A guide book for the Colorado Front Range describes a day hike in the
northeast part of Rocky Mountain National Park which involves walking for
several miles along the crest of the Mummy Range, essentially an extended
ridge of terrain above timberline with a number of high points identified as separate peaks. The range forms a large cirque containing several lakes. Of the seven peaks, six are above 13,000 feet in elevation. The book calls this hiking extravaganza "Mummy Madness".
Two summers ago my five weekend hiking companions and I had been gradually increasing the difficulty of our hikes in preparation for Mummy Madness toward the end of summer. There would be six peaks to surmount, with descents of a few hundred feet between peaks: Mt. Chapin, Mt. Chiquita, Mt. Ypsilon, Mt. Fairchild, Hague's Peak, and Mummy Mountain. The seventh, Rowe Peak, lies about a half mile to the north of our route and would be for "extra credit".
As brief snows can return to the high peaks in September, we chose a
Sunday near the end of August for our attempt. Since this is not a loop
trip, we took two cars, entering the Park near the town of Estes Park and
proceeding to the Fall River Road turnoff on the main road. Just beyond the turnoff, we left a vehicle at the Lawn Lake Trailhead, then continued about eight miles up the winding, one-way uphill, unpaved Fall River Road to the Chapin Pass Trailhead. This is about two miles from where the road joins the newer, paved, heavily used Trail Ridge Road at the Alpine Visitor Center. Parking is on the shoulder of the road.
An uphill walk of about a quarter of a mile brought us to the low point of a forested ridge which is Chapin Pass, the western end of the Mummy Range. Rather than continuing north, which would have taken us down into the Cache La Poudre drainage in the far northern section of the Park, we turned right at the trail junction and followed the sign to Mt. Chapin. With Chapin Pass already at 11,000 feet elevation, we had only a few more hundred feet of elevation gain to reach open alpine tundra.
We enjoyed the remaining late summer wild flowers and views as we reached, in succession, Mounts Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, and Fairchild.
Mt. Chapin, at 12,400 feet, is the only peak below 13,000 feet in elevation. The alpine tundra meadow hiking changed to steeper, rockier going in the proximity of each peak. The warmest days of summer had passed, and at our altitude the sun's warmth provided a welcome counterpoint to the cool breezes. We obtained increasingly impressive views of the deep cirque and some of its lakes. Magnificent views of the Never Summer and Medicine Bow Ranges to the west and northwest were also afforded, as well as of familiar Front Range peaks to the south.
The saddle between Mt. Fairchild and Hague's Peak provides access to a
route down into the cirque for early escape in case of threatening weather
or in case one has already had enough mountain climbing for one day. The
topographic map indicates that one may drop down from this saddle to Crystal Lake, join the trail there and hike out past Lawn Lake to the trailhead back near the lower end of Fall River Road.
At this point on our hike, all indicated they were still good for more, so we continued on up to Hague's Peak, the highest point on our trip at 13,560 feet. Once on top of Hague's, however, no one seemed interested in the extra credit for Rowe Peak. All were content to admire it from a half mile away. The climb up Hague's had not been the usual simple walk up, but had required a little route finding and a few hand holds through the steep boulder field near the summit.
After a rest and obtaining yet another perspective of the surrounding
mountainous terrain, it was easy going along the saddle connecting Hague's
Peak to Mummy Mountain. One last climb of a few hundred feet put us on top of our final summit of the day, from which we were afforded an exciting view straight down to Lawn Lake. After a few photographs to commemorate the event, we began the nearly 5,000 foot descent to Lawn Lake Trailhead.
Descending the broad, open southeast flank of Mummy Mountain was pleasant and easy. Lower down it appeared to us that the most expeditious plan would be to hold a course to the narrowing corridor between thick timber on the left and the rapidly steepening lower slope of Mummy Mountain to the right. We did so and soon came across the trail to Storm Lake, which connects with the Lawn Lake Trail about a mile below Lawn Lake. Once on the Lawn Lake Trail, we had only five more miles to go.
At many places along the way, the trail passes close to the outlet stream bed, which sustained a sudden transformation into a chaos of boulders early one morning when the earthen dam used to augment Lawn Lake failed back in the early 1980s. The trail levels out for the last couple of miles (just when your fatigued body could use the extra help from gravity) before the final short, switchbacked descent to the car park.
We had been out for around 11 hours and had hiked approximately 17 miles, perhaps more than half of which had been above timberline. We were tired, hungry, happy to have added Mummy Madness to our list of accomplishments, and joked that the trip had "barely tapped" our endurance.