Peak(s):  Pagoda Mountain  -  13,497 feet
Keyboard of the Winds  -  13,220 feet
Longs Peak  -  14,259 feet
Date Posted:  08/04/2013
Modified:  08/07/2013
Date Climbed:   07/31/2013
Author:  andrewrose
 The idea and the reality- Pagoda, Longs, Keyboard.   

Funny, getting up at 4 in the morning to get on a plane is a unpleasant task, even if there is someone I really want to see on the other end of the journey. Yet getting up at 215am to drive an hour and then spend all day doing hard exercise? No problem there. Didn't even sleep well the night before.
Arriving at the Glacier Gorge TH shortly before 4, I readied myself for the task ahead. The list for the day included three peaks I have not ascended before. I had done all of the Longs Peak group peaks, as well as everything in and around Wild Basin- Pagoda and Longs would close two lists. This excellent trip report provided some crucial beta in how to get to Longs from Pagoda, and I printed out the relevant photos and took them with me.
Headlamp on as another car rolled into the parking lot. At least I'm not the only lost soul here in the darkness. I opted to skip the fire trail on the way up, thinking the extra mileage would be good for the legs. I came upon two other parties on my way, one headed to The Spearhead, and one to The Arrowhead. For a few moments we are friends, then best wishes exchanged and onward.
The sun started to rise as Black Lake was reached. Topping out the plateau above I could now see the goals for the day as well as the ascent route. I would continue to Italy Lake, take a snack break there, and then head up the Pagoda/Keyboard Couloir.

Never get off the trail. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way.

The Spearhead twice at Italy Lake.
Lisa Foster advises to traverse around the small cliff faces near the bottom of the couloir. I found a way through the first face at class 3. The second, much slabbier, provided more of a challenge. Though an easier way could be found, I took a crack system up, thinking it would prepare me for the homestretch. As it turned out, this was by far the most technically difficult section of the day, in upper 4th to lower 5th class.

The Keyhole from below.
Arriving at the col above, I took a right and in very short time found myself at 13497 feet on Pagoda.

Empty register, save for some water.
But the views from here were great, and I could see and recall many days spent in the park. Chiefs Head last fall, Keplinger Lake somewhere below me the summer before. Mount Alice in a long solo day. I have spent so much time there seeing Wild Basin is like seeing an old friend.

Hello once again.

This is the basic route taken from Pagoda to Longs. Of importance is the break in the cliff face. This is the way to go to get between the two, and very difficult to find from above. Even though I knew exactly where it was, it still took me some time to find on the way back. I suppose a good way is to think to find the place where the cliff face goes from being flat to falling down to the right.
Much to my surprise, I heard some voices here, looked up, and saw several climbers above, looking around. "You coming down here?"
"It's over this way," I said, pointing right.
We met up at the gully, and though I ascended and they descended by different methods, I was able to provide some advice on the way. You can read their account of this here. We met at just the right time it sounds like, and congrats on the Grand Slam! Though I can assure you that I did indeed walk and not float up the mountain.
Onto the homestretch, where I encountered something I have never experienced before: a line to summit. I was nervous about this section of the climb, but found it rather easy going compared to other things I have done which had higher difficulty and/or more exposure (Meeker, Elk Tooth to Ogalalla traverse, Eagles Beak, The Cleaver). But it was clear that I was in the minority in feeling comfortable on this exposed terrain. I was also in the minority in wearing a helmet on third class with high potential for rockfall and people kicking stuff down from above. Learning to read was hard enough the first time.
The summit is almost a nonevent. It seems like there should be some hard obstacle right at the top, but there is nothing. I took a longish (for me) break here, eating about half of the food I had left. Still had to get down after all.
Descending the homestretch was almost harder than going up. A combo of crab walking, butt sliding, and when there was no one going up using the better hand holds to the right, actual down climbing.
I continued down past the turn to the narrows, and then over the small ridge. Kindly, someone yelled down from above was I coming back up to the narrows? No. So you know where you're going? Yes. One would have to be pretty oblivious to get off route here, with the blazes painted every twenty feet or so. But then again, this is the 14er closest to Boulder!
More talus hopping, and then some up and down as I tried to find the descent over the cliff face. At first I thought I was too high, then too low, then after careful examination of earlier photos I had taken, plus topo, plus the printed photos, realized I was indeed too low.

