Pyramid Peak (attempt), Elevation 6,937ft
February 2, 2002
Jason, Ben, Josh
Author: Josh Hummel
The traverse from right to left. Our high point is in red. Pyramid Peak is in blue.
Trips just sorta happen. When weekends come around there they are, ready for us to battle. This weekend was no different. Pyramid Peak led us from our comforts on a Saturday morning and at 6am. The plan was to meet Ben at Troy's house and from there one of us would drive. This time we took the Ford Expired (with 220K it is well past its expiration date). Though less reliable, it still offered a more comfortable ride up the mountain than the Sport Truck or Mazda.
At the Rainier gate we got the typical run through, "the roads are slippery, the wind is blowing hard, and the gate will open at 9am." Usually this would be a slightly annoying set back, but this time we would be starting at the gate so we didn't care.
At the Longmire parking lot, we began putting on our clothes and packing our packs. Other skiers sent curious stares our way. I could almost here their questions, "why are those guys packing up here, where are they going, why are they not skiing from Paradise, what is there to ski here?" I'll admit, they had some good points. That morning, Troy became part of the crowd as he headed off to White Pass for the weekend, "Pyramid! That is just one long traverse. You guys arenít going to make it. Youíre crazy. That's stupid." We may be crazy and it may be stupid, but hey, why not? We had nothing better to do, and sure there was a lot of traversing, but we figured we would get some good skiing even if we didn't make the summit.
From Longmire we slipped by the gate and headed up a quarter mile of road to the Indian Henrys trailhead. At first, I was worried that we would have to break trail. However, there was a nice snowshoe track allowing us to walk. Our odds at making it were beginning to look up. On another good note we stopped to put on our sunglasses. The weather was inspiring and a good thing, we thought?
Our easy road came to an end just shy of the ridge. We saw one person breaking down camp though I suspect there were at least three of them, one skier and two snowshoers. We stopped a stoneís throw from their camp unwilling to hike any further. We shed the skis from our packs and added them to our feet. It was an uplifting experience, at least a foot and a half. While doing so Jason snacked on an already cut apple. As we prepared to leave some robins swarmed us intent on Jasonís apple. Jason fed a piece from atop his head and Ben snapped a photo like all good tourists would.
Josh, Jason and Robin.
We soon came atop our intended ridge. Ben knew the trail dropped west towards Kautz Creek somewhere in here. He wanted to ski through some steep trees that where so close together you would need a weed whacker just to see. I convinced him otherwise. In the end we went up about another mile before we decided to traverse down.
The traverse led us right to Kautz Creek. To our right was a high cliff that faded down to a 10 to 20 foot embankment. I gathered what speed I could, which was none and leapt off. Jason did the same. His landing was much more painful than mine though we all felt it was worth the photo. Ben found the easiest way down. We all met at the top of a small rise just above Kautz Creek on the opposite side. Here we put our skins back on.
Josh wishing for more speed. We crossed it below his ski tips.
Jason wishing for a better landing.
For about a half-mile the terrain was fairly flat, but not without danger. This is where the good weather added to an already degrading situation. Now you ask yourself, how could good weather be bad? Well here it is. In the last week it had snowed considerably. This snow had piled up high on the ground and in the trees. As a matter a fact, so much snow had piled in the branches that it brought them down and in some cases the trees themselves. This brings me closer to our dilemma. You may think that a little snow falling from trees in no big deal. Let me tell you otherwise. You remember the movie Saving Private Ryan. And you remember the part where they are all running up Normandy Beach and bombs are falling all about them. Well that is how we felt. Now you may be asking yourself, why are these guys afraid of a little snow? I donít get too concerned about many things, but this took the cake. I could hear trees cracking and when these hundred pound balls of water latent snow hit the ground they would form significant craters. Letís just say we were a little concerned. None of us wanted to stop so we continued.
Since we left the Kautz our route finding had gone from bad to worse. At the end of the flats we almost turned around due to a very steep and deep slope. Ben took the lead here and was able to battle his way through. The snow had turned to mash potatoes and was sticking to our skis and skins like glue. With such slow progress we were more prone to get hit by the snow bombs. Constant grenades kept me on alert. This involved getting on my knees with my hands over my head in shear fear that something bigger would come down. To my relief the multi-megaton nuclears caused their destruction elsewhere. Occasionally we were exposed to their fall out. Fortunately the top of my head stayed safe, though very wet. The funny thing is that we left our ski helmets in the car thinking we'd be safe in the forest.
