacular indeed.
            8000m 0/14


            • #7
              I was wondering, did you guys rope up and/or use any protection for this climb? In some of your other TR's I have seen that, but not in this one. Just wondering.

              Thanks as always for a great TR with awesome pics. Really great stuff.


              • #8
                Yep, beyond what I'll do. But beautiful photos. A day like that makes you happy just to be alive. Given what you saw on Monday, any thoughts what the Saddleback "cliffs" may contain for ice and snow?


                • #9
                  Originally posted by mrsmileyns View Post
                  I was wondering, did you guys rope up and/or use any protection for this climb? In some of your other TR's I have seen that, but not in this one. Just wondering.

                  Thanks as always for a great TR with awesome pics. Really great stuff.
                  No rope up, in fact we never tied a rope together, in some of the other outing we just have brought it , just in case.

                  Now I think that it is not needed as long there is enough snow/ice.

                  Remember what is difficult for someone might be easier for another and conversely.

                  I do not recommend how you should go out there.

                  Use your own judgement base on your experience and level of expertise.

                  Be safe and have fun is more important than what people will think of what you have done.
                  8000m 0/14


                  • #10
                    ^^ that's really great. I'm all admiration.
                    Winter hiking -- "It's so easy an eight year old can do it!"

                    - Photobug65


                    • #11
                      Trail Boss: Pesky trails eh? I love the way you put that. Thanks, Taras!
                      Pathgrinder: Thanks for the comment, I was trying to do this justice, but it’s hard to in words.
                      DeepForest: The blue was unreal. I kept taking my sunglasses off, just to see if they were skewing the color; nope it was that blue. No, we stayed off the rock, though about 75% of the face was bare. It made me realize how difficult the climb would be in summer…lichen etc.
                      I agree, this is the best view I’ve ever seen of Basin E (other than on it  ) You would have loved it on this one and we would have had better video. Thanks, Anthony!
                      Greg: Thank you! Yup, NP took some recon pics over the summer and had been talking about it ever since. It was everything he described!
                      Mrsmileyns: No pro for this one, we just stayed subjectively safe. Like NP said, we’ve never actually used the pro when we’ve brought it. Thank you!
                      BillB: Thanks, I appreciate it. We were THRILLED to be alive out there in God’s country! Every exposure is so different, I’m not sure what Saddleback would hold, but there’s always the herdpath along the ledges on the climber’s right.
                      Mirabela: Thanks!
                      May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                      • #12
                        You are the man! That is all.
                        46/46 R 46/46 W


                        • #13
                          Another incredible hike/climb by the international team.

                          Green with envy. About the color of that anorthosite wall.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Neil View Post
                            Another incredible hike/climb by the international team.

                            Green with envy. About the color of that anorthosite wall.
                            You'd have loved it, Neil. The international team...there's nothing like watching NP struggle with and fall from the small run of stone on the ridge near the summit...spruce swaying back and forth in synchronicity with a seemingly endless string of french expletives and groans. Then again I sounded about the same 10 minutes beforehand when I fell back into the sea of hungry spruce.
                            May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                            • #15
                              Damn! I was looking at this route from Sawteeth a couple of weeks ago, and thought there had to be a great snow climb up that gully! Glad to see I wasn't the only one! Awesome report!