June 4, 2005. Chris VanArsdale and I climbed Pagoda Peak during a raging blizzard.
In the morning of the June 4th, we awoke to a foot of new snow that had fallen over night. We had to take snowshoes and full winter gear. We used a compass to make our way to the base of the mountain. Although it wasn’t as cold as the January and February blizzards I had climbed through this year, it was snowing just as hard or even harder, and the visibility was only a few feet.
Chris had viewed the mountain in good weather and took several pictures which we studied before the climb. It was evident that there was a cliff band to climb, which could pose a problem. When we climbed the peak, we tackled the cliff band directly and found it to be an iced up 4th class ascent. Unfortunately, my digital camera didn’t work at all during the trip (a recurring problem). From there it was only a short climb to the summit. We noticed the high cliffs out to the east, but could only see a short distance down them. Despite the poor weather, the plan was executed flawlessly and the climb was successful. We went straight to the summit and Chris had commented how I had “a good nose for finding the way in a blizzard”. We high-fived each other and congratulated each other for a fine climb.
Or so we thought………………
When we got home and Chris observed the photos, it was noticed that the summit of Pagoda appeared to be free of trees in the photographs, and he relayed this information to me. I observed the maps carefully, and plotted our route, but it seemed to me that we went straight to the summit. As for the lack of trees on the summit, since the photos were shot from the east, and since there was a summit block on top of Pagoda, it seemed possible that the trees wouldn’t be visible on the summit. Everything on the map matched my observations/notes to indicate we reached the summit. Case closed……
That is until I climbed the Lost Lakes Peaks on September 5th. The Lost Lakes Peaks are just south of Pagoda Peak (and East Pagoda), and there are some good views of the peak from there. From the trailhead, Pagoda Peak and East Pagoda are highly visible. Pagoda didn’t seem to have any trees on the summit from this angle, but East Pagoda didn’t look like the peak we climbed because there wasn’t a cliff band, and besides, it was way too far east and was too close to the trailhead. I had already gone over that possibility with the maps, and it just couldn’t possibly be the one we climbed. We did much contouring around to reach the mountain, before the climb up to the summit. We obviously hiked a much greater distance to the peak (more than seven miles round trip versus three miles). East Pagoda looks like just a realitively small hill on the map. Certainly, we did more than that??
As I climbed higher and higher on Lost Lakes Peak, I found myself looking back often and observing Pagoda Peak. It was still bald of trees, and I climbed high enough to see over the top. Now I could also see that East Pagoda had a cliff band that was hidden from view below. I remembered some of the landmarks we saw from climbing the peak in June. They actually matched East Pagoda. So, it appears that we actually climbed East Pagoda, and not the main summit.
How did this happen? We took several stops to look at the compass. The terrain we covered appeared to match what was on the map. The climbing time seemed spot on. East Pagoda is much closer to the trailhead. Were we really moving that slow? How could we have only climbed a mountain that was close to the trailhead, thinking we had done seven miles round trip? Both peaks are similar in appearance and both have a cliff band at the same location on the mountain. The two mountains are only 166 apart in elevation. The only difference in appearance between the two peaks is the trees. Still, I don’t know how we could have gone wrong. Were we really that lost, not knowing it and thinking we were on the right track? “East Pagoda” (Peak 10,954) is directly north of the trailhead, and Pagoda is northwest. Pagoda is twice as far from the road as East Pagoda. I still don’t know how we could have gone wrong. I am usually considered to be pretty good with a map and compass, with very few incidences of getting off track (Mount Dora in the Gore Range last February was an exception). Chris seems really good with a map too. This was only one of many mountains that I have climbed in a blizzard with no visibility. I was curious enough that immediately climbed the "real Pagoda" on September 10 (See below).
Still, I remained confused. Perhaps Pagoda Peak is part of the Flat Tops Triangle, and is similar to the Bermuda Triangle. That must be it.
September 10, 2005: More proof that Pagoda Peak is indeed located in the "Flat Tops Triangle". My 3-year old son Kessler and I climbed the "real Pagoda ".
It was a muddy but pretty nice hike to Snell Park. There were huge thunderclouds gasthering, however. The night of September 9, it snowed down to 10,200 feet in the Flat Tops (Colorado). We were camping at Snell Park and we had about the biggest thunderstorm I have ever camped in. I left my pan outside and it rained over 3.5 inches overnight with a skiff of snow. During the night, the wind blew branches onto the tent and blew the pegs of the rainfly out of the ground, so we and all our stuff got soaked.
In the morning all of the Flat Tops looked white with snow. We could see the Park Range and the mountains over there were white too. Saturday had good weather, but everything was icy and it was very cold and windy. We hiked north and then started the bushwhacking section of the climb. It was pretty challenging with all the ice covered logs we had to climb over! The class 3 pitch was a challenge, but we both made the summit! Believe it or not, Kessler was actually the one who insisted on doing so as I asked him repeatedly if he wanted to turn back!