Peak(s):  Fairchild Mtn  -  13,502 feet
Date Posted:  02/27/2019
Modified:  02/28/2019
Date Climbed:   07/15/2002
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Climbing Fairchild Mountain (and Meeker and Longs)  


Taylor was the only new Rocky Mountain National Park 13er I climbed in 2000. I climbed it twice that year. I also repeated both my 1999 climb of Meeker via the Loft, and my 1999 climb of Longs via the Keyhole. I wanted to make sure I knew those routes up the two peaks by heart so I could remember them in 2001.


Though I did climb Mount Lady Washington and Storm Peak in 2001, that year I mostly concentrated on climbing Longs.


First, early in the season, I did that totally unplanned North Face climb of Longs with Sam Crater, whom I had just met unexpectedly at Chasm View, where the route began.


In July, when Longs became no longer technical, I took a friend who had never climbed big peaks before both up and down the Keyhole route so that he successfully attained his first Colorado 14er summit.


After that, Teresa Gergen and I located Clark’s Arrow and climbed Longs by that route from the Loft. We had first tagged Meeker (her first ascent of that 13er) and then had turned our attention to locating Clark’s Arrow. We found the fabled and faded arrow high on the face of a vertical slab (ascending, you can only see the Arrow after you have passed it, for it is meant to tell descending climbers “Now stop contouring around the ledge system, and turn left at the first good place to begin your climb back up to the Loft.”) Memorably, midway around this ascending contour of ledges toward the Palisades, we encountered a group of climbers in trouble, two young men and a young woman. Somehow, they had strayed from the route, and were below us, and were befuddled as to how they could get back up. The young woman was crying. Teresa and I stopped for a moment to fully take this scene in, and then since we could easily see from above what each of them needed to do, talked them one by one back onto the route we had just found. When this was over, and everyone was safe on our ledge, they expressed their gratitude. The young woman stopped crying. We urged them to simply follow us, and told them we would take them up to the summit, and we all five finished the route just fine, though they did fall behind Teresa’s and my faster pace.


A couple of weeks after my first ascent of Longs from the Loft via Clark’s Arrow, I repeated the route with my climbing buddy Randy, his wife Rose, and my young friend B.J., who had first climbed Longs with me only a few weeks before via the Keyhole route. Again, we tagged Meeker from the Loft before heading for Longs. It was everybody else’s first ascent of Meeker, just as it had been Teresa’s.


Finally, in October, after some snow had already fallen and remained on the North Face and the northern aspects of Meeker, I made one final solo climb of Longs via the Keyhole route that year. And when I say that climb was solo, I mean it was really solo. I just took a look at the two rolls of film I shot along the entire route that climb, both ascending and descending. There were 24 shots on each roll, and nowhere in all that film does another soul besides myself show up, either in the distance or close-by. I had the Longs Peak experience all to myself that whole day. It was truly eerie. I saw no other climber the entire time I was ascending or descending. The route was still non-technical. Snow only remained on the North Face, and in some shadows. The whole Keyhole route was clear and snow-free. The weather on that October day was balmy, Indian Summer. I had carried my ice axe just in case I needed it for anything, but I might as well have left it at home. I hadn’t started this climb of Longs at 3 a.m. I didn’t need to. The weather had been predicted to be clear and dry, and that turned out to be true. So, I started my climb just before first light, and didn’t have to do that long stretch of trail below tree-line with a headlamp. There had been other cars in the parking lot, but the people who had driven them must have been bound for places other than Longs—the Eugenia mine, or Chasm Lake. Above Chasm Junction, for all the way to the summit of Longs and back, I saw no one. I finished so late in the day that a long shadow cast by the great peaks fell across the Tahosa Valley all the way up the side of Twin Sisters, where the leaves on the aspen trees were turning golden.


I include some photos of my descent on the Longs climb below, because it is so rare that anyone truly experiences a whole day alone on this popular route.


19258_02
Me Alone on Longs Summit.
Taken with my camera on a rock, and the shutter controlled by an auto-timer.


19258_03
Summit Marker and Longs' Vacant Summit.


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Vacant Home Stretch From Above.


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Vacant Narrows.


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Vacant Trough.


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Vacant Ledges.


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Vacant Keyhole.


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Vacant on the Other Side Too.


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Vacant Boulder Field High.