This is what it looks like looking up from the top of the gully.

This is from the base of the gully looking up at it. Easy going.
Down and over to The Keyboard of the Winds- a bit more scrambling saw me stand on top of the two towers closest to the couloir. These are definitely not at 13820, but seem to be part of the larger structure. Fosters book gives the elevation as 13200 which seems about right for where I was. But as pointed out, that figure is incorrect- both towers top out at 13160+ feet. Tower 3 is the one that breaks 13200 feet.

Towers over Glacier Gorge.
Some clouds were rolling in now. Time to get down. There does seem to be a bit of a trail at times, or maybe not, but finding a way down while avoiding the cliff faces was pretty easy.

The way back down.
I popped out above Green Lake, and set out downwards. Somehow, the trail which was so obvious in the early morning was now escaping me, and it took me a bit longer here than it should have. A final snack at Black Lake was had. And then more down.

Back up from Mills Lake. Someone here asked me if I had made it to Black Lake, and I said I made it to Longs Peak. "Longs Peak? Well, okay," he said and continued on. I love when a day ends and I can see quite clearly where I was. Hard to believe I was standing up there only a few hours ago. Reflections of a satisfying day in the park.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

Comments or Questions
solid day in the park
08/05/2013 15:34
I liked the title of your TR, as reality always seems to kick in the instant that alarm goes off so early in the morning.

Cool loop and certainly a satisfying day in the park. Always love that view of Glacier Gorge from Mills Lake.

Nice route
08/05/2013 16:49
Very cool link-up of these peaks. Joining the masses on the keyhole route must have been a bit jarring after the isolation on Pagoda.

Looks like a great day out. I enjoyed and can relate to your comment re: ”Hard to believe I was standing up there...” That is always a neat feeling!

Oh, and that first photo caption... nice Apocalypse reference.

Brian Kalet
Keyboard of the Winds
08/06/2013 18:56
The highpoint of Keyboard of the Winds at a 13,200' closed contour is the third tower north of the Longs-Pagoda saddle and requires 5th class climbing.

08/07/2013 17:37
A good day indeed.
Brian, I corrected this with that info- 13160+ feet. Please let Lisa Foster know her book lists the incorrect elevation.

08/09/2013 04:11
I agree the highpoint of tower three is 13200+, but on page 61 the route she describes is third class and to towers 1 and 2. Those are not 13200+ as she states. I should've looked at the topo closer- it is clear that towers one and two are at the next contour down (13160+ feet). Though the map on page 228 does have the dotted red 'off trail' line she uses which goes to the closed loop of tower three. But of course if you count from the col that is the third tower and is fifth class. ?

Brian Kalet
Keyboard of The Winds
08/10/2013 01:20
No, Lisa Foster's book is correct. The highpoint is at 13,200+ feet.

Brian Kalet
Keyboard Confusion
08/10/2013 01:30
I understand your confusion, but I don't believe Lisa Foster's book is incorrect. She lists 13,200+ feet as the elevation of the feature which is consistent with the Board of Geographic Names (see above). She also mentions that there are 7 towers and only two are non-technical. As stated before, the summit of Keyboard of the Winds is the third tower north of the Longs-Pagoda saddle, also referred to as Mrs. Stubbs in Rocky Mountain National Park: High Peaks: The Climber's Guide. If you want to reach the true summit of Keyboard of the Winds, I'm afraid you'll need to take a rope next time...

Got it.
08/10/2013 15:37
I got you now. She describes a route to two of the towers, but gives the elevation of the feature, which is higher than the route described. This seems illogical (like giving a route to Meeker Ridge and stating the elevation as 13911) and you'd think it would be mentioned in the book. I note this site gives a different elevation for Keyboard as well- I'm guessing that of the tower closest to the Trough, which it looks like is the highest overall point of the feature.
Rope it is, though it'll probably have to wait until next year at this point. Thanks for the clarification.

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