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Glacier Gorge Traverse

5.7, Trad, Alpine, 5000 ft, Grade IV,  Avg: 4 from 15 votes
FA: Bill Briggs and company??
Colorado > Alpine Rock > RMNP - Rock > Glacier Gorge > Arrowhead
Access Issue: Seasonal Closures Details


This is the MEGA-COOL Ridge traverse of the Glacier Gorge cirque.

Starting with Arrowhead and cruising the ridge crest all the way over to Long's. It's a great long day at altitude, with some wonderful and exposed scrambling/climbing. It incorporates a few classic routes, including the North Ridge of McHenry's (5.4?),the West Ridge of Pagoda (5.7), and the Southwest Ridge of Long's (5.6).

There are several ways to run this ridge.

I like to start at Arrowhead, and go counter-clockwise, so Long's is at the end.

Hike to Black Lake, approach Arrowhead by skirting the lake on its east side and cruise grass ramps up to the base.

Head up to summit of Arrowhead via the Summit ramp (4th class), or any other way you like. Head up the wonderful North Ridge of McHenry's, with great rock, and exposure. 5.4ish? at the hardest.

Then down and across Stone Man Pass, and up over Chiefshead. This is the easiest and most dull part of the traverse, and it's still very mellow and scenic. Head down, and across the Chiefshead/Pagoda Col, and start up the sick West Ridge of Pagoda.

This route begins with wild sidewalks in the sky, then large overhangs on the ridge push you out North. Way exposed face climbing! 5.7ish. Skirt around on the North Face, until you can gain the crest again and then the summit.

Soak in this killer summit, and push on towards Long's. Pass behind the Keyboard of the Winds, surmounting one or two scrubby walls en route.

And make a beeline for the Southwest Corner. This route lies directly above the Narrows section of the Keyhole route. Climb nice cracks and flakes right to the summit (5.6).

This arete is incredible and makes an astonishing finish to a very aesthetic day.


Gain the Glacier Gorge ridge at Arrowhead, and follow it ALL the way to Long's Peak! You can't miss it.


Light rack, skinny rope, sturdy shoes.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Blades on Pagoda.
[Hide Photo] Blades on Pagoda.
Geeked out self portrait on the final portion of Pagoda's incredible West Ridge.
[Hide Photo] Geeked out self portrait on the final portion of Pagoda's incredible West Ridge.
Pano of all summits taken from Pagoda.
[Hide Photo] Pano of all summits taken from Pagoda.
Climbing up below the Narrows on Long's.
[Hide Photo] Climbing up below the Narrows on Long's.
Looking down at Keplinger Lake.
[Hide Photo] Looking down at Keplinger Lake.
Exploring the ridge between McHenrys & Chiefs Head.
[Hide Photo] Exploring the ridge between McHenrys & Chiefs Head.
Heading for Chiefs Head.
[Hide Photo] Heading for Chiefs Head.
Running the ridge between McHenry's & Chiefs Head.
[Hide Photo] Running the ridge between McHenry's & Chiefs Head.
Long's SW ridge.
[Hide Photo] Long's SW ridge.
South side of Pagoda, with the ramp I used being just below the dark band on its West ridge.
[Hide Photo] South side of Pagoda, with the ramp I used being just below the dark band on its West ridge.
the lovely Southwest corner of Longs...the final crux
[Hide Photo] the lovely Southwest corner of Longs...the final crux
The crux: Pagoda's West Ridge.
[Hide Photo] The crux: Pagoda's West Ridge.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Mitch Musci
Estes Park, CO
[Hide Comment] Thanks for posting, Justin! I recently completed this tour after being shut down twice by conditions, and it felt great to finish a long-term goal of mine. Richard Rossiter has added "A Walk in the Park" to the site which looks even more grueling, though I think it's debatable as to whether he was the "first ascensionist". I know that there are many avid climbers on the Front Range (or even throughout the world) that do this circuit of peaks every year, and I would bet that Rossiter's version has been done before (heck it's 2010, look at the dates for other notable speed records in the park…).

