Posts Tagged ‘stoneman’

The Stone Man Project

June 5, 2010

Three years before, in the Summer of 2002, Brian and I used the Stone Man Pass to scramble out of Glacier Gorge in RMNP on our way to the Double Crown of Chiefs Head and Mount Alice. While hiking past the famous Stone Man, Brian, out of the blue, speculated on the difficulty of climbing the Stone Man pinnacle.

The Stone Man from low on McHenry

While perhaps admitting to a lack of imagination, the question caught me off-guard to the extent that would musing over what marmots think about when not raiding unattended backpacks.  I mean, who in their right mind would hike 6 miles each way and ascend 3,200 feet of elevation gain in order to do a 40-foot rock climb?

View from Spearhead

Still, I did take a quick look.  My judgment was it looked upper 5th class if it went, and it might not go; and no guarantees about getting down, either.  Brian figured it was easy. Whatever.

I put the notion out of my mind in the years since; Brian did not.

In August of 2005, as Brian and I were going through our weekly “what are we going to do this weekend” exercise, Brian suggested we finally go see about climbing the Stone Man.  The implication was that it’s been next on his/our list for some time.  In some situations, this call would require an official/judicial ruling.  But, our adventuring partnership is based on a choose-and-let-choose philosophy, meaning that when one of us really wants to do something, the other will generally agree. And since I didn’t have a better idea, Project Stone Man was a go.

The plan was to hike 5 miles to reach Black Lake, scramble 1800 feet from Black Lake to reach the top of Stone Man pass, and then figure out a way to climb 40 feet of technical rock climbing to stand atop the Stone Man.  Whoo Hoo! Well, it would at least be a good hike into beautiful terrain; no doubt a better day than that of 99% of the population.

We started hiking right at 6am and made okay time reaching Black Lake at 8:00am; 2.5 mph at 288 feet per mile is 720 feet of altitude gain per hour while covering 5 miles — good enough while carrying rock gear.  (See hiking pace discussion).

My hiking speed chart

After a short water break, we left Black Lake for the shortcut to Stone Man Pass heading west beneath Arrowhead.  After a lengthy scramble up the steep grass and cliffy slope, we reached the bench above Black Lake; we then turned south to head underneath McHenry toward Stone Man Pass. We reached the top of Stone Man pass around 10:00am.

After a short break, we began our exploration of the base of the Stone Man, looking for a probable line of attack.

We started on the ridgeline and started going around the Stone Man counter-clockwise. In my eyes, it still looked hard. Once we made it around the the north face, we found a probable line…at least a line that would go to within 5 feet of the top.  Brian said he’d do it; he grabbed the rack and started up.

Our climbing route to the summit of the Stone Man (the dashed line indicates the route view is obstructed)

It turned out to be only a 20-foot climb, so I didn’t bother to get comfortable. After 10 minutes, Brian yelled back down that it went. He said there was a single tricky, hard to protect move; then he went for it.  And he was on top.

He yelled down that it would take a bit of time to set up a belay. I didn’t know what to make of that but did what I could do; I waited.

I watched from below as Brian flipped the cordellette a few times to get it all the way around the Stone Man’s head.  Then he yelled out that I was on belay.

I followed his route, admiring the quality of the few moves it required. And then I was standing below the summit and studying the exposed move that Brian had made to accomplish his (our) goal. I repeated it, and then I was on the summit as well. It was an admirably exposed summit, but not a good place to spend the rest of your life.

View of Stone Man route from Spearhead

When I looked around, I noticed that the cordellette was the only anchor. Brian informed me that it was the only thing he could find for protection, and asked me if it was okay that we sacrificed it (the cordellette was mine). Well, I did want to go home eventually, so I complied.

We rappelled back to the base and started back down. We started following cairns down the east slope (toward Spearhead & Longs), simply curious to see if the path would lead us back to the basin below McHenrys. It was a winding route, but far superior to the nasty Stoneman Pass route.  It worked! Since we were in an adventurous mood, I suggested we try the waterfall descent route Brian had mentioned as a possibility some years earlier.

Brian was game, and we angled directly for Black Lake and the top of its major waterfall.

