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.
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.)
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”).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.