Light was just beginning to make
the eastern horizon visible by the time I got to the Glacier Gorge
trailhead. I had my pack full of supplies for a very long day. This
time I would be heading up towards Black Lake to summit McHenrys
Peak. This is a true beast of a mountain. It is argued by some to
be the most difficult non-technical peak in the National Park. It
rises to a height of 13,327 ft, towering above Black Lake (over
2,700 feet below) and the rest of Glacier Gorge.
The trek up to Black Lake was uneventful,
except for the crossing of Icy Brook and some small waterfalls.
Mills and Jewel Lake were also nice, especially having them all
to yourself in the dawn hours....a rare thing if you have ever visited
this area around noon. Once passed the lakes, I was surprised to
see all of the work being done by the park service to maintain the
trail...new log "steps"More filler stones....more soil
for the base of the trail...etc. It was nice to see and made the
trail very comfortable. In less than two hours I was standing at
Black Lake with McHenrys Peak staring down on top of me.
Seeing McHenrys from Black Lake,
and knowing you have to climb to the top of that thing, is a very
intimidating experience. I had a Clif Bar (Peanut Butter Chocolate
Chip...mmmmmm), sucked down some water, and started across the eastern
shore to climb to the top of the shelf just to the North of the
lake. This takes you to a shelf at the base of the Arrowhead which
leads you to the gully to Stone Man Pass.
Once I was on the top of the shelf,
I could clearly see the route ahead, with Stone Man Pass still about
a mile away.....a lot of climbing to do! I took my time making my
way across what resembles the boulderfield on Longs, and in about
thirty minutes I was standing at the base of the gully.
This gully isn't very long, but is
steep, and full of an annoying scree/tallus mix. I picked my way
up the gully trying not to start a rock slide and soon made it to
the crest of the pass. On the right side of the gully, there are
steep cliffs and overhanging rocks that I caught myself just staring
at...something about them. Once at the pass, I turned to the Northwest
and began trying to find my way along the nonexistent "path."
This section was actually, by far, the most fun I have ever had
while climbing a mountain. It is rugged, steep and high. It's the
ultimate playground for anyone who likes peakbagging. You can follow
the "trail" or you can make up your own, to make it as
easy or a difficult as you wish (at least 3rd class scrambling).
Once you find your way to the gully
that leads to the summit, it is a quick push to the top. This is
an amazing summit with very unique views of surrounding peaks. The
view down to Black Lake is breathtaking.....it's a higher drop than
it is from Longs to Chasm Lake...and you feel like if you got a
running start and leaped off the summit, you could land in the middle
of the lake! (please dont try that, you will die).
I stayed on the summit for about
20 minutes, looking through the summit log (lebowski), and soaking
in the view. On the way back down I followed the same route until
I got to the base of Stone Man Pass. From there, I turned southeast
and made a side trip to Frozen Lake. This is an amazing lake surrounded
by Chiefs Head Peak and the Spearhead. Definitely worth the trip
if you have the energy.
The rest of the way to Black Lake
consisted of winding through brush and hopping many small streams.
There is still a lot of water flowing from the snow melt at the
head of Glacier Gorge...which is a very good sign. But the showers,
that have been a daily occurrence, decided to let me have the entire
day storm free. This was a relief, not having to worry about the
I have put McHenrys Peak on the same
level as Mount Alice in my opinion of the best mountains in Rocky
Mountain National Park. It is more fun than you could possibly imagine,
it is one of the most beautiful mountains in Colorado, and getting
to the summit is an experience I will always remember. It gave me
an opportunity to push my comfort levels farther then I ever have.
I never felt excessively "exposed" but got to challenge
my climbing and route finding skills. A perfect combination (for
me anyway). I will definitely return to this mountain...hopefully
sooner than later.
Round Trip: 13.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,087 feet
McHenrys Peak Info.