Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Arrowhead, Thatchtop, Shelf Lake, and Solitude Lake.

I started once again at Glacier Gorge right around 530 am on August 6th.  Despite the not so great weather predictions for the day, it's also that time of the year, and it seems like everyday has a chance of rain, thunder, etc.  The early morning was nice though.
This tree stands out atop a rock bench along the Glacier Gorge trail.  I've captured it before in fact.
This time I took the fire trail.  While it does cut some time off, I felt like I was dragging, so I am not sure how much it really helped. 
At Mills Lake as the sun starts to crest the ridge line to the east.
Continue on the trail towards Black Lake.  1.5 miles after Mills Lake, or .5 miles before you reach Black Lake, and not too far after the Glacier Creek campsite, you'll come to a meadow.  You should now be past the bulky mass of Thatchtop.
If you look across and see something that looks like this, you're in the right place.  Note the small waterfall in the middle of the photo.  There are a few small trails that head over to the creek from here.  Pick one, and then use the large slabby boulders to cross the water.  The unofficial climbers trail starts on the other side of the creek.  Basically, just follow it up. 
Since it is unmaintained, expect some dead fall to negotiate, but the trail is very well beat in and easy to follow.
Soon comes arrival at Shelf Lake, 11220 feet.  Continue around it to the left or south, following a less well delineated but still fairly obvious trail.
The Arrowhead holds a wealth of 5th class climbing.  This is one of two non-technical ways to ascend it that I know of.
Thatchtop looks like a walk in the park by comparison.
Glacier Gorge.  It struck me on this day that with McHenrys and The Spearhead, I will have completed almost all of the named destinations here.  I'll just have to add Pagoda/Chiefs Head Couloir and McHenrys Notch to that list and I should be good.
Solitude Lake.  Confusingly, there is also a Lake Solitude in RMNP.  It lived up to the name.  Very peaceful and quiet.  A good place for a snack until the mosquitoes found me!
Circle around the lake, and continue up the gorge.  You will come to a small, unnamed pond that is not on the topo.  This is where you'll turn off and start to head up.
The ridge between Thatchtop and Powell reflected in the pond.
As Foster says, the way up is not obvious from here, and what looks like the easiest way isn't.  She recommends going southeast or left from the lake, then getting onto the ramp and ledge system that heads southwest or right.  I had some troubles finding the correct route to take here, and twice started up only to turn back when the climbing got too difficult. 
This was decidedly harder than third class.  Turned back.
This was also harder than third class, turned back.
But I did start up here and it seemed reasonable.  As you can see from a photo at the bottom, start up the grassy ramps on your right once you pass the huge boulders above the unnamed pond. 
This was the first crux of the way up.  Third class, no sweat.  This is the area circled in pink on the route photo at the bottom.
Continue to work your way up somewhat exposed slabby ledges and grassy ramps.
Finding this area, the second and hardest crux of the route, was essential.  This seems to provide a good weakness in the ledge systems to get up higher and not get cliffed out.  This area is circled in aqua on the photo below.  There is an awkward kind of squeezy move at the bottom, but it is straight forward after that. 
This will top out a ledge....
Looking down.  It looks like you could continue up this crack system, but there is a big step up and going up it would be in the fifth class.  Going left or east didn't work, so right or west it was. 
Ramps up and up.  As they came to an end, I could either find a way up to the one above, or more likely drop down to the one below. 
The pond now looking very small.  The ramps reminded me somewhat of the homestretch on Longs, though not as steep.
When the ledge and ramp system starts to dissipate and the terrain starts to turn to tundra and talus, you can switch direction and head south or south east to gain the ridge between Arrowhead and McHenrys.
This ridge provides a fourth class route to the top of McHenrys.  That would sure be a fun day!
From left to right- Storm Peak, Longs, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain, The Spearhead, Chiefs Head Peak.  You get some pretty great views from here.
Getting closer to the summit with Longs in the background.
To give an idea of the sheer drop off on the south side of the Arrowhead.  Note Black Lake down there.
