Mountain Biking Classics: The Curse of the Pyramid

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When you think pyramid, you think hardship, mystery, timelessness, mortality. And don’t forget Pyramid ale.

By amazing coincidence, all the above also apply to mountain biking. Thus was Mire & Anthony’s annual pilgrimage to Pyramid Peak born. And thus, too, was conceived the Curse of the Pyramid.

When we first tried in 2004 to scale the epic mountain, arguably the highest point of legal mountain biking in the state (we’ve gone over this ground before, but the other contenders are Angel’s Staircase and Tiffany Mountain, both near Winthrop), our hardy band was turned back by a fierce snowstorm. Only the Mad Russian, Ikore, forged on, plowing through 2-foot drifts and eventually winding up with, if memory serves, a mild case of frostbite. We could only marvel at his fortitude and promise next year for sure.

Next year for others, yes. For me, unbeknownst, Pyramid Peak already had initiated its loathsome and heartless bane. I was riding elsewhere in 2005 and 2006 and missed the Pyramid retreats, which were sunny and pleasant and all things MTB. The freeride bug had bit and you just don’t haul 35-lb. honkers up to 8k feet, no matter what the ride back down.

But 2007 witnessed my return to XC, and I vowed to revisit the scene of so much past pain. I’d bagged all the 360s in the state I know of except Pyramid. It was time to put the wrap on that particular challenge.

Circumstances bode well early on. Mire posted the ride weeks ahead on the BBTC list and I signed up right away. Soon a host of familiar names were on the list, including Art, Paul Smith, Chris Alef, Gonzz and my Team Mojo compadre, Jim Lyon. The weather that side of the Cascades was dynamite in approaching weeks, mid-80s with a cooling breeze at elevation. Surely this was the year to be!

But that’s the thing about a Curse. It’s always laying enticing traps along the way, tricking you into thinking things are way far better than they will turn out to be. In this way it is decidedly not a jinx. Jinxes are for games or sports or individual hexes. They’re trivial. They’re for Cubs fans. They’re not life-endangering or injurious to body or soul.

A pleasant enough start.

Curses… well, a true curse conjures the worst of human agony and pain. Up against a true curse, a mere mortal is lucky simply to survive.

By ride week, the news already was turning grim. Weather reports consistently lowered the snow level to 6k, then 5k, then a truly disturbing 4k. The nights were turning morbidly cold. Mire had said from the outset, “Snow Cancels!” It was just a matter of speculation on whether the Puget Sound moisture was making it over the North Cascade range to the valleys of the Entiat. What to do?

Here is where, had I realized the power and unavoidability of the Curse, I would have opted out no questions asked. Organizing a group ride in balmy weather with long days and short nights is no trivial feat. Herding the BBTC cats for a long weekend of uncertain clime is a disaster in the making.

But Mire had a plan.

Instead of riding uptrail to the Pyramid escalade, she put forth Plan B: Do a shuttle from the campground to the top via a horrendously long, nastily steep, but conveniently accessible fire road. The road ended right at a ridge trail that took you directly (well, kind of) to the Pyramid spur. Only 2600 to 2800 feet of gain and you’d be on top of the world. If all went well.

Now longtime readers of my reviews well know my abhorrence to shall we say vehicular-assisted mountain biking. I recognize the singular inconsistency of driving 180 miles to a trailhead and then eschewing a 13 mile fire road, but what can I say? I’m a purist. And besides, isn’t it all about the ride?

In this case, Mire made a persuasive argument for an exception. If we did encounter inclement conditions, at least we could turn back easily enough. And the ridge approach would offer spectacular views not visitable from the singletrack ascent. Plus you had a variety of options down, including some tasty ridge riding after the peak.

Ah well. I compromised. But something was tugging at my subconscious all the while. Something I could not quite identify. I knew it was out there. I could feel it in my bones.

We froze even before the snow started.

The next sign of trouble to come was a patently idiotic decision to drive over in the a.m. A friend had offered a cabin in Leavenworth, and Jim proposed we trek on over there the day before, maybe get in a late day ride, and be fully rested (and only an hour and a half away) for the Friday assault. But something inside told me no, we could just leave early Friday and meet up at the trailhead. How was I to know that I had taken leave of my senses? That the Curse was already working its dark magic?

