Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
Post Date:  10/31/2012
Date Climbed:   10/30/2012
Posted By:  DanR

 Chiefs Head Peak via Sandbeach Lake and Mount Orton   

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, 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

From 10/24/12

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

Sandbeach 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.

Snow art

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

Mount Alice

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!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Beautiful     10/31/2012 21:31
That's such an amazing basin.


WILD BASIN!     10/31/2012 21:42
Chiefs Head - great mountain! looks like a fine day. Nice TR and thanks for sharing.


Love the first pic of Mt Alice     11/01/2012 03:50
Looks like a great day.

Thanks for the pics.


Image 17     11/01/2012 14:48
I like your style. Is there a need for winter boots yet or is the trailrunner/gaitor combo still sufficient?


Favorite place!     11/01/2012 14:56
Nice to see new perspectives on Wild Basin--it's great this time of year with the lack of people! Thanks for the picture of Blue Lake-haven't been up there yet.


this report...     11/01/2012 17:48
is not terrible.

Great shots. Glacier Gorge is such a sweet area. A day in the Park sure is tough to beat, especially this time of year.


Thank you all for the kind words!     11/01/2012 19:57
geojed: I totally agree - been up three times already this year and still have so much left to explore

dillonsarnelli: thanks - it really is a great mountain with its spectacular views, imposing north face and wide variety of routes.

Alpine: Alice is indeed spectacular if somewhat reclusive. Definitely one to visit soon.

Floyd: Having seen that shot in several trip reports (including yours), I felt that a little imitation was appropriate. I do believe that trail runners plus gaitors would have been fine, but I was in backpacking boots as I've pretty well destroyed my trail runners.

ctlee: Blue Lake is well worth the trip, as are Frozen and Green. I will certainly return there some summer as we were unable to properly evaluate the accuracy of the lake names this time with both Blue and Green being more frozen than was Frozen, if that makes any sense.

Wooderson: thanks - the construction on the road up to bear lake made me initially hesitant to go up there but it ended up being totally worth it. Tough to beat, indeed.


Nice     11/03/2012 05:28
Thanks for the great report and route info re: my PM. And the pics from a less visited area were not terrible either. Congrats!

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