Monday, August 5, 2013

Mummy Mania Madness (2013)

The Mummy Mountains form the northernmost border of Rocky Mountain National Park, and given their proximity to Fort Collins - whether from Dunraven, Pingree or Estes Park - they are among my favorite alpine locations. In celebration of these fine peaks, I have made it a tradition to get out annually and cover six of them in one push. This weekend would be my fourth crack at this classic RMNP traverse.

Mummy Mania from Twin Sisters. From far left to far right: Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues, Mummy.
Known variously as Mummy Madness, Mummy Kill or Mummy Mania (my preferred shorthand), the route takes in the tops of Mt. Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues and the eponymous Mummy Mountain. Variations include the adding of Rowe Mountain and Rowe Peak between Hagues and Mummy, or perhaps preferably in terms of aesthetics, Tilestone and Bighorn. But for me, the alpine nature of the Mummy Mania peaks (Tilestone and Bighorn require significant bushwhacking) and the contiguous line (the Rowes require a tedious out and back) make them the superior and logical link-up.

Starting from the Chapin trailhead (11,040') at a little after sunrise, myself, Mike Hinterberg and Paul Hamilton set off up the Chapin Pass trail. The trail ascends steeply for a mile or so and then levels off as it heads eastward on a rough contour aimed directly at the Chiquita/Chapin saddle, passing under the northern slopes of Mount Chapin (12,454') along the way. The key to getting on Chapin as efficiently and quickly as possible is to resist the urge to start hoofing upslope too early, as the peak is tucked away in the easternmost cranny of the mountain's summit ridge. Cut too early and you'll hit the false summit to the west, wasting precious minutes following the cliff line to gain the true summit. We got it just about right this time and hit the summit in under 30 minutes (28:57), a first. Paul and I waited for Mike on top for six minutes before being waved on.

The original idea behind the day's outing was that it would be each man for himself in search of personal best times. However, with just the three of us, it didn't feel quite right, especially as Paul and I were working at about the same speed and would leave Mike on his own for the morning. Nonetheless, he was quite insistent with his gesturing and so we forged on, making short work of the 400 foot drop to the Mt Chiquita (13,075') saddle and subsequent 1,000 foot push to Chiquita's unranked summit (55:14) over intermittent climber's trail and rocky tundra. In much the same vein, the descent and ascent to Ypsilon (13,514') went quickly, again over the typical Mummy mix of rocks and tundra, with careful attention being paid in making sure to angle far enough north so as to avoid the tempting, but time sucking false summit to the south.

With the morning's three gimme peaks taken care of in a satisfyingly efficient manner (1:14) and at an effort that seemed at least on par with last year's outing, and essentially in lockstep with Paul, it was on to the crux of the Mummy Traverse: Fairchild and Hagues. The descent off Ypsilon, following its precipitous northern ridge to a point just below the Ypsilon/Fairchild connecting ridge, offers the first extended period of boulder hopping of the day, which is soon followed by a more serious serving on the contour over to the rockfall that constitutes Fairchild's southern slopes. The class-three 900 foot scramble up Fairchild is followed by a rocky descent to the Hagues saddle, which in turn provides access to the biggest climb of the day, a 1,200 foot hump up to Hagues Peak, the roof of Larimer County (13,571').

Across the Ypsilon/Fairchild boulders in good form and quickly up the south face of Fairchild, Paul and I waited for 10 minutes on the summit ridge looking for Mike before pressing on, finally spotting him against the boulder-strewn backdrop making his way to the base of the Fairchild scramble. Satisfied that he was well, we pushed on, quickly grabbing Fairchild's summit (13,502') and then dropping off her rocky northeastern slope heading for the lush tundra that occupies the football-field sized saddle between Hagues and Fairchild.

The lush tundra of the saddle allows for quick running, but it is always put to an abrupt end by the pitch of Hagues' southwest ramp. The key to getting up Hagues efficiently from the saddle is to veer slightly right, away from the cliff line, so as to avoid the unnecessary technicalities of the various ridge bumps and to maximize tundra time, while also putting yourself in a position to come neatly up the southern summit face avoiding cliffed-out false summits to the west. Paul and I got from Fairchild to Hagues (13,560') in a quick 39 minutes, shaving close to 15 minutes from last year when I felt like I got between the two in textbook fashion, albeit on wet rock coming off Fairchild.

From Hagues, it is a quick bop to the north side of the Mummy/Hagues connecting ridge before poking back to the south side through a notch for another extended session of boulder hoping on a slight downward contour below the ridge and on a line with the grassy saddle that sits to the west of Mummy Mountain. It's not much more than 400 feet up the northern flank of Mummy Mountain once to the saddle, but given the exertions of the previous five peaks and extended time above the trees, it's always a tough grind. Ultimately, we would hit the summit (13,430') at three and a half hours into our morning with nothing but a seven mile, 5,000 foot descent to the Lawn Lake trailhead left to accomplish. The southeastern slopes that provide the exit off the mountain are classic rocked-out Mummy tundra. On tired legs, the grade is jarring as you angle for the Black Canyon drainage, but once in the woods and on the game trail by the creek you know the day is about in the books.