Regardless, I wanted to reiterate how sweet this link-up is, and add a couple points from my own experience: I carried a very light pack which I believe is key in getting this done before afternoon storms, as well as to conserve energy. I did bring a pair of climbing shoes and a chalkbag which was much appreciated for Pagoda's crux ridge, as well as climbing the SW ridge of Long's and downclimbing the Cables Route. Everything else was done in approach shoes with sticky rubber. I filled up 2 liters of water at Black Lake and was basically out half way up Long's; however, I got lucky and found a small trickle that got me one extra liter. I started hiking at approx. 5am and was down to the boulder field on Long's by 2pm.

From Black Lake, I head directly towards Arrowhead until confronted by steeper slabs. 5.2ish climbing leads up into a huge gully which can be wet. Locate a nice dihedral with twin hand cracks at the very top of the gully on the right. Climb this for 60ft (5.6) then angle up and left on varied rock (5.2) to hit the summit ridge.

The North Ridge of McHenry's can be kept at 4th class with careful routefinding, but may be 5th class in spots and has some loose rock.

The West Ridge of Pagoda stumped me a few times, mostly because I spent too much time searching for easier passage. As Justin describes I got forced left about mid ridge onto the north face and climbed 5.7 slabs with lichen. I don't know if exciting is the right word for it...I then traversed right through a break in the ridge onto the south face and found a long grassy ledge that I traversed for a ways, then went straight up pleasant 5.4 chimneys and corners to the top. This ledge can be seen in Justin's photo at the end of the rib of rock splitting Pagoda's south face.

The SW ridge of Long's has clean rock and fun flake climbing, and felt about 5.5 in spots. It was a little unnerving hearing the hordes of tourists below me beginning their descent of the trough and gawking loudly in disbelief at what I was doing! The top of the SW ridge is some of the finer climbing on this circuit.

I downclimbed the Cables Route which turned out to be holding ice in spots (this was mid August), but I managed to safely negotiate to the dry spots. I can recommend this descent to most experienced climbers (not hikers) and would also recommend at least having approach shoes with sticky rubber. The downclimbing is straightforward but sustained 5th class.

From Granite Pass, it was 6 or 7 miles back to the Glacier Gorge parking lot, and I literally just spaced out in cruise control. Glad I had an MP3 player with plenty of metal to keep me going. If you're in good shape and looking for maybe the most classic solo link-up in the park, definitely consider this route. I spent 6 days on the CDT prior to this climb and can say that made all the difference!
-Mitch Apr 22, 2010
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
[Hide Comment] What an incredible adventure in the alpine! The west ridge of Pagoda is a gnarled and crazy feature; any route that makes me feel like Gollum traversing the misty mountains is a good route in my book. Plenty of good beta here from Justin and Mitch. I would add that the crux of the soloing on Pagoda's ridge is the route finding. The actual climbing is secure enough when soloing though very exposed!

I started on the south side of the ridge on cruiser 5.0 terrain until just before the first large gendarme where I cut over to the north side. I traversed a bit further east on the north side of the ridge then cut more or less straight up for 80 feet on alpiney flakes and face holds to a band of dark, slightly rotten rock. I climbed through this band carefully then found myself on a shelf over looking the first large gendarme below a 40 foot section of nicer pinkish alpine rock. I hand traversed south for a few feet a bit (balancy soloing crux) then got established in a right-facing dihedral which I followed up and left into a short but sweet, easy, thin hands crack. This crack deposits you at the beginning of a third class ledge that travels south. Traverse this south for a few hundred feet (but not all the way to the end) to below a darkish chimney feature. Climb up the chimney (5.5), and follow the low fifth class ridge all the way to the summit.

For the descent off Long's, I took the North Face then walked back to The Keyhole and followed knee jarring talus for a thousand feet back to Black Lake and slogged out. A long and very satisfying day in the alpine, highly recommended.

