McHenrys Peak – 13,330

RT Length:  17.46 miles

Elevation Gain:  4442’

I started from the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at 3:30am.  There were already several parties in the parking lot (probably 10 vehicles), but didn’t see another person on my route all day.   This is also a bus stop for access to Glacier Gorge (and lots of other hikes).  All this means is that it was overly crowded the last 2 miles of the hike on my way down.  Passing people became impossible, and more of a stroll as I hiked out with hundreds of other hikers. 

I followed the class 1 trail, staying on the Mills Lake trail.  There were wonderful signs that made getting lost difficult. 

I passed Alberta Falls at 1.15 miles, and continued following the trail to Mills Lake

After hiking for 3.35 miles I passed Mills Lake, and at 3.85 miles I passed Jewel Lake.  Side note:  there’s great fishing here.  Lots of hungry trout, eager to feast on any worm you drop in.  The larger trout are in the stream above Jewel Lake, and in Mills Lake.

I continued following the class 1 trail all the way to Black Lake (6 miles in).  This part of the trail had a lot of wood foot bridges, and rock slabs to cross.  All class 1, but the rock slabs were tricky to navigate in the dark.

I made it to Black Lake, and continued on the class 1 trail, up a waterfall, and across more rock slabs.

Here the trail kind of fizzled out, but I continued following cairns as I crossed a small creek, and headed southwest towards McHenrys Peak. There are a ton of cairns in this area (circled in red). 

Here’s the overall route to Frozen Lake (not pictured) and up Stone Man Pass.  There are plenty of cairns to guide you, but for the rest of the hike be careful:  there are a lot of granite slabs that are quite steep to navigate (all class 2), and slippery where wet.

Here are some close up pictures to Frozen Lake

I easily rock hopped and crossed the lake on its north side, and continued heading west towards Stone Man Pass

There are still tons of cairns in this area, but choose your route based on the best conditions.  The rocks are very slippery where they are wet.  I was aiming for the gully below Stone Man Pass.

I didn’t think the gully was that bad.  I stayed right on my way up, but took the other side down.  I’d recommend climbing up the left side of the gully, as it was more stable, but both were fine.  Here are some pictures of the gully

Once at the top of the gully, I turned right and headed northwest towards McHenrys Peak.  Everything you can see here is class 2, and there are cairns to guide your way.

I rounded the mountain, and was now on the west side of the peak.  Here is got a bit trickier.  There were still cairns to follow.  I headed up a rock slab, and rock filled gully.  This was easy class 3

Here’s the overall route of the rest of the climb.  I felt this was difficult class 3, with some exposure. 

There was a chimney to head up, and then a short but intense scramble to the summit

I summited McHenrys Peak at 9:50am

McHenrys Peak:

The summit looked like it could have several actual summits, so despite the large cairn and summit register, I made sure to walk all around the summit to make sure I’d actually summited.

Now to head back down. The trickiest part was descending the initial section, and finding my way back around the side of the mountain.  Once I was there, it was easy to find my way to Stone Man Pass, and then back down to Frozen Lake.

And then I followed the cairns northeast, back towards the trail that would lead me to Black Lake

Then followed the trail all the way back to the trailhead. 

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 17.46 mile hike with 4442’ of elevation gain, as per CalTopo.  Strava told me it was a 15.02 mile hike with 6573’ of elevation gain.  I tend to go with CalTopo when I write, for consistency purposes, especially since Strava tends to grossly exaggerate elevation gain. 

Also, there were a few elk along the trail who didn’t seem bothered by my presence… they wouldn’t even look up from whatever they were eating to acknowledge me.

On to the next trailhead!

Pagoda Mountain – 13,479

RT Length:  17.74 miles

Elevation Gain:  4544’

I started from the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at 3:30am.  There were already several parties in the parking lot (probably 10 vehicles), but didn’t see another person on my route all day.   This is also a bus stop for access to Glacier Gulch (and lots of other hikes).  All this means is that it was overly crowded the last 2 miles of the hike on my way down.  Passing people became impossible, and more of a stroll as I hiked out with hundreds of other hikers. 

I followed the class 1 trail, staying on the Mills Lake trail.  There were wonderful signs that made getting lost difficult. 

