North Buttress

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 40.24984°N / 105.62685°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering, Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: A long day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.6 (YDS)
Additional Information Grade: II
Sign the Climber's Log


Upper Glacier Gorge is a rock climber's paradise, with some of the best granite to be found in Colorado.
Pagoda Mountain s North FaceThe north face from Spearhead
If it were not for the long approach--one assumes--the walls of Arrowhead, McHenrys Peak, Chiefs Head Peak, Spearhead and Pagoda would swarm with people on every half-decent day. It is perhaps the long approach and the rather unpleasant descent that have somehow allowed the North Buttress of Pagoda to remain in relative obscurity for almost half a century, until, that is, Eli Helmuth dubbed it an "overlooked classic" on ClimbingLife.

Maybe I've oversimplified the history of this route, first climbed by Buckingham, Brook, Catwood, and Cox in 1958. It is true, however, that there seems to have been increased interest in this elegant and direct line up a striking face. It is equally true that this interest is justified, given that the North Buttress is in all respects the equal of celebrated moderate routes in the Park like the Northeast Ridge of Sharkstooth and the North Ridge of Spearhead.

Getting There

From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead follow the Glacier Gorge Trail to Black Lake. Contour the lake along the eastern shore on a faint trail until that trail veers east and climbs up the drainage of the stream coming from Green Lake. The trail ends shortly after reaching upper Glacier Gorge.

Some krummholz navigation is required here. There are enough cairns to confuse anyone, and though I've lost count of the times I've been in Upper Glacier Gorge, I'm positive that I've never followed the same path through it twice. The line of least resistance, at any rate, seems to be one that aims initially for the base of Spearhead, goes by the bivy place under the huge boulder there, and then aims for Pagoda Mountain skirting the cliffs immediately below Green Lake on the right.

From Green Lake, proceed up the gully that separates Pagoda from Longs for several hundred feet until you are above a band of dark rock that is unmistakable from Green Lake. Trend right and follow grassy ledges to the base of the climb, which is where the characteristic left-facing dihedral of the lower half of the route starts.

It is about 6 miles from the trailhead to the start of the route.

Route Description

The North Buttress Route
North Buttress of Pagoda MountainThe North Buttress Route
climbs near and mostly directly to the left of the crest of the ridge that bisects the north face of Pagoda Mountain. The route is about 1500 feet long, the first about 900 of which are technical climb, while the rest are a nice, exposed scramble. The technical section is in turn divided into a lower dihedral system up beautiful whitish granite, and an upper hedwall made of darker, broken rock. We divided the climb into six pitches, none longer than 50 m.

P1: Climb the left-facing dihedral for about 40 m to a comfortable belay stance (5.4).
Jeff Leads the First PitchJeff leads the first pitch

P2: Continue up the dihedral. Skirt the roof that looms above you by traversing right to a shallow corner and climbing it to a convenient belay ledge (5.6).

P3: This short pitch can be done in at least two ways. From the ledge, we went up to the right on a slab (following the party ahead of us). The slab is initially clean and featured, but after you turn a corner, out go the features and in comes luxuriant lichen. Atop the lichen-infested slab is a roof. Traverse left under it until a weakness allows easy progress upward.
The Third PitchThe crux

Seen from above, it looked that going up left from the belay ledge should have been easier and more pleasant. As we did it, this pitch was roughly 5.7.

P4: Another short pitch on a low angle slab takes you to a ledge at the base of the headwall. Once you get to the ledge, locate the base of the chimney that is about 30 feet to the left (east) of the prow and belay there. There are a couple of moves that are 5.easy.

P5: Climb up the chimney for about 50 m. This chimney is steep but holds are everywhere. The challenge is not to dislodge rocks large and small that are strewn in precarious balance throughout the chimney (5.6).
Jeff on the Fifth PitchFifth pitch

P6: Continue up the chimney to the top of the headwall (5.5).
[img:331856:alignright:small:The final scramble]
Coil your rope at the end of P6 and continue along the blocky Class 3 ridge for several hundred feet to the summit. We kept mostly on or close to the crest of the ridge.


From the summit of Pagoda Mountain, scramble down east to the saddle between Pagoda and the Keyboard of the Winds. Go down the steep, loose scree gully to Green Lake. If you left packs or other gear at the base of the climb, you can take a quick detour to the left to retrieve it on your way down. From Green Lake reverse your approach path.

Essential Gear

Sixty meters of rope are more than sufficient.[img:331854:alignright:small:In the chimney] We placed C4s from 0.3 to 4, nuts, and a couple of large hexes. We saw a sling probably left by a party that bailed, but no other fixed protection along the route. A helmet is highly recommended.

External Links

This route is described in Gillett and Rossiter's guidebooks. The description on Mountain Project is by Eli Helmuth and is the same as the aforementioned one on ClimbingLife.



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