| Wild Basin Marathon
20.2 miles 6,150 ft
As the week progressed, Mike and I switched our attention from the Sawatch range to RMNP where the forecast looked like it was shaping up to be a bluebird day. When presented with the potential for a full day in the CO mtns, Wild Basin begs to be visited since the continental divide (along with any peaks) sits about 7 miles, minimum, from the TH. We went back and forth with proposed routes some getting pretty obsurd (the most being a 2-car relay from Glacier Gorge hitting McHenry's,Chiefs Head and running the divide all the way to Isolation and Mahana - figure on about 9k of vert for that one. I'd love to hear about if someone would like to tackle it.) I loved the looks of the northern arete on McHenry's but pictures from Brian's trip report from last week compared to those from George James' from a year ago showed we may find more snow than we wanted on such a route. So, back to Wild Basin... Our final plan was to hit "Da Cheif", McHenry's, Alice, and Tanima (basically everything between the technical boundaries or Pagoda's West Ridge, McHenry's notch, and Isolation's North Ridge.) Armed with Steve Knapp's trip report from a year prior, we were ready to go.
And now on to the climb:
The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 1:45 and I was on the road by 2:20 after walking the dogs, breakfast, etc... I really need to rethink this "under 2 hour to the TH, sleep at home" rule. We met at the trailhead at 4 am, and were on the trail a few minutes later. The only good thing about the mileage requirements for Wild Basin is that the trail is incredibly flat so you can really fly around, especially at night. We were pretty secure in our thought that "North Ridge" could be easily accessed from Lion Lakes, as opposed to going all the way to the Alice/"Da Chief" saddle like Steve did, and we hit Lion Lake #1 just as the sun was illuminating the basin at 6:45 - right on schedule. The alpenglow on the neighboring peaks was amazing and we spotted a nice grass ramp to hit "North Ridge" - which is neither north or a ridge.
Alice over Lion Lake #1
Copeland over Lion Lake #1
Ascent - grass break in cliffs (center) to scree slope
Pagoda/Longs/Meeker from "North Ridge"
North Ridge is a wide, gentle upward slope to "Da Chief's" summit, making the summit an easy class 2 endeavor. Once on the summit, the views down Glacier Gorge are breathtaking and a peer down the north face is truly amazing.
2,000 feet of air between my feet and Green Lake
Alice from "Da Chief"
After about a half an hour on "Da Chief", we set off for McHenry's. We noticed a little system over Evans, but didn't think anything of it - that's a long ways out and what goes due north??? The west side of the summit on “Da Chief” is fairly wide, but you want to pay attention to where you are going. It’s actually a very complex mountain with steep faces to the south and north (which looks like an alpine technical climbers wet dream) but the “north ridge” that we ascended and the west ridge being very gentle sloping boulder fields. When the slope descends to Stoneman Pass, the terrain takes a much more rugged turn. Mike located our descent gully to avoid the complex ridge proper which held enough snow to require a little attention, but I think it actually helped keep the rocks in place.
Mike dropping into our gully / McHenrys backdrop
Mike in the gully
The traverse over to McHenrys took around 2 hours, there are some incredibly solid ledges to keep the traverse pretty high after exiting the gully that easily joins the Stoneman Pass route. The south face of McHenrys reminded me a little of Eolus - a winding "trail" that is 95% class 2 or you can head right up the thing with some exciting class 3/low 4 moves. We each chose our own line; I mixed the 2 previously mentioned choices.
Mike ascending McHenrys
Me ascending McHenrys (photo by Mike)
Soon, we hit the summit and the views opened up once again.
Mike checking out the "Wave"
The Wave from McHenrys Summit - looks like it would have been a fine climb
Me on McHenrys' summit (photo by Mike)
Ptarmigan/Andrews/Andrews Beak from McHenrys
Alice from McHenrys (Ascent Route hidden by rock in foreground)
I like this shot - The "Stoneman" is silhouetted against the snowfield
Now, the next issue was getting over to Alice. Clouds were starting to build all around us and that system over Evans had slowly worked its way up the Indian Peaks and now was over Apache. There was another system coming in from the west and my hopes of continuing on were starting to wane. Regardless, we had to get back up to the Chief-Alice saddle. The connecting ridge is much more straightforward from “Da Chief”, as you can skip the gully and just walk on over. From McHenrys we had to descend nearly to Lake Powell (11,600). We found a line at about 11,900-12,000 that took us into a gully that looked promising. It was fairly loose in places but once we started making progress the 500 or so feet back to the saddle went pretty quickly.
Look back at McHenrys
Alice from our turnaround point
Once up on the saddle, both the weather from the south and west seemed to converge on us at the same time. It was now 2:00 pm and sleet, snow, graupel and everything else started hitting us. We thought Alice could have been done, but it was going to get pretty miserable. Looking forward to another trip to the area under more pleasant conditions, we retreated for home. We took a quick scree ski path just to the north of a permanent snow field to descend back towards Snowbank Lake (Steve’s ascent route for his day - seen in photo 6). When we got down to the basin, it was obvious that heading for North Ridge from Lion Lakes is a much quicker/shorter option since it was a full hour and a half later until we finally found the trail. Also, thunder was growling all around us which reinforced our choice to retreat. The walk back was uneventful albeit under a fairly steady rain above treeline, but once back on trail below the lakes, we could now enjoy some of the areas colors. Just past ‘campsite row’ we saw our first people during the day. 13.5 hours at the park and not a soul to be seen, not a bad route choice. We saw another dozen or so people on the last mile to the trailhead but all-in-all pretty uneventful. 14 hours after leaving the cars we strolled back into the parking lot at 6 pm.
Leaves were peak!
An ode to LordHelmut
Thanks for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):