Elk Range “Minimidal Traverse”

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On the ridge between “Lightning Pyramid” and “Thunder Pyramid.”

Ben and I had anticipated the “Megamidal” or “Megamydal” traverse (as dubbed on 14ers.com) both of the prior two summers, so it became a must-do for us in 2017. This loop from Maroon Lake goes over 5 thirteeners from close to West Maroon Pass out along the Len Shoemaker Ridge, with finish on fourteener Pyramid Peak. As it worked out we ended up skipping Pyramid, and thus this became the “Minimidal Traverse”.

August 19th became the day. A great forecast; only a small chance of rain after 1pm. Ben and Rick practically ran up the trail in the dark, while I clambered behind, keeping their headlamps in sight except for the tight bends between the willows on the upper-trail.

The rising sun treated us to some splendid views, especially at a spot by a tiny pond at the headwaters of West Maroon Creek.

Ben focused on the Bells.

While I looked closer to Belleview Mountain.

Ryan’s crew who coined this route continued farther along the trail en route to the pass on Belleview’s western shoulder. We left the trail earlier, and found willow bashing that was more sustained than desired. While our route was more direct, theirs was likely more expedient, as the terrain closer to the ridge running from Belleview to UN 13,140, the first peak of the day, is lumpy but clear of vegetation.

From here, we had a short, steep grunt up talus to gain the ridge to UN 13,140. This part of the ridge made for an easy walk. UN 13,140 lies just off a short spur southeast from the main NNE running ridge to Pyramid. Once atop the summit, it appeared all too clear just how much ridge lay ahead of us. (Unless noted, all pictures from here onward are Ben’s.)

Approaching UN 13,140’s summit.

The small red knob right of center is the next peak, UN 13,180B, and the lighter rock at far left provided some interesting ledges, seen below. The high, dark mountain beyond is only UN 13,631: both “Lightning Pyramid” and “Thunder’ Pyramid” lay beyond it, and beyond that, Pyramid.

Other than the cautious ledges above, the route to 13,180B proved expedient. The difficulties began with tackling the ridge up from the low point between it and 13,631 (aka “Len Shoemaker Peak”).

Halfway between UN 13,180B and UN 631, “Len Shoemaker Peak.”

We had no way of knowing the complexity to get off UN 13,180B down to the notch between it and UN 13,631. I led this part and we ended up making an S curve: off left, then back to the ridge crest; off right, then back over, yes – a double S curve; over and back again to find a rational down climb into the notch. After all that, I lost some wind and Ben regained his customary position at the front.

UN 13,180B is the cone up from center, and the fun begins with all the gnarled chossy lines and shadows this side of the snow patch in the shadows on the sub-peak this side of it.

Ben admiring the view to the west.

And now the real test of the day: a storm. We made good time proceeding down the far side of UN 13,631, now on the near side of Len Shoemaker ridge toward Lightning & Thunder Pyramid, and the skies clouded over. It was before one; damn NOAA. This was the only bail out spot along the ridge until we reached the far side of Thunder Pyramid, so we weighed our options carefully. While we did so, the snow rolled in.

Hunkering down in the sleet.

It wasn’t just snow, but thunder too. The clouds were darker to the immediate east and the thunder growled from the south and east. We dropped a bit off the ridge and I cowered under my rain jacket, feeling not one hair more dignified than my chihuahua/terrier back at home, who was undoubtedly warmer than I at this point. Ben suggested we wait to see if the storm passed. Luckily it did.

Resuming our journey, we set out toward Lightning, after losing close to an hour’s time. That got decidedly more fun!

Heading up from the low point after UN 13,631, toward “Lightning Pyramid”.

Rick engaging the slabs to start the climb of Lighting proper.

“Lightning Pyramid” summit.

After “Lightning Pyramid” we found ourselves on a delightful boulevard towards the last peak of the day, “Thunder Pyramid”. The scramble to the top of “Thunder Pyramid” was one of the day’s highlights. After beginning straight upwards from the base, I found myself veering on a ledge around to the right, and then up a delightful class 3 gully. Toward the top, that gully became tighter and steeper; a pity none of the three of us got a shot of it.

