McHenrys Peak is separated from Powell Peak
by a cleft known as McHenrys Notch. (Not to be confused with the notch on Longs Peak.) The north side of the cleft rises from the basin that feeds Solitude Lake with an angle that approaches 55° towards the top. The deeply inset, 800-foot couloir receives very little direct sunlight and, unlike the corresponding couloir on the south side, usually holds snow year-round.
From the Notch it is possible to continue to either McHenrys Peak
or Powell Peak
. Both summits are worth a visit. Excellent skiers may want to descend the couloir. The first to do so was Jeff Lowe.
The best times to climb McHenrys Notch Couloir are Summer and Fall. Wait until the avalanche danger has subsided for an early Summer ascent. In September you are likely to find ice in the couloir.
It is not easy to preview conditions for this route. The top of the Notch is barely visible from a number of places in Rocky Mountain National Park, including Flattop Mountain
, but the couloir is hidden by the northeast ridge of Powell
. This is not true, of course, if you are on the ridge itself, which, however, is not the easiest place to reach.
Start from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead
and follow the approach to the northwest face of Arrowhead
or the south slopes of Thatchtop
. From Solitude Lake continue toward the head of the hanging valley, until the couloir appears.
The hike up to Shelf
Lakes is one of the gems of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is worth doing all by itself. Don't underestimate the routefinding challenge. Once in the hanging valley, sometimes called "Solitude Basin," you'll do a bit of krummholz navigation and a bit of boulder hopping, till you get to the base of the snowfield below Powell Peak's east face.
Put on crampons once you reach the snowfield at the base of the couloir and head straight up. The couloir is rated AI2 by Gillett and AI3 by Rossiter. It is not very difficult and the setting is superb.
Crampons, ice axe(s), and helmet. In late Summer and Fall the couloir is icy; it may be a good idea to rope up.
The route is described in Gillett, Rossiter, and Foster's guidebooks.