Peak(s):  McHenrys Pk  -  13,327 feet
Date Posted:  06/27/2015
Date Climbed:   06/21/2015
Author:  dvdcmiller
 McHenrys peak via Notch couloir  

Two trips to McHenrys peak (13,374'), to climb the Notch couloir route. McHenrys is one of the more seldom climbed summits in RMNP (meaning, came across just 1 other group from CO each weekend). The views of Longs, Pagoda, Chiefshead, Spearhead and Arrowhead peaks from high up as well as the descent along the summer route passing by Black lake are really scenic, making it worthwhile. Also, 13 miles and 4300' elevation gain is a good workout!

I went back on 2015/6/21 to get it:

Gear: This climb can be done with just crampons and an ice axe. Follow an unmarked route (4th class/ easy 5th class difficulty) on the rock above the couloir to the summit ridge. If you are uncomfortable with exposed alpine rock, this might not be the climb for you - else maybe bring a 30 meter rope and an alpine rack of cams. I did not bring a rope, but really appreciated my approach shoes (brought originally in case I had to wade the stream in Glacier Gorge valley). The shoes proved great because my Sportiva Evo boots are lunky on rock. If there is a good freeze overnight, or you go later in the season (June/July) you can forgo snowshoes (if you are willing to tolerate the snow near Black lake). This is a trip of difficulty comparable to Dreamweaver couloir or Longs peak, so pack lightly. My pack was 34 lbs, for example because i packed just 1 water bottle and a water filter (there are plenty of lakes and streams along the way). If you camp at Glacier Gorge campsite, do not store your gear on the ground under a tree or it might get nibbled by a rodent!

I got up in Denver at midnight to drive to RMNP and leave the Glacier Gorge TH at 2am. I got to the base of the off-trail route at 4am, and bushwacked up to Shelf lake by 5:15 am. If you are staying at the Glacier Gorge CG, this means you would probably want to leave there at 3:30 am to be on the same schedule. I started from the base of the couloir at 6:45 am, to reach the top of Notch couloir at 8:30. I summited McHenrys at 9:30. Leaving the summit at 10:40, I got the top of Stone Man pass at 11:50 and Black lake at 1:30. I was back at the TH at 4:50. My pace was great in the dark, but I did stop for pictures and 6 water breaks during the day.

Pay attention to the route - i have described extra waypoints on the map caption to make it easier (I would pre-program the off-trail waypoints up to Shelf lake to help run that part in the dark).

The lower section of Notch couloir before the bend to the climber's left does not exceed 30 degrees. The snow stays steady at 42 degrees through the longest middle section. There is a 55 degree move to transfer to the top of this section (too short to require an ice tool), followed by the short 45 degree section to the top. Notch couloir gains 1,267' from its base. If you instead follow the inset couloir N40.26797 W105.65725 at 11,651 to the snowfield exiting at N40.26310 W105.65758 at 13,366', you gain 1,715' to the top (consider an ice tool - it looks steeper). Stone Man couloir loses 468' along the way down - there were glissade tracks all the way down, so probably 40 degrees or less.

From the first trip:

Trip to RMNP to scope out the Notch couloir on McHenry's peak in RMNP. We got a reservation at the Glacier Gorge campground to make for a more civil trip.

May 2015 was exceptional for snow in the Front Range. Although, i remember the snow in the Glacier Gorge valley being comparable times i have been there in late May. We did not really need snowshoes below the Glacier Gorge CG.

We feared continued (strong) stormy weather, but found pretty good luck in RMNP (only light rain late afternoons). It is really strange to visit in warmer weather after only been to RMNP in the inter for years!

In retrospect, kind of disappointed i got dissuaded from the route i plotted up before the trip by the group that arrived at Glacier Gorge GC at 4 am. The route they started (concerned about crossing the stream) did not work well. The route i had picked out before the trip did and turned out to be the way the other group accessed Shelf and Solitude lakes.

Link to photos:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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