The Grand Circuit
The idea for this hike began on during an easy day hike with wlloyd, Andy, Nelson, and Brenta. Weather had shortened our hike, so we chatted about future climbs; one that was brought up was Jim Disney’s Glacier Gorge Traverse
. Starting from Bear Lake up to Mt Lady Washington, Storm and Longs, then following the ridgeline all the way to Flattop. 11 peaks along some of the most scenic ridgeline high above Glacier Gorge. Thanks to a gentleman named Bob Burd I’ve become much more intrigued by such long death marches. As I researched Jim’s route I discovered that he went from South to North, rapping down the W side of Pagoda. I spent much time debating if I could get past Pagoda without doing any class 5. With my uncertainty I decided to head from North to South, so as to at least get the bulk of the traverse in.
Traversing the Skyline
340a My alarm sounds and its time to roll myself out of bed and head to Rocky Mt NP. Six and a half miles of beautiful Continental Divide ridgeline high above Glacier Gorge await. I had spent the night before contemplating how far I could really make it, whether or not Longs Peak was a feasible goal. Finding no beta suggesting less than C5 on Pagoda’s West side, I opted to stop at Chiefs Head. It’s still dark out and way too early to be driving anywhere.
530a I have reached the Bear Lake trailhead where my journey will begin, just not quite yet. Being only 30min until sunrise I think I’ll take a nap and forgo using the headlamp.
615a The sun is up
and so am I. It’s a cool morning(34F) with crystal clear skies. I leave Bear Lake headed for Flattop, my first stop on the day. The hike up goes by quickly, except for the 200 person church group I have to pass. 1.5h later I’m standing atop the open “summit” of Flattop. A flat expanse of tundra with no real peak, makes me wonder how it became a labeled summit(though very aptly named).
810a Hallett Peak(#2) is a short class 1 jaunt away from Flattop. The use trail leads straight to the summit, with nice views
of the route to come. Longs Peak looks so far away, and while I know that I won’t get that far, it still has an effect. I take off down the South slope of Hallett toward the walled off summit of Otis Peak.
840a After a short scramble I’m atop Otis Peak(#3). Sheer walls boarder the summit on the North and South, while the East and West consist of gentle rolling tundra. The hike over to Taylor Peak is much longer and much less interesting. Taylor’s N slope
is simple class 1, and unfortunately the views are obscured most of the way.
950a Once reaching the summit of Taylor Peak(#4) the views are spectacular. The ridge over to Powell Peak
is a sheer wall on the NE side and gentle tundra on the SW. The end of my route is obscured, but the challenging class 3-4 on Powell and McHenrys is just peaking around the corner. This also marks the half way point of my traverse, though the fun has not yet started. From Taylor’s summit it is best to head SW to avoid several cliffs along the ridge.
1055a I’ve continued my 1 peak/hour pace finally summitting Powell Peak(#5). While the route up the NW ridge(my route) was easy class 2, the NE ridge
from Thatchtop looks like beautiful class 3-4. I will definitely return to climb this route. After leaving Hallett Peak and the church group the ridgeline has been peaceful, 1000s of feet above the gorge below, no one in site. Now the fun begins, route finding and scrambling galore. From the summit of Powell Peak I dropped down the SE gulley of Powell until an obvious grassy ledge
is reached at 12900ft. From here, I traversed around to McHenrys Notch. I accidentally lost some elevation, which should not be done enroute to the Notch. The route up McHenry is much more straightforward. Ascend the first chute which consists of solid class 3-4 slab(the most enjoyable part of the day). I mad great time up the very solid rock, very happy to be scrambling. I climbed until I peaked out on the ridge crest, but quickly realized I needed to drop 20ft back to the ledge that would put me on McHenrys. I played along the ridgeline for a bit, mixed class 4-5, ultimately dropping back to the class 2-3 ledge.
Class 4 Slab McHenrys from Powell
1155a I finally reached the summit of McHenrys Peak(#6), a beautiful climb with excellent views. I met a nice couple from Boulder, the first people I’d seen since 8a. The view down into Glacier Gorge is spectacular. There are nice views of Chiefs Head, Pagoda, Meeker, and Longs Peak. With only Chiefs Head to go I am feeling good and moving very quickly. I descended a couple hundred feet down the gulley on the South side of the peak, then jumped onto the ridge heading directly to Stone Man Pass. The ridge consists of nice class 3 with a few class 4 moves that can be bypassed. Not the easiest route, but definitely a lot of fun. From Stone Man Pass I began the long traverse
along the 12400ft contour over to the large rubble gulley leading up to the main ridge of Chiefs Head. The chute consists of boulders of varying sizes and isn’t as pleasant as the climbing on McHenrys Peak. Luckily the “crap” chute was short, from there the ridge turned to easy class 2 toward Chiefs Head. The final section of ridge narrows down to 5-6ft wide, but is still only class 2.
130p Chiefs Head, Peak #7,
my climbing for the day is done. A wonderful hike/climb for sure. As I rest atop Chiefs Head I stared at the West side of Pagoda Peak
, trying to decipher any possible class 4 route through the cliffs, slabs, and gendarmes. Pagoda is an impressive peak, finally I gave up on the idea of continuing along the ridgeline, heading back down the NW ridge of Chiefs Head back to Stone Man Pass. I contemplated cutting down the ridge early into Glacier Gorge before Stone Man. After much observation I decided that there appeared to be a deep notch along the ledge that cut into the Gorge early. From Stone Man Pass I maintained a high line through the upper end of basin just North of Frozen Lake. Stay South of the willows and look for the cairns, when I found these I was able to move very quickly.
315p The hike down Glacier Gorge is always a mellow and enjoyable one. From the North end of Mills Lake the view back toward Pagoda and Chiefs Head is always a sight. I strolled downhill taking the shortcut between the Glacier Knobs back to the Bear Lake trailhead.
Free at Last!
430p 10h and 15min after bolting for Flattop this morning I'm back at the trailhead after a wonderful hike/climb along the Continental Divide. The first weekend of good weather since I moved out to Colorado; no rain, no clouds, no lightning. I highly recommend this hike to anyone capable of long miles with some semi-technical terrain. If you want a shorter version do the Thatchtop->Powell->McHenrys->Stone Man Pass traverse. Next, make an attempt at the full Glacier Gorge/Longs Peak circuit. This would add Pagoda, Longs Peak, Storm Peak, and Mt Lady Washington to the previous hike. The only obstacle, how the hell do I get past Pagoda’s West side which appears to be only class 5?