Chiefs Head Peak (13,579 ft, 4,139 meters), 07/04/2003
Started from the Wild Basin Ranger Station at 5:46, and took the most direct trail route to the Lion Lakes Trail. Before reaching Lion Lake No 1, just before the forest opens up to the first open area in front of a very large boulder, we turned right, leaving the trail, and headed for Castle Lake. Thanks to Stefan's great memory of the last time we were there, we arrived at Castle Lake very shortly at 8:15. From Castle Lake, we followed a faint elk trail near the southeast corner of the lake, which led up the steep slope toward the ridge of Mount Orton. I have never seen any record of anyone having climbed Chiefs Head in this manner, nevertheless, we figured it was the most direct route up. Following the elk trail up the steep wooded slope, the trail soon became vanishingly faint, and in a short time we reached treeline where I put a cairn to help us on our return. This is important because the way we came up from Castle Lake is probably the only way, since there are vertical dropoffs on both sides of this faint elk trail. We continued up the alpine slope, making a few more cairns along the way, and reached the top of the Mt Orton ridge at 8:33, where I made another cairn on the edge of a rocky knob, about 50 yards from a large cubic boulder. From here, the oddly named "North Ridge" being the south ridge of Chiefs Head stretched out before us. On the way up, Stefan saw and pointed out to me an animal about 100 yards away running towards our right, that appeared to be a fox with white fur and some dark spots. Continuing up, we ascended the ridge just to the right of a large snow field. We reached the summit of Chiefs Head Peak at 10:00 in the morning. The total time from the start of the hike to the summit of Chiefs Head was 4 hours, and 14 minutes. The view on the summit was spectacular, with a sheer vertical drop of 1500 feet down to Glacier Gorge on one side of the summit, and a 2000 foot drop down to Snowbank Lake and Lion Lakes on the other side. There were great views of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Pagoda Mountain, and Mount Alice, among others. Stefan pointed out two people sitting in the Keyhole of Longs Peak, on the other side of Glacier Gorge. We took pictures, signed the summit register, had some water, and enjoyed the view. We began our descent at about 10:30. We returned the same way that we had arrived. On the way down, on the alpine meadow below the boulder field, we met a group of three guys on their way up Chiefs Head. The first guy that we greeted, told us that his friend, who was a little behind him, had climbed this mountain in 1957. Reaching the point on the ridge where we had entered, we descended down toward Castle Lake. It was not easy retracing our steps, but thanks to Stefan's great navigation skills, we made it back down to the lake promptly, getting there at 12:19. On the shore of the lake which had no other people there on this 4th of July, we sat down and enjoyed our lunch of soynut butter sandwiches and water. We returned to the truck at 15:33. The total round trip time was 9 hrs, 47 minutes.