OverviewSituated along the Continental Divide between McHenrys Peak to the south and Taylor Peak to the north, Powell Peak, the 14th highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park, receives far fewer visits than its two immediate neighbors. On the one hand, the only easy route to the summit is rather long. On the other hand, one does not see Powell Peak from the floor of Glacier Gorge, while from Taylor Peak, Powell does not stand out to the point that a climber's heart aches until (s)he has set foot on it. In fact, Powell Peak was sufficiently neglected to be officially named only in 1961--after the nearby Lake Powell. However, when seen from Solitude Basin and the surrounding Arrowhead and Thatchtop, the imposing east face of this peak will stir more than one soul. There are several rewarding routes to the summit. Here is a brief, non-exhaustive overview.
- The west slopes provide the easiest access to Powell Peak. They can be reached from Andrews Pass, which in turn can be reached from either Flattop Mountain or by climbing Andrews Glacier.
- The Northeast Ridge, which connects Thatchtop to Powell, provides a sustained Class 4 climb on excellent granite.
- From the east, Powell Peak can be climbed from McHenrys Notch. The notch can be reached climbing down from McHenrys Peak (Class 4), or by ascending the Notch Couloir. The north-facing couloir holds snow through the year. Ascent to the Notch from the south (west side of the divide) looks like a very unattractive slog up unstable rubble, at least in Summer. The approach from the west is also very long.
- More snow/ice routes can be found on the north face, which is approached from Loch Vale.
- There are several technical routes on the east face, among which is the Snark (III 5.6 according to Gillett). The approach is from Solitude Lake.
- It should be possible to climb up the rubble-filled gully that reaches Powell Peak's summit from the south. This looks less repulsive than the ascent to McHenrys Notch from the same side, but not by much.
Getting ThereAccess to Powell Peak is from either the Glacier Gorge trailhead or the Bear Lake trailhead, both in Rocky Mountain National Park. From Estes Park, drive to the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park. Turn left soon after the entrance gates in the direction of Bear Lake. Limited parking is available along Bear Lake Road. As an alternative, you can park at the shuttle bus terminal and board the bus for Bear Lake. Glacier Gorge TH is the second stop. Bus schedules are posted here. If you haven't been in the area for a while, you may want to know that as part of the Bear Lake Road Reconstruction Project, the Glacier Gorge trailhead has been moved back by 0.3 mi, thus lengthening the round-trip to Powell Peak by 0.6 mi.
Red TapeNo permits are required for day hikes and climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is no parking fee and the shuttle is free. The entrance pass to the park is $20 per car and is valid for 7 days. The fee, however, is not collected before 6:30 AM. All park visitors should follow the Leave No Trace policy.
When To ClimbMost people climb Powell Peak during the Summer months. The snow/ice routes on the north face should be at their best at the beginning of the summer. During the summer months, an early start is strongly advised to minimize the danger of lightning. (More people are killed in the U.S. each year by lightning than by hurricanes.) An ascent during the winter would be substantially more challenging than one during the summer: One should expect ice, strong winds, sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures, and frequent storms. Spring and Fall present the most variability. Summer conditions may prevail until October, or may be already gone by late August.
CampingThere are several camping sites within the park. Details on locations, facilities, reservations, and fees can be found at the camping page of RMNP. Bivy information can also be found on the park's site.
Mountain ConditionsThe park's contact information page lists useful numbers. Two webcams, one pointed at Longs Peak and the other at a stretch of the Continental Divide, allow one to get an idea of the conditions not far from Powell Peak. Detailed forecasts are provided by NOAA.
Never forget that the weather may change very rapidly in the high country. The temperature may drop by 50°F or more in a couple of hours. Those who have been caught out by such sudden changes without proper equipment and preparation have not always survived.