McHenry’s Peak Climb


August 2, 1998  Sunday


      ·    Up at 2 AM – clear sky, very clear – 50 degrees plus or minus.

      ·    Eugene, Dan, Eric and I with packs together - left Glacier Basin Campground around 3:30AM.

      ·    Started from the trailhead at Glacier Gorge parking lot - 3:45AM.

      ·    First break, 50 minutes later, at Glacier Gorge Trail junction - good pace.  Took a 10-minute break till 4:45AM.

      ·    Second break 45 minutes later just beyond Mills Lake – starting to get light – had a brief standoff with a Waputi.

      ·    Beyond Mills Lake the trail becomes more difficult – combinations of narrow, muddy, root choked and rocky sections.

                        It gets progressively more rough as you approach Black Lake.  This trail almost has the feel of a bushwack.    

                        There are several split-rail bridges over wet areas. 

      ·    The very good thing about the trail is that the closer you get to Black Lake the forest canopy opens to great views on both

                         sides of the gorge.  On the west Thatchtop Mountain and later Arrowhead dominate the view and on the east Longs

                         Peak and Keyboard of the Winds standout.  Directly south you are approaching Pagoda, Spearhead and Chief’s

                         Head.  Along the trail are several awesome waterfalls and a great cascade below Black Lake.

      ·    Arrived at Glacier Gorge backcountry camping site at 6AM – almost 4 miles from the parking lot.

      ·    The site was occupied by a group with three nice mountaineering tents and a tarp strung between – quite an encampment.

                         We had a permit for the site this evening and prepared to drop some gear in a storage bag to lighten our load. 

                         Eugene, Eric and I unloaded tents, sleeping bags, cookware and etc and repacked our backpacks.  Dan planned

                         to hike out and return to Glacier Basin Campground for the evening.  I thought we would be exhausted from this climb

                         and an overnight here would be worth the effort.

      ·    Left the backcountry campsite and arrived Black Lake at 7AM – 5 miles and 3 hours 15 minutes from the trailhead

      ·    Spent approximately 20 minutes at a very picturesque spot next to the outflow of Black Lake on a granite shelf.  I topped off

                         our water bottles and in the process a part popped off the water filter.  Luckily, Dan spotted the piece immediately

                         and I spent a couple minutes retrieving it from three feet of ice-cold water.  Eric broke out the Cliff Bars that we

                         decided to try as our only source of food in a effort to stay as light as possible on the climb.  If you ignore their

                         appearance they aren’t too bad.

      ·    Black Lake sits at 10,600 feet above seal level and is approximately ten acres in size.  It has a very circular shape and is

                          surrounded on the east, south and west by 500 foot high cliffs.  Directly west is a thin wide waterfalls that streaks the

                          gray granite almost black in lines running from top to bottom of the cliff face.  Directly above the waterfalls is the

                           north face of McHenry’s Peak.  It’s 2,700 feet to the summit from our resting spot at Black Lake.  From this spot the

                           view of Long’s  Peak is blocked by the cliffs directly behind us but to the south Chief’s Head, Pagoda and parts of

                           the Keyboard of the Winds can be seen.

      ·    At this time I noticed a few clouds between Chief’s Head and McHenry’s Peak.  The temperature was still in the 50’s.  It

                            was a little cold because we were still in the shadow of the 3,000’ high ridgeline that runs from Long’s Peak to Half

                            Mountain.  Everybody felt good and ready for the climb.

       ·    We decided to take the easier east inlet route to the top of the shelf above Black Lake in stead of the steep ledges to the

                             west.  Two days ago, we climbed the west ledges and found the route to be very steep and energy intensive. 

                             The plan was to take it  easy and save our energy for the sections from the coular below Stone Man Pass to the


      ·    It took about 25 minutes to climb the east inlet drainage to the shelf above Black Lake on a very obvious trail.  Now 7:45AM

                             and we are continuing south on a climbers trail heading toward Pagoda.  Eugene and Dan were a little ahead of

                             Eric and I.  Eric decided we were going south too far and thought we should turn west and head straight for Stone

                             Man Pass.  I agreed and we started bushwacking west toward McHenry’s.

      ·    Eugene, Dan, Eric and I all took slightly different routes as we tried to find a trail crossing this area.  We could find no trail –

                             only animal paths that lead into thick brush.  This shelf is huge - at least one mile long, a half mile wide and

                              inclines around 800 feet to the coular below Stone Man Pass.  The real problem is that there are thick ribbons of

                              stunted pines that block your route.  These short trees are knee to chest high and you simply have to climb through

                              them.  The limbs hook into your pack and catch on your clothes - it’s very tiresome.  On second thought I

                              believe the steep ledges west of Black Lake are a better approach.

      ·    After climbing out of the drainage of Frozen Lake and as we progressed closer to the coular below Stone Man’s Pass we

                              could see that the snow in the coular looked very steep.  We also discovered that there was only one manageable

                              approach to the base of this coular.  We had to cross quite a lot of soft wet snow then scale rock ledges and

                              finally cross a combination of snow and rough broken rock.  Eventually we assembled at a point near the base of

                              the coular where a snow tongue had to be crossed.

