| Alice-Chiefs Head from Allenspark
Peaks: Mt. Alice(13,310ft)
Chiefs Head Pk(13,579)
Mileage: ~21 miles
Elevation Gain: ~7,000ft
First light on Alice
I had been avoiding the inevitable long trips in Wild Basin for a while now for no particular reason. With front range 13ers dwindling I knew that I had better get my butt out there and get started on the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park before they were the only ones left. My goal is to get at least 2 peaks if at all possible every time I head up that way so as to minimize the number of lengthy approaches required.
The initial plan was to sleep in my car overnight at the Wild Basin trailhead but learned that is a no-no. Terry mentioned a trailhead in Allenspark that allowed for overnight parking, so after a half hour of driving on every dirt road in Allenspark I finally found the correct parking area. The idea was to sleep for a few hours and then get a pre-dawn start. As I lay in the back of the Forester reading ‘Minus 148 Degrees’ I couldn’t help but think about the weather forecast calling for rain and storms after noon. There was no way I was only going to get Mt. Alice, so I made the executive decision to forego any sleep and got back up and hit the Allenspark Trail at midnight on the dot.
Taking this trail to Calypso Cascades adds 1.3 miles each way and about 900 feet of elevation gain, which was much more than I expected. It also dawned on me at this point that I could have maybe just parked at Wild Basin anyway since I was not overnighting, rather hitting the trail right away. Oh well, it was a nice hike and I was jamming out to some tunes in order to squash the thoughts of furry things following me. I made it to the Cascades and then to Ouzel Falls but it was still pitch black out, but it was nice to be alone in these usually very crowded areas.
After Ouzel Falls the next plan of action was to follow the Thunder Lake trail until the Lion Lakes trail splits off to the right. It was around here that I decided these long approaches had both good and bad sides. On the one hand it was an extremely long hike in the dark even to get to the base of the climb, but on the other hand, the trail conditions in the national park are very conducive to headlamp travel, well trodden and signed.
Thought this looked cool
Looking west from Continental Divide
Around 3:30 I was passing Castle like according to my GPS, I still could not see a thing. Coming up on Lion Lake 1 I knew I had to contour around the right side of the lake and then make and “S” curve up and around to the left side of Lion Lake 2. At the stream crossing at 4am I filtered water for the first time and really enjoyed an extended break with my headlamp off just taking in the remoteness. Once I had fully refilled my water supply I continued on just as the first inkling of light was beginning to show.
Looking out over Wild Basin
Powell and McHenrys
After foolishly trying to take a shortcut over a lingering, rock hard snowfield and wasting a good 20 minutes I finally got back on track and worked my way towards the base of the gentle rib coming down from the broad Alice-Chiefs Head saddle. This was a very easy grass romp and it was nice to finally be able to turn the headlamp off after almost 5 hours. When I approached the grassy saddle it became apparent why it is called the Hourglass Ridge.
Alice's Hourglass Ridge
Getting to the base of the ridge was the crux of this route as it narrows considerably and has some class 3 climbing. Once past those difficulties it is just a matter of working your way upwards and I stayed more in the middle of the Hourglass than over towards the edge. I pulled myself up to what I thought was the summit but after a few minutes wondering where a cairn or register was the true summit was staring me in the face about a hundred yards to the north, where I arrived at 6am.
Indian Peaks Wilderness
Summit of Mt. Alice!
I had a nice long rest on the summit of Alice just marveling at the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the peaks of the Park. After sending a SPOT and eating a Snickers I finally retraced my steps back down the ridge to where I had stashed my pack and was thankful no marmots were awake this early to feast on the sweaty straps. Up and over the crux again and I was soon back at my poles with a nice flat grass walk ahead of me to get to the base of Chiefs Head.
Cliffs on Hourglass Ridge
The hike up Chiefs Head was uneventful. It starts out as mostly grass and gradually turns to talus and then large boulders near the top. The climbing never exceeds class 2 and there is always an easier way to be found. Glacier gorge looked a long ways down from up there, and it is extremely steep, not sure what the route from there entails.
Crossing Continental Divide to start up Chiefs Head
McHenrys famous notch
Just before 8 I topped out on Chiefs Head’s summit and I was thrilled to have two long peaks under my belt before most people get to work in the morning. The views of the backside of Longs and Meeker were worth the price of admission alone. I also could not help but think that from this side the keyhols looks like a mans face in profile looking to the left, but maybe it’s just me.
Doesnt the keyhole look like a mans face looking to the left from this side?
Longs and Meeker
Wanting to make it all the way back to the car before any rain hit I left after eating a whole bag of gummy bears and started my way to the saddle of Chiefs Head and Pagoda. Once at the low point it was a tedious talus hop down to the grassy area to the southeast of Chiefs Head. I had decided to not go all the way back to the Alice-Chiefs Head saddle to regain my trail from earlier, but instead to bushwack down and hopefully meet up with the Lion Lakes trail at some point.
In hindsight I think this may have not been the fastest method, even though it definitely was shorter mileage-wise. It was really cool to be so far off trail in the park, definitely the deepest I have been. After battling deadfall and cliffs and swamps for two hours I was a happy camper when I finally popped out on the nice trail, only about a two minute hike from the intersection with the Thunder Lake trail. My feet were soaked and I was almost out of water again but I put it into high gear on the wonderful trail. At this point I was getting a little tired and sick of staring down at the rocks in front of my feet, but with 6 miles to go and no one to listen to me complain, I just kept on keeping on.
Last look at Mt. Alice
Finally I heard the rushing water of Ouzel Falls and my solitude for the day was officially over. I had not seen a soul up to this point but was glad to see people at the falls very underprepared for the 6 mile hike they had signed up for, and I knew that if they could do it I surely could. I filtered water again at Calypso Cascades and had to answer a few questions about what the heck I was doing, but it’s all good, I met some people from Michigan which is always nice.
All that remained was the last 3.1 miles back to the car with the dreaded 900ft of elevation gain, but I was so close I could taste it. The last mile and a half was agonizing as I assumed I would have been done by then, but I finally made it back to the trailhead at 12:30. This was a great introduction to the 13ers in RMNP and I truly can’t wait to get out there again and explore more parts of this awesome park more intimately!
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