Chiefs Head Peak
Northeast Face / North Ridge
 Class 4 
Trailhead:Glacier Gorge
Start:9,200 feet
Summit:13,579 feet
Total Gain:4,379 feet
RT Length:11 miles
Author:Broken Knee
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:8 reports
Cell Signal:1 report
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? (WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. All 14er routes are more difficult and more dangerous in winter.


Go to Estes Park via Hwy 34 or Hwy 36 to the intersection of those two roads. Go west on Hwy 36 business (also known here as Elkhorn) through downtown Estes Park. After a third of a mile, turn left on Moraine to stay on Hwy. 36. There is a sign that says Rocky Mountain National Park headquarters entrance. After two miles the road splits - stay to the right to go to the park main entrance. The park entrance is two more miles from the split (four miles total from the turn onto Moraine). A quarter mile into the park, make the first left onto Bear Lake Rd. The sign refers to Bear Lake and Moraine Park. Take Bear Lake Rd. 8.5 miles to reach the Glacier Gorge trailhead on the left.


(Much of the crux of the route is seen in the main photo on the page for Chief's Head. I have no photos to add at this time and will look through my archive to see if I can dredge some up... In the mean time, I have "borrowed" Bill's photo and marked the approximate line of the route in red. My partner and I had planned to climb the snow gully that diagonals under the NE face but after reaching the gulley, didn't like the conditions and thus improvised what seemed to be a highly unlikely route on the N ridge...)

From the Glacier Gorge TH, follow signs for Mills Lake / Jewell Lake and proceed up to Black Lake, which is at about 10,600'. Turn east and walk up into the cirque that sits below the west face of Long's Peak, Pagoda, etc. Follow the trail in the drainage, attempting to do minimal damage to the tundra by stepping on boulders whenever possible. This cirque is one of the most beautiful places in Rocky Mountain National Park but it's also very fragile, so walk softly.

Trend towards the NE face of Chief's Head as the tundra turns into talus. When we did the route, there was quite a bit of snow in the cirque and the area above the top of the talus cone (marked as "1") was ~45 degree snow/ice but since the difficult section was short, we did not bother with crampons and just hacked some steps with our axes. We trended towards the west while climbing slabs and corners towards the north ridge. Once the ridge is reached, for the next 500' of vertical, stay on the left side of the ridge when difficult sections are encountered. The exposure in this section is incredible but for the most part, this is solid 3rd class with an occasional spot that can be more contemplative.

At about 12,400' (marked as "2" on Bill's photo) the ridge steepens. An exposed series of slabs, ramps and corners leads to the climber's left, then a ledge leads back right to the ridge. A short, steep crack then climbs up about 30' to a ledge. We climbed this as 4th class since we had only minimal lead gear and wanted to preserve it for the belay. Follow the ledge as it leads up and left under a clean headwall to a more broken area that can be taken directly up on chossy rock to a narrow ledge. The ledge is followed west and it eventually turns the corner. On the photo, the red line becomes dashed, indicating that you are now following the ledge on the west side of the north ridge, out of view in the photo. This section is spectacular since you are traversing a narrow ledge above the sheer NW face. The ledge leads to broken terrain that is scrambled to the summit. We descended to Stoneman Pass and then followed the standard route back to Glacier Gorge.



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