      ·    We are now looking at what I considered 60 degree snow.  It was pretty intimidating and I thought dangerous.  Our launch

                             spot was around two hundred feet above the base of this snow tongue or chute.  If you started to slide and couldn’t

                             stop you would be seriously hurt when you hit the rocks below.  Eugene, who had done several glacier climbs, led

                             the way.  He showed us how to plant our ice axes into the snow to provide support while we traversed this steep

                             snow tongue.  We initially went straight up with Eugene kicking footsteps into the snow, then moved upward at 45

                             degrees and finally horizontally across the snow.  We traversed around one hundred feet and found ourselves in a

                             chute about five feet wide against the right side of the coular.  This chute ran upward the entire length of the coular

                             and was almost like a tunnel with rock as high as you could see on one side and snow about as high as the chute

                             was wide on the other. 

      ·    Our course was very steep and full of loose talus.  Eugene told us we should stay together as we climbed to avoid knocking

                             rock down onto each other.  We managed to climb to Stone Man Pass in approximately 20 minutes.  This chute

                             was mercifully short.  It was muddy, steep and full of loose junk.

      ·    We crested Stone Man Pass at 12,500’ and were treated to a very impressive 360 degree view.  It was 11:45AM and took

                             four hours to cross the shelf and climb 1,900 feet to the pass.  The clouds noted earlier in the day had burned off

                             and the sky east and north was clear and blue.  To the south a blocky mountain (I think Mount Alice) dominated the

                             view.  Chief’s Head and Pagoda were visible against the massive west face of Long’s Peak.  We could see very

                             dark clouds approaching from beyond Mt Alice to the south.  We dropped our packs and took a twenty-minute

                             break.  It was almost cold and definitely windy in this location and it helped to hide behind a rock to keep out of the


      ·    McHenry’s Peak from Stone Man’s Pass literally appears to be a mass of broken rock.  Looking northwest toward the top of

                             McHenry’s was a bit imposing.  It’s 750 feet to the summit over this very broken tan colored rock that obviously

                             became steeper as you moved higher. 

      ·    We angled upward northwest on this rough rock toward the false summit following what appeared to be a trail with a few

                             cairns.  After climbing around 400’ we crawled out onto the ridgeline that separates McHenry’s from the cirque

                             below.  What a view, this was wild, we are looking north down over a thousand feet to the shelf below and another

                             thousand feet farther down to Black Lake.  To the west Arrowhead and the shear cliff that forms the connecting

                             ridge to McHenry’s were awesome.

      ·    We took a short break here and tried to figure out where to go from this ridgeline.  It was literally straight up if we continued

                             from this location so we dropped fifty feet and skirted left or west to a notch in a buttress or steep ridgeline coming

                             down from the summit.  After we passed through the notch we could see the summit.  My guess was that it was a

                             steep 250 feet and the last 50 feet looked vertical.  I hoped we would be able to see an easier route as we

                             continued.  We climbed to within 100 feet of the summit and the gray clouds from beyond Mt Alice had finally

                             moved in on us.  It was not raining nor was there lightening.  I did not like the look of the weather but considering we

                             were almost on top I did not want to stop.  We climbed quickly and were able to find good holds because of the

                             mass of broken rock.  It’ s almost literally a vertical climb near the top.

      ·    We reached the summit at 1:45PM.  It took almost two hours to climb 825 feet from Stone Man’s Pass to 13,326 feet and the

                             top of McHenry’s Peak.  It was misting when we topped out but did not continue long.  Great views in all directions

                             and in particular the view down to Black Lake.  Took some summit photos, found the register, signed in, took a ten

                             minute break and basically started down-climbing.  On top for only twenty-minutes because the weather just did not

                             look very good.

      ·    The prospect of returning to Stone Man Pass over all that broken rock was not pleasant.  About half-way back to the pass the

                             bottom of my feet were starting to react to the pounding.  We returned to the pass just after 2:30PM and took

                             another10 minute plus break.

      ·    Eugene dropped down the chute first and said that we should wait 5 minutes between each other’s descent to avoid

                             knocking debris down onto the person below.  Dan left next and Eric and I left together staying on each other’s

                             heels.  We re-crossed the snow tongue and took a break in the rocks below.  Eugene felt pretty good still so he

                             took off to return across the shelf above Black Lake.  Before long Eugene was out of sight. 

      ·    Dan, Eric and I were not so energetic and eventually decided to take the steeper but much shorter route back to Black Lake

                             by way of the west side slabs.  We angled left toward Arrowhead and eventually crossed an area of thick grass

                             adjacent to a stream.  At this time it started to hail.  We took another break until the hail stopped and filled our

                             water bottles.  After climbing a little onto huge sheets of granite we descended very steeply back to Black Lake. 

                             Luckily, Eugene was just returning via the east inlet route as we made it back to Black Lake’s outflow.  It was now

                             5:30PM and we took another break for 15 minutes. 

      ·    Dan left first because he had to hike 5 miles to the Glacier Gorge parking lot to return to camp in Glacier Basin.  Eugene,

                             Eric and I only had to hike 2 miles to the backcountry camping site in the gorge.  We hiked to the backcountry site,

                             set up camp and had a small meal.  We were all unbelievably tired and turned in at 7:00PM.  Tired but a great day. 

                             Slept like a rock till 4:00AM




The end.



                                                                                                                 Photo Gallery Sixteen

                                                                                     (Mills Lake, Glacier Gorge, Black Lake, McHenry's Peak)