We are combing Rio Grande Pyramid as the first in a sequence of three, 13er summits which would make a fairly long day from a base camp at Weminuche Pass. The other two summits are UN13,278 and UN13,261.
From our suggested base camp at Weminuche Pass, there are two trail options to reach Rio Grande Pyramid. The first option is to head south from the pass on the main trail #818 about 1.1 mile and intersect the Continental Divide Trail # 813. Before that designation was made, the section of trail to the west of this trail intersection was named the Rincon La Vaca Trail, #714. This trail heads upstream to the west, at first gaining elevation gradually, then after 1.25 miles gaining more steeply as it heads westward and northwestward in direction. After about 1.75 more miles, it intersects another trail called "The Skyline Trail," coming from the north and the base of Rio Grande Pyramid. To climb the peak, you would need to walk north on the Skyline Trail about .3 mile, then branch off to the left on use trails that lead up to Rio Grande Pyramid.
The other trail option begins at Weminuche Pass, near the suggested campsite. The "Skyline Trail" heads off to the west, marked by an old post with that name carved on it. G&JR refer to this as the "Opal Lake Trail." We're not sure where or what Opal Lake is unless it is the small pond/lake at 12,260 ft. SSE of the Rio Grande summit. Initially the trail gains elevation up along a wide ridge through open forest. At about 11,900 feet, the trail begins to break out of the trees and maintains a course below the ridge crest on the south face and begins a long contour in the direction of Rio Grande Pyramid which will come into clear view along with "The Window," a famous cleft formation in a volcanic dike south of the peak. This particular trail does show on the National Forest map, but is not numbered. It does not show on the original 1964 USGS map. On the Trails Illustrated map, it shows as a brown, dashed line, indicating lesser use and little if any maintenance.
As the trail continues its high contouring path, there will be some minor ups and downs and passage through taller willows. If the willows are wet, expect a good drenching in places. The willows provide some excellent elk habitat. In our 1994 trip, we flushed out a resting young bull who was equally surprised by our approach (probably less than 30 feet from us) and who bolted and fled by bounding and crashing through the willows a half mile before slowing just long enough to make sure we were not in pursuit, then continued on at a slower clip until out of site. This section of trail that contours well above the Rincon La Vaca does not follow the ridge crest as the Trails Illustrated map suggests, but stays well below the ridge crest as it heads west. The CalTopo map we provide gives better detail regarding this route.
The trail will turn south along the eastern flank of Rio Grande Pyramid. Follow it as it makes this turn to the south and at about the 12,200 foot level, a spur trail for Rio Grande heads off to the right and works NW to near the 12,645 ft. saddle on the NE ridge of the peak. You may actually find more than one option here. This begins the real ascent of Rio Grande Pyramid. From the vicinity of the saddle, head SW and west toward the summit using trails through tundra and rock. At times, you may lose trail because of all the rock, but there will be one a steep, sandy slope at one point where you will likely spot it. At another saddle marked on the USGS quad as 13,185 feet, the terrain turns more rocky. The clearly volcanic rocks will begin to obscure any more trail as you continue upward. It all becomes a pile of mostly broken, not-too-stable boulders. As your progress slows through this mess, the summit will seem to recede away, but stay with it and eventually you'll stand atop Colorado's 97th highest summit. Once you have seen and climbed this peak, it's prominent shape and height will become much more noticeable to you in other climbs in the San Juans. It can be seen from numerous locations. With two young teenagers in tow (ages 11 and 13) we climbed this summit in four hours from the campsite. Rio Grande Pyramid was our final Centennial summit.
The summit view offers an amazing panorama of the Grenadier and Needle mountains to the west. See our photo stitch in the gallery. After giving your weary feet a rest, hike/stumble back down to the 12,645 ft. saddle and decide if you want to continue onto the other two summits close by. If your shins have not been too badly damaged, it's worth the extra effort to not leave these two minor summits hanging.