Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Desolation Peaks and Flatiron Mountain via Chapin Pass TH.

Another early wake up this week; alarm set for 2:15, planned meeting at three in Lyons.  It was actually easy to get up since I felt like I never really fell asleep despite being in bed with lights out by nine the night before.  Who needs sleep anyway?
The drive up was as quick as it ever can be, and driving Old Fall River Road in complete darkness was interesting.  We reached the trail head, which is really just a wide part of the road with parking on the left.  
On the trail, the familiar cone of illumination.  Since the trail starts so high, treeline came quickly.  At one point we stopped, turned off our headlamps, and took in the night sky.  We could see a glow to the east- Estes Park and the Front Range beyond.  We saw several shooting stars, and it was dark enough to see a satellite quickly orbiting the earth.  
After a few minutes of this awe inspiring sight, we continued on.  
Upon reaching the saddle between Chapin and Chiquita, we started up the Chiquita trail before cutting off in a northern direction to skirt the high points of Chiquita and Ypsilon.  We found ourselves joining the ridge between Ypsilon and Desolation Peaks right as the day was lightening and the sun started to rise.
East Desolation Peak on the left, and a great place to be as the sun rises.
There are a few high points along the ridge to ascend or go around, but the going is relatively easy on tundra and stable talus.  Every time I hike up here, I always think of how perfect this soil would be for making wine.  The granite and scree is similar to what is found in some of the best places for growing Syrah- namely Hermitage and Cote Rotie.  If only the land wasn't frozen for 6 months out of the year!
The sun starts to rise behind the ridge from Ypsilon to Fairchild...
and begins to play with some of the peaks near the continental divide. 
Another reason to get up early.
Very soon we found ourselves at the place we would turn right to continue on to the peaks.  We donned our helmets, and prepared mentally for the scrambling ahead.

We found some cairns, and in reality getting to West Desolation Peak wasn't so bad at all, with a few third class moves the way we went. 
Good views abound, and though there is nothing named in this drainage, it sure looked like a pretty and secluded place to spend some time.
We found a cairn east of the first high point on some slabby rock.  It seemed to be leading us down in a southerly direction.  We also identified another possible route through a gulley that looked pretty reasonable.  And with less elevation loss and subsequent regain, that was our choice. 
En route to East Desolation Peak.  Some of the rock here reminded me of what I encountered near The Cleaver.
The gulley opens up.
Ypsilon from near the top.
This is the last obstacle to surmount on the way, and the crux comes near the top with a few somewhat awkward fourth class chimney moves.
The summit holds enough room for several people.  We found a register and added our names as the ninth and tenth ascents of the year.  Despite the classed climbing near the end, it's not much more difficult to get here than to do CCY.  Of course this is not a 13er and somewhat off the beaten trail which helps keep the traffic down. 
Looking south to more high points we'd climb before Flatiron Mountain.
Looking back to East Desolation Peak.  We came through the prominent v-shaped gulley to the right.
It was definitely much easier and the only option really to stay on the north side of the ridge on the way to and back from East Desolation Peak.
A close up of the top.
Here is Dan in the gulley for scale.  A huge rock wall on the right!
More scenery.
Shortly before we arrived at Flatiron Mountain, we guessed how many peoples names we might find in the register from this year, or how many actually continue on to this peak from Desolations.  I said two, Dan said four.  We were both wrong, as two camp groups of ten or so plus additional individual hikers summitted this mountain thus far in 2013. 
Summit cairn at Flatiron Mountain, Mummies behind.
We ate and talked here, briefly considered doing CCY on the way back, but started noticing those puffy white clouds rolling it.  In the end we decided to not gain any more elevation, but to basically contour to the south, avoiding some of the rocky cliffs on the west side of Ypsilon, to meet back with the trail somewhere on Chapin.
This certainly did not prove to be as easy as it looked, but may not have taken any more time than going back up. 
Clouds were starting to build as we continued along.  We both kept our ears peeled for thunder as things started to look threatening.  It's funny how many airplanes we heard at this point.  I'm sure they were flying over all day, but of course it was only once we really started to listen that we heard them.
But eventually we did hear thunder, and it was pretty much exactly where we had just come from.  Our route also kept us around treeline, with a quick escape downward as an option if needed.

We finally hit upon the Ypsilon Trail, and looked back to notice rain falling in the valley we'd just come out of. 
Some gnarled trees along the trail.
It was funny that earlier in the day we talked about how we probably could have left later and avoided the early wake up.  We were just getting back to the truck, and hastened to get our packs and jackets off as the rain started to come.  Within a minute, it was pouring.  Just in time!
From here it took a full hour to get out of RMNP.  We got stuck behind two vehicles on Old Fall River Road moving at the glacial pace of five miles per hour who wouldn't pull out.  By the time we reached Trail Ridge Road, we were in a full on thunderstorm, with lightning striking all over the place, but particularly concentrated right back where we just were.  Now the 2:15 wake up made sense.
Of particular concern was the fairly large number of people still getting out of their cars at the various pull offs we went by on the way back.  At one point we had a strike that must've been 100 yards at most from the truck.  Not something I'd want to be in.
And then it started to hail!  And I got even happier that I'd been awake for so long already!
All in, this is not that bad of a hike.  There is some up and down, but since the trail head is so high in elevation to start with, things remain pretty reasonable- I'd be surprised if we hit 3000 feet on the day.  2500 seems much more likely.  The only thing to consider is the difficulty of the last twenty feet or so up to East Desolation Peak.  If you are not comfortable in fourth class with tons of exposure, this one might not be for you (yet!).
And as far as CCY, it'll be much easier from Chapin Pass than the way I did it.  With a maximum gain of 2494 feet over 4 miles, I would have to give it a moderate+ to strenuous- rating. 
Desolation Peaks and Flatiron Mountain Via Chapin Pass:
Desolation Peaks, 12949 feet: 5.1 miles each way, 1929 foot gain.  Fourth class.  Strenuous-.
Flatiron Mountain, 12335 feet: 6.4 miles each way, 1325 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Chapin Pass, 11140 feet: .2 miles each way, 120 foot gain.  Easy-.

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