Crested Butte, Colorado
Was the 19 hour slog worth the half hour ride? Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821′ see map below) is an intriguing and remote peak in Colorado’s eastern San Juan Mountains. At high noon during a fine day this March, Jeremy Wegner and I were ‘lucky’ enough (or so our sleep deprived minds seemed to think) to drop off the top of the ‘Grande (RGP) and ski the Southeast Face.
After successfully negotiating the locked gate halfway down the Rio Grande Reservoir road and arriving at Thirty Mile Campground just east of the Rio Grande Reservoir around 10:30 Friday night, we skinned up and headed into the Weminuche Wilderness.
We traversed the south side of the reservoir and up the Weminuche Creek drainage through an unconsolidated and thin snowpack.
As the moon set in the early hours of the morning, the blackening sky combined with our total lack of knowledge of the area to reduce our navigation technique through the low timber to a rudimentary level.
“I’m pretty !!****!! sure we need to go that way,” became our most logical travel plan.
Despite such guesswork, the backcountry skiing travel plan worked as we made our way up Weminuche Creek to the large flatness of Weminuche Pass, arriving unknowingly at this fairly important milestone sometime around 4:20 Saturday morning. Wegner, who was speaking an increasing gibberish level, mumbled something about taking a break, found some dry ground in a timber stand, whipped out a space blanket, and immediately began snoring.
I was not so prepared as to have a space blanket or anything else to keep me warm enough to lay down and sleep in. So I spent a long hour postholing around timber stands on top of the pass unsuccessfully trying to light fires and doing low grade jumping jacks to keep warm.
Near five in the morning the sky lightened enough to reveal what was probably the Rincon de Vaca drainage that would lead us to the foot of the mountain of our desire.
Wegner got up, speaking much more clearly, and we charged into the new day.
Hours passed like minutes and our skin track rose above tree line, across the alpine basin to the bottom of the East Ridge of the RGP. A pleasant boot pack took us up the ridge through an array of blowing snow formations and deposited us at an elevation of 13,821 atop the Pyramid.
We celebrated the rare view of the Weminuche, shoed up and dropped into the Southeast face of the RGP. The top 500 vertical feet or so was a hanging alpine face of shark infested, breakable, wind-crust-corn snow. Thankfully, the start funneled into a nicely pronounced 500 vertical foot couloir of sloppy corn snow.
We had found the prize in the bottom of the box of a thirteen hour approach.
We skied out and arrived back at truck at 5:30 pm Saturday afternoon feeling the justification of a mind numbing slog of nineteen hours, 4500+ vertical and eighteen mile round trip.
Only a couple of questions to be answered.
Was this a first descent? Ted Mahon posted on his website that he had skied the East Ridge in what appeared to be summer conditions. So the peak has been skied previously but the Southeast Face and couloir don’t seem to have any claims on them, at least in our internet research.
Secondly, how many folks have climbed Rio Grande Pyramid in calendar winter? We know it gets done on occasion, but because it’s a heck of a slog we wondered how much traffic it sees in the winter — our guess, not much.
Maybe some Wildsnowers know what’s up. Whatever the case, I’m not making a habit of 19 hour approach marches, but a ski descent of Rio Grande Pyramid is something to savor.