When you think pyramid, you think mystery, hardship, timeless and huge. And you think Pyramid Beer.
Coincidentally enough, 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 I first tried three years ago 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, ploughing through 2-foot drifts and eventually winding up with, if memory serves, a mild case of frostbite. We could only marvel at Ikore’s fortitude and promise next year for sure.
Next year for others, yes. For me, unbeknownst, Pyramid Peak already had initiated its loathsome and heartless misfortune. 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. (I’m sure I’ll get mail from someone who did…Armando was that YOU?)
But 2007 witnessed my return to XC, and I vowed to revisit the scene of so much past pain. I’ve bagged all the 360s in the state I know of except Pyramid. It was time to put the wrap on that particular challenge.
Things 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 lurking, laying little enticing traps along the way, tricking you into thinking things are far 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.
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 ineluctability 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 wry irony in driving 180 miles to a trailhead and then disdaining a 13 mile fire road, but what can I say? I’m a purist. And besides, isn’t it all about the ride?
But in this case, Mire made a persuasive argument. If we did encounter inclement conditions, at least we could turn back easily enough. And the ridge approach did offer spectacular views not visitable from the singletrack approach. 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.
The next sign I had 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?
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 I decided to call Anthony. It turned out he was about an hour and a half ahead of us. Later I was 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 my 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 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 in worse case scenario, what if you get whiteout at the top from a sudden blizzard?
And what if, on top of everything else, you have a curse to contend with?
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 waves. As we approached the stop we came across a couple of weekend cornpones 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 me till Jim got out and offered to help move the thing. Yet another sign that things weren’t quite right on that 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. 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. At least two different sets of patterns were discerned, 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 suspense. 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, 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.
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 snow was starting to fly. 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 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 me. 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 and head back down.
But the Curse wasn’t done. We waited and waited, suffice to say far longer than 15 minutes. Eventually 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 Mire, having handed her keys over, and Anthony 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 working than coasting.
Long story short, or at least less long, we rode back to the cars and drove back down the fire road in incipient 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’d wheel. 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 its eye 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 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.