The Desolation of Gapers: Chapin Pass Loop

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The Mummy Range

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.

It was a beautiful morning in the Northern part of the park

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….

(The weird bearded guy’s real name is Matt – my cousin and his dad’s name is Chuck – my uncle and he’s missed very much – and he was a very good golfer)

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…

Nokhu Crags

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).

Spectacle Lakes

There was an interesting cornice at the top of one of the branches of the Y-Couloir that gave away upon being urinated on.

Weird cornice

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.

Me and the weird bearded guy. He thinks he’s Crocodile Dundee and sometimes slipped up with a fake, poor Australian accent. Semi-retirement makes you do some strange things….

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).

Some shots….

East Desolation with some of the route visible

the “canyon”

summit pitch

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…..

“you shall not pass”

I thought the girls were admiring the Longs Massif, but they were just sharing a moment together.

I decided to resign myself to a couple Modus by the fire in the pale moonlight

I’d tell you where this campsite was, but then I’d have to answer to this guy….

“Please don’t gape this campsite out”

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.

18 thoughts on “The Desolation of Gapers: Chapin Pass Loop

  1. Ben

    Hilarious read as usual, good sir. I know you’ve been talking about these Desolation Peaks for awhile now. I would have thought the girls were admiring Longs as well, but I wouldn’t have asked if that was the case out of fear of it somehow not being. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.
    Nice rant at the beginning, and I apologize again for the part I played in the Lime Creek bail fest. Good to see you were able to throw a solid plan B together anyway. I hope Mr. Dundee had fun. And nice fire shot.

  2. Brandon Chalk

    Great stuff, Miller. Love all of the good humor on the ever-increasing influx of gaperdom into our state. You did a stellar job on finding some good solitude on the F Range up in the Mummy Range. That’s one place I’ve never stepped foot, so I got to live vicariously through you. So sorry about the clusterf%^$ of trying to plan a camping/bagging trip and literally everyone bailing. Seems to be par for the course in my experience as people get older, take on more responsibilities, and are just busier with life. Its annoying no doubt, but it is what it is. Hope to see you sooner than later.

    1. Brian Post author

      Chalk – I look forward to having a kid one day and adding to the ever-increasing influx of gaperdom. You can still enjoy the park and not really have to deal with 70 (Silverthorne up 9 to Kremmling to 40 to Granby).

  3. Floyd

    Hilarious read Helmut. As I’ve said many times, these are very high on the to-do list. And now, I’ll have a guide. Speaking of GOBAR, is that a banquet beer I see in the background of the last pic?

    1. Brian Post author

      Scot – I’ll be happy to go back. And the Banquet has found a nice home in my post-climb rotation I’m proud to admit. It’s cold hard refreshment.

  4. Oliver

    That was an awesome, hilarious trip report. I was cracking up at my desk when I read “you shall not pass!”

  5. DKYarian (Zambo)

    Sometimes I wish that we could pay Morgan Freeman to slowly read one of your TRs aloud. In my mind, this is the only way they would be even more incredible and epic. Bravo, friend.
    PS: Floyd just totally nailed you on the Coors…..

    1. Brian Post author

      Zambo – someone should just create an app that does just that. You type out commands and it spits it back out in Morgan Freeman’s voice. Maybe Bane as well….

  6. Sarah B.

    Sorry the Lime Creek thing fell through (guess Kevin and I weren’t the only ones to flake out, not that that’s any excuse) but looks like you came up with a solid alternative. Those are some interesting perspectives of the Park you captured up there for sure! Nice. And that pic of your lady and her pals is really sweet. The dog photos are a riot as well, haha. He’s probably good for bruin protection, right? Nice report, Brian. Looking forward to getting out with you soon!
    PS: What the F is up with that Coors… (nice eye, Scot)

    1. Brian Post author

      Sarah – Enzo looks short, but he weighs a solid 75-80 pounds. I wonder if his lower center of gravity would be enough to stand his ground vs. a black bear. Now a brown bear would be another story….

      As for the Coors – I will stand by my position that Coors is more refreshing than a hoppy ale post-climb and you guys are just going to have to learn to live with it!

  7. John

    Had to check out the site and see what you’ve been up to this summer. Funny that I too have added the Banquet to my regular rotation of camp beers this summer….

    1. Brian Post author

      Thanks John for the backup on the Banquet. Thanks for checking in, we need to get out on an adventure before or after the snow starts to fall.

  8. bloomy

    You’re a grizzled old man. Welcome to the club. In no time you’ll have graduated to Keystone Light, all-in with taxes running $0.50 – $0.60 per can. Fortune telling free of charge.

  9. Kevin

    I was laughing aloud at my desk as I read, while my coworkers were thinking I was a complete nut. Thanks for the TR and sorry to bail on you that weekend (another weekend of jumping out of things for me). It was nice that you found a drifter that was a compairable hiker to Charlie Weis and hopefully a bit more entertaining with the Fried Green Tomatoes plot. I look forward to getting out with you soon. As always, you’re going down in ping pong.


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