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Vacant Boulder Field Low.


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Shadows of the Great Peaks Reach High Up the Slopes of Twin Sisters. Aspen Leaves Turning Gold.


That’s two more climbs of Meeker, and five climbs of Longs over three different routes in 2001. That’s pretty good for a single year. I would only find one other way to climb Longs within my scrambling capability, and that would be the Northwest Couloir Route, which I found briefly mentioned in only one climbing reference book, Richard Rossiter’s “Rocky Mountain National Park: The High Peaks.” And when I write “briefly mentioned,” I mean briefly. I had to figure out many of the details of the route myself, in 2002, when I first climbed it. In 2009 I posted a trip report on this climb on 14ers.com, which seemed to spark renewed interest in this almost forgotten way to get up Longs.


But this is supposed to be a trip report about climbing Fairchild Mountain, and it would be good if I began to do that. Fairchild Mountain is a part of the beautiful Mummy Range. The Range is particularly beautiful because this entire group of mountains is often snow-covered all winter, and you can spot it easily from viewpoints all along the Front Range. It stands out from other ranges, and another way it stands out is that a certain grouping of these mountains seems to rise up from the surrounding terrain like successive waves of the sea. One wave after another. The waves of the sea always remind me of the passing of the years. There is no way to stop them. Wave after wave just keeps coming in as you as you watch from the shore. And so does this particular grouping of mountains in a very poetic fashion. I’ll name them in left to right sequence as they rise—Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild. Here they are, in a photograph I took at first light one winter morning, from near Deer Ridge Junction in the Park:


19258_01
Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon and Fairchild.


Three of the mountains in this photograph are Park 13ers, and eventually I hope to soon get around to writing a trip report on all three. The three peaks on the right, Chiquita, Ypsilon and Fairchild are the 13ers. Chapin, on the left, is a 12er, but if you want to and have the energy, you can tag it too from Chapin Pass on a climb of Chiquita and Ypsilon. I would recommend tagging the two 13ers first, then catching Chapin on the return toward Chapin Pass, if you still want to do that. Climbing them in that order would result in your successful climb of the two 13ers, at least, if you discover that you are too tired for a third peak that day. Then you can simply return on another day to climb Chapin, the closest of the three peaks to the trailhead.


Fairchild can be climbed from either Chapin Pass or from Lawn Lake. Every time I climbed it, I did so from Lawn Lake, despite the long approach from the trailhead. The distance from the Lawn Lake Trailhead to the summit of Fairchild is nearly 9 miles, so this is a 17+ miles round-trip. I could do that as a long day-hike back then. These days, older now, I might be inclined to climb it from the shorter approach from Chapin Pass. Or better yet, after an overnight at the Lawn Lake back country campsite. The Lawn Lake approach provides definitely the easiest way up the mountain.


So the morning of my climb, I got to the trailhead at first light, and started up the trail. This is the same approach I used to climb Mummy Mountain, so you might refer back to my earlier climb of that peak if you would like to read my description of the route early on and see some photos of it again. The trail is well-established, and it would be hard to stray from it. Just start at the trailhead, and follow the trail. There is one turnoff to the left low on the trail to Ypsilon Lake that you don’t want to take, and another turnoff to the right high on the trail down the Black Canyon Trail that you also don’t want to take. Lawn Lake is your destination.


If you’ll remember from my earlier Mummy Mountain Report, the Lawn Lake Trail provides stunning views of the destruction left by the Lawn Lake Flood of 1982. I want to begin this report with a few photos of that destruction. In my earlier report, my photos were from the trail. I wanted a closer look at it this hike, and took some photos from down in the flood path itself.


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Flood Damage.


19258_16
More Flood Damage.


19258_40
The Forest Beginning to Heal.


Some of the flood-damaged area in this photograph is starting to heal. Young trees are starting to gain height over the rock debris left behind when the water receded.


The forest takes a long time to heal, longer than we as humans usually require to recover from physical wounds, anyway. Some of our other wounds, though, if they heal at all, take as long as the forests to heal—such as the wounds we receive from love, and war, and great losses suffered like the deaths of our parents or our closest friends. Some of these wounds are so deep and lasting we carry them with us forever. And we find that the very act of continuing to carry them adds an increased depth of meaning to our lives as we live them, an understanding that we can’t articulate, that we can share with no one else. These wounds remain ours alone to carry, and in a way, as we age, come to shape our very self-definition of who we are, and what we’ve done.


