Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
McHenrys Pk  -  13,327 feet
Date Posted:  10/03/2011
Date Climbed:   10/01/2011
Author:  Floyd
Additional Members:   Chicago Transplant
 Wild Basin Marathon  

20.2 miles 6,150 ft

As the week progressed, Mike and I switched our attention from the Sawatch range to RMNP where the forecast looked like it was shaping up to be a bluebird day. When presented with the potential for a full day in the CO mtns, Wild Basin begs to be visited since the continental divide (along with any peaks) sits about 7 miles, minimum, from the TH. We went back and forth with proposed routes some getting pretty obsurd (the most being a 2-car relay from Glacier Gorge hitting McHenry's,Chiefs Head and running the divide all the way to Isolation and Mahana - figure on about 9k of vert for that one. I'd love to hear about if someone would like to tackle it.) I loved the looks of the northern arete on McHenry's but pictures from Brian's trip report from last week compared to those from George James' from a year ago showed we may find more snow than we wanted on such a route. So, back to Wild Basin... Our final plan was to hit "Da Cheif", McHenry's, Alice, and Tanima (basically everything between the technical boundaries or Pagoda's West Ridge, McHenry's notch, and Isolation's North Ridge.) Armed with Steve Knapp's trip report from a year prior, we were ready to go.

And now on to the climb:
The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 1:45 and I was on the road by 2:20 after walking the dogs, breakfast, etc... I really need to rethink this "under 2 hour to the TH, sleep at home" rule. We met at the trailhead at 4 am, and were on the trail a few minutes later. The only good thing about the mileage requirements for Wild Basin is that the trail is incredibly flat so you can really fly around, especially at night. We were pretty secure in our thought that "North Ridge" could be easily accessed from Lion Lakes, as opposed to going all the way to the Alice/"Da Chief" saddle like Steve did, and we hit Lion Lake #1 just as the sun was illuminating the basin at 6:45 - right on schedule. The alpenglow on the neighboring peaks was amazing and we spotted a nice grass ramp to hit "North Ridge" - which is neither north or a ridge.

Alice over Lion Lake #1

Copeland over Lion Lake #1

Ascent - grass break in cliffs (center) to scree slope

Pagoda/Longs/Meeker from "North Ridge"

North Ridge is a wide, gentle upward slope to "Da Chief's" summit, making the summit an easy class 2 endeavor. Once on the summit, the views down Glacier Gorge are breathtaking and a peer down the north face is truly amazing.

2,000 feet of air between my feet and Green Lake

Alice from "Da Chief"



After about a half an hour on "Da Chief", we set off for McHenry's. We noticed a little system over Evans, but didn't think anything of it - that's a long ways out and what goes due north??? The west side of the summit on "Da Chief" is fairly wide, but you want to pay attention to where you are going. It's actually a very complex mountain with steep faces to the south and north (which looks like an alpine technical climbers wet dream) but the "north ridge" that we ascended and the west ridge being very gentle sloping boulder fields. When the slope descends to Stoneman Pass, the terrain takes a much more rugged turn. Mike located our descent gully to avoid the complex ridge proper which held enough snow to require a little attention, but I think it actually helped keep the rocks in place.

Mike dropping into our gully / McHenrys backdrop

Mike in the gully

The traverse over to McHenrys took around 2 hours, there are some incredibly solid ledges to keep the traverse pretty high after exiting the gully that easily joins the Stoneman Pass route. The south face of McHenrys reminded me a little of Eolus - a winding "trail" that is 95% class 2 or you can head right up the thing with some exciting class 3/low 4 moves. We each chose our own line; I mixed the 2 previously mentioned choices.

Mike ascending McHenrys

Me ascending McHenrys (photo by Mike)

Soon, we hit the summit and the views opened up once again.

Mike checking out the "Wave"

The Wave from McHenrys Summit - looks like it would have been a fine climb

Me on McHenrys' summit (photo by Mike)

Ptarmigan/Andrews/Andrews Beak from McHenrys

Alice from McHenrys (Ascent Route hidden by rock in foreground)

I like this shot - The "Stoneman" is silhouetted against the snowfield

"Da Chief"

Now, the next issue was getting over to Alice. Clouds were starting to build all around us and that system over Evans had slowly worked its way up the Indian Peaks and now was over Apache. There was another system coming in from the west and my hopes of continuing on were starting to wane. Regardless, we had to get back up to the Chief-Alice saddle. The connecting ridge is much more straightforward from "Da Chief", as you can skip the gully and just walk on over. From McHenrys we had to descend nearly to Lake Powell (11,600). We found a line at about 11,900-12,000 that took us into a gully that looked promising. It was fairly loose in places but once we started making progress the 500 or so feet back to the saddle went pretty quickly.

Lake Powell

Look back at McHenrys

The "Stoneman"

Alice from our turnaround point

Once up on the saddle, both the weather from the south and west seemed to converge on us at the same time. It was now 2:00 pm and sleet, snow, graupel and everything else started hitting us. We thought Alice could have been done, but it was going to get pretty miserable. Looking forward to another trip to the area under more pleasant conditions, we retreated for home. We took a quick scree ski path just to the north of a permanent snow field to descend back towards Snowbank Lake (Steve's ascent route for his day - seen in photo 6). When we got down to the basin, it was obvious that heading for North Ridge from Lion Lakes is a much quicker/shorter option since it was a full hour and a half later until we finally found the trail. Also, thunder was growling all around us which reinforced our choice to retreat. The walk back was uneventful albeit under a fairly steady rain above treeline, but once back on trail below the lakes, we could now enjoy some of the areas colors. Just past 'campsite row' we saw our first people during the day. 13.5 hours at the park and not a soul to be seen, not a bad route choice. We saw another dozen or so people on the last mile to the trailhead but all-in-all pretty uneventful. 14 hours after leaving the cars we strolled back into the parking lot at 6 pm.

