| The Chapin-Chiquita-Ypsilon Trifecta, aka "Mommies' Day Out"
Mt. Chapin, Mt. Chiquita, Ypsilon Mountain trip report
My friend and running buddy talked me into getting a “mommy’s day off” and going mountain climbing with her. Originally we planned to do Flattop Mountain, but as we talked in the car, we found that we both had Chapin/Chiquita/Ypsilon on our bucket lists. We were a little nervous about being so exposed to the weather for such a long time, and quite a bit nervous about going to such high elevation without camping high the night before. But today the forecast looked to be dry and we decided to keep a close eye on each other for altitude sickness... and we went for it. The distance would be about the same as Flattop, and the chance to bag three high peaks was too tempting to pass up.
At the RMNP entrance station, the ranger told us that Old Fall River Road had JUST opened the day before! I had no idea they were looking at such a late opening. Could there really be that much snow out there? How much snow would we encounter on the trail? We made the drive on the very well-maintained dirt road - it didn’t take long to get to the Chapin Pass trailhead. We encountered no snow at all on this lower section of the road. There did seem to be an eroded section that was newly constructed, so perhaps that’s why the road was closed for so long. We started hiking from Chapin Pass at 8:25am. It was cold and clear, and we wore our long sleeves.
We came to a trail junction very quickly that was marked to Chapin Creek to the left, and the peaks to the right and uphill. We hit another trail junction not long after that warned us the trail to the peaks was not maintained after this point. We passed a couple of pretty tarns and then the trail went very steeply uphill. It was a calf-burner!
At treeline, the trail was not quite so relentlessly steep. There were a few neat groves of krummholtz trees and then we broke out into the open. We met up with two other hikers just past treeline - they were also doing the “CCY” as they called it. One hiker grew up in Allenspark and said he climbed these peaks quite a long time ago. He recalled that we should leave the trail at this point, just above treeline, and march up the ridge to Chapin’s summit. So we did!
After we marched up the ridge to a rounded hilltop, our new friend looked over and apologized - he had led us up to a high point that was not Chapin’s summit! Chapin looked cool from this angle, with a jagged gap between us and the true summit.
Standing on the "false" Chapin, with Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon in the background
As you can see, we answered the question about how much snow was up there... it was totally clear.
We traversed a bit to the north and then up along the ridge to the peak. It alternated talus and tundra and was overall a straightforward walk. We also heard some pika and were able to catch at least one on camera. We arrived at Mt. Chapin’s real summit, a little over 12,400 feet, at 10:00am. We shared our hike today with our two friends from Allenspark and a family of six from Kansas. A few more people seemed to be doing one or two peaks. It was not at all crowded, and it was very pleasant.
View from Chapin's summit down to Old Fall River Road and Estes Park
The views were great, the weather was clear. My friend and I sat, ate snacks, enjoyed the breeze, and talked to our trail friends. The character of all three peaks is very different on their western faces from their eastern faces. From the east, all three peaks are steep, cliffy, and jagged. From the west, they are green hills awash in wildflowers. We could appreciate both sides from the summit. At 10:15, my girlfriend and I took off downhill toward the north on a kind-of trail toward the Chapin-Chiquita saddle. You lose just about 400 feet down to the saddle.
Chiquita from Chapin
Chiquita was also a pretty straightforward walk. We saw many marmots on the slopes. While we were on Chapin, we almost tripped over one that lumbered away just in time!
Marmot silhouetted on the slopes of Chiquita
We ran into a local friend, Jen, and her climbing partner Dick - a random “small world” encounter! We chatted with Jen and Dick for a short time, took photos, and then continued on the grassy-and-talusy slope to Chiquita’s rounded summit (13,069 ft). We occasionally caught glimpses of what might be a trail, but it was never a very consistent trail. One of our new friends from Chapin had told us that the Mummy Range has a characteristic white granite, and that we’d see more and more of it the farther north we went. Sure enough, the salt-and-pepper rocks became slightly more salt as we ascended Chiquita. We got to the summit around 11:25 am.
Summit shot on Chiquita
The marmots up here were very social and quite habituated to people... they approached our friends from Allenspark and begged for handouts!
There were some high, puffy clouds in the sky, but nothing building at all, so we re-packed and then moseyed down the slope to the north toward the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle. Ypsilon has a big Y-shaped gouge in its eastern face, and apparently whoever named the peak thought “Ypsilon Mountain” sounded more interesting than “Y Mountain”. Ypsilon’s east face is very impressive and the snow stays in the Y quite a long time!
The Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle is a little lower than 12,800 feet, so you drop just about 200 feet to get to the saddle, but then you gain 700 more to the summit of Ypsilon. As we climbed Ypsilon, we noticed a rock uphill from us that looked like a big, scary black bat (we called it “batman rock”). We kind of used it as a landmark, but ultimately traversed to the left of it since we knew the true Ypsilon summit is the northern one of the two subpeaks.