And I’ll tell you something about aging that I’ve learned. As we age, simple acts, like climbing a mountain, begin to resonate in our consciousness with a significance with which they never resonated when we were younger.


But to get back to the climb, the trail will take you to Lawn Lake. It is at Lawn Lake that you will get your first good look at the route you will need to follow to climb Fairchild Mountain. Hague’s Peak is the mountain on the right. Fairchild rises to the left out of the picture. There is a broad saddle between Fairchild and Hague’s, and climbing from Lawn Lake up to that saddle (which is named rather prosaically just “The Saddle”) is the best route to take to climb both of these mountains. Take a look at this photo shot from near Lawn Lake. There is a hitching rail for horses on the very left. There is a natural ramp of tundra which rises above the lake and behind it. It is very green in this photo, and up-close displays acres of beautiful wildflowers. The ramp is just to the left of those bands of granite slanting down from the right edge of the photo, and scarring Hague’s lower slopes. If the resolution is good enough here, and you look carefully, just to the left of the highest patches of green shrubbery on the right-hand slopes of Hague’s, you can see the trail that will take you up to The Saddle. I think sometime before you reach the actual saddle, the trail fades away. Importantly, The Saddle is not the ridge line. You don’t have to climb all the way to the ridge line to climb Fairchild. You only have to climb high enough to clear the cliffs barring easy passage on the lower slopes of Fairchild and Crystal Lakes, which are out of sight beyond the left edge of this photo. Cut left above the cliffs and below the ridge line, and the upper slopes of Fairchild will present themselves to you. I’ll show that in the sequence of photos that follows.


19258_18
Lawn Lake. Rail for Hitching Horses, Left. Ramp Is On The Right, Above the Lake, Just to the Left of the Bands of Rock Below Hague's Summit.

The trail to the Lawn Lake Patrol Cabin (in which Park Rangers stay) breaks off right from the main trail around Lawn Lake, but isn’t shown on maps.


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Lawn Lake Patrol Cabin.


Shortly after you leave Lawn Lake behind, the trail begins to climb up the ramp.


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The Trail Above Lawn Lake in Summer.


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Just Off the Trail, Looking Down at Lawn Lake in the Fall.


Somewhere up the ramp I found this sign at a trail junction, marking where another trail heads toward Crystal Lakes to the left. You don’t want that trail. Your goal is reaching “The Saddle."


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Trail Junction.


Crystal Lakes lie below Fairchild’s bow-shaped cirque of snow directly below the summit in the shot above. You need to reach the slope that rises to meet Fairchild above the cliffs on the right in the photo below.


When the trail fades away, you just continue to climb up the tundra slope.


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Climbing Up the Tundra Slope. Crystal Lakes in Summer.


Here is what Crystal Lakes look like in autumn.


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Crystal Lakes in Autumn.


Here is what the slopes of the ramp on the way to The Saddle look like in autumn. The mountain behind is not Hague’s, by the way, it is Mummy. And because photos can be deceiving, Mummy is not close, but a long way away. The Saddle is not the route to take to climb Mummy, though it may appear so here. One edge of The Saddle and the summit of Mummy show up here as being seamlessly melded together. They are not, and there is actually quite a distance between the two. Mummy is best climbed up its eastern slope, and down the Black Canyon Trail well below Lawn Lake.


19258_26


This is Hague’s peering over The Saddle in summer, high toward the ridge line. I did not need to climb all the way to the ridge line. I cut toward Fairchild before that.


19258_27
On the Saddle. Hague's Behind.


I have left The Saddle, and climbed up the slopes of Fairchild above cliffs below me on the right. Mummy is far to the right, well out of this photo.


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Climbing Toward Fairchild Above the Cliffs on the Right of the Photo.


This is a shot of Crystal Lakes from the edge of the cliffs. Lawn Lake is on the right edge of the photo, above center. Mummy Mountain rises above Lawn Lake.


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Crystal Lakes Below the Cliffs. Lawn Lake At the Edge of Photo. Mummy Mountain Above.


This is another shot of Crystal Lakes, and Lawn Lake again.


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Crystal Lakes, Lawn Lake Above.


