The Spearhead in Upper Glacier Gorge
One way mileage: approximately 5.5 miles
Elevation gain: about 3340 feet
The Spearhead is phenomenal peak for technical climbers and scramblers alike. The NE ramp route is technically more difficult than the NW slopes, but well within Class 4 scrambling. It is also difficult to get off route since most of it is an obvious ramp system with sheer cliffs both directions. There is one 30 foot Class 4 face climb, but again, difficult to miss. This route ends with as much dizzying exposure that you could dream about, and an immensely satisfying summit perch.
Follow the trail to Black Lake. Travel on the east side of the lake to where the trail ascends sharply east towards Longs Peak. This will place you on the upper bench of Glacier Gorge. The Spearhead is the obvious pyramid of granite protruding into the basin from the south. Pick your route toward the Spearhead by following any of the cairned paths. There is a lot of krummholtz here to negotiate. Continue moving directly up toward The Spearhead. Staying high is better than heading toward Green Lake. Once you are within touching distance of the Spearhead, travel SE (left) along the base.
The NE Ramps. Photo taken from below the trough on Longs Peak.
1. This is the base of the obvious ramp on Spearhead's NE side.
1. Looking down the ramp where it narrows down considerably.
1. You will soon come to the obvious ramp that looks like it was placed there just for climber access. Negotiate your way up this ramp, quickly gaining elevation. Watch Glacier Gorge drop below you, while hugging the sheer cliff that rises above your ride side.
2. After 150 feet or so the cliff face to your right will give way to some easy broken terrain. The ramp continues a little farther, but you can see that it quickly peters out. Switchback to your right, scrambling up the broken rock. This will bring you to a small landing.
5. This is the narrow upper ramp directly below the summit block. An 800 foot abyss to the right. Whee!
5. Peering back down the final section of the upper ramp. Although it seems as though the ramp disappears, it just drops steeply.
3. Look sharp to your left to see the 30 foot Class 4 climb. If you go too far you will end up looking over a cliff. There is really only direction you can continue. Pick your route up. There are several ways to climb this section. Sorry no photos here. I was concentrating too much on my climb!
4. The more difficult rock climbing is only about 30 feet, but you will continue to scramble for a ways further, moving north (right) as you get closer to the towering cliffs above you. This will bring you to a much larger landing than the one below. The summit ridge and summit is visible from here, although it is not obvious which spire is the highest. Follow the landing north until you are standing directly above the north face.
6. The final approach to the summit ridge, just past the final portion of the NE ramp.
7. This is the view toward Chief's Head (lost in the snow), just before the last catwalk to the summit block.
5. Here the landing narrows back down to a ramp, takes a 90 degree turn to the west (left) and angles sharply again. You are directly below the summit block while you traverse this final ramp. While there is no real danger of falling here, the exposure is dizzying. There is an unbroken fall of hundreds of feet down to the base.
6. When you reach the end of this ramp (marked by a large rock tower), your route again turns sharply to the south (left). The teetering, overhanging summit block is obvious from this point. Scramble up large boulders to the west ridge, just south of the summit. A direct ascent is not possible.
7. Too scared to try to set-up the self timer for a summit victory photo, I showed the final portion of the catwalk instead. December 23, 2010.
7. Upon reaching the summit ridge you will find a rock window that opens up to the void on the east side with Green Lake far below. Climb up the left boulder forming this window to the summit catwalk. This can be disconcerting due to the enormous abyss that is pulling you from all sides. This is a very dangerous perch if it is windy. Stand (or crawl) the 10-15 feet to the final, overhanging summit boulder. Dangling your legs over the edge is purely optional.
Ptarmigan sheltering from the wind. Upper Glacier Gorge, RMNP. November, 2010.
Rocky Mountain National Park