From: ajs@hpfcdc.HP.COM (Alan Silverstein)
Date: Tue, 2 Aug 88 19:59:20 GMT
Subject: Trip report: McHenrys Peak, 13327'
Sunday, July 31: McHenrys Peak, 13327'
McHenrys is a large and interesting but rather anonymous and hidden peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, just NW of Longs Peak. Despite being "only" a low Thirteener, it is comparable to Longs in climbing difficulty. The round trip distance (14 miles) is a bit shorter, the elevation gain is a little less, but the technical difficulty is much greater. After a round trip with HPite Jim Sheppard that took 13 hours, 23 minutes, half of it in the rain, I felt like I'd been up Longs Peak!
We started at Glacier Gorge Junction, 9240', at 0557 Sunday morning after spending the night in the Park (but that's another story). The sunrise was colorful due to the scattered high stratus clouds -- a sure sign of moisture. We took an unmarked trail which bypasses Alberta Falls and many wiggles in the main route. It ends just before the junction where you turn to Mills Lake.
We reached the lake at 0650 and soon continued on S to Black Lake. Beyond Mills Lake the trail is unimproved and hard to follow in places. It stays always left of the lake and the stream beyond it, crossing several bogs on log bridges. We reached Black Lake, 10600', at 0800, 1360' up and five miles in from the trailhead.
I only visited Black Lake once before, almost eleven years ago. I forgot how small and awesome it is. It's deep in a bowl, surrounded on all sides by sheer glacier-carved cliffs and several waterfalls down slick smooth rock. The Arrowhead looms above to the right (N) and the complex E face of McHenrys beyond to the NW. Unfortunately, there were zillions of mosquitos at the lake and well above it too.
We chose to bushwhack up steeply to the right towards Arrowhead, following traces of a trail through trees and then left across grassy slopes. There's only one reasonable way to get above the cliffs in this direction. It's easy to spot from below and isn't as bad as it looks, though it is exposed and requires scrambling at points. You squirt across some ledges with cliffs above and below you to reach the low end of a huge shelf leading up and W to Stone Man Pass.
The pass is the higher of two gaps in the Continental Divide between Chiefs Head Peak (S) and McHenrys (N), to the right (N) of the Stone Man itself. There was a lot of snow still in the couloir up to the pass. We climbed rock to the left before rejoining a trail higher in the steep, narrow gully. We reached the pass at 1052, 12480' (4:55 and 3240' to this point). We found it to be a fairly wide area to sit and enjoy the view.
There are a number of large peaks further SW and W, so North Park isn't visible. To the S, the wall of Longs Peak's W face is most impressive. The long ridge stretches from Half Mountain past Storm Peak to the Keyhole and the summit. Blue Lake lies below the ridge, but Black, Green, and Frozen lakes are out of sight. We had a great view of the route from the Keyhole, across the Ledges, and up the Trough, though in shadow, and dark under hazy growing clouds anyway. Further right, the Keyboard of the Winds is a most spectacular pinnacled ridge extending up to Pagoda Peak. Mount Meeker appears beyond it.
The rest of the way up McHenrys shows itself as an evil, broken, complex mess. We crossed and traversed NW from the pass without gaining much height, to nearly reach the snowfield on the W side. Here we decided to cut straight up, and soon found many cairns and a wide ledge. It's not as hard as it looks if you are comfortable scrambling on steep but fairly large and firm rock. In fact, it was a lot of fun. However, we should have gone high and followed just below the ridge, as we did on the return.
The route crosses over a ridgelet and onto the west face for the final ascent of ~300'. Here it's amazingly broken and complicated. We did a bit of careful climbing up and right on quite steep rock. It suddenly leveled into a long, broad summit ridge with a boulder as the highest spot -- actually kind of disappointing. Thanks to the first thunder of the day, from a storm perhaps two miles E, we only stayed on top five minutes (!), 1213-1218 (a total of 4100' gained in 6:16).
We found it to be *much* easier downclimbing the ridge to the right of the face we'd ascended. At about 13000' we sat small on a wide ledge in the W face gully and took shelter from pelting hail and rain. For over an hour we ate lunch, chatted, and tried to stay warm and dry as bad weather moved in all around. Periodic lightning continued unabated for several more hours. Some of the bolts were as close as ~0.4 miles. We were surrounded by higher rock, but not tremendously secure.
The trip back to Stone Man Pass at 1430 was uneventful, between cloudbursts. We downclimbed carefully until reaching a couple of short glissades on hard snow which justified the ice axes we carried. Then we mosied E and SE across the wide, wonderful sloping granite shelf above Black Lake, mostly on flat rock, frequently crossed by streams. The Yosemite-like terrain ended at a drop into Frozen Lake, 10560'. It was worth going this way to visit this spectacular, deep, clear lake nestled below the N face of Chiefs Head and the flank of the unbelievable Spearhead.
At one point we heard a sound like a very long roll of thunder, and witnessed a massive rockslide into Blue Lake. It was the biggest I've ever seen. It raised a cloud of white dust a hundred feet high that lasted several minutes.
We left Frozen Lake at 1600 to continue across and down towards an overlook point of Black Lake, then circled E and N to pick up the Green Lake trail W down a broad, square cut to Black Lake again at ~1700. It remained overcast, rainy, and evening-dark, with occasional distant booming. Jim and I slogged back to Mills Lake at 1830 and the trailhead at 1920, losing the trail once.
With the many small rises along the way, I figured we gained about 4300' during our long outing. I was pretty sore, tired, and soggy. Yet, despite the weather, my only regret was not having more time on top of McHenrys. Good thing we started early as we did!
By Alan Silverstein