Peak(s):  Pagoda Mountain  -  13,497 feet
Date Posted:  08/01/2015
Date Climbed:   07/25/2015
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   CarpeDM
 Pagoda via Crescent ridge 5.6   

July 25, 2015
Trailhead: Copeland lake/RMNP
Route: Pagoda via Crescent Ridge 5.6
Beta and inspiration: Sarah T's report
Mileage: ~15 miles
Vertical: ~5,000 ft+
Team: Natalie (SnowAlien) and Dave M (CarpeDM)

By this time last year I had 3 alpine climbs in - Jagged, Coxcomb and Ypsilon via Blitzen ridge. This year - nada, zilch. Walkups do get eventually tiresome no matter how scenic they are, so I was really itching to get out on ropes, but had trouble rounding partners for something easy and beginner friendly in the alpine. DaveM sent an invite for yet another class 3-4 scramble, but I managed to convince him to give Pagoda a try. Afterall, SarahT said this was a route suitable for trad noobs! So we bit.

Dave and I rendezvoused at the Copeland lake TH and after sorting gear, set off in the direction of Sandbeach lake by 4.30 am. The first ~4.5 miles to the lake on the established RMNP trail went pretty quickly, but after the lake our pace slowed down considerably. Welcome to the Hunter creek bushwhack! I considered hopping through the giant boulders with a heavy pack to be a fairly miserable experience, but Dave seemed to enjoy it a bit more.

En route

After something like 6 mile approach, we finally got a first glimpse of our route, with another mile of bushwhack between us and the Crescent ridge. We crossed the Hunter creek near 10,800 ft (still very little elevation is gained at that point) and stopped to filter some water. The water was expected to last us the rest of the day on the ridge.

As we got closer, the approach didn't relent. We still had to find the shortest way through the expansive willows and to scramble up to the base of the ridge. In the daylight, this part went fairly smoothly.

Looking back at the route so far. About ~7 miles in. We sort of missed the easiest way to gain the ridge and ended up hopping over more boulders, burning valuable energy.

Dave contemplates what lies ahead

After gaining the ridge near 12k, we took a long refueling break and evaluated our approach for the technical section. By then, it was already 11 am, but the weather was expected to stay clear all day. We scampered to the beginning of the technical climbing and roped up. I took up the first pitch, correctly guessing it to be the easiest one and that it would allow me to sort of "ease" into things. Dave patiently belays me. Being a noob, it takes me about an hour to place most of my cams before I stop to build an anchor. Climbing is still fairly easy and protection is plentiful. Dave cruises up quickly to my belay station, wondering what took me so long. However, he is next to the task! I not so jokingly suggest that I will be timing him. No pressure, Dave.

Natalie leading the 1st pitch

On the 2nd pitch, climbing difficulty and angle ramps up significantly and Dave has to execute a tricky traverse over lots of air. He needs a mental break and belays me up. The pitch was only 40 feet, but it took 45 minutes.

Dave starting to lead the 2nd pitch (a shortie)

Looking down from my belay stance on the route traveled so far. 2 hours in and we cleared maybe only 200 ft. Noobs

Empowered by his lead of the 2nd pitch, Dave is ready to tackle the 3rd pitch, which starts with a fun crack. Further up the pitch, the Mountain Project beta suggests that out of the 3 cracks, the leftmost one is the easiest.

Dave is starting to lead the 3rd (crux) pitch.

Somehow Dave is getting sucked into going straight up and is having trouble traversing. He places a few cams, but after a few tries to pull through he falls on gear! This comes as a bit of a surprise to both of us, but we are happy the gear held. Good placement. I lower him down, and now it's my turn to give it a shot. Lots of shiny cams are on the route and the stakes are high. I need to clear the crux, or we are leaving gear like total noobs. Thankfully, after the long mental break I've had, and following the cams Dave had already placed, I cruise right up to the crux. I see what needs to be done, I just need the execution to follow. I recognize the crux by Sarah's description of a "delicate traverse". I place 3 cams of smaller sizes up to #0.75 to protect the traverse, and luckily top out above the headwall without major issues. I immediately start looking to place a piece, but no cigar. I burn about 10 minutes turning over rocks and cracks with Dave again wondering what's taking me so long. Finally giving up, I yell at him to keep me on belay, and run additional 10-15 ft to the horn that might work. Whew! Mentally spent again, I build an anchor and bring Dave up. We should be at the end of the technical climbing, but in a haste, I probably stopped another 10 feet short of true Class 3-4 terrain. Dave volunteers to investigate, running half the rope without placing gear, and reports consistent class 3-4 territory. I scamper up to him, but to be sure, decide to run the rope myself. These maneuvers probably cost us additional 30 minutes vs. simulclimbing or soloing. Finally being able to see the route and convinced that it's all class 3-4 from here, we coil the rope. It's somehow 5 pm already and we are still 1.5k feet away from the summit.