I passed Alberta Falls at 1.15 miles, and continued following the trail to Mills Lake

After hiking for 3.35 miles I passed Mills Lake, and at 3.85 miles I passed Jewel Lake.  Side note:  there’s great fishing here.  Lots of hungry trout, eager to feast on any worm you drop in.  The larger trout are in the stream above Jewel Lake, and in Mills Lake.

I continued following the class 1 trail all the way to Black Lake (6 miles in).  This part of the trail had a lot of wood foot bridges, and rock slabs to cross.  All class 1, but the rock slabs were tricky to navigate in the dark.

I made it to Black Lake, and continued on the class 1 trail, up a waterfall, and across more rock slabs.

This is where my report may differ from others.  I took a different route in than I did out at this point, and liked my route out better.  It was easier to follow, and there were less willows/shrubs involved.  Here’s the overall picture of what I did.  There is a cairn circled in red, indicating the route to McHenry’s Peak.  Don’t take that route, but leave the trail and head behind the bush.  You will then easily see cairns that will guide you through the upper basin.

Once again, there is no established trail to Green Lake, but there are some tramped game trails (all covered in grass, not much dirt to be seen) and lots of cairns.  This is also choose your own adventure.  You’re aiming south, towards the mountains (circled in red).  There are several small streams to cross in this area, all easily hop-able.

 

I navigated a bit to the right of the waterfall to get to Green Lake (cairns here too)

Once at Green Lake, I turned left and headed southeast.  Here’s my overall route on scree, navigating around large boulders and rock slabs to keep this all class 2.

Here are some close-up pictures of my route up the gully, to the saddle

Once at the saddle, I turned right and headed up the ridge.  I went directly up the ridge on the way up, which was class 3.  I kept it class 2 on the way down by staying more to the left of the ridge. 

Here are some pictures of the ridge.

I summited Pagoda Mountain at 9am. There was a plastic tube at the summit as a register, lacking a lid, but with a ziplock bag inside.  I didn’t bother opening it.

Pagoda Mountain:

I had a great view of the Longs Peak keyhole route

Now to re-trace my steps back to the saddle, before the storm hit

And back down the scree to Green Lake

Once back at Green Lake, I turned right and followed the cairns north out of the basin

This time I went behind the rocks and picked up the old trail, circled in red

Then followed the trail all the way back to the trailhead.  It started raining just as soon as I made it to treeline, accompanied by a flash of lightning, a loud boom, and a wide rumbling all around me.

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 17.74 mile hike with 4544’ of elevation gain in 10 hours. 

On to the next trailhead!

Chiefs Head Peak – 13,579

RT Length:  18.17 miles

Elevation Gain:  5476’

I parked at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead at Rocky Mountain National Park, and was on the trail at 4:30am.

The Sandbeach Lake Trail was a class 1 trail I took all the way to Sandbeach Lake.  There were 2 creek crossings, but they had footbridges across.

It was 5 miles to Sandbeach Lake. Once at the lake, the fastest way to skirt the lake and find a trail is to go right here

But I wanted to see the lake, so I did, and then followed the lake past a small stream, and caught up with the trail there.  

After crossing the creek, I followed the trail northeast to treeline.  When the trail ended, there were plenty of cairns to guide the way (circled in red).

Once at treeline, I kept aiming for Mt Orton (unranked). There were cairns to mark the way until I was in front of Mt Orton

I then skirted Mt Orton to the left, and went through a very small saddle

I could now see an easy path to Chief Head’s ridge.  Here’s the route I took

And some close-up pictures

Once on the ridge, I followed it .3 miles to the summit, on rocky terrain.  I was able to keep it all class 2 by staying to the left.

There wasn’t a summit register, or a cairn, or a marker, so I just walked all over the rocky summit.

I summited Chiefs Head Peak at 11am

Chiefs Head Peak:

From the summit I had an amazing view of Pagoda, Longs, and Meeker

This was an out and back hike, so I turned and retraced my steps back down the mountain, around Mt Orton, and to Sandbeach Lake

The cairns picked up again, and I could now see Sandbeach Lake, so route finding was easy until I hit the trail.

