Sunday, July 1, 1990: Chapin (12454'), Chiquita (13069'), and Ypsilon (13514')

I finally reached the top of Ypsilon Mountain, in the Mummy Range at the north end of Rocky Mountain National Park, but got no further due to bad weather. Carolyn and Paul Beiser, Jack Walicki, and I had hoped to traverse to Fairchild Mountain also. Considering the magnitude of the planned adventure, we left Fort Collins in the Beiser's Jeep at 0300 (groan). We departed the trailhead, 11040', just below Chapin Pass at 0500.

After a very short warm-up walk to the top of the pass we followed the trail right (east) through a lovely forest in the thick pre-dawn gloom. Sunrise happened at 0535, rich with colors. It was magical to experience the dawning of the day from timberline, shaking off sleepy cobwebs.

The trail led us rather steeply around to the grassy NW flank of Chapin. I had planned to drive for Fairchild first, then return south along the ridge, but the group consensus was for visiting the peaks south to north, lowest to highest. It turned out to be the right decision once afternoon storms arose. So we cut south up the mountainside to the 12392' subpeak of Chapin, thence to the 12454' main summit at 0650 (1420' in 1:50). Like the other two peaks, the top was broad, but only Chapin was low enough to sport tundra and flowers.

We lingered a while to admire the somewhat hazy view. On my ham radio I heard Denver had an RH of 54% - not a good sign. At 0712 we dropped north to the 12000'+ saddle in less than 15 minutes, then gained the summit of Chiquita, 1070' higher, in only 40 minutes. As you can see we were warmed up and enjoyed the superb cross-country hiking conditions. We occupied Chiquita's wind shelter from 0805 to 0840, then proceeded NNW to the 12786' next saddle at 0852. I'd been that far before, some years ago, but had been weathered off. So I got thirsty to at least reach Ypsilon.

We marched up another 730' to Ypsilon in 38 minutes, arriving at 0930. Having been awake since 3am and hiking since 5, that felt like noon. And it might as well have been, for the weather. Clouds began forming rapidly to the NE and SE . We couldn't stay long, dang it.

Our trek continued at 1010. Optimistically we proceeded north to the Fairchild saddle. Up to that point we encountered only two-legged terrain. The connecting ridge showed itself as quite doable, but tedious and requiring of all fours. We explored a bit down it and considered our choices. The clouds overhead grew and darkened ominously. Clearly it was becoming a typical summer day in the high country, and we would have to return by the same ridge.

Discretion defined valor and we started back. This time we traversed around the west slopes of the peaks to save elevation gain and admire the emerald, tree-lined meadows below us -- a south fork of the Poudre River just below its headwaters. Lightning played in the distance, both east and west of us. We watched virga columns march across the lowlands toward us. It was quite spectacular. It also precluded a back-up visit to Desolation Peaks to our NW , with a return by the valley floor (and a 600' climb back to the pass).

Our return took a leisurely 3.5 hours with several breaks. We were lucky that the nasty weather went around us. However, back at the Chapin/Chiquita saddle, I started to use the radio with a telescoping antenna when I heard a crisp buzzing from the tip, even though the nearest lightning was several miles distant. I got it untelescoped and disconnected pretty quick!

Finally we returned to the trailhead at 1408 (9:08 round trip). It was a good day, and I was tired, but also disappointed at not yet reaching Fairchild. Having seen Desolation Peaks, they're on my ``visit'' list now too. I had forgotten how pretty the views are from the Mummy Range, even though the peaks themselves are not remarkable. They're grassy but dull above timberline, save for colorful rocks from Chiquita north. But the Poudre drainage and meadows are phenomenally green.

By Alan Silverstein.