Peak(s):  McHenrys Pk  -  13,327 feet
Arrowhead - 12640
Spearhead - 12575
Date Posted:  07/21/2008
Modified:  06/23/2009
Date Climbed:   07/19/2008
Author:  lordhelmut
 Glacier Gorge scrambles  

Mchenry's (13,327) - Arrowhead Arete (Arrowhead traverse)
Arrowhead (12,640) - summit ramp route
Spearhead (12,575) - Northwest Slopes


After a few long, solid weekends, I figured it'd be a good idea to keep it a little more "local". I hadn't really thought of anything to do, so when Sarah sent me a PM about a possible trip to the Glacier Gorge in RMNP, my interest level skyrocketed. I had never been to this region before, neither had Sarah, so our Saturday formed up nicely, it was an easy decision. I've honestly been chasing 14ers, Centenniels and stuff in the Indian Peaks, I never took the time to check out much of anything in the park region, other than Longs and Meeker

Woke up @ 1:30am, left Denver around 2, met Sarah at the McDonalds in Boulder, got a double cheeseburger for breakfast and hightailed it to the Glacier Gorge Basin parking lot in the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We hit the trail around 3:45 and easily navigated through the obvious trail up to Black Lake. The only thing I had read about Glacier Gorge was Roach's description, comparing it to the Lone Eagle Cirque in terms of dramatic, towering peaks and sharp jagged rigdelines. All I can say is it definately did not disapoint.

We stopped at Black Lake and scouted out the easiest way to gain the ridge leading to the base of Arrorhead.

stream running out of Black Lake (looking North)

Sarah changed into her trail runners, we talked to 2 guys who had the exact same agenda we did and were off. We had to bushwack a little bit to gain the slopes below Arrowhead. We noticed two climbers with gear gaining on us and they eventually caught up to us about halfway up the slope. We chatted for a couple minutes, but I couldn't help but recognize one of the climbers. As they passed by, I noticed the initals "JK" on his helmet, turned to Sarah and said "that guy was Jon Krakauer". She immediately turned around and asked "are you that famous Jon guy?". They both laughed and little do you know, it was him, and his climbing partner was Bill Briggs, who I was not familiar with but Sarah certainly was. We were both pretty siked to have this surprise run in with one of the most famous authors in mountaineering today and Briggs, a Colorado climbing legend and they both very friendly and fond of our choice of routes for the day. For the rest of the day, I kept saying "i can't believe I just met f**king Jon Krakauer".

(Edit - upon further research, there was no way that was Bill Briggs, the guy who skied the Grand atleast, he‘s way too old. Unless I‘m unaware of some Coloradan named Briggs, this guy was just a friend of Krakuaer, just wanted to clear the air)

Anyways, here was our look at Arrowhead from the east slopes (w/ Krakauer and Briggs climbing)

We spotted the ramp leading around to the North side of Arrowhead and began scrambling up some steep sections to gain it.

We were making some interesting scrambling moves to gain the ramp, it was fun class 4/low 5 on solid rock. We were taking a more direct route. And just like last week, the weather in the park region was perfect, blue skies and a light breeze. Some shots of the basin :



After gaining the winding ramp, we eventually topped out on Arrowhead's summit shortly after around 7:45am and both were surprised at how easy the climbing was and the straightfowardness of the route. It had some exposure and some tough scrambling here and there, but for the most part, it was a very enjoyable route, we ran into no problems and enjoyed the exposed summit for a good hour before making our way up the ridge to Mchenry's.

Here ws our view of the ridge with the two genadarmes sticking out as the "crux" of the ridge (although avoidable)

And a look at the exposed summit of Arrorhead with Longs and the Keyboard of the Winds in the background

Since I'd never been back in the Glacier Gorge Basin, I'd obviously never seen Longs from the west like that. I didn't think it was possible to rival a view of Longs from the East and the daunting Diamond Face. Simply put, I was wrong. When I looked through my pictures after the trip, I noticed that half of them were of Longs and the surrounding peaks of Pagoda and Chiefs Head with the sharp ridge of the Spearhead jutting out into the valley. I know the term gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, I could literally feel my mind bending while staring at this cirque. I'm not very good with words and describing things, so my advice is go see it for yourself, preferably from the top of one of the peaks.

The traverse over to McHenrys was pretty straighfoward and also very unique. It resembled a large tidal wave and we would stick as close to the edge of the spine to look down the vertical face and keep the route exciting. An hour and 15 minutes later, we reached McHenry's summit, the time was about 10am now and still, not a cloud in the sky.

Sarah on the summit of McHenry's with a near vertical drop off in front of her :

The Wave

The 2 guys we ran into at Black Lake earlier that morning caught back up with us on the summit and chatted for a while. We told him we ran into Jon Krakauer and his jaw dropped. We all noticed Bill and Jon climbing the 5.11b "Godfather"route up Arrorhead and this guy was contemplating climbing the ridge back to Arrowhead to meet him, pretty funny. We spent another hour on McHenry's before I pitched the idea to Sarah to add Spearhead to our agenda for the day, since we both had high spirits, a lot of energy and clear skies. It didn't take much to convince her, I knew from reading her trip reports she was a sucker for multiple summits in a day and the Spearhead looked like too much fun not to climb it that day, it would make for a perfect trio on our inaugural trip into Glaicer Gorge.