Leaves were peak!

An ode to LordHelmut




Thanks for reading.

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

10/03/2011 17:58
Very Nice. Way to take advantage of the Indian Summer.

great report!
10/03/2011 18:46

couple of questions for you
1) why did you choose to go all the way to Lion Lake before ascending da chief instead of going up from sand beach? It's been a couple years but that is the way I went and it seemed pretty good and I think maybe shorter
2) you said it was 2 hours over to McHenry's...was that from the summit of da chief...hopefully not from the pass.
3) you described the south face of McHenry's as similar to Eolus. It has been many years since I was on that one but I recall it being a very steep slope with dirt and small rocks, similar to Lindsay. I found those unnerving to say the least. I'd like to do McHenry's but have been hoping it was larger rocks and no loose dirt on the steepest section.


10/03/2011 18:57
Furthermore: Thanks. Noticed you are kind of thin in the park. You may just be the person to tackle our 2-car insanity. If not, Mike and I are already looking into Isolation-Alice next year sometime.

1) Sandbeach is 400 more feet of elevation (lower TH and Mt. Orton). This was only 1 mile longer but we had 3 more trail miles and we didn't have to fiddle with 2 cars. Plus, Lion Lakes is a darn fine area to visit.
2) 2 hours summit to summit. The pass is a lot closer to McHenrys than Da Chief.
3) Eolus was 2008 for me so I may be mistaken, but McHenrys is fresh in my mind and I found nothing but solid rock. The route zig zags all over the place and sacrifices some solid areas for ease of passage so it was more fun heading straight up where we wanted to. Followed the path for the most part on the descent.

McHenrys was a fine peak, you'll love it.


Good Stuff
10/03/2011 19:04
This is a great time of year to visit Wild Basin. I think some of my most enjoyable days in Colorado have been in that vicinity - where the people are scarce and the miles pretty effortless.


Wild Basin vs. Glacier Gorge
10/03/2011 19:23
Toss up between these 2 for most aesthetic in Colorado. Sheer granite walls vs. the 3 most pristine lakes around. Thats a tough one. Sounds like Wild Basin is racist against Llamas, which might be the wild card factor in it getting the nod.

You missed Alice, oh darn, sounds like you'll ”have” to go back. Keep me in mind for Isolation/Alice. When I finish the RMNP 13ers, there will be an asterik next to that number (*did not include that pile of s**t Copeland). I may just trade myself my repeat of Alice for it and call it good.

Chicago Transplant

Good times
10/03/2011 19:39
Great day to be out! Too bad the weather started to move in, but it was a solid outing none-the-less! Can't complain about spending all day in such a wonderful area - especially sans crowds that you find on the ”gaper trails”.

Ron- If your only objective is Chiefs Head, Sandbeach would work good, but if you add McHenrys and/or Alice it would require 2 cars or reclimbing Chiefs Head hence why we went the way we did.


Very nice!...
10/03/2011 20:46
and excellent pictures and route description! Looked like it was a fabulous day, except for the weather coming in late in the day. Thanks for the post!


Thanks for the replies
10/03/2011 22:58
Pap - it was 2003 since I was last there. I'll be back again soon though.

Helmut - I guess I do ”have” to get back there. Life is rough sometimes.

Mike - great day, wierd weather though

MtnHub - glad you liked it. wanted to relay the route since I hadn't seen anything on McHenrys from Wild Basin before.


Strong work, gentlemen
10/03/2011 23:08
If I'm thin in any manner, it's in RMNP experience.
This is like a commercial for the park.

Steve Knapp

Almost Triple Crown!
10/04/2011 05:10
Great job guys. Two out of three ain't bad, especially when the two are Chiefs Head and McHenrys. Those Wild Basin hikes are awesome. I know you would have made it to Alice if the weather cooperated. Go figure, the monsoon is supposed to be gone by now. These peaks will soon be buried in a blanket of snow and you will be some of the last up for the year. The remote areas of the Park are some of the neatest places in Colorado.

Mr. Helmut - what do you have against Copeland? Lots of talus, but no worse than Lady Washington. Especially fun if you run the ridge over to Ogalalla and on to Elk Tooth. No astericks, you need to get this one too! With it's eastern position there are unique views up there.


10/04/2011 13:41
That high ridge run coming off Chief's Head heading towards McHenry's is super scenic, my favorite part of the traverse no doubt. I agree with Brian, missing Alice just means you ”get” to go back.


10/04/2011 18:00
Matt, when are we going to get out?

Steve, we were shooting for the TC and we definitely thought we may have been the last group for those peaks for the year. Although Da Cheif has potential for a winter route by the ”North Ridge.” I'll get Helmut up Copeland, no need for an asterisk, especially if I can get him in there on skis (I'll trudge along in my snowshoes).

Benners, even if we summitted all the peaks we wanted to I'll always want to head back up there. (It just might fall a little down the priority list). Too many great routes and amazing area for sure, but so many others to explore too.


Very cool....
10/18/2011 01:53
Love the clouds reflected in Lake Powell in image 18.

A stellar report and fine effort!

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