Soon we were through the front line and able to relax more and concentrate on our climb. The slope flattened out a little and we made our way to the defining point of the climb. We had succeeded in all of the obstacles thus far, but we could not defeat the obstacle of time. Below a 20-foot cliff just shy of a summit ridge we called it quits. We had a good two to three hours left to the summit. It was two oíclock and we had a long way back. We told ourselves next time we would drop in lower and give ourselves more time. We deemed it an exploratory trip and skied down content, feeling we had plenty of time to get back.
Mash potatoes. Those are skis not trees.
Proving we felt confident in our assumption of having plenty of time, we took a lot of photos. I had fun playing around jumping off of trees and small cliffs. It all made for a good time and partly justified the long haul that it involved to get there.
Josh dropping into the trees just below our turn-around point.
Let the flats begin.
As all good things must come to an end so did our ridge. We were in the flats a half-mile lower than our incoming trail. Not that we were worried. We would just head up the ridge at the point where Ben originally wanted to go down. This would save us time, right? Well, just as I was pushing myself across another dip in the flats my ski dived into the snow hard and my ski fell off. Dough, my binding broke. Now you would think I would start shouting obscenities, but I didnít. I sucked it up and walked on. With a string garnered from Jasonís pack I attempted to jimmy rig a binding. My first three attempts did not work and the obscenities flew load and far. By the time I got to the base on the other side of Kautz Creek I was far from happy. It was already beginning to get dark. I had a big problem. I could not walk. The snow was too deep. I had to make my binding work and so I did. I found another shorter and skinnier string and replace my cable with it. Not as easy a task as you might think. The binding had to work and not just hang around my boot. It had to clamp down in back and so it did. I was freakin Mcgyiver.
Josh on his way up the ridge.
We all hammered up this hill wanting to get back before dark. Now you remember where I said you would need a weed eater just to get down the ridge. Well, we clawed with our hands and skis and even our very teeth. Like monkeys we swung from one tree to another. It took what seemed days. At last our efforts paid off and we made it to the top. I was very relieved. We had made it. From here all we had to do was drop straight down until we hit our trial, right?
The mistake of the day involved a slight miscalculation in topography. Apparently, the ridge splits in two. By the time we realized this it was dark, very dark and we were a long way from where we had started. Now here is where everyone goes, "ut-oh. Get the cell phone. What, no reception? Hopefully Uncle Joe will call the rescue soon." Everyone but us. We were soaked to the bone and had no intention of spending the night or getting rescued for that matter.
It was now past 6pm and we had no clue why the trail was not where it was suppose to be. The ridge was sloping west where it needed to slope east. We decided to head east regardless. Easier said than done. Here is where Ben pulled out the map and figured out what we had done wrong. By this time we had our lights on except for Jason who neglected to bring his. That would be the cause of many wrecks and close calls with trees later on. Finally, having gone through the trees from hell again we were at the top of the ridge. Here we made a decision and the right one. We skied due east until we hit the trail.
We were not lost but got ourselves in a situation that involved time. Four hours too much caused by a combination of problems (broken binding, trees, etc.). Such are the whims of backcountry skiing.
The way down was interesting. It was like driving your car down a curvy road at 50 mph with your lights turned off and your breaks disabled. Ben went first with a small hand held light in his mouth. I went third, with Jason in the middle gaining what little light he could from my headlamp. It was hilarious watching him hit trees and have trees he swore hit him back. I told him that trees canít move, but he gave me a look as if I was making fun of him. Ben and I had good laughs and no falls. At last we made it to the road. I skied on the bank until I got to the gate.
Survival of the foolish.
Well, another adventure with a few twist and turns. A cascade classic where everything that could go wrong went wrong. We were bombed, led astray, broke down, and even attacked by trees as Jason put it (red faced and pouting, snow up one nostril and ski entangled in a tree under the snow). So in conclusion, good weather isnít always good, you donít always know where you are going, and winter days are shorter than summer.