Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
Date Posted:  05/31/2012
Modified:  06/01/2012
Date Climbed:   05/20/2012
Author:  4thPlaceAtFieldDay
 Chiefs Head Pk  

Trailhead: Sandbeach Lake TH (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Route: SE Slopes (Class II)

I arrived at the trailhead just before 6am on a clear Sunday morning in the park. I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the drive in along Highway 7. Since it was still before Memorial Day, the Ranger Station was still "Abandoned for the Winter." Mine was the first car at the trailhead, and I knew I would have solitude for most of the day since probably 98% of the people who take this trail stop at the lake.

Sunrise on Highway 7 en route to the trailhead


I made quick work of the 4.5 miles up to Sandbeach Lake (knowing that I needed to be off the mountain in plenty of time to make my 6:45 flight to Fresno for work the next week). The trail was snow-free until the last half mile before the lake. I arrived at the lake at 7:40 and enjoyed the fresh coating of snow that the area had received the day previous. After downing a Clif Bar and some trail mix, I donned my gaiters for the bushwhack up to Mt. Orton. Once I reached treeline, I was rewarded with the less-often-seen southern views of Pagoda, Longs, and Meeker. Chiefs Head also came into view for the first time.

Sandbeach Lake

Route up Mt. Orton

Fresh coat of snow on the pines

Pagoda, Longs, Meeker (L to R)

Chiefs Head (center) and Pagoda

Once the summit of Mt. Orton is visible, the route flattens out significantly for the next ~.75 miles. I chose to skirt around the east side of Orton, but a quick scramble up to the summit is certainly available. The south side of Chiefs Head provides a pretty straightforward class II ramp up to the summit. In most of the other trip reports I've read, people headed to the right side of the ramp in order to gain the ridge, but I preferred just heading up the center in a direct line to the top. I reached the summit at 10:40, and I must say that it's one of my top five favorite summit views. Glacier Gorge to the North, Longs massif to the East, Wild Basin to the South, and McHenrys to the West. Of course, I had to take the classic photo of feet dangling off into Glacier Gorge. After the photography was complete, I signed the summit register, and couldn't help but notice the name a couple up from mine. Good prediction Aron of being the last summit of 2011!

Longs massif from the summit of Chiefs Head

The classic summit shot looking down at Spearhead

Summit self-photo

Nice prediction Aron



I was blessed because the recent snowfall was not enough to hinder my progress at all, and it enhanced the views tenfold.

Clouds began moving in during my descent, but none of them were threatening (just cooled off the temps a little bit). The eastern slopes of Mt. Orton made for an excellent glissade on my way back to Sandbeach Lake. When I ventured out of the trees back at the lake, I saw the first people that I'd seen all day and enjoyed a quick lunch before heading back down the 4.5 miles of trail to my car. I returned to my vehicle at 2:30 pm, plenty of time to make it home, shower, and catch my flight to California.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Comments or Questions

127 hours!
06/01/2012 03:23
Planning to trek up alice and chiefs head from the lion lakes in 3 weeks. Thanks for the report.


Super job!
06/01/2012 15:06
I especially loved the shot of McH and Arrowhead. It gives an excellent view of the terrain below from Stone Man Pass to Black Lake which I may attempt later this summer. Thanks for the great report, Lemmi!

Doctor No

Always love the Wild Basin approaches
06/01/2012 17:42
Easily my favorite area of RMNP. Thanks for the great report!


Great report
06/01/2012 18:22
I hope to do Chief's Head by the same route in July and your report was very helpful. (I'd also like to do it in the same amount of time as you did, but there's no way that will happen! You made great time for a 16 mile round trip hike.) The views into Glacier Gorge are fantastic.


06/01/2012 19:04
Awesome pictures, how was the snow from Sandbeach to treeline? After climbing Orton by this route a few years ago, I've been really thinking about continuing up the North Ridge as you did


06/01/2012 20:43
The snow was in pretty good shape. Some minor postholing in the trees. However, once you reach the obvious clearing shown in Image 4, it was easy to kick steps and not deep enough for postholing the rest of the way to tree line. This area also provided some good short glissade sections for the trip down.

With the temps the way they have been though, a lot of this snow has probably melted off by now.


06/01/2012 21:45
Great, that was what I was hoping to hear. Nice report


Sealed the deal
08/19/2017 09:21
I've lived in CO for 21 years, and have been dreaming about climbing Chiefs Head. Lately I've been doing more research on the route and looking at trip reports, hoping to try it later this summer (2017). Thanks for the excellent report and pictures. I especially like your summit register post!

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