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After hiking to Solitude Lake last week, the views of Pagoda Mountain had me anxious to finally get to the top of that beautiful pyramid of rock. A friend of mine, Kane, has climbed Pagoda before and had some great route information for me. More specifically on the condition of the gully that leads to the Longs Peak/Pagoda saddle. This is nasty stretch of the "trail" and is very tiring. It is about 1,500 feet in elevation gain and full of loose and annoying scree. There are also large rocks that are very loose and only need a small nudge from a hand or foot to be sent tumbling down the length of this gully.

Pagoda Mountain makes up part of the southern most wall of Glacier Gorge. This area of the National Park is one of the most scenic. It's actually one of the more scenic places in all of Colorado.

The hike to Black Lake was fairly uneventful. I made no stops and was pretty hungry once I got to its shores. I had a quick bite to eat and headed up the drainage to Upper Glacier Gorge. I found the trail system up here to be in great shape. There were plenty of cairns making route finding very easy. Before long I was standing at the base of the dreaded gully. This thing is pretty intimidating. I noticed that there were some slabs for about the first third of the route. I decided to try my luck on those instead of the loose scree further to the north. I made my way over toward Green Lake and approached the gully at the base of these granite slabs, which turned out to be a lot of fun. They were mostly 3rd class, and very easy to negotiate.

After a few minutes of climbing these slabs I was to a point where the scree was unavoidable. This was pretty tiring and I was looking forward to being out of this gully. Two steps up, slide back a step....two steps up slide back a step...this was the rhythm I was in and it took a little patience and a little time to get out of this troublesome section. The top part of the gully was a little better with a thin layer if talus over slabs of granite. Not as nice as the lower sections of the gully, but much better than the pile of sand I was trying to walk up in the middle.

I had made it to the saddle. On my right was the upper slopes of Pagoda and on my left was a dramatic scene including the Keyboard of the Winds, Long's Peak and Mt. Meeker. I stopped here to watch people crossing the Narrows, a section of the trail on the south side of Longs Peak. I could also see people on the top of the homestretch, the summit of Longs. After admiring the views from this point, I began heading up the upper slopes along the final push to the summit. This was the best part of the day. I stayed along the edge of the ridge so had amazing views back down the steep cliffs of Pagoda into the heart of upper Glacier Gorge. As I got higher, the views behind me of the Keyboard of the Winds was unreal.

About 15 minutes of scrambling later, I was on the summit! What an amazing summit. It really feels like you are on a mountain top with dramatic drops on all sides of you. The views are outstanding...not only of Glacier Gorge, but of Wild Basin as well. There is a pretty extreme drop straight down to Keplinger Lake directly to the south, which was pretty impressive. I explored the small summit area for a minute or two, then dropped behind a large boulder to get out of the biting wind. It was cold up there. I had a bit to eat, signed the summit register and then began the descent as was getting a bit chilled.

The way down was fairly uneventful. I did take a couple of small spills as I was coming down that nasty gully. I received a few souvenir scrapes for my trouble and was soon back the the relative flatness of upper Glacier Gorge. The hike out was nice. I was able to take just enjoy the abundance of water...ponds, pools, creeks, falls and lakes...I was able to just enjoy being out in one of my favorite places in the world! The weather couldn't have been better, except maybe for the wind, and I was having a blast. I made it back to Black Lake before seeing another soul on the trail. See! It IS possible to have solitude in Glacier Gorge in the middle of summer! You just have to start early and go far.

I made it back to the trail head without incident and was soon home relaxing on the couch.

This mountain was and is all I could have expected. It was a challenge, but more fun than anything. The approach was incredible, the views unmatched and all with a perfect summit to top it all off. This is a mountain I will return to in the years to doubt about it!



    until next time...
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