Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
Date Posted:  08/08/2010
Date Climbed:   07/23/2010
Author:  summers
 Lion Lakes and Chiefs Head   

We started out from the Wild Basin trailhead ealry in the morning, about 5am. Our planned hike was 20 miles, which would make for a very full day.

Wild Basin is a beautiful place, and not nearly as crowded as anything accessible from Estes Park. The hike through the woods was pleasant along the Thunder Lake trail (photo 1). We took the shortcut along the Campground trail just to cut off a mile of time, intending to catch Ouzel and Calypso on the way back -- with all the recent rain, the creeks were roaring, so they falls were sure to be spectacular. At the trail split, we turned right and headed up the very windy trail to the Lion Lakes. Lion Lake 1 was as splendid as advertised, with great views of Mt Alice behind it (photo 2) and of Chiefs Head to the side (photo 3).

The trail faded out as we went around the north side of the lake. We cut across the stream, and followed a faint and intermittent trail through the wild-flower covered meadows (photo 4) to Trio Falls (photo 5). There was still an impressive snowbank in front of the falls, but the most magical part of it was invisible unless you walked to the base of the falls themselves. The splashing from the waterfall had carved out an amazing snow cave into the snowbank. We spent quite some time exploring and hanging out in this cool place (photo 6).

After leaving the snow cave, with our microspikes, we climbed up the snowbank to reach the shelf with Lion Lake 2 (photo 7) and Snowbank Lake (photo 8 ). We cut south of both lakes, and then proceeded up the obvious ridge (photo 9) to the saddle between Alice and Chiefs Head. The ridge was straightforward, but had amazing views of Alice's mini-diamond (photo 10). The ridge even had its own version of the boulderfield, but at least the rock was solid. We continued up the ridge, treated to ever more impressive views of Alice (photo 11) and Chiefs Head (photo 12). At the saddle, we were treated to a nice view of McHenry's notch (photo 13).

From the saddle, we turned right and began the ascent up Chiefs Head. It looked pretty benign (photo 14), but looks can be deceiving. It was an entertaining climb up a talus slope. What was also not obvious was that the ridge narrowed significantly toward the top. For the last couple hundred yards, it was only about 8' wide, with significant dropoffs on both sides (photo 15). At one point, the only accessible path was a 1' wide spot right on the side, with a step over a hole with a long view straight down (photo 16). This would not have been fun on a windy day.

We left our backpacks well below the summit for the final scramble. A beautiful summit, with great views of Longs Peak (photo 17) and of the Lion Lakes in the valley below (photo 18 ). Sadly, we left our pencils in our backpacks, and there was none in the summit register. Oh well. It's not about signing a piece of paper, it's about a beautiful day in the mountains.

On our way back down, we snapped a couple more pictures of the mountains and of the lakes and wildflowers. We descended via a slightly different route, deliberately crossing over some snowfields. It was indeed a 20 mile hike -- with about 5300 vertical feet thrown in -- but what a beautiful day and a beautiful part of the world. Total hike time 14 hours, but we definitely took time to smell the flowers and appreciate the scenery.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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