Back at the lake, I picked up the Sandbeach Lake Trail, and took this class 1 trail all the way back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this an 18.17 mile hike with 5476’ of elevation gain in 10 hours 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

#87 Mt Meeker 13,911, Meeker Ridge (UR) 13,860, & Southeast Longs (UR) 14,060

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RT Length: 13.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 5764’

There are so many routes up Mt Meeker, and some have pretty cool names: Flying Dutchman, Dream Weaver, Dragon’s Tail, etc.  I chose the Iron Gates route because for some reason it sounded cool to climb through The Iron Gates.  I was also told this route had the best views of Longs Peak (I wasn’t disappointed).  Plus… the knife edge between Meeker Ridge and Mt Meeker sounded like fun, and I wanted to find out what a “flying buttress” was.

I was surprised with how many vehicles were in the Longs Peak Trailhead parking area when I arrived. It’s a large lot, and was at least halfway full.  Several hikers were readying their gear.  Last time I was here was the Friday before a Labor Day weekend, and I hadn’t seen very many people at all.  I saw dozens of hikers on the trail this morning.

I arrived at the parking lot at 2:30am and was on the trail by 2:40am. I chose to take the Chasm Meadows Approach from Longs Peak Trailhead.  The trail starts to the left of the Rangers Station.

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I could see headlamps shining brightly ahead of me, and passed four groups of hikers before making it to the first junction about ½ a mile from the trailhead. Stay left here

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The trail is definitely class 1 all the way to Chasm Lake. I saw multiple groups ahead of me, all intent on Longs Peak.  They had very bright headlamps.  Very bright.  In fact, at times they were almost blinding, especially as I got closer to a group of hikers and they’d turn around to look at me.  I realized this morning just how dim my flashlight actually is (but I like it that way:  sometimes a bright flashlight gives too much information).

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Around treeline I could see the full moon with city lights in the background.

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After making it to treeline there’s still 1.7 miles left to Chasm Lake. Stay left here as well.

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About a mile before reaching chasm lake there’s a trail junction where you can stop for a bit to use the privy and let your horses rest.

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Having to do neither I continued on towards chasm lake, a little disappointed to lose a couple hundred feet in elevation in the process.

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Here there were a couple of small snow areas to cross that were quite slippery in the morning, but easy to navigate in the afternoon.

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Just before Chasm Lake the trail ended. I made it to this area while it was still dark and it looked like there was a lot more snow than there actually was.  The dotted line is the route I took up the gully, the solid one is the route I took on my way back down. This ended up being a good approach, as the solid way down went through a waterfall that would have been messy in the dark.

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My goal was to make it to the Iron Gates. In the dark I couldn’t see much and while I knew I was headed in the correct direction I didn’t have a visual yet of the Iron Gates.

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The terrain at the base of the Iron Gates was very loose scree, mixed with small rocks. As I climbed higher the ground became loose talus that became more stable until it eventually turned into solid rocks.  I headed straight through to the back of the Iron Gates

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Here the sun began to rise and I was able to see why this route is said to have great views of Longs Peak

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At the end of the Iron Gates there’s some class 3 scrambling to gain the ridge

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There’s a cairn at the top I made a mental note of to help me find the entrance on the way back down

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Here’s a look back down the Iron Gates at Chasm Lake

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At the top of the Iron Gates I turned right (south) and climbed the northeast ridge to Meeker Ridge (the unranked peak, not the ridge itself)

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Yes, there were some pretty awesome views of Longs Peak

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I made it to Meeker Ridge at 6:45am. I got a quick selfie and video at this unranked 13er

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Meeker Ridge:

Up until this point the hike had been easy, but now it was about to get a little spicy. It was time to traverse the short ridge between Meeker Ridge and Mt Meeker.  This ridge has a ‘mini-knife edge’ similar to the one on Capitol Peak.  I was able to stick to the ridge for this short traverse, dropping down to the right only once when absolutely necessary. This is a solid class 3 ridge with exposure.

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Here’s a tip for the knife-edge part: It’s very similar to the one on Capitol Peak, and would make for a great practice run if you’re hesitant to try Capitol but feel solid with class 3 climbing. While on Meeker’s knife edge you can cross and use your right foot for balance by placing it on the rock beneath the ledge.  This rock is underneath the knife ledge and difficult to see, but a few inches wide, solid, and you can use it for extra balance if needed. The rock here felt more solid than on Capitol.

