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Mummy Mania!

Started: 2015-08-15 11:23:49

Submitted: 2015-08-15 13:12:33

Visibility: World-readable

26 July 2015: In which the intrepid narrator attempts the epic Mummy Mania traverse

For several years I've maintained a todo list of climbs and other expeditions I want to undertake while in Colorado. This includes my goal of climbing all of the top ten peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder County (both of which I finished last year), and Indian Peaks Wilderness (which I have one left).

In addition to specific summits, my todo list also includes specific routes. One of these routes is a long shuttle hike in Rocky Mountain National Park that takes in all of the major summits in the Mummy Range. I've climbed all of these summits in shorter trips (Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon in 2010; Fairchild in 2013; and Mummy and Hagues in 2014), but I also wanted the opportunity to take in all of the summits at once. In his out-of-print 1987 Rocky Mountain National Park climbing guide, Gerry Roach calls this route Mummy Mania!

To actually accomplish this climb required at least one co-conspirator, since I would need two separate cars at two separate trailheads, separated by a few miles of road. I found myself poking around the forums of 14ers.com and responded to a post soliciting interest in the Mummy Mania! climb. Since we had a conflict on Saturday, I convinced Kiesa to let me climb on a Sunday, and I agreed to meet two other climbers from the forum at the Lawn Lake Trailhead at 05:30 on Sunday morning.

I woke up alpine-early on Sunday morning, 26 July 2015, and headed up US 36 through Estes Park, past the Fall River entrance station, up to the trailhead. As I was approaching Estes Park I got stuck behind a slower-moving SUV and wondered if this was being driven by one of my climbing partners. The vehicle made all of the right turns in front of me to stay in front of me and pulled into the trailhead, and the driver identified himself as Brian, one of my climbing partners. (On this forum I identified myself using my hacker alias Jaeger, though I used my real name while introducing myself in person at the trailhead.)

After a few minutes our third climbing partner, Derick, arrived. We collected our gear and climbed into Brian's SUV for the drive up Fall River Road, recently reconstructed after the flooding in 2013 to the Chapin Pass Trailhead where we would begin the climb, leaving the other two vehicles at the lower trailhead. The pre-dawn dark gave way to early-morning light as we drove up the rough gravel road.

Our route took us up a designated but unmaintained trail from Chapin Pass to the saddle between Mount Chapin and Mount Chiquita. I'd climbed this way before, in 2010, when I climbed the first three peaks on the route. We left the trail to claim the first summit (a ranked summit at a modest 12,454 feet), then descended back to the saddle and continued up the south slope of Mount Chiquita (an unranked summit, but at a higher 13,069 feet). On the broad summit of Mount Chiquita there were several piles of rock that could have been the local high point, but I didn't waste too much time visiting all of them, since I'd been there before and the summit was unranked anyway.

By this point the trail had mostly given way to a few cairns scattered around the tundra-and-talus slopes. We continued our traverse of the ridge, descending north to the saddle and ascending the south slope of Ypsilon Mountain (a ranked thirteener, 13,514 feet). Just below the summit we surveyed the exit of the Y Couloir (which gives the mountain its name), which appeared to have at least one set of boot-prints in the snow leading away from the climb, and carefully looked down the cliff to the lakes nestled at the bottom of the mountain.

Spectacle Lakes from Ypsilon Mountain
Spectacle Lakes from Ypsilon Mountain

At the top we met a friendly off-duty park ranger, who was climbing the peak just for fun, and an equally-friendly marmot hoping for a handout.

Marmot on the summit of Ypsilon Mountain
Marmot on the summit of Ypsilon Mountain

From my vantage point on top of Ypsilon Mountain I could see almost all of the park, with mountains stretching into every direction. I recognized many of them, including Mount Julian (named after Julian of course). The only subrange that I haven't climbed is the volcanic Never Summer Mountains to the west, which I fear may find their way onto my todo list while there's still some summer left.

Mount Julian and other peaks above Gorge Lakes
Mount Julian and other peaks above Gorge Lakes

From Ypsilon Mountain the route diverged from my prior climb as we descended the north-west ridge to the saddle connecting with Fairchild Mountain to the north. My guidebooks rated this ridge as a class 3 scramble, so I exchanged my hat for my climbing helmet and stuck closer to the crest of the ridge, scrambling up and down the solid blocky towers that formed the traverse. My climbing partners were less interested in scrambling for its own sake, and descended slightly to the right to bypass the obstacles. It was here that the group began to diverge: I was out front, scrambling along the crest of the ridge; Derick came second, along the class 2 talus slightly lower along the ridge; and Brian lagged further behind, following roughly the same route.

I stopped for lunch when I reached the low point of the traverse and surveyed the south slope of Fairchild Mountain looming above us. It was only 800 vertical feet to the top but the most direct route took us straight up a steep talus slope through a pair of towers high above buttressing a shallow gully. The slope further east was more gentle, but getting there would require a traverse or an ascending traverse and that was unlikely to be easier to reach than the direct ascent.

We attacked the slope head-on, and after a lengthy slog, reached the top. Here we found a number of climbers who had come up from the north side, most of them from backcountry campsites around Lawn Lake. From the summit of Fairchild Mountain I could look back at the ridge we'd climbed and Ypsilon Mountain, and look north across The Saddle to the next peak on the list, Hagues Peak.

North face of Ypsilon Mountain
North face of Ypsilon Mountain

While on the summit I spotted what looked like a rainbow in the middle of the wispy cloud above us. At first I wondered if it was an artifact of my polarized sunglasses, but the other people on the summit could see it as well, as well as my camera.

Interstitial rainbow in middle of cloud
Interstitial rainbow in middle of cloud

We began our descent on the north side of Fairchild Mountain, picking our way over and through boulders and patches of snow. I reached The Saddle well ahead of the rest of my group and found myself contemplating the imposing south slope of Hagues Peak ahead of me.

Hagues Peak
Hagues Peak

By this point it was after 13:00. The weather seemed to be holding so far, but there were wispy clouds all over and one large thunderhead to the north-east that seemed to be moving our way. I considered whether I wanted to continue with the ascent of Hagues Peak or whether to take the easier exit route via the trail back to the trailhead. (From The Saddle it was still eight or nine miles back to the trailhead, but it was all downhill on the trail, rather than climbing another 1200 vertical feet to Hagues Peak, with some scrambling at the top, and 500 vertical feet to Mummy Mountain, all off-trail on talus.) Since I'd already climbed the last two peaks on the route, I decided to call it a day and head back, and the rest of my group reached the same conclusion on their own.

From this point it was still a lengthy hike back to the trailhead. Brian lagged behind again, and I soon gave up on the idea of waiting for him -- since Derick had already volunteered to give Brian a ride back to his SUV waiting at the upper trailhead. It still took me the better part of four hours to make it back to the trailhead, but even tired after hiking all day I was still faster than pretty much everyone else on the trail.

I reached the trailhead after 17:00 and was surprised to see Derick emerge a few minutes later, while I was still unpacking and collecting myself at my car. I confirmed his plan to transport Brian back to the upper trailhead (whenever he arrived), thanked him for the hike, and bid him farewell. I returned home, tired but happy to have completed enough of my objective to consider the day a smashing success.

it's amazing how much nothing you can do on a sunday.
- bse, Tue Feb 29 16:50:45 GMT 2000