Peaks Climbed: Thatchtop Mountain, Mount Powell, McHenry's Peak & Arrowhead

Peak Heights: 12,668' / 13,208' / 13,327' / 12,660'

Route: Shelf Cirque Traverse

Difficulty: Low Class 5

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Trailhead: Glacier Gorge

Mileage & Gain: 13.2 mi & 5,300 ft RT

Date Climbed: September 12, 2018

The Shelf Cirque Traverse is a pretty spectacular scramble that goes all the way around the narrow basin containing Shelf and Solitude Lakes, passing over four summits en route. It is shorter than some of the more popular ridge traverses in the park, and makes for an extremely enjoyable, moderate day.

The few accounts of this route I found beforehand described doing the loop counterclockwise. This means downclimbing into McHenrys Notch, supposedly the hardest part of the traverse. I'd upclimbed this section before and it had been attention getting (in mountaineering boots) in a spot or two. It seemed logical and worthwhile to try the loop clockwise in order to climb up this section instead of down it.

The ridge between Thatchtop and Powell is a lot of fun, and offers awesome views of the elusive McHenrys Notch Couloir. We wasted some time finding a route off of Powell and INTO McHenrys Notch, but not much. The climb out of the Notch was cake in trailrunners and nothing tempted us to break out the rope we'd brought just in case. The final traverse to Arrowhead was old hat for us (and is more enjoyable when done in the opposite direction, by the way). We managed to get ourselves into some interesting stuff descending north off of Arrowhead. I'm not sure where the better route down that side is. I'd always used the approach from Black Lake in the past.

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