Chapin Pass Loop: Mount Chapin (12,454), Mount Chiquita (13,069), Ypsilon Mountain (13,514) and East Desolation Peak (12,949)
Stats: 10.4 miles 5,300 feet
Partners: Some drifter
The title of this TR is a tad misleading, as it assumes a level of despair and emptiness. Congestion in Colorado has been a brain damaging experience, but I’m not waiving the white flag just yet. On the contrary, I was able to seek solitude last weekend, in addition to finding a dispersed campsite….in the Front Range of all places – and it even had an aura of solitude. Truth of the matter is, life ain’t that bad. I avoid weekday traffic by taking the light rail. I’ve avoided weekend traffic by avoiding I-70 and/or travelling at odd hours. Home values have increased due to the population influx and I don’t have to deal with any trash on trails, aggressive bear encounters, camping restrictions or getting shot at by NRA enthusiasts. I haven’t waited in a lift line in a while cause I stopped skiing at any of the Vail Resorts and the snow has been better in Colorado than anywhere else in North America for the past 2 to 3 years. So really – life is a bowl of cherries, relatively speaking. Don’t get me wrong, there are gapers out there and they do F up a lot of stuff that would otherwise be able to run smoothly without their interference. And CDOT is a bunch of monkeys trying to hump a football, as Herb Brooks would say. Inbounds skiing will soon be a thing of the past and friday and sunday afternoon commutes to and from the mountain will always be GOBAR. C’est la vie!
Anyways – I made the mistake of trying to plan a 15-person camping trip. I started with an email chain and everyone CC’d and opened ideas up to the entire state and the entire summer. Dates were thrown around and we seemed to have come to some sort of civil, reasonable agreement on a date, then we chose the place and then the week leading up to the date, people dropped like flies till there was nobody left except for Rebecca and her friends – none of which like to hike peaks. We scrambled and agreed on a closer location, where we were actually able to nab a site on a friday afternoon, that was void of other people for 100 yards in any direction. I did not think that was possible in the Front Range in 2015.
In addition to the highway “storms” – we managed to peel out of town in time to miss this apocalyptic disaster….
Anyways, I ran in to some Wookie that was squatting in the area and asked if he’d be interested in hiking some peaks in the park the following morning. He obliged in some unknown inaudible grunting and then retired to the quarters of his Prius for the evening (apparently this Chris McCandless wannabe is an External Wholesaler for a Real Estate Investment Trust company in Denver, a self-proclaimed semi-retired 32 year old, who happens to flip homes in the Wash Park area on the side). Apparently he was an All Big-East baseball player at Notre Dame back in his glory days, but I figured that was just the bourbon talking. He asked how difficult the peaks would be and I told him Charlie Weis could get up them.
We managed to wake up around the same time and make way for Chapin Pass TH off Old Fall River Road. When empty (early in the morning) Old Fall River doubles as both an access road constructed by the NPS and an unofficial rally car circuit. I was really wishing I had like a WRX, as you can really fly up the long dirt road, with winding switchbacks (just watch out for the Estes Park locals who use the road as a morning jog). On the trail around 7am, anyone who has done this loop knows how straight forward it is. About 50 yards from the TH sign is a junction with a sign that reads “All peaks this way”. Go that way.
This weird bearded guy’s dad passed away from cancer a couple years ago and he believes his soul passed on to a marmot, so when we passed this guy along the trail, he was soliciting golf swing advice. The creature was speechless….
I’d like to think that if Chuck really were reincarnated as any creature, it’d be a gopher digging tunnels around a golf course, tormenting the Grounds Crew.
Anyways, this marmot was really just interested in our beef jerky and when he realized he wasn’t getting any, he ran off. We reached the Chapin-Chiquita saddle where we threw on the windbreakers and continued on towards Chiquita, which broad summit was scattered about with people – probably 9 or 10 total. Views were solid in all directions – mainly these 2…
Anyone who has ever done anything around Ypsilon Mountain knows the appeal. It has alpine route littering its East side, it has ski routes, its a leg of the Mummy Mania, its home to the mythical and elusive Spectacle Lakes, Donner and Blitzen Ridges and some damn fine views to boot. If Ypsilon replaced Lady Washington – the Longs Peak Cirque would rival any basin in the Lower 48 (it already does).
There was an interesting cornice at the top of one of the branches of the Y-Couloir that gave away upon being urinated on.
The summit of Ypsilon had less people than Chiquita. We gazed over at the Desolations, which looked very inviting and the weather looked stable, so we decided to push on.
On the way over to Desolations, this guy, who was still following me, took it upon himself to recite the entire plot of “Friend Green Tomatoes”, supplemented with southern accents and all. I had never seen it but now I don’t feel I need to. It would take away from his vivid, colorful re-enactment. Story time ended pretty quick as we reached the ridge to East Desolation.
The route we took – which I’m not sure is the path of least resistence – went something like this. From the mellow start of the route, we skirted right along some ledges around West Desolation (we never really summited West), regained ridge proper after the west summit, then dropped around 50 feet down a series of slab ledges and entered a prominent, mini-canyon, where we boulder hopped through, till it opened back up. Now, this is where you have a choice. You can either remain on the ridge proper, which looks like it fizzles out, but at the last second, you can climb back over to the north side of it and then run a non-exposed ledge to the “saddle” between the 2 summits OR you can drop down on the south side via some semi-complex class 3/easy 4 ledges (more exposure) and then regain “saddle” with some slight elevation gain. I recommend the former, we just couldn’t see it on the way there (it was obvious on the way back).
The terrain from the “saddle” to the summit pitch was straightforward and easy to follow – just take path of least resistance and stay on the left side of the ridge. The summit pitch is 3 series of moves. The first 2 are easier but more exposed and the final summit pitch is solid class 4, but not as exposed, as there is a wide ledge below you to the right – so in the unfortunate you happen to fall – it probably won’t be fatal. With weather looming and stomachs growling, we didn’t linger, the descent back was easier and now we had to make the decision to retrace our route along the ridge or drop down in to the drainage to the west and regain Chapin Pass from the north via a faint trail on the west side of Chapin Creek. We chose the latter and it wasn’t terrible, but not ideal. Aside from seeing trails of bear scat all over the hillside, the schwack through the forest wasn’t too bad. There were some faint game trails that we’d use till they fizzled out, and after around 30-40 minutes, we popped out on the creek, forded and hiked along some very faint trails all the way back to the pass and then the car.
The bearded guy said he was “headed back to the Homestead” (aka his townhome on Archer and Broadway) so we parted ways. I reckon I’ll bump in to that man again, just don’t know where. Somewhere on down the ole’ dusty trail I suppose.
Anyways, upon my return to camp, I was attacked by an imposing force…..
I’d tell you where this campsite was, but then I’d have to answer to this guy….
So not all hope is lost. There is solitude to be found in dem hills, dispersed camping available, fun scrambles and friendly drifters with beards. There is still a little bit of the Wild West left in this town…
Thanks for reading.