Peak(s):  Fairchild Mtn  -  13,502 feet
Date Posted:  10/01/2015
Date Climbed:   09/26/2015
Author:  ronbco
 Still learning ....  

You would think that with about a 100 Colorado summits I would not still make miscalculations on a pretty simple route on a class 2/3 route; especially not on a approach I had been on previously. Alas that was not the case.

My plan was to knock off another of the Mummy range; having already done "CCY" and Mummy Mtn; Fairchild was my target. It seemed like the Chapin TH would be the least effort and it would be a pleasant walk across the gentle western slopes of CCY.
The gentle west slopes of CCY

I would have plenty of time to relax back at treeline before meeting my family in RMNP at 5pm. I'd have plenty of time to sit at tree line on a lovely fall day, sipping a beer, eating some fine cheese, and writing a letter to my new grandson.

At sunup, Driving to the trailhead, dropping down Hwy 36 into Estes, I was pumped at the awesome sunrise-pink painted on Fairchild (peak on the left of "The Saddle" with Mummy/Hagues). I've been unfulfilled looking up at "The Saddle" from Longmont knowing that I had been up on the right side peak, but not the left.
Fairchild (center) from Hwy 36 descending into Estes

I had studied a trip report which had a GPX file and computed the distance of my hybrid route; I would not be climbing the CCY peaks on the approach since I had already climbed those previously. It looked to be 7.7 miles to skirt CCY, bag Fairchild, and return. From my previous time on the west side of CCY I assumed the terrain beyond Y would be similar; easy traveling across tundra with few rocks, on a gentle slope. I thought I had studied the topo enough to recognize the peaks, ridges and saddles north of Ypsilon. From the topo, the ridge down Y and up to Fairchild did not look very steep.

Well it turned out to be more like 10 miles RT. There went my time margin for relaxing back at Chapin Pass. I'm not sure how to account for that other than to expect significant error when extrapolating from a GPX.

Contouring the west side of Y at 13k, when nearing the north ridge, a saddle came into view that looked to be about the correct elevation. But it was just downslope, not down a ridge, which is what the topo indicated? The peak beyond the saddle did not look like I imagined. Interesting. I guess I misunderstood the topo. So I headed down. Mistake! I should have pulled out my topo with gps tracking on my smartphone that was in my pocket! If I had stayed on the 13k contour a couple more minutes I would have reached the north-east ridge and the path over to Fairchild. Indeed the saddle I was looking at was to the north-west and I needed to be heading north east but I did not register that. I had looked at the GPS track a couple times on the traverse, but did not pull it out before heading down. So, down at the saddle, I realized that I was at the ridge to Desolation Peak! Though that peak looked fun, it was not my target. There was obviously no way to contour around to the NE on that face of Y. Looking back up at the 600' I would have to reclimb, desolation was my feeling indeed! Heck, I could have went up Y itself and at least been heading the right direction!
Here is a pic of Desolation from high on Fairchild, with the saddle I ended up at on the far left of the image.
Desolation from Fairchild...unintended saddle on far left

Now to the terrain assumption about the NE ridge. I had no basis to assume it would be simple and of course there would be no trail; yet I did of course assume it. From the proper point on the Y north ridge, at about 13k, I was surprised that the ridge itself was not going to be reasonably passable; I would have to drop below it and traverse on the south slope. How many more times do I need to see a mountain that is gentle on one side but fierce on an adjacent side to learn that the topo does not tell the full story! Indeed the top half of the north ridge of Y is gentle. As usual, traveling below the ridge, especially, when there is no trail, and the slope is steep, and has big boulders or loose rock, chews up time and energy. Actually, in my awesome 20/20 hindsight, the route description on 13ers is accurate, if perhaps a tad understated on the effort required because of the steepness and rocky terrain.

I stayed as high on the slope as I could to not drop below the elevation of the saddle, and the hillside lower down seemed to be loose dirt/rock. But there was no path that would avoid sections of huge boulders to go around or climb over. Once at the saddle I assessed the ridge up Fairchild. Sigh, same story exactly; some big rock outcroppings that would be slow going. So I aimed diagonally up the slope in the direction I knew was the peak. The lower part was fine with some nice tundra, but after a couple hundred feet of that then it gets quite steep. I measured 700' in .5 miles to get to the fairly level broad top.

The following pics taken from the return (looking from Fairchild) show how steep and rugged the terrain is. Nothing dangerous, just a lot of work!
Fairchild south slope, ridge blockers
Fairchild south slope, eventually lots of up!
Fairchild south slope, rugged...these are not the gentle south slopes of the approach!
Some monster rocks to navigate between Y and Fairchild

Finally on top at 1:30 I was too tired, with the long return ahead of me, to even think about the beer I had packed up. I decided at this point that I would take a few pics on the return and perhaps make a trip report to better prepare future travelers. The return to 13k' on the north ridge of Y was 1.5 miles that took 2 hrs; ugh.
The following pic shows the entire ridge and slopes back over to Y.
long view of ridge looking south from Fairchild slope

The rest of the return was uneventful and I got back to a more normal pace of about 1.7 mi/hr.

Recap of lessons:
Recognize that optimism fills in where topos leave off. A ridge that is not a big drop can still be a lot of work depending on the actual terrain that, ahem, does not show on a topo
A ridge on a topo will indeed not actually turn out magically to be just a slope; a ridge is a ridge.
Any mountain can be tame on all sides you have seen and still fierce on a side you have not seen
Use my gps tracking with topo more often; especially when something doesn't look right.
Keep the general direction of the target in mind at all times; north-west is not north-east.
Don't trust distance measurements extrapolated from sections of a GPX
Remote peaks that are not traveled often likely have reports that do not fully state the difficulties because those that travel them are tough and experienced and used to surprises.

I hope this helps a future traveler to Fairchild!

In spite of the difficulties, I still feel blessed to have the health/strength to still experience the beauty of the creation God has given us. This fairly remote mountain, Fairchild, is a gem to gaze at from the northern front range and experience on foot.

Finally, of a pic of a solitary Old-Man-of-the-Mountain (Hymenoxys grandiflora). I relate.
Solitary Old-man-of-the-mountain (self-portrait of sorts ;-)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

 Comments or Questions

Nice work
10/01/2015 20:25
I attempted Mummy Mania with a couple of people and called it a day after Fairchild because of the time it took to summit it after doing CCY first. That mountain is a long way from any TH.


tougher round trip
10/01/2015 20:35
My first attempt at this route I turned back because it looked unappealing as a round trip (also a late start due to underestimating it), as you found out. Seems like most people do that ridge just in one direction as part of Mummy Mania. Good job getting it both ways. I had a quite a slog back from Desolation Peaks and Flatiron in that area this year also (mileage and elevation gain seemed mild during the planning and looking at the topo).


Nice TR
10/06/2015 14:02
Nice TR Ron. We still need to get out together. Maybe this winter?

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.