Batman, Jr. Rock
Ypsilon was grassy on its lower half, but then very rocky and barren (more black and white rocks) for the upper half. We were impressed with the upper part of the northern branch of the Y. It was still full of snow and it was cool to see that it acts a little like a glacier. It had clearly worked some on the rocks in the couloir, dragging them downhill. There was a mini-bergschrund on each side.
Snow in the upper reaches of Ypsilon's Y
We summited Ypsilon at 12:40pm. The true summit is really dramatic. A wind shelter frames a little place to sit where your legs can dangle in space over the cliff on the east side. I was too chicken to sit there. The “welcoming committee”, a fat marmot, had no reservations about it at all. He scurried and jumped around the cliff edge and waddled over to say hello.
Marmot on the cliffs with a cool lake below
We looked down at the Fay Lakes from the wind shelter. There was an unnamed tarn that was half-filled with snow and was a gorgeous blue-green color. My friend moved a bit to the south so she could see Spectacle Lakes, but she said only one Spectacle was really clear to see. We picked out Mt. Fairchild, Mummy Mountain, Hagues Peak, and Desolation Peaks. The traverse over to Fairchild looks loose and challenging. We wondered what it was like to climb it. From here, the Alpine Visitor Center was very far below us. We could make out many distant peaks, including the Snowy Range, Medicine Bow Range, the Rabbit Ears Range, and the Tenmile Range. You could see the chain of peaks all the way from Long’s Peak over the Continental Divide and then to Trail Ridge. I loved seeing the mountains from this angle - it was my first time climbing peaks in the Mummies, and this was a cool viewpoint.
Long's Peak, Continental Divide
View to the northwest: Long Draw Reservoir, Snowy Range, Medicine Bow Range
Trail Ridge, Alpine Visitor Center, and you could see the tenmile range but my camera is kind of lousy
Required summit mug shot
Hagues, Fairchild, Mummy
The family from Kansas and the guys from Allenspark joined us on the summit after a while, and we took turns taking each other’s pictures. The marmots had gotten a little aggressive - our welcome wagon marmot approached me and sniffed at my backpack and shoes. I stood up and stomped my feet and yelled at him so he’d give me some space.
I said, you can't eat my shoes! Scram!
We finished snacking and drinking, and after a good half-hour stay on the summit, we bid adieu to our companions and headed downhill. The two of us descended to the Ypsilon-Chiquita saddle pretty much the same way we came up. From here, we decided to go downhill and south so we’d make basically a straight-line path to the Chapin-Chiquita saddle. In hindsight, this was a mistake. We should have traversed straight south, keeping the same elevation until we got to the south side of Chiquita, and then gone straight downhill. Up higher on Chiquita, the slopes are grassy and pleasant. The line we took, further downhill, alternated between tundra and talus, and the talus was really difficult to navigate through. It was not quite steep enough to be able to use your hands for balance. The rocks were uneven and unsteady. Our ankles got an excellent workout, but it was an exhausting way to walk. It was slow progress. Other than our speed and much mental energy spent, we made it to the Chapin/Chiquita saddle with no real problems.
She makes sidehilling look easy. The trail goes above that snowfield, so that's where we were aiming.
Getting to open tundra was a huge relief, and I couldn’t resist spreading my arms, looking up to the sky, and spinning in a circle a la “The Sound of Music”.
The hills are alive! Although I think this is looking at Chiquita, not Chapin
From there, the descent was on a trail that went above a snowfield and then down into the trees, and it was fairly easy. We had forgotten about how steep the trail was once we hit treeline - it really hurt on sore feet and knees! We arrived back at the car at 3:15pm. I ended up having no trouble with altitude sickness. I wondered if one advantage of this “trifecta” is that you tend to rest up at each summit. Every time we summited a peak (basically every hour), I drank and ate plenty, rested and took care of myself. I brought a 3-liter camelbak and kept fruit snacks in my pocket (“Gummy bear? They’ve been in my pocket, so they’re nice and soft”), taking care to hydrate and eat. Perhaps it helped, or perhaps I just got lucky.
The rest of the drive up Fall River Road was short and slow, as many cars were joining us on the road at this point. The only real snow is a patch right before the Alpine Visitor Center, and that looked like it had been clear for a while - it made me think the road closure was most likely due to erosion and not to snow removal. At the AVC, we used the facilities, bought a latte and some chips (one of the few places in the country where you can get a latte above 12,000 feet), and window-shopped with the tourists. We joined the masses on Trail Ridge Road and headed home with no problems at all.
We checked this item off the Bucket List and enjoyed a wonderful alpine day out. We learned later that our husbands had a great time with the kids (One husband took the kids to the zoo, and the other took ours to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science), so great fun was had all around.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):