There are a handful of ten point summits in the Front Range, notably Chiefs Head and Longs Peak which I see daily as I move about Longmont. If you look at a map on Sotlas to the north of Estes Park you will find a string of three peaks in a row, almost like Orion’s Belt in the night sky. I’ve had my eye on these three summits for a few years since they’re so close to home, but I didn’t want to just go out and hike one at a time.
Ypsilon Peak is the easiest to get to when Fall River Road is open, and as of the time of this writing it’s been activated just over twenty times. North and a bit east is Fairchild with five activations, and further still is Hagues with just three.
I tried in late March to go up just Hagues, but got shut down after five miles of breaking trail in snowdrifts up to 20 feet deep. I camped out at Lawn Lake for the night, then headed home and vowed to return.
Gerry Roach describes a route that summits six peaks in the range in his RMNP hiking book. With a focus on just the three SOTA-qualifying summits, one could cut out a little bit of mileage and vertical from his route, skipping Chapin, Chiquita, and Mummy Mountain. Roach describes it as a one-way hike, starting at Chapin Creek TH and ending at the Lawn Lake TH (which I knew well from my jaunt in March). Given the slight downhill slope to the trail, that seemed best.
After studying a map and making some calls, I got my buddy Ben on board for the Mummy Mania link-up. We’d meet up at the Lawn Lake TH at 4:30, then get into my truck and drive up the old Fall River Road to the Chapin Creek TH and make the hike over and down from there, and then shuttle back up to get my truck. Ben showed up on fumes, unlikely to be able to shuttle after the hike, but that was a problem for future us. We hit the trail.
Before too long we made it to the first summit of the day. It’s not a SOTA summit, but Mt. Chiquita was on the way and didn’t take a lot of extra effort to get to, so we stopped by.
It was a quick stop.
After a quick rest to eat some breakfast we moved on to the first Real Summit of the day, Ypsilon Peak.
Ypsilon has a gorgeous spine with a class 5 scramble descending to the east, Blitzen Ridge.
On the summit, I whipped out the HT and called CQ on 2 meters. Given the early hour there was only one person to make a QSO with, W1NV. I wasn’t keen on sticking around too long since we had a long day ahead still, but was able to string out the trusty EFHW for a handful of contacts on 20 meters to qualify for points. After being on the summit alone for 90%+ of my activations, I will say it was nice having Ben there to help set up and tear down on HF, it made the day run much more smoothly.
After Ypsilon, it was on to Fairchild!
There is one brief section of 4th class scrambling on the way up to the summit of Fairchild, but it’s low exposure and straightforward to find.
I was able to make a few more QSOs on Fairchild than Ypsilon, but since it was so easy to work HF with Ben’s help setting up, I threw up the antenna again.
After one QSO we looked at the sky and again decided to get a move on in case weather started to roll in. One last SOTA summit to go!
We set off and were making good progress, down to the saddle then starting up Hagues when the weather started to roll in.
It was just pas 11am, and weather wasn’t expeced until 2pm at the earliest, but that’s Colorado for you! We picked up the pace a bit, but the steepness of the summit block of Hagues slowed us down a fair bit. We pushed ahead while turning to look at the storm every minute or so.
As we got within a few hundred vertical feet of the summit it was clear that we were about to get surrounded by thunderclouds within 30 minutes or so. We hadn’t heard thunder yet, but there were menaing clouds headed towards us. We decided to drop our bags and I’d bring just my radio and log book to the summit. We went up as fast as we could, but when we were a stones throw from the summit Ben yelled out “THUNDER”.
I checked my phone, and we were meters away from the activation zone.
We pushed up until we were just in the AZ as cloud gathered behind us. I pulled out the telescoping antenna and there was a rag chew on .52 going on! I waited 3 or 4 minutes, which felt like an absolute eternity as more thunder started clapping around us. When the conversation was over I all but screamed into the mic that I was a SOTA station, needed some QSOs, and it was rather urgent. I try to have good radio manners most days, but I was especially curt and was able to make 6 contacts in 3 minutes on 2 meters.
As soon as I made contacts, we jettet down the mountain. We scooped up our bags, and within minutes were on the saddle.
Just below the saddle the thunder got rolling, with some strikes rumbling for 20-30 seconds or more. As if on cue, the rain started as we passed by Crystal Lake.
From there it’s a straightforward hike down past Lawn Lake, and a few miles on a well traveled trail to the Lawn Lake Trailhead.
We clocked just over 16 miles with 4600’ of elevation gain. We bailed on going up Mummy Mountain due to the storm, which might be why we didn’t have quite as much vertical as the Roach trail suggests.
I absolutely had summit fever.
After having a baby, my days to play alone in the mountains are fewer and further between so I planned this day meticulously and set up for success to activate all three summits, plus I had already bailed on Hagues a few months before. I know this affects my decision making, and it’s when I start to rationalize with myself. “There’s thunder but it’s far away”, “I don’t see any strikes visible”, and other thoughts along those lines. While I wouldn’t say it was an extremely dangerous situation by any means, we were on a summit with an active storm in close enough proximity to be an issue. I say this out loud here because it’s a lesson, and it’ll help me make better decisions next time, since I’m lucky enough to have a next time.
See you on the trail.