Climbers Gathering

"Climbers Gathering" to be held Friday, Feb. 23 at Camp George West, Bldg. 48 in Golden from 5:30 - 10:00 PM. This informal event is open to the public and intended mostly for Colorado peakbaggers, whether it be 14ers, 13ers or other summits. Please RSVP to: [email protected]. Bring your own food and beverage.


LoJ: Not Ranked / 13,729' "Lightening Pyramid" Formerly UN 13,722 A

Range › Elks Range
Quadrangle › Maroon Bells
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 39° 03' 24.25", W 106° 57' 16.16" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

"Lightning Pyramid, prior to the application of LIDAR technology, was considered a ranked summit. It has now been demoted to "unranked" status with a prominence of 283 feet.

UN 13,722 (Lightning Pyramid) is a typical Elk Mountains summit of crumbling, friable sandstone that renders a climb of this peak as a 3rd Class ascent. The standard route(s) are steep and unrelenting. Rockfall danger is very high. Lightning Pyramid along with Thunder Pyramid can be completed as a long day hike from the vehicle parking lots at Maroon Lake, but that will add a lot of additional hiking to the day. On this site, we are sequencing Lightning Pyramid with Thunder Pyramid., and keeping UN13,631B as a separate climb, however it is possible to do all three in a day, especially if camped somewhere south of Crater Lake. We are adding an "approach" that includes a three-mile, one-way backpack to lessen mileage and elevation gain. The Maroon Lake parking lot is accessible to any passenger vehicle.

Lightning Pyramid West Couloir/Rib Route

Class 4
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
Climbed with "Thunder Pyramid"
RT From Maroon Lake TH: 10.5 mi / 4,145'
RT From 1st Creek Crossing : 3 mi / 3,265'
From 1st Creek Crossing: 1.50 mi / 3,265' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Maroon Lake TH

      For quite a few years now, in order to regulate and reduce the vehicle traffic flow to Maroon Lake, the Forest Service has restricted vehicle traffic to Maroon Lake. Go to this link to search for detailed information:, but generally speaking, you can only drive a vehicle in before 9:00 AM or after 5:00 PM. Limited parking is available and can fill up rapidly on summer days. If arriving between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, you'll be required to ride a shuttle bus that runs every 20 minutes up to the lake.

      From State HWY 82 on the west side of Aspen, drive through the traffic circle south heading for the Aspen Highlands Ski area and Maroon Lake. This traffic circle is about 1 mile west of Aspen on HWY82 or 40 miles SE from Glenwood Springs, and after the airport and Aspen Business Center by the airport. The road number is CR13. The so-called "welcome station" is 4.7 miles south and that's where you must pay a vehicle use fee of $10. If attempting to drive in during restricted hours, you'll have to park at the Highlands Ski area and ride a free shuttle in. The trail to Crater Lake is what you need to locate at the SW end of the parking lot. The trail goes around Maroon Lake on the north and west side.


      Designated, fee campsites are available at the Silver Bar CG, the Silver Bell CG and the Silver Queen CG along CR13 as you drive in to Maroon Lake. These campgrounds are almost always occupied, especially on weekends. The White River National Forest website indicates that sites in these campgrounds can be reserved by calling 1-877-444-6777. There is no at-large camping allowed anywhere else along the road to Maroon Lake. Technically, vehicle camping in the parking lot at Maroon Lake is also off limits, but still practiced by many. Attempt at your own risk. The nearest other campground will be the Difficult Creek CG up HWY 82, about 4 miles east of town toward Independence Pass.

    Approach Map Photos
    • From Maroon Lake TH via 1st Creek Crossing

      The "approach" begins at the Maroon-Crater Lake trailhead located on the east end of Maroon Lake. Watch for a registration station to obtain an overnight backpacking permit. Also plan on being required to have a bear-proof canister for food storage. The trail goes along the western shore of Maroon Lake amid the hordes of daily tourists. Many of these will make the hike to Crater Lake. This very-well-worn trail climbs steadily to Crater Lake passing the wilderness boundary (though you likely won't feel like you're in wilderness until you get beyond Crater Lake) along the way. It passes through a terminal moraine area before arriving at the lake and the trail comes to a junction near the lake on the northern end. The right fork leads up Minnehaha Creek to Buckskin Pass. For this approach however, you'll continue south on the trail that skirts the west side of Crater Lake and continues south to West Maroon Pass. There are designated campsites in the vicinity of Crater Lake.