The ascent and descent routes from the Stone Man, seen from Blue Lake area

The descent was a bit more dramatic than I expected. The climb down into the waterfall notch was easy enough; but once into the notch, the passage got thin and steep.  It was worth doing, but not superior to the scramble up to or down from the bench above and west of Black Lake.

A view from summit of Arrowhead of alternate descent to Black Lake

A short scramble led us back to Black Lake and another short rest, and then 5 miles back to the car for the 1 hour drive back to Boulder.

Brian insisted on replacing my cordelette and so we drove to Neptunes to buy 30 feet of 6mm cord.

Despite my early lack of enthusiasm, The Stone Man Project turned out to be a worthy adventure.  My only regret is our having to leave a cord where it can be seen. I hope the sun and weather beat that cord down quickly.

See all trip reports

See all RMNP trip reports


McHenrys At Last!

February 10, 2010

I had been looking at McHenrys Peak with great desire for many years and had been close twice, but had never quite set out to bag it.  And McHenrys is not a peak to climb on a whim, or is it?


Close but no cigar on McHenry


Close but no cigar:

  1. Spring Climb of Stone Man Pass; no thought of trying for summit
  2. Rock climb of Dog Star route (climbs the center of triangular buttress on McHenrys NE face); ran out of time for attempt on summit

On June 2, 2002, Brian and I decided to visit Stone Man Pass for a bit of exercise.  We didn’t think we’d move fast enough or weather would stay good long enough to do more.  But we were mistaken.

We left the parking lot at 6am and hiked 5 miles to Black Lake by 8am.  The trail was in good shape even though it was mostly snow covered.


Looking toward Chiefs Head from above Black Lake


We decide to take a shortcut to the pass by heading directly toward Arrowhead, and by 10am we reached the bottom of the snowfield reaching toward Stone Man Pass.  This snow was also in good shape and we reach the top of the pass at 11am.

The conditions had allowed us to finish early; and the weather was too good to think about going home.  While resting at the pass we looked around for something interesting.

I looked to the summit of McHenrys, but hesitated.  I thought it looked hard, even technical.  But it was on the top of my wish list, so eventually I suggested we give it a go; Brian agreed.


Looking back down toward the Stoneman from McHenrys


We didn’t have any route info aside from a vague memory Brian held of a descent of the route some years before (after climbing NE ridge), and snow covered anything that might look like a trail or a trail marker. We figured we’d just wander on up and see what we can see.  I didn’t have any concerns, at least not at first.


Our ascent (red) and descent (green) routes. Photo taken from climb of Chiefs Head.


We wandered low to get around the first major buttress, and then went straight up the gully toward the summit.  This path worked fine until near the top where the climbing got hard.  It was big blocks and pillars that we had to climb up and around; I’d call it 4th class in spots.  It was 5th class if not careful; I was not careful.

I got stuck on a ledge with no good way off.  I had made hard-to-reverse moves to gain the ledge thinking that I could escape it; but the only move I found was a dynamic one that would be fatal if I missed the mark.  I just didn’t like it in my Makalus, so I just kept looking for anything else; and perhaps just delaying the inevitable.

To my delight (and relief), I found a less risky move and took it.  A short while later, I joined Brian on the summit.


Brian atop McHenrys enjoying the spectacular views of Longs, Pagoda & Chiefs Head


It is far better than any summit in RMNP; completely awe-inspiring. The valley floor drops away dramatically from all sides.  It is a must climb.


Our routes on McHenrys Peak; Red for ascent, Green for descent.


The decent was easier and exhilarating.  We found a better path on the way down (isn’t it always so?) to Stone Man Pass and then glissaded down from Stone Man Pass and later down the bench below Arrowhead to reach the Black Lake area.

Another 2 hours of hiking got us back to the car for an 11 mile, 11 hour round trip.

It was a great day!

But I don’t recommend climbing McHenrys Peak on a whim.  It is a peak that deserves respect, and some preparation.


The long trek to Stone Man Pass & McHenrys Peak


See Solitude Lake Cirque for another route up McHenrys

See all trip reports

See RMNP trip reports

%d bloggers like this: