Peak(s):  Chiefs Head Pk  -  13,579 feet
Alice, Mt  -  13,310 feet
Tanima Peak - 12420
Date Posted:  07/27/2010
Date Climbed:   07/25/2010
Author:  Steve Knapp
 Chiefs Head, Alice, Tanima - Wild Basin  

Chiefs Head Peak (13,579)
Mount Alice (13,310)
Tanima Peak (12,420)

20.6 miles RT, 6500' gain, 11.5 hours
Wild Basin trailhead (8,500 ft), Rocky Mountain National Park

As I continue to work on 13ers and the Boulder county peak list I keep coming across gems that I've previously ignored. These three certainly fit that description. I always thought I'd climb Chiefs Head with McHenrys from Glacier Gorge. Since I've settled on a new plan for McHenrys I decided to combine Chiefs Head and Alice and add in Tanima, an isolated 12er important to that Boulder County list. I knew it would be a long day, as there are no short days for peaks reached from Wild Basin.

Copeland Mountain from the trail:

Early view of Chiefs Head Peak:

I started hiking at 7:30 a.m. from the Wild Basin trailhead. Kind of a late start for a hike of this length but I was fairly confident in the weather forecast. I nearly forgot it's a $20 national park fee area, just barely passing through the gates in time to make it free. Signage indicated recent bear activity in the area. More on that later. I hiked up the main trail and took the campsite cutoff which was more direct to where I was heading. No need to make this a longer day than necessary. Then onto the Lion Lakes turnoff on a much less frequently used trail with no stock allowed. Lion Lake #1 is truly beautiful, located near treeline and framed by the high peaks above it. I could spend a day here, but no time for that now. From there I hiked above and left of Lion Lake #2 and finally to Snowbank Lake which did still have large snow banks on the west shore.

Mount Alice:

Lion Lake #1:

Lion Lake #2:

Snowbank Lake right below Chiefs Head:

The basin beyond gradually climbs until it ends in a steeper headwall of talus and snow. After several hours of hiking I finally reached the continental divide at the Chiefs Head/Alice saddle and the peaks were now in within reach. Though it was nearly noon the weather still looked great. The views of McHenrys and McHenrys Notch here are stunning. I hope to stand in that notch sometime soon.

McHenrys Peak:

Zoom on the famous notch:

Chiefs Head from the saddle:

I stowed my pack above the saddle and headed up Chiefs Head first. This is the third highest peak in the park and a fine one at that. The grassy slopes gave way to talus hopping and then some minor scrambling along the upper ridgeline. It is a sheer drop to Glacier Gorge on the north side. I enjoyed the views and the cool breeze, and thought I could hear climbers shouting on the Spearhead below. At 12:30 p.m. I reached the summit. That was some work to get up here, 9.5 miles and over 5,000 vertical feet from the trailhead. Somebody had signed the register that morning but they were no longer in sight. What a great spot this is. I dangled my feet over the 1,000 ft drop into Glacier Gorge and was very happy to be up here.

Mount Alice:

Approaching the Hourglass Ridge, clouds moving in:

It's a lengthy hike over to Alice but mostly easy walking. Mount Alice is quite imposing when viewed from certain angles, another great overlooked 13er. I returned to the saddle and then onto the hourglass ridge which doesn't pose any real problems. From there it's a steep climb up talus and granite slabs. Some clouds had moved in but nothing threatening yet. I took a nice break up there and rested up for the final peak of the day.

Tanima Peak (foreground):

It's over one mile south on grassy tundra to Boulder-Grand Pass. I saw one bighorn on the way down. It was nice to see wildlife as I sure wasn't seeing any people. Fortunately the winds were light today, maybe only 20 mph blowing through the grand pass and even less up on the peaks. Shorts and a t-shirt all day long for me. The winds must howl viscously through here much of the year. Tanima from Boulder-Grand Pass starts as an easy tundra walk, which was fine with me and my tiring legs. It does finish on a short rocky ridgeline with some fun hopping and a brief scramble. The old metal register canister is still there so I signed in. Few people ever get to visit this isolated 12er. I was glad to add it in to the itinerary as it makes a nice side-trip on the way to or from Alice. What wouldn't be fun is getting to Isolation Peak from here. That ridgeline near the Cleaver looked very imposing.

