<-- Map of summer 2019 
     climbing roadtrip 
     (click to enlarge)

Route: Cowboys and Indians (5.11c, 11p) 

TR #: 361

Category: Colorado       Summit Elev: 13,579 ft (Chiefs Head summit; top of route is lower)       Rock Type: Granite

Partner: Nathan Arganbright

The best route up the impressive NE Face of Chiefs Head.


The broad north face of Chiefs Head Peak spans more than a mile and rivals the Diamond in terms of size. The great wall is divided by a rib that separates the Northeast Face from the Northwest Face. Both faces have some superb long and challenging routes on them. These routes have a reputation of being hard and heady, due to the steepness of the wall coupled with the lack of continuous crack systems. Chances are you will have the wall to yourself.

Cowboys and Indians (or, as Nate suggested, Bovine Motivationalists and Indigenous Native People) is perhaps the best route on the Northeast Face, taking a direct line up the beautiful shied of granite on the right side of the wall. At 11 or so pitches, it is one of the longest routes in RMNP and longer than routes on the Diamond.

I got the opportunity to climb this route in August 2019, with Nathan Arganbright. Nate lives in Estes Park, and had heard though another person I had recently climbed with that I had recently moved to the area and was looking for partners, so he reached out to me. I mentioned I was interested in climbing Birds of Fire on the NW Face of Chiefs Head, but Nate had already climbed this route a few times and suggested Cowboys and Indians, a route on the equally-impressive NW Face of Chiefs Head. With several 5.10 pitches and an 11c crux pitch on a formation known to be hard and heady for the grade, I knew a lot of the route would be beyond my leading comfort as a crack climber. But Nate was confident and an excellent climber, so we decided to go for it.

Indeed, it was an awesome route, with pitch after pitch of phenomenal climbing in a sublime setting. Despite the perfect weather, we had the wall to ourselves. Nate was a super solid and enjoyable partner and I had a blast climbing with him. Thanks Nate for leading the harder and headier pitches! 

The following page gives a trip report for Cowboys and Indians. Enjoy!


Car to base of route: 3 hours 50 minutes (includes a stop on a flat boulder to rack up)
Climb route: ~9 hours (~1 hour due to minor route-finding errors)
Descent to boulder near base of route: 1 hour 20 minutes
Hike out: 2 hours 40 minutes
Total car-to-car: 17.5 hours



Photo descriptions:
Approach as you would for Spearhead, but continue past the left (east) side of Spearhead past Green Lake to the base of the northeast face of Chiefs Head. Negotiate the snowfield to get to the right side of the face and the left side of a rock tongue. Begin at a left-leaning crack, below a stepped roof about 200 feet above.

Approach Notes:
There is a nice huge flat-topped boulder at the base of the NE Face before the snowfield, which is a great place to rack up on and leave extra gear. 

1. Hiking towards the NE Face of Chiefs Head in the morning darkness.
2. A large flat-topped boulder below the NE Face. A nice place to rack up and leave extra gear.
3. Looking up at the NE Face of Chiefs Head. Lots of rock!
4. Approaching. Even in mid-August this snow field is fairly large, so it would probably only melt out on a drought year. We were able to get up it without crampons/spikes. Photo 4b has annotations showing the start of the route.
5. Kicking steps in the final steep section of snow below the NE Face.
6. A nut tool makes a great mini ice axe. The snow was hard enough I think it would have stopped a slip.
7. Looking up from near the base of the route. Pitch 1 starts in a left-leaning crack just right of the boulder propped against the face. Notice the stepped roofs about 200 feet above.

5.10d. Start in the left-leaning crack and then head up crack to a stance (optional belay). From the stance, face climb up and right past a bolt and fixed pin, then climb over a small roof and then face climb up past two more bolts to a stance with two fixed pins.

