Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Peak  -  13,579 feet
McHenrys Peak  -  13,327 feet
Powell Peak  -  13,208 feet
Taylor Peak B  -  13,153 feet
Date Posted:  09/27/2011
Modified:  10/09/2011
Date Climbed:   09/24/2011
Author:  lordhelmut
 The Giants of Glacier Gorge   

Glacier Gorge 13er Ridge Run : Chief's Head (13,579), McHenry's (13,327), Powell (13,208), Taylor (13,153)

Trailhead : Glacier Gorge TH

Time and Distance : 16 miles, 6500 vertical, 14 hours

Rocky Mountain National Park is a region of contrasts. Its boundary is home to many ridge runs, including, but not limited to, the Mummy Mania, Cloud Traverse in the Never Summers, the frighteningly loose Mahler to Nokhu Crags, a 12er fest along the Continental Divide from Ida to Terrah Tomah, Elk Tooth to Ogallala and the Grand Slam around the Longs Massif. Each of these have their own unique characteristic and they all make life feasible for those insatiable peak baggers who find solace on narrow knife edges, deep in the heart of the range.

With all those areas in mind, Glacier Gorge reigns supreme in the crap your pants o-meter, both in an awe inspiring way and in a "if I lose my concentration here, they'll need dental records to indentify me" way. Right up there with the Ruby, Ice Lake, Upper Slate and Cimarron Basins of the world, Glacier Gorge can be considered on another level. In addition to ridge runs and cool looking peaks, there are enough alpine rock routes to keep someone busy for a decade.

Ben and I, with summer winding down, needed a decent sized day to keep our minds from obsessing over the upcoming ski season. What ensued was us talking for 15 straight hours about the ski season, only difference was it wasn't in the comforts of our cubicle. We left Denver at the ripe hour of 330am and were at the Glacier Gorge TH, hiking by 530am after a few quick errands. The drive, with no traffic, took 70 minutes flat.

For anyone who has ever researched the Glacier Gorge Traverse, you might've come across a trip report from Mountain Jim on Summitpost, only this guy went ahead and included Lady Washington, Storm, Longs and Pagoda to his day. All I've gotta say is whatever he was smoking, I would love to try some. I think he climbed for 27 hours straight. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I'd like to edit that a tad and say that anyone who runs a ridge, solo, for 27 hours and 12,000 vertical is insane and incredibly badass. I imagine Jim had to find room on his passenger seat to rest his gigantic balls for the ride home. Bravo.

We agreed on something a tad more tame - Chief's Head to Taylor. The approach in to Black Lake was like any other. We found the cracked rock, notifying us of the shortcut and arrived at the lake about 90 minutes later.


The weather, as the forecast stated, was flawless, so we took some time to enjoy the serenity of the lake, taking some reflection shots and admiring some local falls, before filtering a crap load of water for our 13er ridge fest.



We reached the upper basin below Spearhead via a little shortcut that went straight from Black Lake basically and we got our first solid views of our objective for the day, as well as a nice pano of the Mummy Range



The views of Keyboard of the Winds, Chief's Head and McHenry's from this vantage point are surreal. When one thinks of big walls in Colorado, they think Diamond Face. While that may very well be crown jewel, the North Faces of Chief's Head, Spearhead, Pagoda and McHenry's are no slouch, as is the Southern ramparts of Arrowhead across the way. This is glaciation at its very finest, some of the rock features look like something straight off a Tim Burton set.

After enjoying the scenery....



We made way for what we thought was the standard route on Chief's Head (I will refer to this peak as "Da Chief" for the rest of this TR). Gerry Roach is a man of many distinctions, but something he lacks is accuracy at times. There are 2 things I'd like to point out in his vintage, hand held 1987 publication of his "Classic Hikes and Climbs in Rocky Mtn National Park" guidebook. The standard route on Da Chief from Black Lake is NOT Class 3 and the Andrews Glacier is NOT 20 degrees. I haven't been climbing for 1/10 as long as he, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who have taken the time to relay these gems of the state to us getting in to this hobby, but these are 2 things I thought I'd point out.

