Almost 5 years ago to the day I had spine surgery following a long and nagging back injury that resulted in my collapsing and falling down from losing much muscle coordination in my right leg. The doctors at the Denver Spine Center removed pieces of 2 severely herniated discs in my low back, routed out the nerve holes to make room for the inflammed and swollen nerves to breathe, and clipped off some pieces of the bone on my spine to allow for them to get to the offending discs.
For the next 7 months I was regulated to basically walking only….on flat ground….while I healed. Not easy mentally or emotionally for some one used to running around in the mountains for work and play. After seeing 4 surgeons along this road, I was told post-op that my ‘mountain career’ and essentially guiding should be reconsidered and that it was unlikely I would be able to climb or run around in the mountains at a continued high level after my recovery. I was also told, that the 5-year mark post surgery was a very good indicator of how the remainder of my life would go with the repair and healing of my back.
So…..Sunday morning, on a big mission I’d been dreaming about for a long time, I decided to attempt a mega Colorado 14er link-up and prove to myself and my docs that I indeed have kept up my ‘mountain guiding’ career and am not hampered in the least by this injury or recovery anymore. So at 3:30 am on Sunday I left the Maroon Bells parking lot to attempt to climb both South & North Maroon Peaks (14,156′ & 14,014′ respectfully) via their technical connecting ridge and then continue onto Pyramid Peak (14,018′) for a 9,000′+ vertical day and countless rugged mountain miles and technical scrambling on these notoriously loose and challenging Elk 14ers.
With the ‘Bell Chord Couloir’ still full of snow I set off to climb this steep but direct line that intersects the ridge between the two ‘Bells” as the quickest and easiest way to access both summits and do their traverse. I hit the rock fall prone ‘Bell Chord’ at dawn’s first light and was able to make good time up it in great snow climbing conditions, and after a quick 4th class scramble, was on the summit of South Maroon Peak (14,156′) at 7 am…
A brief time for a drink and some summit photos and I was off, back to the notch at the top of the ‘Bell Chord” to grab my ice axe and crampons and along the decieving and exposed 1/2 mile traverse to North Maroon Peak (14,014′), where I arrived 45 min later, fresh and feeling good, but under early threatening skies.
After a quick stop on the summit of North Maroon and some more summit photos, I pounded some ShotBloks and Red Bull and prepared for the big and steep 4,000′+ descent down to the valley floor and the base of Pyramid trail, where I had stashed some more food, water, Red Bull, running shoes, and some shorts for a fast and light mission on Pyramid that I was hoping would allow me to have the stamina to pull off the 14er trifecta.
6 hours after starting from the trailhead, and already having both Maroon Bells under my belt, I started up the grueling and direct Pyramid Peak trail, while clouds continued to darken and build just across the valley earlier then normal. At this point, I was running on arenalin on the possibility of pulling this off….as well as an iPod full of punk rock music in my ears and Red Bull in my veins…
I continued to move quickly and felt good until I hit the mellow snowfields in the amphitheatre below the North Face of Pyramid Peak. Here I began to bonk hard in the heat of the day and my pace started to slow drastically. The loose and frustrating climb up the loose scree and dirt of “The Filter” that leads to the 13,100′ saddle on Pyramid’s Northeast Rideg Route, was hard…as it felt like it took all my energy not to vomit on the spot from all the exertion.
At the saddle, I took my longest break of the day…pausing to drink some more water and try and get down some real food….a turkey and cheese bagel. At this point the clouds seemed to be confining their convective build-up to localized area and were producing more wind and virga then any real threats, so I went on for the last 1,000′ to Pyramid’s summit.
30 min later, and 8:45 after starting out, I was on my third 14er summit of the day, and was blessed with also having this summit all to myself as well, except for one lone mountain goat. Here I had 20 min to reflect on the 9,000′ of vertical I had travelled, that I still felt fairly good, and how far I had come in these past 5 years of my life. The mountain goat, however, was obviously much less impressed….as I’m sure that would be a normal routine day for them.
I was able to descend the upper technical part of Pyramid fueled by excitement and enthusiasm….but by far the hardest part of the day was the long, steep, and painful pounding back down the trail from teh ampithetare to the Maroon Lake trail and the 2 mile rocky walk back to the parking lot. This was one of the the most challenging mental activities I’ve endured in a long time….as the last hour, with almost everything done and gone behind me, it took everything I had to not just curl up in a ball and ‘sleep it off’ on the side of the trail for a few days. 11 hours and 20 min later I was back in the parking lot, pounding Gatorade, and soaking my tired and sore feet in the ice cold river after a solid day of 9,032′ of vertical…
I realize my endeavor was nothing more then an entirely selfish and incredibly personal goal and achievement….made ultimately clear to me by the humbling and un-enthused mountain goat on the summit of Pyramid Peak….but I hope it has helped settled some important internal battles and questions in my own mind and body, and hopefully will maybe inspire someone else out there that has been given a less then promising outlook form the medical community to take some of their healing into their own hands and achive a goal….and hopefully one more meaningful and important then just climbing some mountains in Colorado really fast.
—Jayson Simons-Jones (CBMG Owner / Guide)