Pitch Notes:
- This pitch felt stout for the grade (but that could have been "first pitch of the day" and "cold rock" syndromes at plan.
- The Rossiter and Gillett topos don't quite correlate with the grades of the initial crack (Gillett says 10a, Rossiter says 10d) or the face climbing (Gillett says 10c, Rossiter says 10a); to me, these sections were equally hard and I wouldn't question a 10d grade for either.
- We broke this pitch into two pitches, which seemed to be a good way to do it and gave the leader a better belay and less rope drag for the delicate face moves on the second half of the pitch.
8. The left-leaning crack at the start of Pitch 1. This part feels 10a. 
9. More awesome climbing on Pitch 1. This section is harder than the initial left-leaning crack and required some punchy moves on small gear. Excellent lead Nate!
10. Steph following the first half of Pitch 1. I went with the NInja warrior theme with the day's wardrobe. Photo (obviously) taken by Nate.
11. Nate launching into the second half of Pitch 1. Temperatures got much more pleasant when we entered the sun.
12. Steph following the second half of Pitch 1. 
Photo by Nate.
13. This is the "stance with two fixed pins" at the official end of Pitch 1.

5.10d (10a R?). Climb up to the roof, then undercling left to a stance at the left end of the roof, beneath a left-facing dihedral.

Pitch Notes:
- Even though this had the same 10d rating as Pitch 1, we didn't find it to be as hard as Pitch 1.
- This pitch has a 10a R rating for the first few moves, but we were able to get good gear and it felt much less R than a couple of pitches up higher.
- We followed the Rossiter pitch description which has you belay at the left corner of the roof rather than continuing up 50 feet as Gillett describes (continuing up would just create unnecessary drag, and this section can easily be climbed as part of the next pitch.
14. Looking up at the roof of Pitch 2. Intimidating from below.
15. Nate leading the roof. It's pretty fun and not as hard as it looks from below thanks to fairly decent feet throughout.
16. Taken while climbing under the roof.
17. Steph following the pitch. Photo taken from Nate at the belay at the end of the pitch.

5.8/9. Hand traverse about 15 feet left, then follow a leaning crack to a broken ledge in a roof-capped, left-facing dihedral. Step right out of the dihedral and climb a nice hand crack and past some flakes to the highest grassy ledge. This belay is shared with Ten Little Indians and Risky Business.

Pitch Notes:
- The Rossiter topo shows only 5.8 for this pitch, even though the pitch description gives in 5.9. Gillett gives this pitch 5.8. 
- You could also climb the left-facing dihedral above the belay, but both Rossiter and Gillett topos show climbing the crack to the left of the dihedral.
18. Looking up Pitch 3, after the leftward hand traverse at the start of the pitch. You step right out of the dihedral at the place capped by the small roofs. Fun pitch.
19. Looking down the crack on the upper half of the pitch.

5.10a (5.9 R). Head up the face past three bolts. Finish the pitch at a ledge with a bolted anchor.

Pitch Notes:
- Both Rossiter and Gillett mention the pitch starting with a "right-leaning corner" but we didn't really see this corner. We headed straight up to the bolts. Perhaps we belayed a bit high at the end of Pitch 3.
- The first bolt was about 40-50 feet up and required some 5.9 moves getting up to it. This pitch deserves an R rating. But perhaps it wouldn't be R if we had climbed that mysterious corner.
- The bolted anchor at the end of the pitch was the only bolted anchor on the route. It seemed sort of random.
20. A sea of granite. 
21. Nate heading up into the sea. The first bolt is 40-50 feet up on 5.9-ish terrain
22. Steph following. This photo shows how there are enough features to keep the grade at 10a. Photo (obviously) taken by Nate.

23. A bolted anchor at the top of Pitch 4. 

5.11a. Climb face moves past a bolt, then more face to another bolt below a right-facing flake. Climb the right-facing flake and belay above.

Pitch Notes:
- The Rossiter guidebook gives a grade of 5.9 for this pitch and does not show the initial 11a face section in the topo. The Gillette topo shows this pitch correctly.
24. The sea of granite continues. This initial section is 11a but protected by a bolt.
25. The right-facing corner at the top of the pitch.

5.11a. Climb up the flake line and climb through several overlaps. There are 4 bolts on this pitch. Belay on a small ledge below the bigger ledge above. 
26.    26. More 11a face climbing. I was happy Nate was willing to lead the face pitches, since I am not quite comfortable with the runnout on some of these pitches. Was super fun to follow though! 

5.10a. Step left into a recess, angle up and right to the big ledge. At the left end of the big ledge, face climb up and then right to the base of a right-facing corner. Climb the corner and belay above.