Back to the climb, we soon found ourselves on a rather complex and very exposed ramp leading up to a notch. To be honest, we never really tried to gain the true Stone Man Pass, so whatever terrain we got in to was our own fault. We saw a notch closer up towards Chief Head's summit and figured we'll get to that notch, or die trying. For some reason, that was our mentality.




Ben described this as a wider version of Broadway on Long's and probably 500 feet less of exposure. Your body would still probably explode upon impact if you fell from here, so caution was taken of course. At one point (in pic 10), we got cliffed out and a mutual agreement on an awkward, 5.5/5.6 move was required to reach higher ground. Ben had approach shoes on and made the move with ease. I looked like a socially awkward silverback gorilla at an exhibit at the zoo, not knowing whether he should show off for the crowd or actually try to focus, so he doesn't break his neck.

Primate behavior aside, we reached some sort of notch, under the 3 genadarmes mentioned in Roach's book and it was class 2+ snow covered scrambling to the summit ridge from there.

The ridge was actually quite narrow in spots coming from the West. There was a sheer cliff on either side, but the catwalk remained at class 2 the whole way, just a really exciting area.


Around 4.5 hours after our departure, we were standing atop Da Chief, with some others who had come up from Sandbeach Lake. The views from here were pretty sweet, its pretty cool when you can actually look, and marvel at Longs. It's just a ridiculously big rock, like a North American version of Ayers Rock, except instead of 1000 degenerates using a cable line to hike up a sacred monument, there are 1000 degenerates hiking up the Keyhole Route.

Some of the views.....




We spent a solid 30 minutes on the summit, actually probably spent 30 minuts on every summit, except for Taylor, which we spent 30 seconds on.

The downclimb to Stone Man Pass was methodical, but after numerous trips to the Gores this summer, it really didn't seem to dampen any spirits. McHenry's loomed above in the blue sky of a glorious Rocky Mountain afternoon.


Roach refers to McHenry's as one of the tougher peaks in the park to climb by its standard route. What it really is is just a pile of splintered rock, no tougher than class 3 and the summit is surprisingly big and flat. A really cool vantage point. Neither of us remember much about the ascent up McHenry's, we were too busy mindlessly quoting Braveheart, with really bad Scottish accents, as well as reminiscing of our glory days back in high school.


We reached McHenry's summit around 2 hours after leaving Da Chief. We kind of skimped on food rations on this day for some reason, went overboard on the fluids, not so much on the food. We did have a sleeve each of Pringles, myself mixing it up with the Ranch flavor and Ben striking out with Pizza flavor. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't good. I also had a big bar of chocolate and refueled on that, along with a 32 ounce bottle of the Dew, which revived whatever spirit I had lost so far that day, as well as Ben's.

After enjoying the exposure.....


And the view.....


We made for Powell. This is when things got interesting. Pagoda to Da Chief, so I hear, is, by far, the toughest part of the Glacier Gorge Traverse, from a technical standpoint. From what I've read, you need to know where the F your rap stations are....or else. While McHenry's to Powell isn't nearly as complex, it threw us a curve ball, that's for sure.

It first started with a snow covered, knife edge, which are always fun. Ben took the lead...


And I was busy taking shots of what an alpine cheese grader looks like, had we taken a fall, on either side of the ridge.



We hadn't even reached the mandatory rappels before finding an exposed, legitimate, mandatory 5th class move on to a big ass rock that was basically balancing itself on the knife. Of course we didn't know this till we (or shall I say Ben) climbed on top of it and back down the other side.


With my hiking boots, Vibram soles just weren't enough to overcome this obstacle, plus I was low on TP, so I took the easier ledge route, below the knife edge.