We found the Black Canyon trail quickly and were soon at the Lawn Lake intersection with just under six miles of downhill trail running left to achieve. The watch read 3:59, meaning the arbitrary goal of breaking five hours for the trip was as good as in the bag. Satisfied with this, I told Paul to take off as I wanted to save my legs for Leadville two weeks hence. Ultimately I would arrive at the trailhead a minute after Paul who now holds a 4:41 Mummy Mania FKT.

For those interested in the pointy-end of the ultrarunning racing world, Paul Hamilton is a young Fort Collins local who may turn a few heads this fall. Although he is too modest to share details publicly (I'll do that for him), he recently ran the uber-classic Buchanan-Pawnee loop in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in 4:45 (five minutes under Tony Krupicka's 2010 FKT), but clarifies (rightly) that it can't be considered an FKT as he stopped his watch a few times to take pictures. Nonetheless, the kid is fast, strong and light on his feet in the mountains. I don't think anybody will be close to him next weekend at Dakota's race in the San Juans, and I expect him to be in the mix with the big guns at UROC in September.

I won't go into too much detail about the remainder of my day, but suffice to say that I would end up retracing my steps up the Lawn Lake trail all the way to the Hagues, Fairchild saddle, adding another 15 miles and 4,000 feet to an already long day, in search of Mike who by the time I left the trailhead was four hours past due. With limited options, darkness closing in, and a vast expanse of mountain terrain to search, I decided to return to the Lawn Lake trailhead hoping for the best. Upon arriving, I was massively relieved to find Mike there waiting after his unintended side trip to the Cow Creek trailhead (!) (fully cross country) and subsequent hitch back after totally messing up the descent off Mummy Mountain. For those not familiar with the area, that's the dictionary definition of getting hopelessly lost.

My takeaway from a quite stressful and somewhat emotional afternoon is to never leave a partner solo in the mountains, especially when in remote, off-trail locations, no matter how well you feel he/she is acquainted with the terrain. I know Mike is upset about the stress he believes he caused, but I too am sorry for acting selfishly and in too much haste. Light and fast is certainly my preferred style in the mountains, but one must also act responsibly. And that's all I've got to say about that.

It was good to finally nail the Mummy Mania line about as perfectly as I think it can go this weekend, after wasting tons of time last year trying alternate routes between Ypsilon and Fairchild and in getting off Mummy Mountain. Without stoppages (16 minutes total), we'd have gotten around in a little under 4:30, and on fresh non-Grand Slam legs with a little less lingering on the summits, that could probably have been 4:15 (next year), which of course leads me to believe that sub-four hours is potentially in the cards for the right runner on the right day. It's about time somebody other than me (and now Paul) had a proper crack at this classic RMNP line.

Mummy Splits:

Chapin - 28:57
Chiquita - 55:14 (incl 6 minutes on top Chapin)
Ypsilon - 1:14
Fairchild - 2:12 (incl 10 mins waiting on summit ridge)
Hagues - 2:52
Mummy - 3:29
Black Canyon/Lawn Lake intersection - 3:59
Lawn Lake TH - 4:42 (Paul: 4:41)


  1. A big day. You didn't do anything wrong based on our expectations of the day, I made several preventable mistakes. I hope it can be (now) be just a story in the past. For the public mountain-running persona, the fact that you tacked on 15-16M and 4k of vert after an already solid day is amazing...but it speaks even more to your selfless humanity.
    Thanks, and sorry, again.

  2. Sounds like quite a day. I'd like to hear that story. Glad everyone is ok! Great work usual.

  3. Kristel - well we should get out for a run and I can tell you all about it. Legs still sore almost three days later.

  4. Yes we should. Next week...a little pre Leadville jog?

  5. I was told about the Mummy last week and got a chance to run it today. Using your previous posts I was able to find the path quite nicely and I wanted to say thank you for the beta. With icy conditions on the first three peaks and a full on rain storm I was stoked with a 6:25. Until I read this post I thought I might have had an FKT, but alas, maybe I'll give it a crack next year. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Good stuff, Ryan. 6:25 seems pretty solid given the conditions. It's a fun route for sure.

  7. I hiked this route a decade plus ago and found the connections you mention ... challenging. Thanks for the beta as it is on my someday list to get back to this. All the best this weekend sir.

  8. Glad to hear Mike made it down safe an sound .. Nick, you're a stand up guy for your search efforts. I had a blast moving through the high country with ya. Your knowledge of the route made for a really smooth and enjoyable morning. Have a great run at Leadville this weekend!

  9. Hi there, I am a fellow mountain runner, and am planning to attempt this exact route with a few other guys in August! I would love to get a conversation going with you about details of the run. Looking forward to hearing from you, thanks for the great post! Happy trails

    1. Zach - happy to chat. Shoot me an email at nickclarka at gmail