Here’s looking back at Meeker Ridge

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And some of the climbing/exposure on route

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I made it to the summit of Mt Meeker at 7:15am, or what I thought was the summit of Mt Meeker. At the top of the traverse there were two points about 40 feet apart that both looked like the true summit.  I sat on top of the first point, but the second point looked higher.  So I went over and climbed to the top of the second point, but from there the first point looked higher.  So I decided to take a video from the middle of both points and pictures from both.

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Mt Meeker:

It was still early in the morning and the weather was holding out nicely. I decided to descend Mt Meeker and cross the Loft towards Longs Peak.  Longs Peak wasn’t my goal, as I’ve already summited Longs, but I wanted to get a look at the Notch route up Longs and summit Southeast Longs (an unranked 14er sub summit).  Southeast Longs is where the orange line ends.

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To get there I descended 450’ to the loft, and then gained 600’ to the top of Southeast Longs.

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The rocks here were solid and much larger than they looked from Mt Meeker. There were a bunch of social trails here so I just took the path of least resistance to the top.

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I made it there at 8:25am. You can see Longs Peak Summit in the background

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Curious as to what the Notch and path to Longs Peak looked like from here I descended to the cairn that indicated the entrance to the Notch and looked over. It looked like a class 3 scramble that would lose a couple hundred feet in elevation, and then re-gain it on the other side, connecting with the traditional Longs Peak Route just before the final pitch.

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I briefly thought about attempting Longs Peak as well, but did some mental calculations and figured it would get me back around 3-3:30pm, and I really wanted to be back around 1:30pm, so I decided to save Longs Peak round 2 for another day. Also, there were a ton of people queued for the final push on Longs (I could see/hear them) and a lot of people on the summit as well.  I’m not a fan of crowds, especially on peaks.  In any event, I still had some more climbing to do myself, as I needed to re-ascend Mt Meeker to head back.  I did not want to make this a loop.

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The clouds were starting to build as I gained Meeker’s ridge

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While they looked ominous at first (especially for being so early in the day) nothing came of them. The clouds did hide the sun for most of my return back to the trailhead and I did get a few drops of rain here and there, but I was never worried about thunderstorms.

Time for knife-edge part 2. I felt much more confident the second time around, and the traverse went much faster.  I was well aware of the group of 15 or so people on top of Longs Peak watching me make the traverse.  I could hear them talking to each other as I climbed up boulders and balanced on the ridge.

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Just as I made it back to Meeker Ridge I met a young man beginning his attempt of the traverse. He’d had a long day, starting from Sandbeach Lake.  I wished him luck and was on my way back down the Northeast Ridge towards the Iron Gates

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As Chasm Lake came into view I could hear loud shouts that sounded like a large group was down there having fun. A group was paddleboarding. It seemed like a lot of work to me to get multiple paddleboards up to Chasm Lake, but hey, they must really be into the sport. I wondered to myself if it was legal to paddleboard there?  I descended into the Iron Gates and had no problem on the larger rocks/talus.  However, descending the scree was a bit of a small nightmare.  I was so glad when I made it to the bottom of the Iron Gates and turned around to see them in the daylight

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I followed the gully more to the west this time and descended via a wide waterfall area with small rivers of water flowing throughout

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This brought me to the base of Chasm Lake, where I picked up the trail back to Chasm Meadows. This is also where I met up with a group of 12 or so campers from a nearby camp.  I could tell immediately they weren’t Girl Scouts because there was only 1 adult with them, the girls were all wearing shorts and did not look like they’d been “roughing it”.  I asked them where they were from and wished them well as I hiked out.

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A few minutes later as I reached the Jims Grove area I could hear the girls behind me, their counselor yelling at them every 10 seconds or so to “hurry up” even though they were setting a fast pace. Long story short, she pushed them too hard and one of the girls clipped and fell. She’s alright and just scraped her knee, but I hope the counselor learned her lesson and slowed down a bit.

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It was great seeing the waterfall crossing areas on my way down in the daylight.

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I made it back to my truck at 1:15pm, making this a 13.5 hour hike with 5764’ in elevation gain in 10 hours 30 minutes

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Today’s hike was absolutely beautiful! I can’t wait to head back here to tackle a few more 13ers…