To get to the Entiat you have to drive I-90 as if headed to Wenatchee. You turn north on 97 at Cle Elum, drive over Blewett Pass, turn east toward Cashmere and then take ALT-97 on the west side of the Columbia River north to the Entiat River Road. This interminable stretch of desolation eventually gives you a couple of fire-road options to trail heads accessing Pyramid.

I picked Jim up around 6:45 a.m. and we tooled out of Seattle at a pretty good pace, rain tapping Sue Bee’s windshield. Mojito and Juju, our carbon fiber Ibis Mojos (hence our team name), seemed content on the rack in back, but maybe we just weren’t paying enough attention. The concept and term of Mojo has its genesis in African witchcraft, and I have little doubt our sleek black steeds were aware of the trepidation we were headed into.

That early in the morning, traffic is slim. We made good time over the pass and decided to call Anthony. It turned out he was about an hour and a half ahead of us. Later we were told he and Mire had gotten up around 3:30 a.m. I knew right then that we were all going to be fresh as daisies, but this is mountain biking, folks. In garbled cellphone communique, I told Anthony we would probably be behind the rest of the gang but would drive to the top. If we didn’t, I said, we would leave a note at the campsite so they wouldn’t have to worry about waiting for us down below before driving back up for the shuttle vehicle.

Yet I could sense, in our broken conversation, a creeping dread already setting in. My distaste for shuttles is only one part joy of the ride. The other part is this. Shuttles remind me of what the great Ohio State football coach, Woody “three yards and a cloud of dust” Hayes, used to say. When you pass a football, three things can happen — and two of them are bad.

Similarly, shuttles can go sideways in a hurry. What if there’s a mechanical? What if a set of keys gets misplaced or lost? What if you miss a connection and someone gets left behind? And what if, on top of everything else, you have a Curse to contend with?

From Entiat River Road you take a right on Road 5900, a beastly, steep, brutally unmaintained dirt ribbon with more switchbacks than a fire escape. At Shady Pass you take a left up Road 113 and continue to the Trail No. 1433 trailhead. Note: This is only if you’re doing a shuttle; see note below for all-trail loop. It was a long drive up to the top, longer that it looked on the map. I’ve done longer shuttles, but the payoff was a lot bigger (in Stanley, Idaho), and the road was better graded. This thing had water bars the size of Waikiki rollers. As we approached the top we came across a couple of yahoos scavenging firewood. They’d pulled a blowdown out for sawing and it was blocking Sue Bee’s path. I waved and yelled at them but it was like some scene out of Deliverance. They didn’t get that the log end was blocking us till Jim got out and offered to help move the thing. Yet another sign that things weren’t quite right on this particular day.

We arrived at the top to find a lone vehicle that I didn’t recognize as Anthony’s or Mire’s: A gray Honda Ridgeline. It had a shuttle rack in the back, so we assumed it was them. But without a note or other indicator, it was a bit of a gamble [memo to self: always leave a note!]. If there’d been a change of plans, we were in a heap o’ trouble if we headed all the way down to find no one below. After some deliberation we decided to take a chance. If we didn’t connect with them by mountain top, we would have to be content with an out-and-back.

We did detect some fresh MTB tracks, but couldn’t tell how many bikes. Only two different sets of patterns were discernable, not particularly reassuring. If only Anthony and Mire were up ahead, the whole shuttle thing was kaput.

It was cold, around 36 degrees, and getting colder, with little sign of sunbreaks, as we started over the ridge. Soon enough Jim pointed to a peak in the distance. “Pyramid!” he said, his voice a near whisper, layered in awe and respect. I figured he was right. The peak looked like a pyramid all right, whereas all the other peaks along the ridge looked like…pyramids. We forged on.

There are two or three pretty significant drops on the way to the Pyramid cutoff, and they add up. By the time we reached the spur, staying on Trail 1433 for about 6 miles in, we’d climbed well over 2,500 feet. But there was good news. No tire tracks after the spur! That meant our party, if indeed it was they, were still on the mountain, either climbing or coming back down. In either case, we were assured of meeting up with them.