Remaining scramble to the summit

Approach shoes go back on the feet and rope and gear back in the packs. Scrambling is fairly exposed and slabby and seem to go on forever.

Downclimbing a section of the ridge

After another hour, we are getting closer to the final headwall of pink and white slab

The ridge traversed so far

David looking pretty spent near the top of the headwall

Not trusting tired legs and wary of exposure, I convince Dave to rope up for the last bit of exposed Class 4 climbing. Rock is a bit slippery and a high step is required. From there, it is simply a few hundred feet of talus hop. We arrive on the summit, exhausted, just after 8 pm. Sunset colors on Longs and Chief's Head are spectacular. Too bad we don't have time to enjoy them.

Hard earned summit

Chief's Head

Sunset on Longs

We know we are hosed, facing a heinous deproach in the dark, but we keep on fighting. The easiest way down is from the Pagoda-Keyboard-of-the-Winds saddle. We are making decent progress for another hour, until unavoidable snowfield stops us. Thankfully we brought ice axes and microspikes and are sure glad to have them. I downclimb facing in kicking steps in slippery and treacherous summer snow. Dave tries to rain some rocks down on me, but I escape. Down lower we find a narrow passage through wet slabs and finally hit the valley floor. We both had run out of water awhile ago, so the sound of the creek is very welcome. We filter the water and down a little food we still have left and brace for the bushwhack out of the basin. Unable to plot the best exit route in the dark, we soon run into the cruel willows. They zap whatever energy we still had left. Our pace slows to a halt. What seems like hours later we reach the end of the sea of willows and start bushwhacking towards the Hunter creek drainage. Miraculously my phone has still some battery life left and I navigate using the Gaya app. Given our tired state and the resulting lack of speed, the progress is excruciatingly slow. Eventually I decide it's counterproductive to continue, so I stop and pull out the emergency bivy, while Dave is determined to plod along. I manage to get a couple of hours of sleep before the sunrise, which helps significantly. With the light (but without phone, which died), I find the Sandbeach lake within an hour from my bivy stop. After hitting that milestone, my progress slows down again, as my body requires a nap every now and then to keep moving. A mile or two down the trail I ran into some tourists who inquire where I camped (my pack is probably giving me away). I simply state that I went to the lake and keep moving. A few hours later I reach the TH noticing Dave's car gone, meaning he made it out alright. Well, this was certainly an adventure and the hardest climb up-to-date for me, exceeding anything I've encountered on Centennials. I think we both had the skills to tackle the route, but we just need to get more efficient and much faster before trying to tackle anything harder. Afterall, we are still trad noobs...

Gear list: 9.1mm 60 m rope, 9xBD camalots from #0.2 to #3, set of nuts, 9 alpine slings, climbing shoes, ice ax, microspikes, GPS with the route

Comments or Questions
Brian C
08/01/2015 19:28
And think I was trying to talk my buddy into doing this as an approach for Longs. Haha. I hadn’t seen Sarah’s report either. Great work pushing through a gnarly day that I would have quit on.

Wow, big day!
08/01/2015 19:35
Nice job Natalie, especially leading the crux! You’ve certainly got the skills and then some, I’m sure efficiency will increase quickly. That 2nd pic looks very familiar! We stumbled around there on the way out, but by luck avoided it altogether on the approach (little did we know!).

your post centennial agenda
08/01/2015 22:55

Good one!
08/02/2015 19:21
Great work. Looks gnarly

Who knew...
08/13/2015 09:56
that roping up only once a year isn’t enough to get better (for me, that is)? Brian, I’ll bet you could use this as an approach to Longs (maybe with a North Face or Keyhole exit and shuttle?). You would be much more efficient on the technical portion. It’s pretty short; you may be able to get 2 pitches out of it. Also, I’m sure we didn’t find the most efficient bushwhack on the way up, and the lack of light on the way down really hampered us in the willows.

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