Further along the route up Fairchild above the cliffs, the slope gets a bit rocky.


19258_31
Mummy Mountain, Lawn Lake, As I Continue to Skirt the Cliffs Toward Fairchild's Summit.


The final slope of Fairchild. It is steeper, and farther away than it looks here. I was able to find safe passage to the summit just to the left of the big snowfield top center, just below the summit.


19258_32
Fairchild's Summit. To Avoid Losing Elevation, I Circled Right From Here Toward the Right Edge of the Photo. At the Snowfield, I Cut Left.
Following the Greenest Tundra Up the Slope, I aimed for the Passage I Saw to the Left of the Big Snowfield Just Below the Summit.


19258_33
Shirt-sleeves Rolled Up, I Was Enjoying the Climb!


I had set my camera on a convenient rock above the cliffs, and the camera’s auto-timer snapped this shot of me somewhere just before I had started up Fairchild’s slopes. It was a great day, weather-wise, and I was enjoying my climb.


Final push to the summit.


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The summit is rocky. That is Hague’s behind.


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Northerly View From Summit.


Summit wind-shelter.


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Warm Sunlight. No Wind.


That’s the north slope of Ypsilon beyond the wind-shelter. Ypsilon's famous Y-couloir is not visible from this direction.


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Southerly View.


Ypsilon from the summit. There are two ridges running down eastward from Ypsilon’s summit. One is named Blitzen, the other Donner. I never can remember which is which.


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Full View of Ypsilon and It's Nearest Ridge.


Ypsilon's two ridges cradle Spectacle Lakes between their long arms. The crags along this nearest ridge below Fairchild are particularly beloved by technical climbers. You can easily see why.


So that is the way you climb Fairchild. On the summit, take in the views. Relax a bit. Eat an energy bar. Drink some electrolyte fluid. Then, when you are ready, descend by the same route you ascended. And certainly pay attention to the wildflowers on your way down if it is summer!


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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40


 Comments or Questions
MtnHub

Vacant Longs descent
02/27/2019 13:39
You'll never see that again, at least in non-technical times. Very cool that you partnered with Teresa Gergen!

Your report on Fairchild again brings back some fond memories. I must have followed you by about 5 years on many of my hikes. I did all of those peaks (Fairchild, Hagues, and Mummy) in three consecutive years, around 2005-2007. Your mention of beautiful wild flowers above Lawn Lake is spot on. Probably the best display of gorgeous flowers I have EVER seen anywhere was just above Lawn Lake. They were simply stunning that year!

Thanks again for sharing your trips!


mathguy

I'm lovin' it....
02/27/2019 14:01
...your trip reports that is. I did Fairchild a few
years ago also via Lawn Lake. A really long hike, as
you say, but well worth it. It was nice to revisit
the hike through your pics and narrative. You were also
clever enough to get some nice shots of the Crystal Lakes
on your way up Fairchild (pics #29 and #30). Regrettably
I was not so clever on my hike!

Concerning the two ridges that come off Ypsilon, I think
Blitzen is the one closest to Fairchild.


Tornadoman


Thanks for sharing!
02/27/2019 16:14
I am enjoying your trip reports from the park. I have completed several of the RMNP 13ers and plan to add at least one each year until I complete them. It is a beautiful area, and in my experience once you get above the lakes there aren't many people on the 13ers.


flyingmagpie

Right You Are, mathguy!
03/03/2019 09:21
I always have to look up Blitzen Ridge in Gerry Roach's "Rocky Mountain National Park: Classic Hikes and Climbs," which served well as my personal guidebook for climbing the Park 13ers. It is pocket-sized by the way, and doesn't weigh that much. It is easy to carry in a climbing pack. Roach describes a route up the ridge, bypassing the four crags, which he tells us are named the "Four Aces." He rates the route as Class 5.4-5.6 so it definitely is a technical climb.


prairiechicken


Very interesting!
03/07/2019 20:10
I really enjoy seeing what the park was like 18 years ago. I love the park, though I wish there were a few less tourists. You can get away from them if you know where to go. Away from the trails and away from Longs.


prairiechicken


Solo on Longs
03/07/2019 20:15
I at first misread the report and thought that what you were referring to as "empty" was your technical early season climb. Very cool that you were able to experience that! Never going to happen again.



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