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Elevation: 13,579 ft 4,139 m
GPS: 40.2494, -105.641
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Shared By: Steve Levin on Mar 21, 2002
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac, Tyler KC
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Description Suggest change

The NW Face of Chiefshead retains an aura of mystery and commitment to this day, even though it is now possible to rap down the center of the face. Still, an ascent of any route on the wall is a worthy achievement since "fuzzy" runout climbing is the norm. The combination of a significant approach, remote setting, northeast aspect, and challenging climbing provides a perfect diversion from the same old ho-hum climbing on neighboring Spearhead. Rich in history, the wall was first climbed in 1961 by Layton Kor and Bob Culp - quite an impressive achievement for the time. A classic account of their ascent can be found in the Godfrey and Chelton book "CLIMB!", now out of print. Free climbed with minor variations almost fifteen years later by Billy Westbay and Dan McClure (and dubbed "The Path of the Elders", 5.10a R), this route is certainly the most accessible of the trad routes on the wall.

The second route to be established on the wall, 7 Arrows (5.10b R, FA Charlie Fowler and John Harlin Jr., 1980), was a statement of commitment to the principals of ground-up adventure climbing, offering wandering yet difficult climbing, marginal protection (no bolts), and poor prospects for retreat. The quality of this climb is generally highly regarded, and it may be considered one of the Park's true gems - although one prolific local has descibed it as a "trough".

Fowler returned in 1987 with Dan McGee to up the ante into the realm of insanity with their "Screaming Eagles" (5.10 X), a route characterized by 100 foot runouts, nonexistent belay anchors, and insecure face climbing.

In 1988 Richard Rossiter, with Joyce Rossiter and Rob Woolf, introduced a new approach in style, when, after many days of both onsight and rap-bolted progress, they established the directissima on the wall, "Birds of Fire" (5.11a R). This hybrid sport-trad route climbed the cleanest, blankest section of rock on the wall (one the finest sweep of granite in RMNP). Awash in controversy after it was first climbed (some locals came very close to chopping the roughly 30 bolts used), Birds of Fire is now regarded as a Park classic, and during high season weekends may have several parties on it. Perhaps 95% of the people who climb on this wall do Birds of Fire, so if this is your plan get there early. Even so, prepare for close encounters since the climbing route is also the rap route. And don't expect bolts everywhere you need them- it is still a somewhat runout route.

Even at prime season (late July and early August) it can be a cold, wet place, so try to catch it on a hot day in the lowlands. Early season be prepared for wet rock, and often the upper sections of the routes will be unclimbable at that time due to seeping. Expect some hassles crossing the snow to get to the base, and often a sizeable moat protecting the rock. There is a small, awkward staging area on the flakey ledge system at the base of 7 Arrows, but racking up in the meadow before the snow crossing may be easier.

Two ropes are required for the rappels, otherwise you need to walk and scramble off to the right from the (at times snowy) prominent ledge where the technical routes end. Consider bivying in Upper Glacier Gorge for a couple of days, and climbing on Spearhead or the NE Face of Chiefshead after your NW Face tick. Or sample some of the bouldering potential this high glacial valley provides. Most of the routes will take a good part of the day to complete. Bring lots of tech rock gear, and watch food in your pack if you leave it at the base- the ravens up there know how to open a fastex buckle.

Getting There Suggest change

Upper Glacier Gorge. From Spearhead head right into the picturesque Frozen Lake cirque. Allow a good 3 hours or more for the approach.

5 Total Climbs

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Location: Chiefshead Northwest Face Change
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Classic Climbing Routes at Chiefshead Northwest Face

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b R
7 Arrows
Trad, Alpine
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b Easy Snow
Flight of the Kiwi
Snow, Alpine 11 pitches
5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c R
Birds of Fire
Trad, Alpine 9 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
7 Arrows
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b R Trad, Alpine
Flight of the Kiwi
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b Easy Snow Snow, Alpine 11 pitches
Birds of Fire
5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c R Trad, Alpine 9 pitches
More Classic Climbs in Chiefshead Northwest Face »

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Weather Averages

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Prime Climbing Season