Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
Alice, Mt  -  13,310 feet
Date Posted:  08/27/2019
Date Climbed:   08/24/2019
Author:  koeffling
 RMNP Loop   

There's been several trip reports in the National Park lately, but I thought I'd add another as it's a different approach from those recently posted and a lovely way to see much of the park.

I've been (slowly) working on the 13ers in the National Park so when I got an invitation to climb Mt. Alice a couple weeks ago, I jumped on it. Tanner had a campsite at Olive Ridge and suggested a route up Wild Basin. I suggested adding on Chief's Head Peak but wasn't too keen on an out and back with backtracking. Tanner had never been up Glacier Gorge, and so it seemed like a good idea to make our way up Chief's Head first, get Alice, and why not make a loop of it and descend via Wild Basin? Glacier Gorge is such a magical place, it really is a 'must-see.'

A first attempt, met by some friends at Black Lake

Our first endeavor began around 4:40am after dropping a car at the Wild Basin lot on August 10th. The forecast got progressively worse the closer Saturday came, but sometimes it's wrong, so we gave it a go anyway. We had a beautiful hike up to Black Lake and once in upper Glacier Gorge we tried to decide on our ascent route. I have gotten into a (maybe) bad habit of just bringing a topo map and compass and a GPS and figuring the routes out as we go. I have heard of people summiting Chief's Head from Glacier Gorge, so we weren't too worried about it. As we neared The Spearhead, there was Stoneman's pass which still looked snowy (and we didn’t bring any snow gear), a ridge between Chiefs Head and the Spearhead, and a ramp that came into view that looked like it easily gained the summit ridge. We decided to stay high below the Spearhead so we wouldn't lose too much elevation and headed for the ramp. Suddenly, a boulder about the size of a briefcase came smashing down, unprovoked, about 25 feet in front of me and split into 3 pieces before continuing on down the slope. Holy smokes! Had we been a few seconds faster, I'm not sure a helmet would have saved us. So after a change in pants and collecting ourselves, we hurried along and got past The Spearhead as quickly as we were able. Yikes. We met a couple technical climbers who were rapping down the impressive shear face, who said the rock was too slippery to continue (it had started to drizzle by then). They named the route, but now I can't recall it, but a really impressive 5.11 that looked unclimbable to this mere scrambler. We chatted for a while before heading up the ramp while it started to rain, then hail, then rain again on us. We perched beneath a rock overhang for a while to see if the weather would clear (it was only 9:30am) but it soon became clear that this was going to be the day. Around 10:30am or so, we finally called it and headed back down on slippery rock. We were pretty soaked by the time we got to the trailhead, and thought we made a fine decision despite not hearing thunder, but a long day above treeline in the rain is not much fun either.

A very wet Spearhead
This captured the end of the day well: soaking wet, plenty of slipping, no summit, no views: try another day.

Fast forward two weeks and we then had a perfect forecast, albeit windy which seems par for the course in the National Park. I pulled out a guidebook to see where we shoulder actually go, and we decided to try the same game plan again. After a 3:30am departure from the Meeker campground, we dropped a vehicle at Wild Basin and drove over to Glacier Gorge for a 4:40am start time. We took the Fire Trail up to Mills Lake and made quick work up to Black Lake before taking a breather and a break for some breakfast. Two weeks ago there was a heard of 20 elk on the trail past Black Lake into the upper basin, today we were alone.

First light on McHenry's above Ribbon Falls
McHenry's and Arrowhead at first light

Breakfast with a view

We packed helmets (but didn't end up using them) and stayed much lower this time around. Instead of hugging the Spearhead, we boulder hopped much lower and closer to Frozen Lake. Rocks were mostly solid and we found ourselves at the base of the ramp much quicker than the previous attempt and with no rockfall. There were two climbers getting ready to climb the face (popular! however not the same guys from two weeks ago) who we greeted before heading up the ramp. Now, if someone can help me here: either my sense of direction was off or something, but our route which we assumed was the Northwest Ramp as outlined in Wolfe's Front Range 13er book seemed neither north or west. Maybe it traveled north, but seemed more east side, or going in the NE direction. Anyway, from afar, there looks to be snow on most of the ramp. Up close, it is all avoidable. There was one scrambly move to avoid some snow, but it wasn't difficult and travel up the ramp was quick. In the upper ramp we found cairns, and although we did not find cairns to gain the ridge, just choose the obvious and easy looking chute to your left that will gain the northwest ridge to the summit. There's a couple options that would likely go, but the one we chose was class 2 and seemed obvious, and you don't have to take the ramp to it's end.

The Spearhead

Chiefs Head with our obvious ramp angling up to the right

The lovely Frozen Lake.

