I had a free weekend on July 10-11, 1999 and decided I’d go after the seven 13ers in the Mummy Range.
I had recently hiked to Mummy Mountain, and from the summit had seen how close and accessible were Fairchild and Hagues. I decided then that I would return to get them all in a day. Reading Roach’s 1988 RMNP book for planning information, I learned that the Mummy Range included Ypsilon, Chiquita and Chapin as well. I figured I could get them all in 2 days:
- Starting from the Lawn Lake trailhead (8530′), use the Lawn Lake trail to reach Lawn Lake (10900′), and then climb the cirque bagging in order, Fairchild (13502′), Hagues (13560′), Rowe Peak (13,400′), Rowe Mtn (13184′) & Mummy (13425′).
- Start further up Old Fall River Road at the Chapin Pass trailhead (11020′) and use Chapin Creek Trail to get access to the west side of the Mummy Range to bag in order, Chapin (12454′), Chiquita (13069′) & Ypsilon (13514′).
It was going to be a long day. I was going to hike 21 miles and 6,800 feet of elevation gain, if my body and the weather held out. I decided to gamble a bit on the weather and water availability to reduce weight; I only packed a rain jacket, two 1-liter bottles of water, and iodine pills. The “plan” was for the rain and related cold wind to stay away, and for me to be able to find enough water to drink an estimated 6 liters (13.2 lbs) without having to carry more than 2 liters in my pack at any one time (4.4 lbs). With such a small load, I figured I could do it.
I started hiking at 6am along the Roaring River, and was amazed at the wild river bed that looked like it contained a wild amount of runoff in some years. Later, I found out that the dam on Lawn Lake had failed in 1982, and the water carved out the river bed as it roared into the town of Estes Park.
The trail was completely empty of humans. Walking on an excellent trail didn’t exactly feel wild, but the sense of adventure was certainly heightened by my isolation. My adrenaline was running high; I was feeling very good.
I broke out of the trees just after reaching Lawn Lake. I could finally see the peaks I was attempting; I could see the entire cirque. Based on my trip planning, I was thinking that I needed to cross over to the SE slope of Fairchild, but the route didn’t seem obvious. I decided to head over to Crystal Lake and use “The Saddle” approach. But first, I finished the last of my initial 2 liters and refilled both bottles.
Unlike all other Colorado lakes I’ve seen, Crystal Lake has perfectly clear water. I suppose that is where the name came from. It reminded me of spring-fed lakes I had played in as a kid in Florida. I was tempted to go swimming, but managed to stay focused on making progess; I had a long way to go. I did make a mental note to return someday for a swim.
To get a good view of Crystal Lake, I had come in too close to take a direct route up the slope toward “The Saddle” (actual name on map). Rather than take the detour to get around the cliffs surrounding the lake, I decided to climb up one of the steep gullies. As is almost always the case, I regretting my casual acceptance of unnecessary risk about half-way up the loose, steep rock. But I made it, and then worked my way up along the rim to the summit of Fairchild where I took my first break.
I didn’t know the Mummy Range well so I didn’t know that right behind me was Ypsilon, less than 2 miles away. I thought it was an impressive looking peak and took a picture, but I had no idea about the possibility of linking all the peaks together.
I started down to The Saddle after only a few minutes, and enjoyed the beautiful flowers. It was the biggest collection of mountain flowers I had ever seen; I made my second mental note of the day: to return to this incredible spot with others to share it with them.
Approaching Hagues, the hiking turned into scambling and then to climbing. Near the summit level, the difficulty felt 4th class; but I was insisting on the direct path.
As I was climbing up a crack leading to the summit level, a roaring sound from above got my attention. As I heaved my bulk over the top, I quickly looked up to see a B1 bomber doing a low-altitude, tight turn; he looked like he was having some fun before heading off over the Continental Divide. It was a strange feeling. All alone deep in the mountains and watching an air show.
At this point, I could feel the mileage of the day. I was tired, and I was out of water. As I looked over at Rowe Peak and beyond it to Rowe Mountain, I was thinking that I was moving too slowly (and getting slower), had a long way to go, and was far above treeline. I thought I’d be taking too big of a chance by doing the 2 mile round trip over that tricky terrain. I was disappointed to skip the Rowes, but I needed to start heading back down very soon.
