Pagoda Peak 13,497 ft

NE Ridge with North Buttress Detour, class 5.4, ~12 miles, ~4400 ft, August 2007 (Jared and Dave Pneuman)

I'd say I've been pretty lucky up until this year.  Every peak I have tried to summit I have eventually gotten up.  This year has not been so kind to me.  I failed on the Grand Teton due to horrendous weather, required two attempts to get across the Kasparov Traverse and the Thatchtop-Powell Traverse, and had failed on my attempts to get up Pagoda's North Buttress twice (once due to weather and once due to a partner getting ill).  I was somewhat relieved by my recent success at getting across the Kasparov traverse and finishing the Thatchtop-Powell traverse and figured I'd give Pagoda one more try.  Now I'm a bit pig-headed and had tried it just the week before but the weather was looking great (breezy, chilly, but only a 10 percent chance of precipitation) so I figured I'd give it another go.  The big problem with Pagoda is that it is a long day and requires one to haul a lot of rock gear for 12 miles and 4400 vertical feet but I'd been getting out a lot, felt strong, and had my old partner, Dave Pneuman to join me so I felt quite confident about the whole thing.

Given that the afternoon lightning storm season was pretty much over and I was tired of alpine starts Dave and I decided to head out at 4:45, Friday, September 14th, 2007.  We arrived at the parking lot at about 6:00 AM and after packing started out for the peak by about 6:30.  The weather was actually even nicer than we had expected and we found it to be much calmer and warmer than predicted.  We made our way up to Black Lake where we took a break to eat and filter some water.  The prior year I had failed on Sharkstooth twice and the third time Dave and I set out for it and finished it so I was hoping he'd be a good luck charm again.  

After a break at the lake, we continued on to Pagoda.  The trail to Black Lake only gains around 1500 vertical feet in four miles but the 1.5 or so miles to the base of the route gains another 1500 + vertical feet so our going was slow.  We made our way through the streams, willows, and talus before reaching the slabs at the base of the North Buttress route.  At this point there were a few clouds in the sky and it was chilly but it was still calm.  I was particularly excited about the route because it is about 6 pitches ranging from 5.4 to 5.7 and is one of the last 5.7 alpine route in the state worth doing that I haven't done.  Figuring we'd try our luck with the slabs rather than the obnoxious gully we started straight up to the base of the route.  We found ourselves on mostly 3rd class stuff with the odd 4th (5.0?) moves and were soon at the base of the three overlapping, left facing corners that marked the beginning of the route.  We geared up and I set off on the first pitch.  The first pitch was very easy and went at 5.4 with some 5.5 and I was soon belaying Dave up to me from a spacious flake.

One big problem cropped up for us as we sat on the flake and that was the weather had gotten markedly worse in a short period of time.  During the 20 or 30 minutes it took for me to lead and Dave to follow the first pitch it had gotten much colder, windier, and the clouds were building rapidly and heading right towards us. We spent awhile discussing the sanity of continuing and ultimately agreed that it would graupel and rain and that the stretches of unprotected slab would be a bad place to be, especially since we were not climbing on doubles and would have to drop a ton of gear to escape.  Reluctantly, and quite angrily, I realized that my third time on this damn peak would also end in failure.  We slung the flake with some webbing and rappelled back to the ledge below.  This movie shows us getting ready to leave, bear in mind it was clam and sunny 45 minutes before this point.

We rappelled back to the ledge, put our boots on and traversed over to the gully.  Since I have tried this stupid route three times and am too pig-headed to stop I figured the only thing that would keep me from trying again in a few days would be to just summit the damn peak.  Dave was a bit tired but agreed to come up with me.  We headed up the standard gully route until we reached the ridge which boasted the formation of towers known as 'The Keyboard of the Winds'. From here we hung a right and headed up the second to third class ridge with occasional detours up fourth class stuff for fun.  As We Were reaching the summit a park ranger showed up.  This guy had just traversed from Meeker.  We all chatted for a bit and he confirmed that the route we had bailed on was well worth coming back for a fourth time.  Looking down at the top of the  route from the summit only reinforced this belief in me.  I guess I might try again next June but this time with a bivy.  As it stands I've done about 35 miles and 10,000 vertical trying to bag the North Buttress in about five weeks.  Even though I didn't finish the route I'd wanted to I was happy to have gotten to the top of Pagoda.  The views of Wild Basin and the backside of Longs Peak were fantastic and ones I had not seen before.

As expected, the weather deteriorated into a fierce graupel storm.  Graupel doesn't much bother me if I have the gear for it as long as there is not lighting and that was the case.  The only real danger it presented was making the rock slick.  Here is a quick movie of the weather.  The ranger said goodbye and headed back over to the Keyhole and Dave and I headed back down to the saddle between the Keyboard and Pagoda.  The trek back down the gully was loose and miserable.  We had avoided most of it by coming up on the slabs but they were way too wet to go down on.  As it turns out our call to bail was a very good one.  The rocks were wet, covered with hail, and in some places covered with a coat of ice.  It would have been a miserable epic if we had continued.  I suppose we could have left four hours earlier but that would have been miserable as well.  After something like fifteen or so 2 AM starts this summer I've gotten pretty sick of them for the year.  I'll forget how much they suck by next summer but for now I'm finished with them.

We made our way slowly down the miserable gully and I would never, ever do it again unless there was snow in it.  At the bottom we shed some layers as the weather turned nice and warm again (figures) and headed to Black Lake.  We spent some time chatting with a nice couple who were on vacation from Wisconsin and then headed back to the car.  On the way back Dave kept talking about all these fantastic recipes and meals and, since I was mostly out of food this just made me very hungry.  We arrived back at the car around six in the evening and headed to Estes where we stopped for a quick beer before heading home.  

It was a tiring day and I have now been finally beaten by a peak in Colorado but I'll be back next year.  I think the winter season is coming and that sucks but I'll keep fighting my way up things until the snow and ice shut me down completely.  When that happens I guess I'll take up back country skiing and head back to ice climbing but nothing is as much fun for me as getting up these peaks in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  

Pagoda's North Buttress 

Start Of The Route

Glacier Basin

Bailing From The Route

Going Up The Gully

Keyboard Of The Winds From Glacier Basin

Keyboard Of The Winds From Pagoda

The Keyhole From Pagoda

The Backside Of Longs Peak

The End Of The North Buttress Route

The North Buttress Getting Graupelled On As We Descend

Pagoda From The Bottom Of Glacier Gorge

Arrowhead And McHenrys

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