Frozen Lake a little higher. It was partly frozen just two weeks earlier.

Nearing the ramp. Wow, that's quite the wall!

The NW ramp. It was loose, but fairly easy going.

Two climbers seen bottom left
Looking back at the face from a bit further up the ramp. Wowza

Higher up the ramp. It started wide and mellow, got more narrow the further up we went.
Tanner perched and waiting for me as we avoided the snow.

McHenry's front and center

This is the point we made an about-face, turned left, and started heading towards the summit again

Once we gained the ridge, the wind got real so we didn’t stay that close to the ridge. A lot of boulder hopping and we were at the summit. Now, I know there's a register, but we sure couldn't find it. There's a nice wind break that's pretty comfortable if you can tear yourself away from the view of Longs, Pagoda, and Meeker. We hang out for a while and snap a few photos before heading down the 1.67miles to Mt Alice's summit via the Hourglass Ridge. It's such a cool looking peak from Chiefs Head, and we are now on the Continental Divide for a good portion of our day.

Chiefs Head summit right with Longs looming left

Gaining the Divide, our first glimpse of Alice

Almost there. Hard not to stop and look around

Summit views. Jaw-dropper.

The descent was pleasant and uneventful, grassy even. The wind was howling, but we were somewhat shaded as we got onto the Hourglass. It's steep, but easy terrain. We were moving slow at this point, but weren't in a hurry as the weather was holding. We reach the summit and huddle behind some rocks for a break in the wind before we were joined by two technical climbers who were spending their rest day on Alice. They ascended via the Hourglass Ridge from Lion Lakes and were heading down the south slopes.

Heading towards Hourglass Ridge. What a cool looking peak!

Early slopes. Steep and easy.

Later slopes. Rocky. Still easy.

A look down from the Hourglass

Lazy summit.

Summit looking towards our descent route

After a lot of lounging and chatting, we decide to pack up and head down the Divide towards Boulder Grand Pass. Instead of taking the slightly shorter South Slopes descent to Lion Lakes, we walk all the way to the Pass and descend to Lake of Many Winds and Thunder Lake. The descent off the pass was loose and unpleasant, but thankfully short. The rest of the trail is amazing, wide, groomed, and such a gradual elevation loss, you can really motor down. We met a nice party with a park service employee who was staying at the patrol cabin that evening who asked us about our day and invited us in for homemade brownies, which I certainly did not turn down. Amazing brownies, and really kind and interesting people. The cabin, which is mainly used for search and rescue operations, could be reserved for park employees if not needed by rescue personnel. It was pretty awesome inside, what a perk!

Heading down the Divide, our descent
Falcon Lake left, Lake of Many Winds front, Thunder back

The descent down Boulder Grand Pass. It was steep, loose, but short.

Lake of Many Winds. BGP is right of the middle snow field

Alice left, Wild Basin is so green and lush.
Thunder inlet

If you're keeping track, we passed Mills Lake, Black Lake, Frozen Lake, Lake of Many Winds, and Thunder Lake. We also spied Green Lake, Blue Lake, Lion Lakes 1 & 2, and Falcon Lake. Not bad!

One last look by the cabin before plowing down the trail.

We headed into the Wild Basin Trailhead at 7:20pm and was welcomed by a dead car battery since I apparently left a dome light on. Thinking is hard at 3:30am. So while this was certainly not the most direct lines to either summit, and the car shuttle was not super quick, we really had a good day in the park and got to see a whole lot of miles, lakes, and peaks.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Mount Alice
08/28/2019 10:44
Alice is a real beaut! Man, that Hourglass ridge is something else. I'll have to get up there soon, thanks for the awesome report.


Nice job...
08/28/2019 13:40
and nice pics to boot. I wasn't aware of the "ramp" access to Chiefs Head from the upper basin
of Glacier Gorge, but that looks like a cool way to attain the ridge leading up to Chiefs Head
(and certainly more direct than heading for Stone Man Pass). The Hour Glass Ridge up Alice
is neat, but the descent through BGP kind of sucks, though at least it's over quickly. As you point
out the hike between Lake of Many Winds and Thunder Lake is surprisingly beautiful (or at least
I was surprised). But I must complain that no one was at the Patrol Cabin when I went by so I
missed out on brownies! Brownies might have helped with the six mile slog back to Wild
Basin. Thanks for writing up such a fun report.


The Wind Sucked but otherwise a great day
08/30/2019 23:01
I was with the group of three you ran into as we came off Chiefs Head. Congrats on getting two gems of the RMNP


Well Done
09/02/2019 13:40
Thank You kindly for positing this trip report, Kirsten. Your motivational knowledge with reaching Colorado's high mountain summits is thoroughly appreciated. Keep setting goals and attaining them

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