I tagged the Hagues summit and took off for Mummy with an eye for water. On the Hagues side of the saddle between Hagues and Mummy, I found a mossy puddle. It was nasty water with lots of floating and suspended matter. Worried that I wouldn’t find anything better, I filled one of my empty bottles. I reasoned that one liter of bad water might keep me alive, but that two liters of that nastiness would definitely kill me.
I pushed my body to keep going with some speed. I was tired, but I could make hard 20-30 step pushes followed by a bent over, hands on knees rest. And, the ascent to Mummy was mercifully short. On the Mummy summit, I decided I needed to thin my blood with some of my water supply.
To my mind, it was like drinking a liter of loogey, chewing to keep from choking.
- A chewy substance that is difficult to swallow.
- An unidentifiable mass of goo of probably disgusting origins.
- A blob of snot. lung butter.
With a queazy stomach and somewhat less tired legs, I started down the south slope toward the Black Canyon trail. The thunder in the distance encouraged me to take advantage of the downhill terrain. I always feel stronger going downhill for some reason; it’s a mystery.
Near the bottom, I cut the corner to reduce the distance to the Black Canyon trail and get below treeline. The Black Canyon trail quickly led to the Lawn Lake trail and the Roaring River.
The hike out along the Roaring River was an unending death march. But water was nearby and I was below treeline. I managed to get my 6 liters of water on the day, and I was very happy to reach the car and end my suffering. I had hiked just over 19 miles and accumulated just over 6,500 feet of elevation gain in 12 hours. That was enough; I figured I’d do the rest of the Mummy Range some other weekend.
When I got home, I found a message from my friend, Joe. He wanted to join me on my final day in the Mummy Range. Now I had to continue with my Mummy Range weekend. At least the suffering was so high that I knew I’d be proud of myself when it was all done.
I picked up Joe and we drove to RMNP and up the Old Fall River Road to Chapin Pass trailhead.
The first mile or so was through the trees, but it thinned out quickly as we approached Chapin. As we broke above treeline, we saw two big bull elks giving us the eye. They both had massive racks, and we had none. We gave them room by doing a rising traverse of the Chapin flank.
We continued on to the northern most of the two Chapin summits. Once there, I admitted to Joe that I was tired. He expressed some surprise at my slow pace. I didn’t feel like explaining.
My tiredness was not going to be resolved or even aided by a break on the summit of Chapin, so we continued hiking, now heading to the Chapin-Chiquita saddle. My morale was boosted by the impressive views down to Chiquita Creek.
We continued hiking, now heading up the long ascent to the Chiquita summit. When I could afford to take my attention from my footing, I enjoyed a spectacular view of the areas I had investigated in great detail the day before. Oddly, it still didn’t occur to me how those peaks could be linked to my current location. From the Chiquita summit, Joe and I enjoyed the great view of Ypsilon’s Donner Ridge before heading down Chiquita’s northern slopes to the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle.
The climb up Ypsilon Mountain was another grind for my tired body. Joe kept looking back at me, wishing I’d move faster as we hiked up boulder-filled terrain. Once we could see down into the basin, we were lost in wonder. The Spectacle Lakes basin is very impressively boxed in by the the Donner and Blitzen ridges.
Sitting on the summit of Ypsilon, the pieces of the puzzle came together in a rush. My eyes followed the line from Fairchild to Ypsilon, and I thought, that looks doable. Suddenly, it hit me…I should have gone that way!
Looking for excuses anywhere, I complained that Roach didn’t say anything about the possibility of linking all of these peaks together. I wondered out loud if perhaps no one had done it before. The prospect of being a trail blazer burned in my mind and powered my failing body as we hiked back to the Chapin Pass trailhead. We managed to get lost for a short time and had to take a detour around a giant Porcupine, but we made it. We had taken 7 hours to climb almost 7 miles and approximately 3,200 feet of elevation gain; the weekend total was nearly 26 miles and 9,800 feet in 19 hours.
When I got home, I quickly dug out Roach’s RMNP book to confirm my assertion that he makes no mention of the linkup. Of course, I quickly found his “Mummy Mania” description and regretted not being more careful in my research. Using this route would have saved me 11 miles and 3700 feet.
Wow, what a lesson! Even though I wasn’t very smart, I still retained a measure of pride for the effort to reach 6 Mummy Range summits in a weekend.