Signing the log book, a year later.

It would make sense, when ascending to 8300 feet on a narrow trail, that one would go only up. But the Pyramid spur soon dived, then dived again, and a third time, into quite lovely meadows, before finally heading up talus fields. There was just one problem: It was really getting cold. We were well below freezing by this time, around 2 in the afternoon, and snowflakes were flitting at us like ash from a forest burn. Our only consolation was that we had to be gaining ground on whoever was up ahead, since despite their lead time we hadn’t encountered them coming back down yet.

We were beginning to wonder if the bone-rattling cold and altitude had robbed us of our senses when there they were, like descending angels of mercy, Anthony and Mire… no wait! It was Mike Brown and Dexter Closterman, tripping down the mountainside like a walk in the park. Are you BBTC? we asked. The answer, yes, was like a Coast Guard cutter coming for shipwrecked sailors. They told us they figured Anthony and Mire were about 15 minutes behind, so we decided to wait. At that moment I knew Pyramid Peak once more was going to elude us. But I was so cold, it was getting later in the day, and it would be so foolhardy to split up again, I managed to shrug off the disappointment. Even if we got to the top, it would be so utterly miserable that all we’d be able to do would be to take a quick look around — with visibility of, say, 15 feet — and head back down.

But the Curse wasn’t done. We waited and waited, suffice to say far longer than 15 minutes. After nearly an hour, Mire showed up, followed by Anthony, and then the conversation got complicated. By the time we figured out, in our synapse-numbed state, all the variables involved in that long horrific shuttle, Team Mojo was heading back to the TH with Mike and Dexter, while Anthony and Mire, having handed her keys over, decided to drop down into camp. In warmer weather, with a longer day, there’s no question we would have done Pugh Ridge, which we could see stretched out right in front of us, and which looked, as Jim put it, “like a real hoot.” But given the conditions, Pugh was out of the question. It was so damn cold I felt like 80 percent of my bodily functions were in the process of shutting down unless I got moving asap. And it would probably be better to be pedaling than coasting.

Long story short, or at least less long, we rode back to the cars and drove back down the fire road in descending darkness. But not before the Curse struck one more time. On a rocky drop, Mike dumped his bike and whanged his rear rotor (breaking my cardinal rule of mountain biking, always keep your body between your bike and the ground — broken skin and bones heal, but a broken frame is forever). I’ve seen a lot of whangs, but this thing was curled like a taco. Each revolution stopped Mike’s bike in its tracks. He eventually disabled the caliper by flipping it over and re-screwing it onto the mount, but I knew this was just one more way of Pyramid Mountain winking and giving us the sly smile.

We eventually climbed back out another 2600 to 2800 feet, putting us well over 5k for the day with not much to show for it. Still, now we know our options. Now we can plan for the future. And now we know the full fury, the insidious machinations, the brute force, of the Pyramid Curse. Like a Cubs fan, we can console ourselves with “There’s always next year.” With one exception: Team Mojo won’t be waiting till Baseball Playoffs time when we reprise the magic, the glory, the mystery and the accursed Curse of Pyramid Peak.

Note: The third time on Pyramid Peak was the charm. The following year, on September 21, 2008, Team Mojo finally scrambled to the top, signed the log book and scampered back down. We did the ride without shuttling, instead driving Road 5606 to the Trail 1437 trailhead and then riding 1437 to 1439, then turning onto 1433 for the ugliest, most vicious hike-a-bike in the state, up 1,000 feet in 1.2 miles, to the Pyramid spur. The weather was quite pleasant, in the mid-80s with a mild breeze, and the ride back down a real hoot. Pyramid Peak itself offers sweeping 360-degree views but is otherwise rocky and desolate, and the switchbacks down from the peak aren’t much fun. Then you have to go back down the pitted-out 1433. After that, though, it’s a real ripper back to the lower trailhead. You can also come down via Pugh Ridge but that would involve quite a bit more climbing, and the whole out-and-back we did took us more than 9 hours as it was. The Curse having been lifted off our backs, we have yet to return to Pyramid.


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