Soon after this, we reached mandatory rap terrain. From what I've read of Mtn Jim's TR on Summitpost, the guy doesn't sound entirely human in his climbing abilities. What he downplays is the downclimb to McHenry's Notch. Ben and I were thrilled to have a rope, a 60 meter one at that. To be honest, I'm not sure how one could downclimb this terrain. In all seriousness, bring a rope. If some old timer from 14er World or LOJ, who has over 1000 peaks to his name and somewhere along the way kind of lost his ability to get scared, gets on here and disagrees with me, saying this section can be downclimbed, do yourself a favor and pay no attention. Forget my opinion, Benners never backs down from a crap your pants downclimb and he was quite content bringing it out on this section. All I can say about that.

We rapped down the first section, pretty much using the entire length of the 60 meter, finding a huge anchor, using webbing (about 15 feet) and a rap ring.


We landed on a nice, comfortable ledge, but still had another 120 feet or so to go to reach the saddle. After downclimbing some moderately sketchy terrain, we finally found a nice rock horn to throw 2 slings around and thread the rope straight through them, easily reaching the ground.


With the main difficulties of the ridge run behind us, we quickly gathered up the rope and made way for Powell's summit.

The only interesting things I can say about the rest of the ridge to Powell and Taylor was the final upclimb next to a snowfield en route to Powell


And the wide open tundra run from Powell to Taylor, which was a much welcomed reprieve from the tedious climbing of the day. I believe we reached Taylor's summit around 5:15pm, touched the top, took this shot....


And were off for Andrew's Glacier and the descent.

There was something calming about that descent, being that far away from our car in such a grand setting, in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park at sunset. We were fortunate to have such amazing weather. In one day, we saw Black Lake, all the monoliths of Glacier Gorge, the Thatchtop-Powell Traverse, McHenry's Notch, views of Powell's and Taylor's North Faces, the Petit Grepon, Sharkstooth, ran in to a family of Bull Elk at Loch Vale and experienced a 500 foot glissade on Andrew's Glacier. Can't ask for much more than that.

To elaborate on that, we reached Andrew's Glacier....


And realized that Roach was not using an inclometer on the day he measured that snowfield. It was NOT 20 degrees and we left our ice axes in the car. Fortunately, it was mellow enough for a slightly exciting foot glissade, with a sharkstooth shaped rock as an axe. We took this route cause hiking all the way around to Flattop sounded incredibly unappealing.

We made it to Andrew's Tarn, ate the rest of our food and water and prepared to hoof it back to the car. Despite the fading daylight, the views of Sharkstooth were out of control....


And the sunset made for a nice end to a special day.


We ran in to the resident Bull Elk family, I'm pretty sure it's the same klan I saw at Black Lake the year before. Most of them are a cordial bunch, but the alpha male must have his gonads tied in a knot, cause he is one pissed off hombre. On this evening, he was displaying a positive attitude and granted us safe passage. We told him what we had done that day and he must've recognized we weren't national park gapers who were going to gape at him and his family like they were UFOs. It was a mutual respect among climbers and a full racked beast. This was good, cause neither of us really felt like getting gored on this particular night.

Anyways, not a hour later, after we had just recognized the solid pace we had been making thus far, we heard voices in the woods, crying for help. As luck would have it, we were the last hikers out that day and happened to stumble upon a family of 6 from Longmont, who lost the trail back around the junction to Black Lake and Loch Vale. Armed with a bic lighter and light from their iphones, they were thrilled to find people with headlamps. I won't get in to details, or my opinion on the matter, but they were lucky we strolled through when we did, they were NOT prepared to spend a night out there.

At the risk of ending this TR on a bad note, I'll leave that one be. Needless to say, we both have a newfound respect for the Glacier Gorge region and have a lot more exploring to do in the future. Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
Glacier Gorge
09/28/2011 05:04
Probably one of the most inspiring places in the state. Great report and pictures. Interesting pic of McHenry's Notch - I hear different things about the unroped climb-ability of it.