Thatchtop across the way.
And more the high peaks surrounding Glacier Gorge.  Very pretty! 
A quick bite to eat was had, and I started down.  There are some cairns here and there, but they do not seem to be connected enough to lead you down.  Find your way back to the ledge system (I ended up going too far west and had to backtrack). 
Ledges again. 
The pond.
Here again is the area I talked about above.  Find this circled in aqua on the photo at the bottom.
Once I topped this out, I was looking down and spied what looked like an easier route to descend.  I went for it and it was indeed easier. 
A grassy gully to descend.  This gave only one crux on the climb down.  You end up west of the pond on some talus.
To the right in this photo.  Form here, I decided to just contour along Thatchtop to try to flatten it out somewhat.  This idea worked just fine.
The ledge system looks quite imposing as you gain altitude on Thatchtop.
And eventually becomes an abstraction.  Save for the pond, you could tell me this was a close up of elephant skin and I'd believe you. 
Thatchtop was alot easier and quicker to ascend.  Within forty five minutes I was standing on top.  This is looking south.
Longs Peak.
The Arrowhead over Solitude Lake.
I had been keeping an eye on the clouds to the west of me.  All day they had looked fine, but I could now see some of the thicker and higher clouds that might contain lightning.  Time to get down.  I had a quick snack, and added my name to the register which is basically all sorts of scraps of paper showed into the tube.  I tried to straighten it out a bit.  This peak could definitely use a real register or notebook. 
And of course a marmot pooped right on the highest point of Thatchtop.  For all that we visit, this was a stark reminder that this is their home. 
The talus slope was not that much fun to descend, but I eventually made it back to Solitude Lake.  And started hearing thunder.  I was right at treeline, and I tell you, nothing motivates to get your tired legs moving more than hearing thunder.
Some clouds roll in over Shelf Lake.
I was back on the unofficial trail down when some light rain started to fall.  I was hearing more frequent thunder, but never saw any lightning.  It continued to rain most of the way back to the truck, though it was never bad enough to make me stop and put my rain jacket on.  It felt quite refreshing really.
And back on the trail, looking up at The Arrowhead. 
And once again, Sexy Lake.
I took the fire trail back down, arriving at the truck about nine hours after I left it.  It is always kind of a shock to spend most of the day alone, only to arrive back at the parking to swarms of people.  The first person I saw all day wasn't until I got back to the Glacier Gorge trail, and I accidentally scared her stumbling though the meadow!  Sorry again.
This is the photo marked with the routes I took up in red and down in blue.  Note the circled areas in pink and aqua.  The only other comment I would make here is to stay on the red route above the aqua circle.  Down climbing the blue route above that was one committing fifth class move.  Below the aqua circle, I would take the blue route up and down if and when I do this again. 
I'm not sure if I need to say it, but The Arrowhead was definitively more difficult than Thatchtop.  The route finding, particularly at the beginning, took some time and energy, but once the way came, it went.  The descent was a bit easier, since I had a sense of where I was going.  Thatchtop wasn't too hard to add on after, though it did require another 1000 feet of gain.  The lakes in the basin are probably worth visiting alone, a fun departure from the other high lakes of Glacier Gorge, as chances seem good you will have them all to yourself!
The Arrowhead, Thatchtop, Shelf Lake, and Solitude Lake:
The Arrowhead (12640+ft): 5.3 miles one way, 3460 foot gain.  Third class+.  Strenuous. 
Thatchtop (12668 ft): 5 miles one way, 3488 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Shelf Lake (11220 ft): 4.1 miles one way, 2040 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Solitude Lake (11420 ft): 4.4 miles one way, 2240 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Other destinations along the way:
Mills Lake (9940 ft): 2.7 miles one way, 760 foot gain.  Moderate.
Jewel Lake (9940 ft): 3.1 miles one way, 760 foot gain.  Moderate.


  1. I took a picture of that tree in the 2nd picture here on my way to Frozen Lake one morning in August