Monday, September 12, 2011

McHenry's Peak RMNP

McHenry's. All photos: Burch

It's peak-bagging season up here in the Rockies, and on tap for yesterday was McHenry's Peak (13,327'), with the option for the three other summits that surround and form the Black Lake basin: Arrowhead (12,387'), Chiefs Head (13,579') and Spearhead (12,575').

Macca from Black Lake

The four peaks form part of the headwall of the iconic Glacier Gorge, a rift that lies at the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. I am yet to summit all ten peaks that make up the full Glacier Gorge Traverse, but yesterday's jaunt up perhaps the most scenic of them all has me hungry for the full link-up: Flattop, Hallett, Otis, Taylor, Powell, McHenry's, Chief's Head, Pagoda, Longs, and Storm.

I've done the first four in a morning, followed by a descent of Andrew's Glacier, but those first four peaks (all walk-ups) are very much the warm-up for the crux sections between Powell and McHenry's, and between Chief's Head and Pagoda.

For the shot up McHerny's, Dakota, Ryan and I had a perfect morning. We were at the Glacier Gorge trailhead (9,200') just after sunup and on our way running by 6:30. We took the shorter climbers' trail up to Mills Lake and hit Black Lake within an hour.

From Black Lake, it is a short 500 foot hoof to the upper section of Glacier Gorge, which sports climbing faces aplenty, jagged ridgelines in abundance, and burly peaks galore. A true alpine gem. The route past Mills Lake (10,000') and Ribbon Falls by way of Glacier Creek ain't too bad either.

Ribbon Falls
Spearhead from Black Lake.

Once above Black Lake, the route hits open tundra with some pretty heavy willow action in and around the drainage. There are routes through the willows by way of game trail and open rock slab, but wrong turns will have you tangled up pretty quick - as I found out coming back.

Stoneman behind Burch and I, with SE Ridge of McHenrys to the right.

Our route took us by way of Stoneman Pass, named after the phallic rock formation that sits at the pass, and then up the south face of McHenry's, which involved about 1,000 feet of class three climbing on pretty solid talus with some class four stuff thrown in depending on route. The views from the summit were, quite simply, astounding. The high points of the Glacier Gorge traverse are nearly all visible from the top, as are the mounds of the mighty Mummies. Two classic and brutal Rocky Mountain traverses in one shot. In fact, just about every peak in the park is visible from the top. Phenomenal.

Given the panorama, the three of us spent a fair bit of time at the top picking out peaks and dreaming of future routes. I was under strict orders to be home by 1:00, so we had to forgo the three heads (Chief, Arrow, Spear), but the single summit was reward enough.

Picking out Peaks.


  1. Excellent! Glad you got up there!
    I was worried about adding the just the Arrowhead traverse by itself /and/ trying to get back by 1pm -- scrambling and safe routefinding always seem to suck up lots of time! Exploratory forays like this will make the multi-peak days go more quickly. I hope to join you next time you head back!

  2. Sounds like a fun one. Sorry to see your head wound. Good thing you had a big bandage!

  3. Lovely photos. I've got to get to the rockies!

  4. Looks like you guys got out for a good day! Nice beard by the way ;)

  5. Kyle - if I learned one thing from UTMB, it is to be prepared while in the mountains with ridiculous amounts of gear that you'll never use. For this particular outing, I chose to preemptively wrap my head for fear that I might hit a rock or tree branch along the way.

    It's a good look, no?

  6. Nice spend time in Europe this summer?

  7. Joe - good to see you taking interest in my running fashion choices. Waterproof underpants for the next blogged run...

  8. Oh that's so 2010...GTX gloves are the new hot topic..