Glacier Gorge Traverse

Arrowhead - McHenry's - Chiefs Head - Pagoda - Longs

Rocky Mountain National Park

August 29-31, 2006

David Svilar, Jared


Jared takes a quick breather McHenry's (peak #2).  Our first peak of the day is seen in the background, Arrowhead.

Captain's Log June 22, 2006

"A link up of these peaks is now the number one priority in RMNP.  Look for it here before we put Colorado in the rearview mirror."

Two months later Jared and I returned to put the finishing touch on what we had started...

Colorado does not lack for areas in which to explore, so why do I keep coming back to Glacier Gorge?  One trip in the fall, two in the winter, two spring outings, and now, a third trip this summer.  True, I do need to branch out into other areas, but I seriously doubt whether I will find anything better than Glacier Gorge in RMNP.  Unparalleled in both sub-alpine and alpine beauty the area repels tourons with a moderate approach and fickle weather.

We finished the two hour hike, rolling over the glacier polished plateau above Black Lake just as the sun dipped behind the rim of peaks that tower above Glacier Gorge basin.  As we coasted in to my favorite bivy spot I detected something different in the air.  No wind.  Perfect calm.  Without bothering to fully unfurl my pack, I grabbed my camera and dashed off to several of the many puddles that dot the high alpine landscape madly snapping photos of the pools that actually had reflections because the lack of wind.  While I played with my camera Jared was approached by the member of the only other party in the entire gorge.  Jared feigned sympathy for this man, whose climbing partner was so determined to sleep that he had inadvertently overdosed on sleeping pills.  The climbing partner, higher than a kite, took a severe fall.. flat on his face while brushing his teeth.  Jared and I would have the Gorge to ourselves the next day.


The reason for our excitement was the weather report - two full days of no thunderstorms in the forecast.  Shortly after sunrise we made our way across the large basin from our camp beneath Spearhead to the base of Arrowhead, which has a nifty scrambling route that weaves its way up the steep face.  Pleasant hiking was broken by 100 feet of solid class 4, and with little expenditure of time or effort we sat atop our first peak of the day.


Jared left the summit before me, and briefly thereafter starting making sounds that indicated good terrain ahead.  Later that evening, back at the bivy during our postgame wrap-up we both agreed that the terrain between Arrowhead and McHenry's was nearly as good as Pagoda's west ridge.  Dropping off Arrowhead's summit we stayed close to the ridge top, frequently taking time to gape over the edge at views back into the gorge.  Several hundred feet of 4th class rock put us on top of McHenry's.

Chiefs Head

Jill and I had summitted McHenry's the previous year, so the way off McHenry's was familiar to Stone Man Pass (the curious chunk of rock that resembles male genitalia).  There is literally no mention of the terrain between McHenry's and Chiefs Head in guidebooks or the internet.  That should not change here as my site has no intention to be useful in any way...  I'll just say that if one chooses the correct route through the cliff bands that no difficulties are encountered.  The cakewalk continued as Jared and I waltzed across the moderately sloped summit of Chiefs Head.  To the north the peak is dark, steep, and foreboding while the opposite could be said about the southern portion.


This poor neighbor of mighty Longs Peak would prove to be most difficult, but having been this way two months before our confidence was 13,000 feet high.  Unlike our previous experience we new the easiest way to negotiate the steep and exposed terrain, but without the mental crutch provided by the rope on the solstice trip I was moving more cautiously.  Unchecked caution can lead to downright fear and that's where I found myself at the crux on the dark north side of the peak.  Steep, overhanging gendarmes force the climber to moderately sloped slabs on the peak's dark north side.  Previously this was the location of our first pitch, but without the rope I didn't feel comfortable retracing that pitch and was forced to downclimb across the steep slabs.

Jared moved quickly across the slabs, but when it came to my turn I hesitated.  My feet had not felt in tune with the rock all day, and these series of moves required all feet or...  a long 1,000 foot bloody slide back into Glacier Gorge.  My hesitation and cowardice must have reminded Jared of being on a climb with his girlfriend.  "Jared, I'm scared.  Do you think I can do it?"  I wanted Jared to come and hold my hand, but decided death was preferable to asking for this sissy favor.  The climbing turned out to be simple and soon we reached the sunny sout side of the peak where the final pitch awaited.  With a nice hand crack the last difficult section of the traverse was mounted without hesitation or whining.

Having returned to Colorado only a few days previously I was feeling a bit sluggish at altitude and decided to sleep it off on Pagoda's summit.  At this point I did not feel like making the tromp to the summit of Longs and futilely hoped a t-storm would miraculously form.  However, the traverse must be completed and that included bagging Longs.

Longs Peak

Jared's original plan called for a scramble up the mid fifth class rock of the southwest ridge, but with my energy level waning we tagged the summit via the known standard route.  We retraced our steps behind the Keyboards and descended the loose gully between Pagoda and Longs.

The next morning our plan to climb a route on Spearhead's east face was thwarted by an unusual morning thunderstorm.  Neither of us felt disappointed on our way back to the car.... the traverse was complete


Peak #1 features an easy and improbably route that winds up its steep south face.
Jared takes one of many pauses in the spectacular section between Arrowhead and McHenry's.
Near the top of Chiefs Head I showed the camera what a real joker I can be by pretending to push a boulder over the massive cliff.
Who doesn't like climbing when you can grab onto features like these?  Jared wraps his paws around the gnarled granite on Pagoda's west ridge.
Dave just before getting scared on Pagoda's west ridge.
With the final technical difficulties of the traverse behind him, Jared ambles up Pagoda's classic sidewalk - reason in itself to do this climb.
Dave reluctantly picking his way through the never-ending boulders behind the Keyboard of the Winds.  Very near the summit of Longs Peak.
Traverse complete!  Victorious on the summit of Longs.
Above: Arrowhead and McHenry's on the morning of the grand traverse.

Below: Arrohead the next morning as a storm approaches.  No climbing on this day.


- written November 2006

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