Great Effort
09/28/2011 05:47
That looks like an awesome trip out. Thanks for sharing.

Nice TR Man!
09/28/2011 14:03
Sums up the day quite well. This is an awesome area, glad I finally got up there this summer.

A few words on the ”climb-ability” of the section between the Notch and McHenry's (RE Monster5): I do think climbing up this would be fairly realistic for a competent climber/scrambler. It's in the low to mid-5 range, sustained, and exposed, but as we know, free-climbing stuff like this is fairly common among rock climbers and experienced scramblers. That said, climbing down this section is another matter. I've heard seasoned rock climbers refer to this section as the most intense downclimb they've ever done, and I've read several TRs which recommend a rope for at least one rap, maybe two. Bottom line is it's doable free-climbing in either direction, it's just a matter of what you're comfortable with. Brian and I were glad to have a rope.

Beautiful Day Fellas!!
09/28/2011 15:01
Have you been taking anger management classes, Brian?? Cause from the story Ben told us of that family on sunday, I expected a half page rant out of you!!

Regardless, it sounds like you guys had another fun day in the hills.

Well done
09/28/2011 15:46
Impressive day. And the report was well-written and hilarious.

Sick climb man!
09/28/2011 15:56
A buddy and I tried this traverse. We went Flattop, Hallet, Otis, Taylor, Powell, McHenrys, Chiefs Head then were stopped dead in our tracks as we stood in the Chief's Head/Pagoda Col. North face/west ridge of Pagoda is wicked (and we knew this beforehand)! We climbed up from the McHenrys Notch to the summit without rope and it was the most rechnical climb I've done thus far. 5.4 easily. As benners said, climbing up was doable but I was so scared I was going to have to downclimb it but it went and we made it the summit.
We found some webbing on the route we ascended to McHenrys, just curious, did you use it/find it?

Great TR
09/28/2011 16:06
Awesome photos. I LOL'd at the being ”low on TP” part.

Another classic? Check.
09/28/2011 16:33
Well done, fellow primates.
I don't know where that puts the folks from Longmont on the evolutionary scale, though.
Pic #3's waterfall looks dialed in.

09/28/2011 16:42
I've said it before and I'll say it again that I've come to expect nothing less from you guys. And the family from Wrongmont must've overshot Alberta Falls by four miles or so when you think about it.

On a side note, is that a new fleece helmut? If so, Little Papi said he'd like to get his teeth and claws on it...

Dude... get a helmet
09/28/2011 17:01
Seems like your huevos have descended far enough after South America Lake to need room in the passenger seat (or at least the glove box). Solid work my friend.

09/28/2011 18:10
Monster5 - inspiring place indeed. Like Benners said, there are probably people who could downclimb the McHenry's-Powell section, but we were glad to have a rope regardless.

John - Thanks for the comment man, hope you are doing well out in California.

Rick - I'll pick my battles wisely and the time to chastise the family from Wrongmont was on saturday, which Ben kind of did a good job doing. It could've ended a lot worse.

Longshanks - nice user name. Any relation to the King of England?

FireontheMountain - We took a look back at the route after rapping it and thought what an upclimb would be like. Just a tough section, whatever way you slice it.

Tmathews - thanks man, glad that made you laugh out loud.

Matt and Kevin - It wasn't Alberta Falls, it was that primitively marked Lake H-something. They thought that was the most efficient way back to the car, apparently the dad had been up there ”4 or 5 times”. And thats not a fleece, its a softshell and if Lil Papi gets anywhere near it, he'll get the hose again.

Scot - I have a helmet, its a ski helmet. My climbing helmet is at the bottom of El Diente's northern slopes, a true alpine graveyard. My huevos deserve more than the glove box.

