The Triple Crown
McHenrys Peak, 13327'
Chiefs Head Peak, 13579'
Mount Alice, 13310'
TH: Glacier Gorge, ~9200'
approx 18mi/6500'/14hr 15min
Primary photo by smudge
Since last winter, this is the hike I had most wanted to do this year. I didn't know whether I would be in adequate shape until a couple weeks ago. I was hoping that my "Pagoda Plus" adventure July 14th was at least as strenuous as the "Triple Crown".
Knowing I would need a good weather day, I decided to maximize chances of success with a headlamp start. So, off I went at 3:45am up the Glacier Gorge Trail. My pack felt heavier than usual, since I was carrying 6 liters and an axe. On the way to Black Lake I passed a couple groups heading for the Spearhead. One group planned to hike it, another to do the 7-pitch 5.9 Syke's Sickle, the prominent dihedral that goes right up the northern spine!
Route-finding in the dark was not difficult, though I briefly lost the trail once or twice. I reached Black Lake at 5:30am, where I met a group heading for McHenrys. They were heading up the ledges across the lake to cut down the distance to Stone Man Pass, and I decided to copy that approach. This required a little bushwhacking around the lake. My route up the ledges was reasonable, with some class 3-4; I didn't try too hard to find the easiest route.
After a lot of boulder-hopping, I reached the gully below Stone Man Pass. I started up to the left of the snow, then pulled out my axe to traverse ~20ft of snow to the right side. The other group didn't have axes but had no problem crossing in sneakers. After this brief snow crossing, I walked up the right side of the gully on dry ground to the pass at 7:15am. Very different conditions from those reported 2 weeks ago!
From Stone Man Pass, the route requires traversing west over a rock rib then up a gully to the summit. Initially I passed below the rib, but lingering hard snow on this protected gully would require crampons. So, after a failed attempt to work up the side, I backtracked. The correct route stays closer to the ridge before cutting below a tower to gain the gully. Once in the gully, I headed up consistent class 3-4 rock, topping out at 8:15am. On the descent I found a cairned route, more class 2-3.
Back at the pass, I left some gear and a liter and started the traverse to Chiefs Head. Without dropping much elevation, I reached the gully between the last couple buttresses and headed left. At about 12900', I was above the difficulties on gentle slopes. I traversed up and left, finding a suitable place to leave my pack around 13000' and continued up. The route is class 2, and I found a lone hiker on Chiefs Head at 10:20am. Skies were perfect, and I was happy, knowing I would get the third peak.
I retrieved my pack and walked the very gentle green towards Mt Alice. The climb is about 800' on steep but solid class 2 terrain. The two summits are close together, and I couldn't tell which was higher. To the south lay another trio of 13ers I hope to visit someday. It was now 12:05pm.
I downclimbed, grabbed my pack again, and started the long traverse back to Stone Man Pass. The sun and long day were now catching up to me, and my pace slowed. Regained 400' up the shoulder of Chiefs Head. Descending the gully, I dropped 100' more than on the way in, missing a traverse somewhere. Despite a little extra gain, this did no harm, since the higher terrain is a little more complicated. Returned to the pass at 2:30pm.
Snow in the gully was now very soft, and I didn't bother to use the axe for the mini-snow crossing. I decided to skip the ledges above Black Lake in favor of a more gradual descent under Spearhead, which became simple when I found the cairns leading through the maze of granite and willows.
The hike out took a long time, and I enjoyed seeing the many hikers on the trails. They broke up the monotony of the march out. Reached the trailhead at 6pm. A great walk in the Park!
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