Long ago, I had told Ben that leaving off Pyramid after getting all of these thirteeners would be like leaving off the dot in an exclamation point. But it had been a long day, and amid our savoring Thunder’s summit, the three of us decided to forego a repeat of Pyramid to just drop elevation with our last new peak.

Friends on “Thunder Pyramid”, with fourteener Pyramid beyond, and a decent amount of ridge to get to it.

So down we went. Down steep red dirt, down loose dinner plates, down gravel and rubble, even at one point – as I fell swoop! on my ass once and then again – on a thin mix of pebbles over an ice sheet. Down, down, down, and then an evil weave southward to avoid some cliffs, and finally we found ourselves back on the trail just before the crossing with West Maroon Creek, wondering if we had really saved any effort versus just going up and over Pyramid.

Rendering of the “Minimidal” loop from the northeast. Click to enlarge.

The ridge run was satisfying, because of the number of peaks we nabbed and because scenery in the Maroon Bells wilderness never disappoints. What was disappointing was the quality of the ridge itself: because it is so rotten, we spent significantly more time negotiating traverses to either side, rather than keeping to the top. For that quality, it was nothing like some of the great ridge lines in the Sangres or the better parts of the San Juans. All being said, though, I enjoyed a beautiful and satisfying day with two trustworthy friends.

9 thoughts on “Elk Range “Minimidal Traverse”

  1. Ben

    Nice Steve. Thanks for getting something written up about this day. It was in jeopardy of going down as an afterthought for 2017 given everything else we managed to accomplish this year, but that wouldn’t have done the day justice at all, Pyramid or no Pyramid.

    I agree with your assessment of the ridge overall. Just to reiterate for anyone who may read this, I feel this ridge has been a little over-hyped in recent lore, at least in terms of it as a scrambling objective. One of the more tedious routes we’ve ever done if you ask me. Where I expected a decent amount of quality rock moves, we just found loose rock and convoluted routefinding, even when compared to something like the Bells Traverse. Then again we’re talking about the Elks here. If you’re really looking for quality scrambling, try a different range yeah?

    Merry Christmas Steve 😉

  2. Ryan Marsters

    Over-hyped?? Ben, you guys left out the cherry on top! Thunder to Pyramid is the best part!

    But agreed the earlier parts are a bit tedious.

    Nice work there.

    1. Ben

      Very true Ryan, we did skip the best part. I had done Pyramid -> “Thunder Pyramid” years ago, which was obviously the wrong direction to go, and recalled a bunch of downclimbing that would’ve made great scrambling in the other direction. I can also imagine we didn’t stick to the ridge proper as often as you guys did.

      Overall we just left slightly disappointed, maybe due to not finishing the entire ridge, or maybe because we for some reason expected more solid rock (dumb), I’m not really sure.

  3. Steve

    Thanks, Ben! Agreed on the ridge: most of it is tedious route-finding around the ridge crest instead of staying on it. Highlights of it to me were the exposed ledge early on to the second peak, and the summit push for Thunder. The rest is better glimpsed from afar.

    1. Ben

      Agreed. Final summit push on Lightning was neat too. As well as figuring out how to get down that one cliff. You know, the one with the loose rocks at the top 🙂

  4. Ryan Marsters

    Ps I do recall thinking the views and “uniqueness” were heavily weighted, with the scrambling goods coming from the Pyramidal part.

    1. Ben

      Also very true. As Steve alluded to we spent most of the day running from incoming storm clouds, between two peaks called “Lightning” and “Thunder” no less, which probably detracted from some of the other intangibles. End of the day we were all happy to finish the peaks along the ridge and it was a sweet day up there. I’m just complaining 🙂

      Kudos to you guys for doing the entire thing and in good style!

  5. Rick

    Great write up Steve! It’s always a pleasure to get out into the hills with you guys…..even if the scrambling didn’t live up to our expectations.

    Cheers to many more!

    1. summithound Post author

      It’s always fun to have you along, Rick! I was impressed at your stamina on this trip, given your summer was spent on mountain bikes and beaches, rather than anything above treeline.


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