Peak(s):  McHenrys Pk  -  13,327 feet
Powell Pk  -  13,208 feet
Taylor Pk B  -  13,153 feet
Otis Peak - 12486
Hallett Peak - 12713
Date Posted:  09/08/2010
Date Climbed:   09/04/2010
Author:  Steve Knapp
 Flattop to McHenrys traverse - RMNP  

Flattop Mountain (12,324)
Hallett Peak (12,713)
Otis Peak (12,486)
Taylor Peak (13,153)
Powell Peak (13,208
McHenrys Peak (13,327)

15.5 miles RT, 6500' gain, 10.5 hours
Bear Lake trailhead (9,500 ft.), Rocky Mountain National Park

Over the years I've enjoyed some awesome days in this incredible national park. From the many ascents of Longs, the rocky granite slabs of Meeker, multiple summits in the Mummy range, the long treks in Wild Basin, the alpine lakes and wild corners, and the wildlife. This place has it all. I've come to appreciate it more and more with every hike. The nice thing is I've not yet climbed even half of the peaks here yet, so there will be many more memorable days to come. Today's hike will become my favorite of them all so far.

After a grueling day in the Indian Peaks Friday I slept in the back of my 4-Runner not far from the park gates. It is illegal to overnight in RMNP without a paid campsite or permit. I was up 5:30 a.m. Saturday and drove through the unoccupied gates all the way to the Bear Lake trailhead where I cooked up some oatmeal and prepared for the day. At 6:30 I was underway, ready for a long day. It was fairly windy but a warm 57 degrees. That is 30 degrees warmer than it was Friday morning, I'll take it. From Bear Lake the sunrise view of Hallett Peak was stunning.

Hallett Peak from Bear Lake:

It is 4.4 miles from Bear Lake to Flattop Mountain on a nice trail all the way. I passed a few early risers on the way up and then never saw another person until near Black Lake much later in the day. Treeline comes quickly in this northern part of Colorado and I enjoyed ever expanding views the higher I climbed.

Hallett Peak again:

Early preview of McHenrys Notch:

Unranked Flattop Mountain was my first peak of the day, though it didn't really seem like a peak. Just a huge deserted flat area at this early hour. Hallett continued to draw me upward and onward so I didn't even stop for a break. Along the way I peered down onto the Tyndall Glacier. These small glaciers in the Park intrigue me and I would pass above many of them today. It's a quick climb from Flattop to the summit of Hallett and I was glad to have made my first ranked peak.

Hallett and Tyndall Glacier:

Otis was up next and is another nice 12er. More amazing views of the peaks ahead along with Chaos Canyon to the north and the Andrews Glacier and the Sharkstooth to the south. Someday I will visit those valleys and climb the Sharkstooth.

Otis (lower left) and Taylor Peaks:

Andrews Glacier:

The hike to Taylor has about 1200' of gain, the most between any of the peaks today. But it's an easy walk on grassy tundra to about 12,700 and then decent talus to the summit. On Taylor I'm above 13,000 ft. now, back home again at my preferred elevation. It is only 11:00 a.m. and I'm encouraged by my pace so far and the great September weather. I don't linger long, the Notch is waiting and I can't see it yet. The traverse to Powell is longer than expected but also quite easy. I can't help but wonder what lies beyond. It's getting quite isolated out here, even as I get closer to the crowds of Glacier Gorge. Most people do Powell from Flattop and return that way, or perhaps wander up/down the Andrews Glacier. Today I have other plans.

Longs, McHenrys (center), Chiefs Head:

McHenrys Peak is only .4 miles from Powell, but what an interesting .4 miles it is. The crux of this traverse is McHenrys Notch. It's visible from many areas of the Park and has recently been drawing me in like a siren. I know it's difficult but I'm up for the challenge. I received some helpful information and pictures from John Prater that convinced me I could do this. I would have preferred to have a partner for this section. But my usual list of suspects had either climbed these peaks already or were busy doing other things. And so I ended up in McHenrys Notch solo, and that was alright with me.

