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Ypsilon Mountain and Mount Chiquita

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado


Author: Gary Swing


  • Ypsilon Mountain, Elevation 13,514 feet, Standard Rank: 246, Zenith Rank: 73

  • Mount Chiquita, Elevation 13,069 feet (unranked)

  • Trailhead Elevation: 11,020 feet
  • Hiking Distance: 6.2 miles RT, plus a little extra for Chiquita
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet, plus 300 more for Chiquita
  • Difficulty: Class 2 hiking
  • USGS Quad: Trail Ridge

Introductory Note: Greetings. My name is Gary Swing. I'm a hiker from Denver and I just mailed in my membership application for the Los Alamos Mountaineers a few days ago. My hobby is climbing Colorado's Bicentennial Peaks (200 highest) and "Zenith Peaks" above 13,000 feet (my term for peaks rising at least 1,000 feet above connecting saddles with any higher peaks). The following is an account of a private trip I took with friends. I hope to hook up with some LAM trips in the near future.

On Saturday, July 3, my wife Kenna and I set out to climb Ypsilon Mountain with our friends Mark and Tasha Laity-Snyder, and Cally Duncan. We met at our northeast Denver apartment early in the morning, piled into Mark and Tasha's natural gas powered truck with their two dogs, and started off around 6:30 am. We stopped for fuel, then headed up U.S. 36 to Boulder and Estes Park. From Estes Park, we headed west on U.S. 34 into Rocky Mountain National Park, where I purchased an annual pass for $20. Regular admission is $10 per vehicle.

Unfortunately, we learned from the park map and guide that dogs are not allowed on trails in the park. We should have called to check before we left. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead with our hike. Tasha offered to wait behind with the dogs and take a nap in the truck.

From U.S. 34, we headed west on Fall River Road for 8.5 miles to the Chapin Pass Trailhead. We stopped briefly to look at Chasm Falls on our way up the road. Fall River Road is a narrow, one-way dirt road through the park. It is well-graded, but some of the hairpin turns were difficult for Mark and Tasha's truck to negotiate. Parking at the trailhead was extremely limited, and there were many vehicles on the road.

Mark, Kenna, Cally, and I started hiking about 9:30 am. We walked north on the trail 200 yards to Chapin Pass at 11,150 feet. There were considerable patches of snow here, with a few steps of postholing. At the pass, we turned right (east) on a spur trail marked with a small sign for Mt. Chapin. There were a few more minor snow patches with some soft spots before we reached treeline. We crossed a small stream on a solid log bridge and ascended a rock stairway. Around treeline, we took the second side trail branching to the left, shortly after a more obvious side trail. Our goal was to sidehill to the left (north) of 12,454 foot Mount Chapin to reach the 12,000+ foot saddle between Chapin and 13,069 foot Mount Chiquita.

Early in the hike, Mark looked at the topo map to see where we were going, and promptly announced that he knew why I had picked this mountain. It begins with the letter Y. He was right, at least in part. I'm hoping to hike up to summits starting with the letters X, Y, and Z this year. However, I also picked Ypsilon because I thought its southwest slopes would offer a short, easy route to a high summit for a group with different levels of experience. Ypsilon is the second highest summit in the Mummy Range, one of Colorado's 300 highest summits by standard ranking, and number 73 on my list of Zenith Peaks.

Mount Ypsilon was named by the wife of Frederick Chapin, author of the book, "Mountaineering in Colorado," which was published in 1889. (I didn't find his wife's name.) She named the peak for a prominent Y-shaped snow couloir on its eastern face. Ypsilon is the Greek word for the letter Y. Ypsilon's Y-Couloir is a classic 5.4 snow climb that serves as a popular mountaineering challenge. The mountain's east ridge offers a 5.6 rock climb. In his guidebook, "Rocky Mountain National Parks: Classic Hikes and Climbs," Gerry Roach writes that "the west side of the peak is gentle and the east side isn't there!"

The west side was indeed gentle. It was gentle enough to attract at least 30 climbers on the day we went, including a Boy Scout troop. There are several climbers' trails in the area which gradually fade into obscurity. The path we chose presented a gradual ascending traverse across rocks and grassy slopes to the Chapin-Chiquita saddle. To the right, we could see the Boy Scout troop climbing up the ridge to Mount Chapin. To the left, we had a nice view down the Chapin Creek Valley. To the north, beyond and left of Ypsilon, we could see the craggy tops of the Desolation Peaks.

From the Chapin-Chiquita saddle, Mark and Cally went on ahead, climbing northeast to the summit of Mt. Chiquita while Kenna and I contoured around its west side on grassy slopes to the 12,786 foot Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle. Mark and Cally met us there after descending Chiquita's north ridge. They reported that Chiquita had a broad, flat summit area. Chiquita is the lowest named thirteener in Rocky Mountain National Park and the easiest peak over 13,000 feet to climb in the park. It rises just 283 vertical feet above its connecting saddle with Ypsilon.

The final 728 vertical feet up Mt. Ypsilon was an easy walk on grassy slopes interspersed with rock. Some sections of the trail were quite clear while others were faint or non-existent. Above 13,200 feet, I shifted to the east edge of the south slopes for better views of the Y-Couloir and the Spectacle Lakes below it. We stopped to look at each branch of the Y-Couloir as we passed by. About 50 feet south of the high point, there was a breastwork containing the summit register. Mark, Cally, and I stopped to sign the register before joining Kenna on the summit shortly after 1:00 pm. (Kenna came back to sign it.)

We ate lunch on the summit and took some pictures. We could see the high point of the Mummy Range, 13,560 foot Hagues Peak, 3.7 miles to the northeast. It was a beautiful day with mostly clear skies, generally warm except for some cold breezes. Back in Denver, the forecast high temperature was 96 degrees.

We left the summit at 1:30 to retrace the route Kenna and I took on the way up, with some minor variations. Mark ran on ahead to rejoin Tasha and the dogs at Fall River Road. The rest of us reached the truck around 4:00 pm. We piled back into the truck and drove the last 2.4 miles up Fall River Road to its junction with Trail Ridge Road at a gridlocked visitors' center parking lot. The park was now crowded with holiday weekend traffic and occasional herds of elk. It would be a slow but scenic drive back to Estes Park. On the way to Denver, we stopped in Boulder for a delicious dinner at Ras Kassa's Ethiopian Restaurant (on 30th Street, just south of Pearl Street).


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