Oct. 25, 1992

Late season hikes can be very rewarding. Weather can be dry and stable, crowds have thinned out, and you can have RMNP all to yourself.

You can also have unexpected adventures.

Ron Miller


Duane W. and Jeff B. and I wanted to do a final decent hike for the year. Our proposed hike was to drive up Fall River Rd., park at Chapin Pass and go climb Ypsilon mountain. This appeared to be an easy tundra walk on the gently sloping west faces of the Mummy range.

As usual, that was the plan. We sort of executed that plan but.....

We knew things would be interesting when we got the the Fall River Rd. gate. It was locked. Since I was driving, we had my scanner in the jeep and listened to the rangers. It was clear that FRR wouldn't be opened until much later in the morning.

We went to Plan B and drove up Trail Ridge Rd. (TRR)and parked at the Alpine Visitor Center (AVC). We briefly considered driving down FRR (wrong way on a 1 way road) but discarded the idea. Rangers probably wouldn't have a sense of humor about that.

I suppose it was about 0830 when we departed the car, leaving it parked on the back side of AVC as close to Chapin Pass as there were spaces.

The weather at that point was about 35F, little wind, and a hazy high overcast to the west.

We cruised down FRR past the sewage treatment ponds and on down to the Chapin Pass trailhead. Easy walking, downhill. I hate walking downhill at the beginning of a hike.

Then we took the trail up into the scrub trees and onward. The tundra trail is kind of faint but almost unneeded anyway. The destination is easily in sight and it's hard to get lost. We moved right along. I took pictures of some bighorns hanging out on the tundra. They seemed to have no interest in us or what we were doing.

We decided to forego any of the other peaks and simply headed straight for the top of Ypsilon. 3.5 hrs from the car, we had it. GREAT VIEWS! But about the time we got there, a very light snow began. It limited visibility of the Lawn lake/creek drainage but we could still see some things. We had fun posing on the precipitous edges of the cliffs and looking at the snowfields and speculating about what it would be like to climb the mountain by snowfield with crampons, ice axes and ropes. (none of us owned any of those at the time)

After burrowing onto some ledges out of the breeze, and having lunch, we decided it was time to go back.

We turned back to the west and saw that visibility to the west was decreasing. More snow.

So we angled on down the tundra back toward FRR. No sweat. Just keep going until we hit the road. The worst part was that the wet rocks didn't have the same traction that we were used to. We took it slow and there were no mishaps.

As we got to the tundra just above treeline, the snow became pretty dense. Jeff was wearing all his gray fleece and started to frost up. Duane was wearing his $3 plastic poncho over his warm gear and I'd put on my goretex. My boonie hat needed to be dumped off occasionally. We were comfortable though so this was just amusing.

Snow became rather thick once in the trees and the ground was whitening.

When we hit the road, there was 1" of snow sticking to it and it was falling very thickly now. I took a great picture of Jeff-the-fuzzy-bear with a snow coat on with Duane huddling under the trailhead sign roof.

We mushed uphill on the road to AVC. We couldn't see more than about 100' but we knew that a car waited just at the end of the road.

We made the car to find it had about 4" of snow on it and a note from the rangers (neatly placed into a little plastic sleeve - they must do this a LOT) stating that TRR was now closed and that I could exit the park either way I wished and that a ranger would open the gate to let me out. COOL!

We piled into the jeep, brushed off the snow and fired it up. Immediately all the moisture in our clothes fogged the windows so we waited about 10 minutes for the engine to generate enough heat to at least be able to defog the windshield. After the windshield (and only the windshield) cleared, I backed up blindly, put 'er in 4WD and we set off down TRR.

It was interesting. Visibility was extremely limited, the road was pretty deep in snow and there were virtually no tracks. I drove down the centerline, just in case. The scanner was very comforting in that we could follow the progress of the rangers' sweep thru the park to clear out vehicles and get a count of how many they were locking in. As we passed Forest Canyon Overlook, we got a glimpse of a ranger as he headed out of the parking lot and down to the overlook to shout for the occupants of the single car in the lot. We wondered what it would be like to have been camped in Forest Canyon and have to climb up to a car left there! We all were very happy that I had 4WD in the vehicle. Plenty of control, just taking our time easing down the hill. (and very glad that it had started. Not that I have problems, it's just that of all days, this would be a bad one to have troubles.)

At the gate at Many Parks Curve, the ranger let us out and within a few hundred feet, the road surface became slushy then wet. WHEW!

I kept an ear on the scanner for the next few days. I don't think they re-opened TRR until next Spring.

We were practically the last people out.

Closing thoughts:

Late Fall camping should not include parking on TRR. If this were to occur after leaving the car at Rock Cut or AVC and the camping trip were to take several days, it could require a 4WD and possibly chains to get down a closed & unplowed road. And THEN, you'd have to wait awhile at the locked gate to be let out. Perhaps in this case, a cell phone or a ham radio to contact the Park HQ before departing your parking place would help all concerned.

It went well and was a pretty fun adventure!

Ron Miller
Ft. Collins, Colo.