Route: SE Slopes via Mount Orton
Round trip distance: ~15 miles
Round trip elevation gain: ~5300 feet
Car to car time: a touch more than 10 hours
Party: Me and Andy
After hiking with a fairly static set of partners over the last few years, I’ve recently had the opportunity to meet up with some new people and share some very enjoyable days in the mountains. Andy was one of the first people to respond to my “looking for partners” post here on 14ers.com, and we immediately hit it off. Our first outing was to the Indian Peaks to do “Quarter to 5 Peak”, the fun north ridge of Neva and Mount Jasper. We followed that up with an attempt of Mount Meeker that we aborted due to wind and then last week, seeking a lower/easier day, we did a tour of Frozen, Green and Blue Lakes in upper Glacier Gorge.
While I’d visited Black Lake a couple of times before, this was the first time Andy or I had been any higher and we were both blown away by the scenery. Longs, Pagoda and McHenrys were certainly all impressive, but it was Chiefs Head that really grabbed my attention. We’d previously discussed Chiefs Head as a possibility for the nebulous future, but the way it called to us, particularly from Blue Lake, demanded that we figure out a way to summit it as soon as possible.
From 10/24/12 - Andy at Blue Lake
Four days later, Andy emailed me proposing Chiefs Head from Sandbeach Lake on Tuesday. Thanks to underemployment’s innate flexibility and a relatively mild weather forecast, I was quickly in.
Upon arriving at they Lyons park and ride on Tuesday morning, I transferred my stuff to Andy’s car and we made our way to the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead. It should be noted that the Wild Basin entrance station was not yet staffed when we arrived shortly before seven.
We made good time up the pleasant if unremarkable trail to Sandbeach Lake with the first 1.5 miles or so being dry and the remainder being packed snow interspersed with icy patches. The sandy shore provided a fine setting for adjusting layers and having a quick snack (a currant-toffee cookie for me – cleaning out the freezer has never been more delicious).
This is why we try not to lose our ND grad filters
Stream crossing on the way to the lake
From the northern shore of the lake we set out towards Mount Orton through snow ranging from ankle to calf deep. For the first portion of this ascent we were able to roughly follow the snowy shadow of a social trail up to a cluster of cairns maybe a third of the way up the ridge. From here we ended up heading east through tree and snow covered slopes to gain the ridge slightly south of Orton, but on the way down we discovered that we would have been able to ascend open, grassy slopes directly to Orton had we instead ventured slightly north. Once on the ridge crest, we opted not to bypass Orton and instead scampered up to its summit and paused to ponder the remaining grunt up to Chiefs Head.
Not a terrible place to be
Looking south towards the Indian Peaks
I suppose I see where the name comes from
From this point, there’s really not much to say about the remainder of the route. Our ascent up one of several reasonable looking lines was anything but exciting, however the views were decidedly not terrible.
I would have blindly walked within a couple feet of these if they hadn't moved
Pagoda's rugged west ridge
A nice excuse for a breather
We hit the ridge a few hundred feet east of the summit so we slowly picked our way past several annoying false summits. This was the only part of the day where we were fully exposed to the predicted “breeze” with a bonus of being pelted with blobs of snow seemingly flying up out of Glacier Gorge.
Eventually we reached the true summit where the register was unfortunately wet and its pages were frozen together. Luckily, the views remained not terrible. We spent a few minutes taking pictures before retreating down out of the wind.
Still not terrible
With a little more zoom, in case anybody is interested
Andy approaches the summit
Hard to believe we were way down there less than a week ago
Looking towards McHenrys
Our descent was relatively uneventful, with nice snow conditions for plunge stepping below Mount Orton. Back at Sandbeach Lake we saw a trio of hikers, the only other people we would see all day. The remaining forested trail to the car was slightly tedious and fairly slushy, but interesting conversation helped greatly.
Life ain't bad
On the way down, Mount Alice demands attention
Sandbeach Lake in the afternoon
All in all, it was a pretty nice day with good company in a spectacular setting. Getting Chiefs Head done before shorter days and snowier conditions set in was very satisfying and I am already looking forward to bagging some of the surrounding peaks next year (or later this fall if the dry conditions persist). Thanks Andy for the great day, and thank you all for reading!