      As you continue up the trail, there is an area not too far south of the lake where the trail gains about 100 vertical feet, then loses that elevation as it crosses an area of talus. The trail also cuts through numerous areas of willows, which when laden with rain drops and drooping over the trail, will provide a nuisance of a shower as you pack through. At about the 3.75 mile point, the trail crosses from the west to the east side of the creek. A little before that crossing, you may spot some suitable campsites that we used in 1993, on the same side of the creek as the trail. More sites exists after the creek crossing, about a half mile past at the most. Basically, you want to camp somewhere near where the access is to the somewhat hidden basin below Lightening Pyramid and UN13,631B. Camping here will make it possible to reach all three summits in a day as we did or will at least make getting all three summits in two days easily possible.


      There are designated backcountry campsites at Crater Lake. Beyond there, as you proceed south up the creek, there will be other primitive site opportunities, if the White River National Forest is still allowing at-large camping. Check the most current regulations before making any assumptions. Over the last couple years, White River national Forest has moved in the direction of imposing a number of new camping and backpacking regulations on this area. The following coordinates are a "best guess" as to where we found a place to camp in 1993.

      Campsite Locations

      Creek Crossing Camp N 39° 03' 59.16", W 106° 58' 16.47"
      Elevation 10,500 ft.

      Open This Approach in a New Window
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Lightning Pyramid West Couloir/Rib

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1993

    Since we have included a backpack approach for these summits. the "route" begins from where the West Maroon Trail makes the first crossing from the west to the east side of the creek. When we climbed these summits in 1993, the winter of that year was a high snow year in the Colorado mountains. Those heavy snows persisted well into the summer, so our route decisions were influenced by those conditions. The three summits south of Pyramid were all climbed on the same day which was July 23, 1993. Most rate this a Class 3 climb on the assumption you stay mostly in the couloir. The difficulties we encountered staying out on the rock rib are what cause us to give this a Class 4 rating.

    From the vicinity of the suggested campsite, locate where the trail crosses to the east side of the creek and make the crossing however you can. There was no log bridge of any kind at the time we did this. On this occasion, there was a snow-bridge that made crossing easy. Once across, head east up through trees, working your way along by finding whatever trails you can - some game, some man-established. There are an alternating series of cliffs and benches with areas of trees. In 1993, we found a fairly direct, cairned trail that led us through a boulder field, then alongside a steep, snow-filled gully to another bench area. From there, the route into the upper basin at about 11,800 feet opens up rather naturally. By the time of this writing, we would expect there to be a well-used/marked trail.

    Once into this upper basin, take some time to oreint yourself and carefully identify each of the three summits - Thunder Pyramid, Lightning Pyramid and UN13,631B. You want to identify the correct couloir that ends up at a saddle between Thunder and Lightning Pyramid. Look for something you would not relish going up and that will likely be it. You should be almost directly west of the proper couloir. It empties onto a large talus field which rises about 400 feet in elevation to a cone that spreads out from the base of the couloir. The talus will then narrow into the couloir itself. In 1993, this couloir was filled with snow as far up as we could see. It was steep enough to leave us desiring crampons, which we did not have, but we did have ice axes. Several hundred feet up, the couloir passes through a particularly narrow section and appeared to even pass over some angled cliffs. G&M recommended avoiding the couloir in that section by following alongside on the exposed rock for a ways before re-entering. Because of the snow conditions, what we decided to do was to stay on the right-hand side of the couloir from the outset. We intended to remain on the rock rib until past the narrow section of couloir, then drop in at the first available spot. That never happened. If you find snow here, and it's early morning, it should be fairly firm for several hours before sun gets on it. We found the snow in the couloir to be hard and icy, which became yet another reason for staying out of it.

    Climbing on the rock rib on the right side of the couloir was somewhat exposed for much of the way. It consisted mostly of 3rd class scrambling on relatively stable rock with at least one point that required a minimum 4th class maneuver to get up across a rock band. Caution had to be maintained at all times. This was fairly continuous scrambling for nearly 1,200 vertical feet. It's easy to cut rocks loose and they will hurtle down with amazing speed. Helmets are highly advised. As you approach the summit ridge, the angle of ascent will moderate. By remaining on the rock rib and never entering the couloir, we came out just north of the summit by about 200 feet. The final scramble will be the easiest thing you've done for the last hour.

    From this summit, peruse the ridge in both directions, but mostly concentrate on reaching Thunder Pyramid to the north. If you were hoping for something easier than what you just did, you will be disappointed. Catch your breath and prepare to meet Thunder Pyramid. Our climbing partner for this day suggested that successfully navigating terrain like this may be more a matter of "dumb luck" than any actual skill we possess.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
"There's no way I'm going to stop taking risks. Whatever confidence I have comes from striving, and I'm not going to sit back in my rocking chair and take it easy." Yvon Chouinard
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