McHenry's Peak as seen from the Black Lake Trail in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Why more people don't climb this mountain is beyond me! McHenrys Peak is an AMAZING mountain. It makes up part of the Continental Divide deep in Glacier Gorge within Rocky Mountain National Park. This is rumored to be the hardest non-technical climb in the national park. I found it to be harder than the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak (quite a bit), but I don't think it is as hard of a climb as Mt. Alice or Chiefs Head Peak (simply because of their long approach). The easiest, and most often used, route is via Stone Man Pass.
Round Trip: 14 miles
Elevation Gain : 4,207 feet
O.k. now for the fun part “getting there.” There is some serious red tape to overcome if you want to see stuff like this. Don’t worry, for it is all very much worth it and really isn’t too bad, especially for a day visit.
Currently as of July 25th,2003 the Bear Lake Road that delivers you to Glacier Gorge is closed 4 miles prior to the trailhead for major construction. This construction will be ongoing for the entire summer and into the early months of fall. There is absolutely no way you can drive to this TH, it is gated off at night as well. In response to this obstacle, a very reliable bus shuttle service is available. The first bus leaves at 5:00 a.m. daily and on the half hour afterwards, it is free. I took the 5:00 bus and it left at 5:02 and got me to the TH in about 10 minutes. There were maybe 10 of us on that bus on a Thursday. When I arrived back at the bus stop at 2:30 p.m. I was concerned that I might have to wait another half hour to get a ride for there was more people waiting that would fit on a single bus. No need to worry for 3 consecutive buses showed up! They really have the bus shuttle service down pat- don’t expect much more than minimal delays.
If you drive through the open gates before 6:30 a.m. you don’t have to pay the $15.00 park entrance fee!! What a deal.
If you have trouble reading a map and can’t find Estes Park then call 970-586-1206 for directions to RMNP headquarters. I actually recommend calling to get the precise directions to the shuttle parking lot, it might save you some time. The man that answers is very friendly and you might actually have to cut him off for his directions are so detailed.
The following is a recap for getting to the shuttle parking lot from the entrance (fee station) to the park.
The Glacier Gorge TH is at 9,240-ft and provides access to Glacier Gorge, Lock Vale Trail and the North Longs Peak Trail. From the park headquarters go 1.2 miles to Beaver Meadows entrance station, which is a tourist information stop. Continue only .02 mile to the Bear Lake Road and turn left. Follow the Bear Lake Road as it pasts the beautiful, vast Moraine Park area and continue about 3 miles to the shuttle parking area, it is very well signed. There is a huge parking area here but don’t be fooled, it will be full when you return. Arrive early and don’t even think about car camping.
The only permit required is a pass to get into the National Park. You can buy a week pass for $20, or an annual pass for $35. If you plan on camping in Glacier Gorge, you will need to contact the Backcountry Office at 970-586-1242. Fees for camping vary, depending on the season, and the number in your party. A parking pass will only be required when parking overnight. A pass is included in the price of you backcountry camping permit.
This mountain is most often climbed between June and September. In fact, since June of 2002 (according to the summit register) only 38 people had summited this mountain before myself (on 8/19/03), and none from October to early June.
If you wish to climb this mountain early in the season, you will need an ice axe and crapons, not only for Stone Man Pass, but for the gully on the back side of the Mountain that leads to the summit. Snow stays in these two places into July.
Camping is allowed in the Glacier Gorge area.. There are a few campsites, some closer to McHenrys than others. Call 970-586-1242 to make reservations. Fees will vary depending on season and the number in your party. These will ALL be STOVES ONLY campsites.
To get the most accurate conditions on this mountain, it would be best to call Rocky Mountain National Park directly. 970-586-1206.
Basically, the only things you will need to check on before attempting to summit McHenrys Peak, would be the weather for the day, and the conditions of the snowfields at Stone Man Pass, and the back gully to the summit.
This is a long, strenuous day hike, so please use your basic knowledge of backpacking/mountaineering. Bring plenty of water, food, and clothing etc......
The first phase of the Bear Lake Road reconstruction project is complete!!
The road is now open and they did an incredible job! There are plans for more construction on the lower elevations of Bear Lake Road during the summer of 2006, another two year project.
Source: High Country Names by Louisa Ward Arps and Elinor Eppich Kingery
B.F. McHenry, who taught higher mathematics and science at Union Christian College, Merom, Indiana, spent three summers in the Estes Park region in the early 1890's, camping one summer in Wild Basin with some boys under his charge. Abner Sprague named the mountain after him, calling him a "nice old man."
On September 19, 1898, Professor McHenry wrote a description of his attempt to climb McHenrys Peak to George H. Knifton, president of the Rocky Mountain Club. The letter tells of a conditioning outing of twenty days:
"[We went] up Windy Gulch, over that magnificent Rocky Mountain walk to Specimen Mountain; thence down the worst of mountain trails to a branch of the Grand River which was full of trout easy to catch; thence to Grand Lake; thence to Flat Top Mountain, and down over Bierstadt....
Feeling now prepared for any adventure, we, J. B. Maple, Howard McHenry, my son, and self set out with determination to go to and climb the mountain they have dishonored by my name. We soon found out that following a trail is an easy task compared with the work of going where never a trail was cut. To get our donkey into the great gorge west of Long's Peak or into any of the wonderful gorges leading to it; or to find a place for camping somewhere south of Flat Top; or coming in by the south of Grand View Hotel and taking advantage of their 7 miles of new trail, and so finding a camping place within less than a half day's walk (and climb) of the unexplored region, all these were undertakings we submitted to ourselves and did our best to achieve. We failed to accomplish what we set out to do, but we did not fail. We were all the while in country grand beyond description. Whoever opens up to students of nature and lovers of the grand and beautiful that "heart of the Rocky Mountains" a little south of west of Longs Peak will be a benefactor not only to that large class of the best of mankind, but through them to the race. I trust your climb will succeed in doing what we have failed to do; and further, I trust that the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity of that region will so pervade the hearts of those you send that they will not rest till they make a way by which others can go and enjoy the best the Rocky Mountains afford."