-Patrick Aug 13, 2012
Northglenn, CO
[Hide Comment] Can anyone provide some further detail on Pagoda's West Ridge? I'm wondering how difficult the "5.7" rating actually is. To give some context, I climbed the Owl in Boulder Canyon today, which I found pretty ridiculous for 5.7, but I was looking for something to compare to Pagoda's West Ridge. Should I pack some climbing shoes, or will a pair of La Sportiva X Countries suffice? I realize climbing ability/strength plays into the equation- but to those who have done the route, what are your thoughts and what did you do? I'd love to know :) At any rate, I'd like to take a stab at the route this summer, and would love to know what I'm getting myself into. Any realistic descriptions/comparisons would be much appreciated. Thanks! Mar 8, 2013
Patrick Vernon
Estes Park, CO
[Hide Comment] I would take shoes, but I'm a massive wimp when it comes to soloing. The only climb I ever really solo these days is the Direct East Face on the First Flatiron where I take my time and normally get passed by old guys practically running in hiking boots. I felt secure on this, but the route finding is challenging, and you could easily make it harder. What I did felt about 5.6 with 5.10 route finding. For comparison, I think soloing the Northeast Ridge on Spearhead would feel like more difficult climbing with easier route finding. Weird I know, but it's the mountains. Harder than the North Chimney? I am struggling to come up with a comparison. Feel solid soling 5.7 at Lumpy, have a good mountain head, and you should be more than prepared. Mar 8, 2013
The High Country
[Hide Comment] Easily my best day ever in RMNP! Did it almost solely based on Patrick's comment about feeling like Gollum traversing the misty mountains, and indeed I did. Arrowhead to McHenry's is awesome and a perfect way to start the morning. McHenry's to Chiefshead was a trek and felt like the longest part of the day, but that was awesome too. The West ridge of Pagoda was incredible, and like everyone else, I ended up being pushed onto the slabs on the north face. They were cleaner than expected and provided quite nice climbing. Eventually I ended up on the other side of the ridge where the grass ramp Patrick described was. Took the chimney up, and the crux of the day was over. Ended on the delightful southwest ridge of Long's. Fantastic stone and fun flakes to climb to the summit. Freaked some tourists out when I pulled over. One of the most memorable days of my life! Aug 15, 2014
Jordan Moore
Berthoud, CO
Martin le Roux
Superior, CO
[Hide Comment] For those that don't want to carry a rope or solo 5.7, there's an easy alternative to the W Ridge of Pagoda. See…. Sep 27, 2015
Denver, CO
[Hide Comment] This is a must do for any park junkie. The crux slab on Pagoda and the corner/flakes on Long's were fine in approach shoes. If you're up for it, pick a stable weather window, and get it done! Sep 12, 2016
Fort Collins, Colorado
[Hide Comment] Don't do it, it sucks. Haha.

I completed this amazing traverse in perfect conditions back in September 2015, and it remains one of my best days in the mountains, ever.

I bivied near Mill's Lake, started at 5am, got to the base of Arrowhead at first light. I did not find an easy route up and was glad I brought rock shoes. I soloed about 200 of 5th class with a few 5.8 sections before finding 4th Class routes further north than the true Arrowhead Ridge.

I followed the exact ridge the rest of the way, with an amazing airy 5.6 hand traverse on Pagoda, and clean, exposed 5.6 crack climbing on SW ridge of Long's.

I came down the cables route, then over to Storm and descended back into GG at Half Mtn, getting stuck crawling through all that windfall timber before finding Mill's Lake ~4:30pm, car before 6pm. Strava said I did 12.7 miles from my bivy with 6,760 feet gained. 13hrs.

Here's your beta: not much water on a ridge.... Sep 6, 2017
Andy Hansen
Longmont, CO
[Hide Comment] This is a pretty great early season outing. We started on the North Face of Powell Peak, traversed to McHenry's, and then went up Chiefshead down to Chiefshead/Pagoda col for a bivy. Next morning cruised the West Ridge of Pagoda and then up the West Face of Long's. Expect significant snow travel in early season. Boots and pons recommended as well as a 30m rope, single rack to 2." Climbing out of McHenry's Notch and the West Ridge of Pagoda are remarkable portions of the route. Jun 16, 2018