It was 6a, and G rolled over in the camper and started talking about trucks into his blanket. Time to get up.
We all crawled out of bed and hurried along our morning rituals as quickly as possible: eggs, diaper, coffee, pants, water bottles, hiking boots. Today, we were going to take G higher than he had ever been. We were going to attempt to climb Mt Chapin, a 12,454ft peak that is the southern most of the Mummy Range.
We had camped all weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. The day before we climbed with friends at Lilly Lake. We ticked off 3 pretty climbs in scattered rain showers, G scrambled over the tallus at the base of the crag, and I forgot my camera (again).
So, we should have been acclimated. We should have the fitness to hike the two miles to the summit of this mountain. We should have all of the gear we needed, and maps and gps’s and heavy fleeces. We were about to learn that all the “should”s in the world might not get you to the summit.
The trailhead for Mt Chapin is about 7 miles up the narrow, switch-backed, one-way Old Fall River road. We arrived at the trailhead a little late, and started hiking around 7:45a. The first part of the trail climbed steeply from the road. Mark started at a blistering pace, and I had to ask him to slow down before too long. There were several very steep sections of trail that were a little nerve-wracking with G in the backpack, but the views got better and better as we climbed higher and higher.
In less than a mile, we reached the end of the maintained trail. Here the trail branched left and right, and the sign clearly indicates we needed to head right for the summits, so we did.
From this point on, we hiked through the edge of tree line, past alpine lakes, and into an increasingly gusty wind. The trail headed up the side of Mt Chapin, and we started into some class 2 sections right as the wind really started picking up.
We were crossing into the 12,000ft range when the wind REALLY hit. We had gusts so strong it was difficult to keep standing. I put a hat and hood on G to protect his ears. He buried his face in his blanket and fell asleep. Mark and I stumbled over the rocky trail as the wind howled by. After 20 minutes of working hard to keep our footing, Mark turned around and said “I’m not having fun any more.”
We double checked that G was alive, warm, and still napping, and then finished up the trail to the saddle. The views east were hazy with smoke and morning mists. Mark took G to shelter behind a rock outcropping while I snapped a few pics, and he nearly stepped on a marmot sheltering in the same place.
We were up in the blistering wind for maybe two minutes and then turned around and got the heck out of there. This time, we headed down a lower path that we had seen from above. Mark jogged down the trail, trying to loose altitude for the baby as quick as possible.
And as quickly as the wind hit us, it died off. We stopped jogging in a beautiful meadow, full of tundra wildflowers and gloriously calm air just below 11,800ft.
The rest of our hike down was beautiful and pleasant. G sang and giggled in the backpack and we enjoyed amazing views and a gorgeous morning. Eventually, our lower trail connected with the original one, right at that sign telling us to go right. This was clearly where we went wrong.
Several people stopped to comment on how cute G was in the pack, and how impressive it was that he hiked so high that morning. We recommended to everybody who stopped that they take the lefthand path at the sign that says “go right.” Nobody knew there were two options to get to the saddle and summits.
We stopped for snacks about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead and let G hike the rest of the way down on his own two feet. He did REALLY well, and totally loved jogging over roots and rocks and bridges and downed trees.
I don’t know if we would have made the summit had we taken the lower trail. I have a feeling that we would have hit that wind at the saddle and turned around. From my experience in the mountains, there are four basic things you need to bag a summit: the gear, the skill, the time and the weather. Three of those you can control pretty well. Buy a warm fleece, practice on smaller peaks, and get up as early as possible! But that fourth, weather, can derail even the best laid plans.
View Chapin Pass in a larger map