An Island Among Giants: The Spearhead

Way back in 2011 I made my first trip into Glacier Gorge and like most folks who exit their vehicles at the trailhead, I was there to see something called Alberta Falls. Don’t get me wrong, Alberta Falls is great. Heck, I even took my family there later that summer, but let’s be serious now. Others may even go as far as the Loch or Mills Lake, also pretty spectacular in their own right. But for those willing to make the 5 mile trek deep into the heart of Glacier Gorge to where the upper plateau begins, that’s where the crown jewel of the park gets real. Names like Longs, Arrowhead, Pagoda, McHenrys, The Spearhead, Chiefs Head, to name a few, scatter the landscape. Believe it or not, but it actually took me 2 years to get past Alberta Falls, a December 2013 summit of Pagoda, and still one of my favorite days in the Park to date. Since then I’ve been itching to get back, which just so happens to bring us to this episode. 🙂

Peak: The Spearhead (12,575′)
Date: December 13, 2014
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge
Approach: Northwest Slope
Distance: 13.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,395 ft.
Participants: John Esseveld, Dillon Sarnelli

Route Overview (click to enlarge).

The Spearhead, elevation 12,575′, sits deep in the upper peninsula of Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park, and is surrounded from east to west by Longs Peak, Pagoda, Chiefs Head, and McHenrys. These giants, not to mention the 6 mile approach, make it one of the most often overlooked and more remote peaks in the park. The north ridge offers what some call the finest technical rock climb in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ll save that for the experts. On this day the northwest slope, which goes Class 3 to within 15 feet of the summit with a pretty sick exposed Class 4 finish, served our needs just fine.

Good Morning, Glacier Gorge! First light on McHenrys just below Black Lake.

December 13, 2014, 4 AM – 24 hours before the word snow would make it’s triumphant return to Colorado, John and I found ourselves making our way in the dead of night past Mills and Jewel Lake. The summer of 2013 had us sharing the 4 summits of the Chicago Basin 14er group and Pyramid together, but as life would have it, this would be our first outing in 2014. Call it a reunion of sorts, and an epic one at that. John, fresh off a successful summit of Cotopaxi the month prior, was ready to make his rookie trip into Glacier Gorge, and I, fresh off a gut wrenching unsuccessful Centennial Grizz attempt the week prior, was ready to put another exclamation point on 2014.

McHenrys (L) and Arrowhead (R) towering over Black Lake. John taking it all in as we make our way east past the Black Lake slabs. (Click to enlarge)
McHenrys (L) and Arrowhead (R). The “Wave Traverse”. (Click to enlarge)
Longs Peak, The Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain and The Spearhead, up close and personal (L to R) as we make our way to Frozen Lake. (Click to enlarge)

Frozen Lake (6.1 miles from the TH, elevation 11,580′), pictured below, served as a fine reststop. We ate our scooby snacks and geared up for the next segment of the journey, a 600 foot climb to the ridge that connects The Chief to The Spearhead.

John’s all smiles as we’re just about ready to take those god damn snow shoes off!
Snowshoes detached. We boot up about 400 feet on good snow.
This shot might give some perspective as we approach the connecting ridge. We like to call the rock towering over our heads, Chiefs Head’s Diamond.
The Spearhead as seen from the connecting ridge with The Chief (true summit, not pictured).

We made our way left (northwest) of the ridge crest and the first spire (pictured above), dropping when needed to avoid some sketchy rock and eventually scrambling a few hundred feet to within 10 to 15 feet of the summit. The only thing that remains from this point is some very exposed 4th class scrambling. Let’s call it Spearhead’s “homestretch”. Easily the best part of the day!

Summit of The Spearhead – December 13, 2014. Photo by John.
Spearhead’s “Homestretch” – Summit of The Spearhead – December 13, 2014.
Summit of The Spearhead – December 13, 2014. Chiefs Head in the distance.
Summit of The Spearhead – December 13, 2014.

Top 5 summit block, hands down. That is all.

No zoom required. Longs and Pagoda from the summit of The Spearhead. Standing all alone in here, it’s really hard to believe that 100’s of thousands of people live just 40 miles over the other side of this big rock. (Click to enlarge)
The Spearhead and Longs as we descend back to the saddle.
The Stoneman and McHenrys. (Click to enlarge)
Even a glissade back down to Frozen lake.
A solid view back up to the connecting ridge with Chiefs Head (R). The V notch to the left is where we began our traverse of the ridgeline over to Spearhead. (Click to enlarge)

On the way down as we passed alpine “Lake #25” (we gave up on the names after #8), John and I couldn’t help but reflect on the day. We had just spent the last 12 hours in one of the most scenic locations in all of Colorado, maybe the planet, and had been afforded bluebird weather in December for all of it. I always say there are no bad days in the park, but I do have my favorites. This is one I’ll remember for a long time. Thanks for a great day out there, John!

Parting shot. Photo by John.

Until next time… Thank you all for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

P.S. – A large bowl of Elk Buffalo Beef chile at Wapitis in Estes Park – try it!

The End.

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