Descent Route: East Face- Landry Route
East Face Landry Route
April 13, 2006
I have been a skier my entire life, and have had the incredible privilege of skiing many great mountain ranges all over the world. With that said, I can honestly claim that today was one of the best runs of my life. Pyramid Peak lies just outside my hometown of Aspen, and has drawn the interest and gazes of steep skiers for decades. Back in 1978, local skiers and climbers Chris Landry and Michael Kennedy headed up Pyramid to attempt a first descent of an aesthetic and extreme line on the mountain?s wild East Face. Landry ended up dropping in and skiing the line, albeit with a short down climb at the narrow crux of the route. Kennedy, a world-class alpinist (and one of my climbing heroes), elected to down climb the route. Since that day in 1978, the ?Landry Route? has sat, patiently waiting for another group of skiers to come along and make a complete descent. Sure, many others have tried, and Lou Dawson skied the steep upper portion of the route in 1989, but the true line laid waiting? until today. Local Aspenites Neal Beidleman and Ted Mahon joined me for the day?s epic adventure, and I couldn?t have been more proud than to make this climb and ski descent with them. Neal and Ted are both very accomplished skiers and mountaineers (both have climbed Everest), and more importantly, they are fun and passionate people who simply love every moment in the mountains. Jon Hagman also climbed up to the ridge at 13,000? with us and filmed the descent from that airy position.
My day started with a 2:40 a.m. alarm. I met the crew at the T Lazy 7 Ranch at 3:30, and we fired up the snowmobiles for the 8-mile cruise up to Maroon Lake. We began skinning up through the Aspen and Pine forests at 4:10 a.m., and quickly reached the 12,000? mark. Climbing quietly yet diligently though the early morning darkness is an unforgettable experience, and evokes plenty of emotion when one sees the first glimpse of a new day on the horizon. As we crested our first ridge at 6:30 a.m. the sun was peaking over the mountains to the East, lighting up the twin summits of the Maroon Bells, less than a mile away. We reached the long couloir that provides access to the Northeast Ridge from the North Amphitheater, and began that familiar process of putting one foot up in front of the other. Cresting the ridge at 7:30 a.m. felt like walking into the Sistine Chapel. We were in awe of our surroundings. The Landry Route stared us in the face, and the Vertical North Face dropped perilously away to our right. We spent a moment taking it all in, wondering if this could be the perfect day?
We put on our crampons and harnesses (in case we needed some rope work to get to the summit, or had a rappel on the descent), grabbed our axes, and began the fabulous climb up the ridge towards our goal. The climbing was heavenly; steep mountaineering combined with good snow, bad snow, rock work, exposure, and on top of that all, the sun beating down on the slopes, driving us onward to the summit in hopes of skiing before the snow became unstable. Neal chose a route through a cliff band. Ted and I tried to go around it, but fell in to our waists in rotten snow. So we were forced into the cliffs as well. These moves were near vertical and physically challenging, even for a group of climbers. By the time Ted and I had cleared to cliff band, Neal was on top, waving his arms in celebration. We regrouped on the summit, feeling enlightened by the climb, and more focused than ever on the task ahead of us? the Landry Route.
We shot some pictures and film on the summit, and I rigged up my helmet camera. Jon was set up on the ridge below, ready to film. Our friends Tom and Ben were across the valley, on Highlands Ridge, with big lenses. We moved into position and I dropped in. The upper part of the face is as steep as it gets: at least 50 degrees and probably steeper for the four or five hundred feet. On top of that there is a lot of exposure. A fall in this area would take you over a large cliff band into the East Face proper, so we skied with care. We skied one at a time down the route, stopping to snap pictures of each other and discuss our strategy. The snow was perfect, a little wintry and soft on the northeast exposures, and slushy on the east and south exposures. Ted and Neal demonstrated impeccable steep skiing technique, total control and flawless turns, all linked meticulously together. We finally arrived at the narrow exit of the route, the spot where Landry had down climbed. Ted and I had scouted this area from an airplane just a few weeks ago, and we found the clean exit we were looking for. Short, tight turns got us through the exit without difficulty. We were then faced with almost two thousand feet of wide-open corn snow. At this point we could let our guard down and savor the experience we had just been through.
As we skied out the East Maroon Creek valley, I?m not sure our accomplishment was sinking in. We kept looking at each other, smiling, and shaking our heads. We had skied the Landry Route, one of the greatest ski lines on any Colorado fourteener, if not any mountain in North America. The East Face of Pyramid Peak is number twenty two in my quest to ski all of the fourteeners this year, but this line totally goes above and beyond just my project. This is a run that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, something that I will always be extremely proud of. That face is now part of my soul, and I couldn?t be happier about it!
P.S. For anyone considering attempting this route, remember, it?s a very serous line with serious consequences. You must start EARLY, even earlier than we did, and be ready to turn around if things don?t feel right.
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