Rocky Mountain National Park, Chapin/Chiquita/Ypsilon Area


Mts Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon

Route: Chapin Creek Pass, 7 miles round trip.

Class 2 climbing.

Climbing the Mummy Range has to be some of my favorite hiking in the park, especially those routes leaving from the Chapin Creek Pass trailhead. Why? Many reasons - few people hike in this area, wildlife herds (mostly elk) congregate in the area, and the nearby peaks are spectacular.

The Mummy Mountain Range was named by early explorers in the region, who thought that the range resembled a mummy on its back, with Mt. Chapin forming the head. This mountain range can be seen from many points in the front range, including Ft. Collins, Loveland (my home town - aren't I lucky? :) ) and Greeley.

To reach Chapin Creek Pass trailhead, you have to drive on one of the oldest - and most fun - roads in the park: Old Fall River Road. This dirt road used to be the standard route over the Continental Divide, until Trail Ridge Road was built. It is a one-way road that starts at Horseshoe Park and ends at the Alpine Visitors Lodge.

The trailhead is just before treeline, and you must park on the side of the road (be sure to put rocks under your tires, as you will be parking on a slant). The first several hundred feet or so of the trail is steep, until you reach Chapin Creek Pass. The main trail continues straight, but to climb Mts Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon, you have to turn right onto a faint trail.

From here, the trail is generally level for a bit. Every once in a while, the trees break, and you can get some excellent views of the west faces of Chiquita and Ypsilon. An added bonus in these clearings, particularly late in the day, is the chance to see elk. However, this early they are generally a bit higher up.

We continued along the trail, which suddenly got very steep - including stairs cut into the mountainside. We were climbing up the south western face of Chapin, which in actuality is not as steep as it looks. The trail soon levels out again, and after passing some dried up ponds, we eventually reach treeline.

At treeline, the standard route is to climb directly south to Chapin's western summit. However, me and my partner decided to skip this summit, in favor of Chapins slightly higher eastern summit. The benefit may not be obvious until both routes are climbed, but climbing the saddle between the two summits is easier than the standard route to the western summit. Also, we were able to continue on a trail this way, though by the time we reached the saddle and started climbing up Chapin, the trail was all but gone.

This was the point where our wildlife-viewing luck began. Lo and behold, on the saddle between Chapin and Chaquita, was an elk! My climbing partner, who had never really climbed anything higher than 9000 ft before, was amazed. Once again, the desolation of the area paid off.

After a quick push up Chapin, we finally arrive at the saddle between the mountain's two summits. We could see some other people reaching the western summit, and we were glad we decided to skip it. From here, we had excellent views of Sundance Mnt directly south of us (this is the mountain that Trail Ridge Road climbs), as well as the Chapin Creek Basin to the north of us. To the west, we could now see the Alpine Visitor's Lodge. To the east, we could see Estes, Horseshoe Park, and more dramatically - the spires of the southern face of Chapin.

From the saddle, it is a simple hike along the ridge east to Chapin's higher summit. Here they have a few stone wind shields set up, and it is a great place to stop and eat some breakfast before the climb of the park's smallest 13-er, Mt Chiquita.

While climbing Chiquita, we once again broke tradition and climbed a different route. We started the same - by dropping 400 or so feet to the Chapin/Chiquita saddle. A few snowbanks could be seen in the gully below us, as well as a spectacular view of Estes Park. Normally, hikers follow the ridgeline to the top of Chiquita. However, we decided to skirt this route, and climb around to the western face and hike up. This route is a little longer, and slightly harder. However, this change had one drawback - my climbing partner decided to stay up on Chiquita, and let me go on alone to Ypsilon, 1/2 mile further on.

As you get closer to the summit of Chiquita, the going gets easier. The summit of Chiquita is a broad plane, with wind blocks on the north west end. We arrived, signed the register, and took some photos of the area. I then departed for Ypsilon, leaving my obviously warn-out partner behind.

Once again, I had to drop down in elevation, to another saddle - this one between Chiquita and Ypsilon. Ahead, up a rather long-looking broad slope, I could see the first of three false summits. I stopped, put on a jacket (clouds were moving in), and started up.

The climb up the slope isn't too difficult - as a matter of fact, I thought it much easier than the route we took up Chiquita - but it involves a lot of boulder-hopping. From the slope you can also see the summit of Chiquita, and I noticed several people walking around - including a group of people who looked like they were preparing to climb Ypsilon. I quickened my pace a bit, and was hiking at a rather decent speed, when I looked down and almost stepped on a Ptarmigan.

Ptarmigan are interesting birds. In the winter, their feathers turn stark white. During the summer, their feathers match the speckles on the rocks exactly, which blends them in almost perfectly with their surroundings. I stopped and watched for a while, as two others soon joined their friend. Then, I was back hiking again, and I eventually made it to Ypsilon's first false summit.

Ypsilon is named for several gullies on the eastern face which, when filled with snow, resemble a "Y" pattern. These gullies reach all the way to the top of the mountain, and create these false summits. The gullies still had a bit of snow in them this early in the season, but the water flow from melting could be distinctly heard. This first false summit also gives a show for those on Chiquita, as it is the summit that is easily seen - and the tiny silhouettes of hikers (particulary me, at this point) stand out quite well, giving folks on Chiquita an idea of how high a 13-er really is.

From here it is a simple hike along the ridgeline, past a second false summit, to the true summit. Along the way are several interesting rock formations, cause by alternating melting and freezing of snow in rock cracks. The result is many craggy rocks, which look like they were all peeled off of a giant onion.

Soon, I arrive on the true summit. After reading the register (which was missing, by the way. In its place was a few scraps of notebook paper), I realized that I was the first on the summit that day. I took my pack off, and snapped a few pictures of Estes Park to the east, and Desolation Peaks and Fairchild to the north. Strangely, though, I found a child-sized glove in the summit's wind block. I feel sorry for the hiker who left that, if they got stuck in cold weather while descending!

At this point, the clouds were getting thick, and I decided to depart after spending a half and hour on top. About halfway down, I passed a man climbing up, and at the Chiquita/Ypsilon saddle, I met his wife. After talking a bit, I climbed back up Chiquita (much easier via this northern face), and found my partner. He evidentally found a mountain bike enthusiast on Chiquita, and they were busy talking about their favorite bikes. We spent another half hour on Chiquita, and then descended - heading back towards where we first reached treeline. Are navigation skills were off, though, and we ended up on a trail slightly lower than the one we began on. However, the trails did eventually intersect.

Just before we reached the steps, nature gave us another suprise - a group of elk were resting in one of the clearings! Unfortunately, I was out of film at the time, and didn't get any pictures. However, we stayed and watched for a few minutes, then continued back to the car.

Since Old Fall River Road is one way only, we had to continue up to the Alpine Lodge. This is the other advantage to hiking Chapin Creek Pass - you get to finish at a lodge, with (overpriced) food and warmth inside. From the lodge, we could also see the faces of Chapin, Chiquita and Ypsilon that we climbed, and of course, didn't pass up an opportunity to make it known to tourists that we had climbed them. The way home involves driving back towards Estes Park on Trail Ridge Road, which as some of you may know, can get quite nasty sometimes.

As I said before, the Mummys are one of my favorite places to hike in the park, and this route is in particular one of my favorites. I highly recommend you climb it if you get a chance, and if you don't mind climbing a 12-er and two 13-ers instead of Colorado's famous 14-ers. Be warned, though, traffic on Old Fall River Road can be almost at a stand-still, unless you leave early. Also, for some reason storms just love to climb over the Mummys into Estes Park - so, as always, be prepared!