Pagoda Peak 13,497
NE Ridge with
North Buttress Detour,
class 5.4, ~12 miles, ~4400 ft, August 2007
(Jared and Dave Pneuman)
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
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.
Start Of The Route
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
To My Other Mountains Page