It was 8 a.m. on June 1, 2011 and our team of three stood with our skis on top of a small summit on a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. The valleys around us were dry and warm but the tall mountains remained covered in snow.
Sometimes when a goal is elusive, once achieved, it can far surpass expectations. When you add in factors like great weather, fun teammates, unusual circumstances, and an unlikely positive outcome, the success is that much sweeter.
For the past three years one of my main ski partners, Dan Hehir, and I have been trying to attempt a ski descent of Pyramid
Peak’s Landry Line in Aspen, CO’s Elk Range. Relativley few have been able to find descents on this route because of its exposed and serious nature. It was named after its first skier, Chris Landry, from a 1981 ski mission.
Every time Dan and I have planned to go for the route, something has come up, typically in the form of bad weather, bad snow conditions, or bad timing.
Saturday night I had just returned from a Norway ski trip, dropping back into the midst of the festivities and the fun of Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival. The festival ended on Monday and when I woke up Tuesday morning and went to the grocery store, I saw Dan sitting on a bench out front.
“Well Kim, it seems like there is another window right now for Landry,” he said. It was May 31.
Within five minutes of our conversation I bumped into Aspen area native, photographer and all-around super athlete, Peter McBride, on Main street Telluride. Pete was clearing out his exhibit at the festival and jumped on board immediately.
At 9 p.m. that same night, Dan and I arrived at Pete’s house in Basalt and the three of us prepared for a 1 a.m. departure to the trailhead. It seemed unlikely, but we were determined to try.
Somehow during the next 11 hours of our efforts getting up and down the mountain, one by one the obstacles fell away and we were able to move safely through the route. As we plodded along the trail at 2:30 a.m. in total darkness, the hope of success lingered in all of us.
We veered off the hiker’s trail and climbed a steep snow slope. Continuing up this frozen side-hill in crampons, we reached a high ridge, slightly off-route, in the black of night. Back-tracking a short way down into a lower bowl, we made a last gradual ascent to the final knife-edge summit approach. As the sun rose behind us, the ridge was softening quickly in the early summer morning heat. We would need to move quickly.
With 1,000-foot plus vertical drops on both sides, we spaced out from one another and carefully placed each tool and foot along the narrow band. The last face up to the summit proved to be solid snow and we gradually moved up to the top.
Clicking into our skis, we broke the descent down into several pitches. The turns off the top were steep with great exposure, a no fall zone. Once into the gut of the route, we skied down directly one by one, enjoying the vertical drop with each hop turn down the face. The dog leg exit a few thousand feet below proved to be unskiable and we were forced to down-climb steep crumbly rock into a funnel-like exit.
Once on to the lower apron, we relished the soft and debris-safe turns that took us down to the snow-dirt line for a very long walk back to our drop car at a lower trailhead.
The Sports Illustrated article that chronicled the first descent here.
Link to Photojournalist and Adventure Photographer Peter McBride’s gallery from the day here.
Route Photo courtesy of Chris Davenport. (Cover shot)