Pitch Notes:
- This is the "lost at sea" pitch talked about on mountianproject. Even with our knowledge that the route is difficult to identify and looks improbable, we still dinked around a bit before we convinced ourselves of the way to go.
- You can identify the right-facing corner system you are aiming for from below (to the left of the obvious Risky Business left-facing corner on the right side of the large ledge. The trick is just getting to the right-facing corner. To do so, you face climb up and right to get there along hidden features and cracks. The climbing is 5.10a even though it doesn't look it from below.
- Both GIllett and Rossiter topos are correct for this pitch. Trust them.
27. Looking up Pitch 7. The "lost at sea" pitch. Photo 27b shows where we went.
28. This is where you need to head up and face climb up and right to access the right-facing corner. Even when you are staring right at it, it looks improbable that it could be 10a or be protectable, but you knid of just have to trust that it is. Photo 28b shows the way we went.
29. The right-facing corner at the top half of the pitch.

5.10a. Move left and climb a long crack up to a belay on Long Ledge, which runs across the upper wall.

Pitch Notes:
- This pitch is long enough that it cannot be linked with the next pitch (easy ledge traverse). 
30.    30. Looking up the pitch. Follow the crack that starts on the left side of the photo, not the corner.

4th. Traverse 140 feet right along Long Ledge, and set up a belay beneath a right-facing dihedral with two fixed pins.

Pitch Notes:
- Basically 3rd with a 4th class move just establishing the belay at the end of the pitch.
31.    31. Long Ledge.

5.11c. Start off by climbing the corner (11a) past two fixed blades. Then stem the crux corner (11c, tricky pro) to a ledge. 
32. Nate contemplating the crux pitch of the route. This was a really good pitch of climbing, and the rock had a different character than the other rock on the route.
33. Nate starting up the crux pitch of the route. He cruised it. "I have my moments" he commented, but he's humble.

5.10a (5.9 R). There are two options for this pitch, both 10a with 5.9 R climbing: (1) Climb up and right into a right-facing, right-leaning dihedral; place gear before the crack tapers to a seam. Traverse right, then go straight up where the dihedral becomes vertical and climb to its top. Go right under a roof, then straight up to the edge of the wall and Northeast Ramp. (2) Climb up and left from the belay above the crux.

Pitch Notes:
- We took the left option since that was directly above the belay and looked climbable. It ended up being a bit dirty, loose, and in general not the best climbing. I cannot say for sure, but I suspect going right is much better climbing.
34. Looking up at the straight up/left option shown in the topo. 
35. The right option starts with the right-leaning dihedral. 
36. The 5.6 mossy gully that finishes off the left option of the pitch. The right option for this pitch might have a better finish.

From the top of the route, scramble (3rd) up to the summit ridge (took us a bit less than 10 min from top of route). Then scramble eastwards towards the top of the East Couloir between Chiefs Head and Pagoda Mountain. Scramble down the East Couloir (3rd in late season or snow in early season) and back around to below the NE Face.

Descent Notes:
- Another descent option I've heard about is to instead go west and over the summit of Chiefs Head and then descend to the top anchor on the Birds of Fire route and rap Birds of Fire. This would require leaving no gear in the basin below the NE Face. This might be a good option if the East Couloir is snowy/icy. But we found (under mid-August conditions) that the East Couloir was a very mellow and quick descent and allowed us to leave extra gear in the boulders at the base.
37. 10 minutes of 3rd class scrambling to get to the summit ridge.
38. Looking towards the summit of Chiefs Head from the summit ridge. We did not go to the summit, since our descent gully was the other direction.
39. Spearhead below.
40. McHenrys Peak and Arrowhead to the northwest.
41. Longs Peak and Pagoda Mountain to the east. 
42. Scrambling along the summit ridge towards the East Couloir descent gully. The steep walls of the NE Face are pretty impressive from this view.
43. Another photo of Spearhead below. It was fun to watch the shadow grow.
44. Looking down the East Couloir descent gully. Pretty mellow as far as descent gullies go. 
45. A view back up of the East Couloir descent.
46. Hiking out through the beautiful Glacier Gorge area.
47. The trail crew has been hard at work installing new boardwalks. Thanks! (We saw the wood piled up for these new boardwalks back in early July when I climbed Spearhead.)