Isolation Peak:

All that remained was the LONG hike out. Did I mention all peak-bagging trips from Wild Basin are long? I took the rocky east ridge of Tanima east to a point just north of Thunder Lake. Appropriately it started to thunder. It was 4:00 p.m. and I was just pleased it had held off this long. The slopes down to Thunder Lake were steep but manageable on the descent and I reached the abandoned Thunder Lake about 5:00. Just me and the trout, which I could see rising and cruising the shores of the lake. A fisherman I spoke to on the way up this morning reported no fish caught in the lake itself but many below the outlet. Some day I should add a fly rod to my pack. I took my traditional swim in chilly Thunder Lake and cooled off for the walk ahead.

Thunder Lake:

The hike down was pleasant and comfortably cool. It never did rain more than a sprinkle. The Thunder Lake trail rejoins the Lion Lake trail on the way out and then I was repeating the hike from this morning. I made it all the way onto the campsite trail shortcut before seeing anyone or anything. Suddenly around a bend there it was, 30 feet ahead of me on the trail was the bear. I stopped as we eyed each other. I banged my poles together to make some noise and it scurried into the woods. There he paused long enough for me to take a picture, though in my excitement it turned out kind of blurry. It wasn't the biggest beast in the woods, maybe 200 pounds. In all my years in Colorado I've only seen two other bears. One while driving over Wolf Creek Pass and another small yearling dumpster diving in the Beaver Creek parking garage. This was my first encounter on the trail, and added another notch of wildness to Wild Basin for me. I was glad to see the bear but also glad this one still had the fear of man. With a final burst of bear-charged adrenaline I hustled out the final two miles to the trailhead. At 7:00 p.m. and over 11 hours after starting I returned to civilization, thrilled to have experienced another fine day in the Park.

Beast of the Basin:

Topo Map:

 Comments or Questions

another great RMNP gem
07/28/2010 03:16
Glad the weather held for you Steve. That Lion/Snowbank Lake region would make for a fine camping spot. Did you happen to see all those bighorns that seem to hang out at the Alice/CH saddle?

That North face on Chiefs Head is a sight to see as well (from Glacier Gorge). Speaking of McHenry's Notch, that couloir on the north side is something of high interest and that Shelf/Solitude Lake basin just adds to the experience. I, too, hope to get that one in the not too distant future.


You read my mind.
07/28/2010 03:40
Had that one penciled in sometime in the next couple of weeks. Thanks so much for the trip report.


Very nice ...
07/29/2010 19:19
Great trip report and such nice photos (even the blurry bear). Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

Chicago Transplant

You always find the good stuff!
07/29/2010 20:32
Another great trip Steve, how does the ridge from Pagoda to Chiefs Head look? Could be a nice variation of your route to add that one in too, you know me... glutton for punishment

Steve Knapp

07/29/2010 21:10
Thanks for the comments. I don't post here too often so it's good to see people read the 13er stuff. Brian, we should team up for something someday. McHenrys, Powell, Taylor, Otis, Hallet, Flattop is another big loop I'm hoping to do. Mike, you might like that one too.

Pagoda to Chiefs Head has been done but there are significant technical difficulties between them, which I think makes a rope necessary. Pagoda is a one-peak wonder for most people. Great mountain though, perched right below Longs.

I didn't see any bighorn on the Chiefs Head/Alice saddle, just the one south of Alice.


06/02/2011 14:57
Sweet report!!!

Rich H

thank you for the report
06/29/2012 16:51
I am going to have a go at Alice and Tanima tomorrow and was wondering about the east ridge of Tanima.


Rich H

follow up
07/02/2012 19:46
We went up and did the Alice - Tanima part of your loop. Coming off Tanima, we traveled too far down the ridge to 11,100 or so where it steepens on the topo map. We ended up doing some 5th class downclimbing and traversing to make it back around to the rangers cabin - the easiest way is probably the way you draw it on your map. By the way we did see 3 sheep on the Alice - Chiefs Head saddle - must be their turf.


One of my faves as well
07/29/2013 18:29
Nice report! So lucky to have a bear sighting too. I was told there's only about 31 or so in RMNP.

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