"This climb reminds me of why I started climbing in the first place. It is fundamental. It is magnificent. The climb takes place on such solid rock that you feel like you are touching the soul of the earth. Touch it. Climb it!"
-Gerry Roach from his RMNP Guide
Although Gerry often includes poetic musings in his guidebooks, this description seemed a bit more romantic than usual. When somebody with so much climbing experience talks so highly of a route it has to be a classic. In fact Gerry is not the only person who considers this to be a quality route. The north ridge of the Spearhead is considered by many to be the best climb of its grade in Rocky Mountain National Park and possibly in the country. The route follows a narrow face up a sweep of granite as it steepens into the sky. The climbing is clean and consistent with an easier section in the middle. This all combines to make a great moderate alpine experience. Also, the Spearhead sits much lower than its stately neighbors and seems to be surrounded by giants. Longs, Pagoda, Chief's Head and McHenrys circle around to form walls of rock all around and a better view is hard to find in RMNP.
Although it's possible to access Spearhead from Bear Lake, the best way is to approach from the Glacier Gorge trailhead. Unless you're hiking in in the wee hours of morning, it's very common (in the summer) to find all the parking spots full. If there isn't any open parking, park in the shuttle lot a few miles down the road and take the free shuttle to the trailhead. Head up the initial trail past the countless tourists and follow signs for Black Lake. The trail is beautifully maintained and well marked. From Black Lake, admire the great views of the peaks all around and follow the well traveled climber's trail around the left side of the lake and up a broad shelf (impossible to miss). This ramp leads the way to the upper shelf below Spearhead. From here, there are numerous cairned paths that all lead the way to the base of the rock. The north ridge is obvious from here and there are several bivy spots immediatley below the route. If you bivy, make sure to hang or protect your pack/gear that you leave at the base unless you want it eaten by marmots while climbing. Pick your own cairned trail to the base of the route. The hike is about 6 miles from the TH to the base of the route. There are a few streams on the upper bench that are good spots to get water.
Climber's path from Black Lake.
McHenry's looms over Black Lake. The climber's path heads around the left side of the lake.
Heading up the ramp after Black Lake.
Nice bivy spots 5 minutes from the start of the route.
Route overview. Credit: brenta
There are several ways to do this route. The middle of the face is wide enough to provide multiple lines that are about the same difficulty. Here is a basic route overview...
Upper route overview.
The route can be done in 6-10 pitches depending on rope lenghth and possible simul-climbing the middle pitches. This description is with a 60M rope.
P1 (5.5): Starts up runout slabs similar to Flatirons (5.0-5.2). Ends with a steep chimney (5.5) and comfortable belay ledge.
Looking up P1.
Coming up the 5.5 chimney at the end of P1.
P2 (5.6): Steep ledgey climbing over a crack and belay at the base of a dihedral system.
P3 (5.0-5.2): Over the dihedral (5.0-5.2) and then over an easier chimney to easier terrain (4th class). Belay on right-facing cracks at the top of the dihedral.
Initial chimney of P3.
P4 (4th class): Run it out up easy slabs to belay when you run out of rope.
Running out the easy P4.
P5 (5.0-5.2): Cool finger crack up and belay when out of rope. This takes nuts very well.
Coming up P5.
P6 (5.4): Continue up steepening slabs to belay below "piano death block". Note: the "piano death block" is supposedly barely attached to the wall. It is also right above the belay. Use extreme care when passing it so not to kill your belayer.
Coming up P6.
P7-8 (5.7, 5.6+): Head up to the death block and make a friction traverse right around the it and up a steep dihedral to belay at a comfy ledge (5.7). The final pitch traverses left up another dihedral right on the edge of the face. The pitch ends with a short but awkward slot that deposits you on scrambling terrain below the summit block. The final moves take small cams well and feels harder than the rating but is over very quickly.
5.7 variaiton around the "piano death block".
From the top of the roped climbing it is a simple class 3 scramble up to the summit block. The highest point is a dramatic block that overhangs the east face and wobbles slightly when walked on.
Scrambling up to the summit block.
Long way down.
The best way to get back to the bivy sites is to descend the Northwest Slopes route. It is easy to follow but steep and loose so it's a good idea to keep the helmet on until down.
Northwest Route. Credit: brenta
Gear needed could vary dramatically depending on your comfort level. Here is a suggested list assuming you want full climbing gear and you can trim it down to fit your needs.
Gear:Full rack - Set of stoppers, set of cams (C4s 0.4-3 with doubles of 0.5-1), TCUs 1-4, 60-70M climbing rope (pitches can be combined with a longer rope), 12 double-length runners to reduce rope drag.
I suggest a larger number of cams than usual to a climb like this. Although on most pitches you will only place a few stoppers, the double cams will come in handy to build anchors on the upper pitches.
Shouldn't need more than this. Emphasis on the long runners.