We trip over loose rocks and roots on the trail at 4 a.m. in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. My buddy doesn't drink coffee (he thinks it will turn his teeth brown) so we stumble down the trail in an uncaffeinated state—thankfully the trail is flat for a couple miles, so there's time to wake up. We climb steep switchbacks leaving the valley of aspen groves and pine forests behind us. A faint glow forms to the east but Pyramid Peak still waits 4,500 feet above us in the darkness. We set a fast pace, and arrive at a natural amphitheater ringing a boulder field around 6 a.m. High peaks surround us, lit up with a red band of morning sunlight.
To the west are the majestic Maroon Bells—one look at their unique, jagged peaks and it's easy to see why these mountaintops are the most photographed peaks in North America. Other 13-14,000 foot summits of the Elk Mountain Range are jutting up to the east and dead ahead is Pyramid, beckoning us from 14,018 feet. The route turns more vertical as we head up a scree filled gully using its rock walls as hand holds and anything that will stay put as foot holds. Then we find the actual trail and things get less sketchy. Percy Hagerman first climbed this mountain back in 1909. What was he thinking? I wonder before returning my focus to the technical trail.
We successfully navigate loose shale and eroding cliff bands at 12,500 feet, keeping better track of the trail, until we arrive at the saddle about a thousand feet shy of the peak. The saddle will be our summit for the day—we're due at a wedding before noon and time has run out. The view is enough reward for the eight-mile round trip. —Dave MacRunnel
If you go: Gear up and get local trail info at Ute Mountaineer or hire a local guide at Aspen Alpine. Recover at Su Casa for dinner and cheers to a big day with micro-brews at Aspen Brewing Company.