Descent gully from Powell:

From the summit of Powell I found the large Class 2 gully leading southwest to Lake Powell (the alpine version, not the Utah monstrosity). I downclimbed this about 300 feet and knew I was near the elevation of the notch, but still couldn't see it. I found some cairns and started contouring around various Class 3 ledge systems that led me to the notch. Suddenly there it was, the famous notch rearing straight up to the summit of McHenrys Peak. I stood in the middle of the notch, feeling very alive and fortunate to be here.

McHenrys Notch ascent route:

Looking down what I just climbed:

I decided to tackle the 400 vertical foot climb head-on rather than traverse looking for easier ledge systems. It starts with 50 feet of easier boulders to a nice ledge. Above this is the crux. The rock here is solid granite with plenty of holds. Think of a free solo on the 3rd Flatiron, though much shorter. I never felt uncomfortable and just kept climbing up. It probably rates 5.3 on a few of the moves, but mostly lower than that. I love this stuff, and the climbing was exhilarating. I must say I was glad to do the notch in this direction as a downclimb here could be quite spicy. In fact this notch was the reason I chose to do the peaks in this order. Quite abruptly the climbing above the notch ends with the short north ridge of McHenrys. This was also fun scrambling high above Glacier Gorge. I made the top of McHenrys about 1:30 p.m. It would be my final peak of the traverse. One could continue to Chiefs Head, Pagoda (with technical equipment) and Longs. But since I've already climbed those this was enough for me. Perhaps someday I'll return to complete the entire traverse. McHenrys is a great peak and just became my favorite 13er in the Park, especially on this route. It was also my final 13er in the Park as well as the entire Front Range.

Stone Man Pass and Chiefs Head:

Pagoda and Spearhead:

The descent from McHenrys is no easy matter, particularly when I hadn't climbed up the route. I stuck to the good rock of the ridge when possible, but did detour to the west once or twice as I worked down to Stone Man pass. The route below the ridge is well-cairned if you need them, but the rock is looser down there and I preferred to stay higher when possible. From the saddle just before the Stone Man I descended steeply down loose junk and scree for about 500' where the terrain leveled off. Then I traveled east just above the Black Lake cliffs until I could intersect the trail coming down to Black Lake. Finally I could relax and enjoy the sights and scenes (and many more people) of Glacier Gorge. I took a break and a swim at Mills Lake, knowing I won't be able to swim these alpine lakes much longer. This time on the way out I found the climbers trail that descends between the Glacier Knobs, a nifty shortcut. It feels like wilderness on this section and bypasses the masses on the official trail. At the junction I could have headed out to the Glacier Gorge parking lot and taken the shuttle bus to Bear Lake. But I wanted to finish this loop on my own power so I took the .5 mile trail up to Bear Lake, gaining about 300 vertical feet along the way. The area was hopping with visitors on a busy Labor Day weekend. The hike was finished about 5:00 p.m.

McHenrys Peak from Black Lake:

Route topo:

Since it was still early I decided to do one more RMNP peak on the drive out. Deer Mountain is a nice 10er with a trail to the top. It was 5 miles, 1200' gain and took about two hours. A nice sunset cruise with a great view of all I had climbed that day. I really do love this place.

 Comments or Questions
Rich H

congrats Steve
09/08/2010 16:34
we were up on McHenry's on Saturday via the Arrowhead. Our original intent was to traverse around to Otis then back down but we were so slow finding and getting up the Summit Ramp on Arrowhead that we bailed and came down Stoneman Pass.
That is quite the accomplishment.



Big Day
09/09/2010 04:19
Quite an accomplishment Steve. Thanks for the TR.


09/10/2010 02:05
Some very nice photographs. The Pagoda Spearhead shot looks almost too surreal.

Great TR
09/10/2010 11:26
Just got back from there this past Sunday after a 2 week stay. Been coming there (RMNP) for 2 weeks for 5 years and feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Thanks for posting!


where every turn is a kodak moment
09/11/2010 00:20
Glacier Gorge is something else. Good work on the traverse. I agree with luckyz - the surreal Pagoda Spearhead pic looks like CGI out of some sci fi flick. I want to get deep into Glacier Gorge this year (specifically to see Spearhead) - someplace I've never been. Now I'm convinced I should make the time. Great report - thanks.

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