Before we packed up and headed towards Spearhead, I got a nice view of Mt.Alice and the Indian Peaks looming behind it :

The downclimb of McHenrys was actually relatively tricky in certain sections en route to Stone Man Pass. The initial downclimb off the summit steepened immediately, making for some slow progress. We had brought crampons and ice axe, figuring there'd be snow around the pass. We never used the points, but our axes came in handy on a couple snowfields were had to traverse across the reach the basin floor to Spearhead.

Sarah traversing snow

We reached Frozen Lake and the base of Spearhead around 1pm. There were some climbers headed up the North Ridge (5.6) and some others downclimbing from the standard class 3 route.

Spearhead from Frozen Lake

The gully to gain the ridge was downright annoying. We were having some issues with the talus and finding a path of least resistence. There were some bigger, less loose boulders on the right further up which made going a little easier and topped out at the ridge with a view of our remaining route :


Sticking to the left side and following some cairns here and there, we made our way along the ridge to the very exposed summit.

Sarah on the summit of Spearhead

The summit reminded me of Lone Eagle, maybe not as exposed, but with a more dramatic, steeper 1500 foot dropoff to the North. Sitting on top of Spearhead's summit was exciting enough, for some reason I had some paranoid feeling all those boulders that made up the small summit would come out from under us, don't really know why. We alo had a front row seat of a view to the Keyboard of the Winds and Longs west side. We chatted for a bit, ate some food, noticed some clouds finally rolling in (at 2pm) and made our way back to the trailhead.

Here are some final shots of the day :

The infamous North Face of Spearhead. Gerry Roach says climbing this route is like "touching the soul of the Earth". Oh Gerry and his sayings.

Frozen Lake looking north

Final Notes :

This is a very dramatic basin that you'd think would be really popular, but yesterday, we felt a great deal of solitude, it was a special feeling. Meeting Jon Krakauer and Bill Briggs was a complete surprise and a surreal feeling, I could not believe I got to meet in person someone who has made a legitimate influence in my life, in some way or another, not to mention the amount of respect I have for him as an author. and lastly, climbing with Sarah made for a great day, we were finally able to plan something out at the spur of the moment. I'm thrilled anytime I can find someone who's game for adding another great peak to the list for the day, Sarah was all for it (sorry for the slow pace Sarah on the way out, my ankle was the size of a baseball today, have no idea what from).

Glacier Gorge

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

07/21/2008 16:19
better I didnt join you on this one. Definitely wasnt feeling multiple peak adventure. Looks like a solid climb, with a great story to boot!


07/21/2008 16:37
this looks like it was a great day! I‘ll have to add it to my ever growing list of places to explore. I can‘t believe you met Jon F$%#@ Krakauer, thats awesome!


07/22/2008 00:23
Have been wanting to visit Spearhead for a while now. Your photos make the trip seem even more compelling. Good effort...

Jon F$%#@ Krakauer
07/22/2008 01:26
Sorry...just had to jump on the Jon F$%#@ Krakauer bandwagon. That is really cool! Actualy, I think I‘m more surprised by the fact that you 2 scrambling junkies haven‘t gotten together for a climb before now.
Looks like an awesome route & fun day. I‘m excited about spending more time in the IPW/RMNP this fall.
Nice job guys!


07/22/2008 04:34
Didn‘t know how else to express my run in with the man, it was really really cool.

Mark, glad you got out there. We were looking down from the summit of McHenry‘s and were naming all the drainages in between, could see Apache and Navajo as clear as day.

Jamie - thanks, always that much more of a pleasure when your in the presence of other scrambling junkies, almost seemed like there weren‘t enough hours in the day saturday.


Its about time....
07/22/2008 14:41
that we finally worked out a hike together - and it was an awesome one! No worries about the hike out - I hope your ankle feels better soon. Despite getting home late and being severely sleep deprived on Sunday, the Sharkstooth was a total success.

I am still shocked at how beautiful Glacier Gorge is. I took so many pictures that it took me forever to pick out the ones I wanted to post. Here‘s a link:


07/22/2008 23:06
Those are some great shots in that collection, we seemed to have both captured that great shot of McHenrys from the ridge on Spearhead. Great eye you have, especially of the traverse. Oh, and way to get a solid close up of Krakauer and Briggs.


I can‘t believe...
11/30/2010 17:20 met f*$*ing Jon Krakauer! Haha that's awesome! Are you that famous Jon guy? Nice report Brian, it's beautiful in there! I'm envious you had such great weather! I was up on Apache via Queens Way in IPW and could NOT believe how many kick-butt routes are on Shoshone, Apache, & Navajo!!!! Amazing mountains! Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas for us and we had to hightail it out of there. So much fun stuff in our backyard, so little time! Thanks for posting this one!

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