Excellent work
09/28/2011 18:15
Congrats. Awesome photos and report.

nice TR
09/28/2011 19:23
sounds like an intense trip! I bet that Rap was fun!!

Not that I'm aware of...
09/28/2011 22:25
I just have absurdly long legs.

Snow on Andrew's Glacier
09/29/2011 00:51
Hey man, do you mind telling me about the snow conditions? My buddy wants to get some turns in this weekend and was eyeing Andrews. Is the 2nd to last pic the glacier from the tarn?Thanks a lot.

XC Snowboarder
Nice work.
09/29/2011 04:42
Looks like fun and wish I could have joined.

RE: Snow
09/29/2011 13:47
Dirty, rock hard in the mornings and soft in the evenings, and a long way to hike with boards on your back for a few hundred feet of turns. But I suppose people have hiked farther for less. On a positive note, there was surprisingly little suncupping.

Alpine cheese grater ...
09/29/2011 15:43
Yet, another gem of words and images from the indefatigable Lordhelmut. 8) It's just an art how you weave those subtle one-liners to give the reader a real insight as to where your mind is at at the time (I was low on tp). And, finally, a couple of thanks to you: 1) for saving the benighted family (remind me to share with you my own personal story re: this topic the next time I see you); and, 2) for the food review on those Pizza-flavored Pringles; I saw them in the store and had considered buying them ... you saved me some money. Thanks so much for posting. Happy trails!

Thanks for the tour...
09/29/2011 16:18
Cool route. Nice TR. I would have liked to hear more about your take on that family's level of preparedness and commonsense but it's probably a tale better shared in person. Put sharkstooth on your short list. It's a fun one.

Tory Wells
Are there really....
09/29/2011 21:27
crevasses on Andrews Glacier?

Andrews Crevasses
09/29/2011 21:50
No, its solely meant to keep out the riff raff. But I think it would be more effective at the bottom of the glacier.

According to some REI salesmen at the Flagship, they carry crampons for ”general glacial travel” to be used on the moderate glaciers throughout Colorado. They are a knowledgeable bunch. Maybe this is what they were talking about.

I stand corrected
09/29/2011 21:59

Ok, during drought years. There aren't any this year, nor any signs of them forming.

Steve Knapp
McHenrys Notch
09/30/2011 19:44
Awesome report Brian, you guys had a great day in the Park. 14 hours is a big day. This was definitely one of my favorite long hikes in RMNP, exceeding even Mummy Mania. You described it well and we can feel your love for that amazing area.

Am I am one of the the 1000 peak old timers? Hah, I don't feel old yet. McHenrys Notch is a spectacular place, the most exciting part of this traverse. I agree with you on the need for a rope in your direction of travel. But light and fast was my motto when I did these. No rope, axe, or crampons. Which is why I started with Flat Top and ended on McHenrys. You can avoid the 20-degree glacier and ascend the hardest part of the notch. It wasn't too bad as an upclimb. But for those not used to scrambling on 4th and low 5th class rock your direction probably makes more sense, allowing you to rap the crux.

Adding in Chiefs Head to start is huge, nice job with that. That view down the north face of Da Chief is indeed exciting.

10/01/2011 03:53
I don't think you've reached that level quite yet, you sure don't climb like an old timer, blew us 20 and 30 year olds away in the Gores. I was referring to the ”royal old timers”.

Thanks for the comments man.

10/14/2011 02:14
Brings back memories of my 2007 trip, stopped dead in my tracks on Chiefsheads staring at the impassable wall that is Pagoda (for a soloist without a rope). I love that section of the park.

In regards to McHenry Notch, I agree that it would be a tough down climb, but IF someone is comfortable on 5.easy I think it would def be doable, and I would probably do so (don't think I classify as an old timer yet). I've only upclimbed it twice. Looks like you guys found a more sporting route up Powell than the chossy class 3 gulley I've used. Let me know if you ever find a break in Pagoda (5.easy no rope), I'm still searching.


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