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Pyramid Peak
Death Valley, California
October 31, 2009

I came across Pyramid Peak when I was looking for climbs in Death Valley. Summitpost describes a long, easy route but Shin, who agreed to hike with me, provided a route which is quicker but more technical. After crossing the flats to the base of the mountain we would hike over a saddle. After dropping down we had to hike up a wash. Climbing out of the wash would bring us to a point where we could view our next objective: a notch in the ridge crest. After reaching the notch, we could traverse left below the ridge, regaining it eventually, and follow it to the summit.

It took us about two hours to drive to the trailhead from the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Looking at Pyramid Peak from the roadside, I was a little intimidated by its complexity of ridges. But the route description we used was well written. Still, I was glad to have Shin along. Aside from enjoying his company, he has much more experience climbing desert peaks than I do. Living in Las Vegas, Shin climbs desert peaks every Saturday and Sunday. Me, I'm from Calgary, Alberta and more comfortable climbing in the Canadian Rockies, a totally different challenge.

As we walked across the desert toward the mountain base, Shin studied the ground for arrowheads. Although very rare, they have been found in the area, but we had no luck.

The climb unfolded as described. We easily picked out important landmarks along the way. What few uncertainties we came across were quickly resolved. We arrived on the summit with a stunning view of Death Valley spread below. Not surprising as Pyramid Peak is one of the highest peaks around.

GPX Track
MOVIE (posted on YouTube)

Shin and I hiked across the desert flats towards Pyramid Peak

Drawing closer to the saddle we need to reach

The desert was studded with silver cholla cactus (mouse over to view the spines)

From the base of the mountain we headed to a saddle

Looking back at the flats from the saddle

We dropped down and crossed the flats below. We could see our ascent and descent routes (mouse over).

Looking back at the saddle (centre)

Heading to the ascent wash

High up the wash we viewed some striking rocks on the left

Shin waited for me at the top of the chute, an easy scramble

I stopped to check my GPS for the next waypoint

After reaching a ridge, we looked for the notch

There's the notch, left of the rock buttress

We kept left of the cave

Looking back, the saddle is between the second and third black bumps

We followed alongside cliffs all the way to the notch

Almost at the notch, looking back

The ground drops away at the notch, but we easily followed a ledge toward the summit (centre)

After losing elevation, we have to climb to the base of the block (upper right), before heading to the summit.

The summit is within easy reach now

We followed the ridge whenever we could

View southeast toward Eagle Mountain (mouse over)

Shin said the sky was unusually clear: we could see the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Shin and I on the summit

Heading back down

Scrambling up to get back to the notch

Shin waits for me on a window (mouse over to zoom back)

Shin races down the scree descent route

An impressive clump of barrel cactus

We chased this insect, about 1.5 inches long, for several minutes trying to take pictures of it. Later I learned it was a Tarantula Hawk, a wasp that stings and lays eggs on tarantulas. For humans, the sting is "like an electric wand hitting you, inducing an immediate and excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything...." Next time I'll leave it alone!

Last look at Pyramid Peak

East of Echo Canyon and East of Ryan 1:24,000 Topos
(6.2 mi, 6132 ft, 968 ft)

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