Peak(s):  Chipeta Mtn  -  13,472 feet
Point 12,195
Date Posted:  06/04/2020
Date Climbed:   05/31/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 Chipeta-ing Away at the Thirteeners  

Chipeta Mountain is an oft-overlooked thirteener near its much higher Centennial thirteener neighbor Mount Ouray. It makes for a reasonable addition to Mount Ouray's west ridge, or simply on its own on a half day. Whiley and I had already done Ouray and the weather predictions were for a 90% chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we decided to just do Chipeta by itself (and maybe some nearby twelvers, if we could). We did get a bit wet on the way down so it's good we didn't try for our usual big day kind of climb.

We drove up to Marshall Pass the night before and Whiley went for a run (yes, after doing a thirteener and some twelvers just a few hours earlier) and I setup my tent. I was tired of sleeping in my car. Since we knew rain was coming early we also got to bed and started early at 6am, which was super generous given our usual pace but hey, lightning ain't nothin' to mess with. While things were dry when we woke up there was already a layer of low hanging clouds ringing Ouray.

Mount Ouray at about 5:20am.
What Mount Ouray should look like. A lump of gigantic proportion. (Taken the afternoon before.)

The route up Chipeta takes the Continental Divide Trail north on an old road from Marshall Pass. Until this day I had no idea there were sections of the CDT that allowed motorized transport. The hiking on the road was easy, of course, and the views west were gorgeous, with thick forest blanketing the rolling hills of the southern Sawatch.


There were some snow drifts we could avoid on the road, and a couple of tenths of a mile from the 4WD trailhead we came across some fresh downed trees blocking the road. There was nowhere to park nearby so until these get cleaned up the 4WD trailhead will be nigh unusable.

Nearly to the 4WD trailhead.

A few minutes later and we were at said 4WD trailhead. I'd barely call this a usable trailhead, as it's tiny, with room for maybe 3-4 cars if you squeeze in tightly, and one entire half of the road is a rotting rock wall you wouldn't want to look at funny for fear if it collapsing on you, let alone park your vehicle next to.

Only park there if you want to commit insurance fraud because you just know this thing is gonna fall down.

We continued hiking along the increasingly snowy trail, taking advantage of the postholes (which were pretty soggy) and a single track left by a dirtbiker through the drifts. The trail was super easy to follow and we eventually found ourselves below a large talus field that led all the way to the ridge between Ouray and Chipeta. Considering this was dry we hopped on it, glad to be off the snow and mud. Ahead of us was a father and his two young kids, who had come up from the Monarch side of Marshall Pass before we had started.

Talus field up to the ridge. You can barely see the three dots of the dad and his kids on the tundra near center.
Heading up the talus field, now with proper lighting! Photo: Whiley H.
Pretty wildflowers on the ascent. It was still cold enough that they were few and far between.

As we ascended the talus gave way to tundra, and we neared then entered the low hanging clouds that had settled over everything.

Typical terrain on the ascent, looking back towards Marshall Pass. Photo: Whiley H
Northwest towards Monarch Pass. Photo: Whiley H.

Visibility became lower and lower until we could barely see 50 feet in front of us. It was good that this route was dead simple and non-technical, the fog might have added some spice. We caught up to the hiking family on the ridge and quickly passed them.

Pea soup. Photo: Whiley H.
The snow and fog blend enough to make the fog look solid.

While the ridge was easy, there were some weird rocks along the way and the fog continued to make things look way cooler than they actually were.

Utterly bizarre exposure of quartz in the middle of the ridge.
Halo around the sun. Photo: Whiley H.
Mount Ouray, mostly obscured.
That's better!

We were now racing along the ridge and soon topped out on South Chipeta Mountain, an unranked 12,850-foot sub-summit of Chipeta.

South Chipeta looking kind of intimidating.
=O Photo: Whiley H.
Last little bit up South Chipeta.
Chipeta Mountain. Photo: Whiley H.

From South Chipeta's summit the true summit didn't look too far away, and the clouds were doing all kinds of weird things. We pressed on thinking that it'd be a quick stroll to the top.

I love this photo. Chipeta's an easy peasy mountain but it looks ominous and downright evil here. Photo: Whiley H.
Down Chipeta's south ridge. Photo: Whiley H.

For some reason the final summit push up Chipeta seemed a lot longer than it should have; Whiley and I both agreed on that. We weren't sure why, since it's mostly just a Class 2 talus and tundra hop, but it felt like it took us forever.

Nearing the summit.

We topped out in blue skies, the fog having mostly lifted.

Mount Ouray. Those gullies look like they could make good snow climbs when filled in! Photo: Whiley H.
Southern Sawatch with Mount Aetna and Taylor Mountain in center and Tabeguache Peak and Mount Shavano on the right.

We were surprised by the now good weather, and happy, since now we could do more! We hung out for a few minutes and scoped out our route over to Point 12,195. We would add more twelvers if we had the weather for it.

The twelvers we'd try and tack on, with Point 12,195 near the left edge and Pahlone far along the ridge to the right. If we had even more time there were additional twelvers on the snowy ridge behind.
Down to this saddle. We'd have to drop below treeline, which meant unknown amounts of snow.

Whiley and I began down back to the South Chipeta/Chipeta saddle, then down into the trees. Rarely have I done a route that goes all the way below treeline before returning above.

Still plenty of snow, we'll see how this goes.

As we neared treeline we took our last looks back at Chipeta; clouds were forming, rolling over the summit, and dissipating within seconds. All day the clouds would be doing cool stuff.

Smokey. Photo: Whiley H.

The forest was rather thick, and there was still a ton of snow, far more than was visible from the summit. We tried to avoid it as best as we could but ended up with soaked feet in a few minutes.

Into the trees... and the snow.

We came out on top of a small bump that we then had to descend again to begin ascending to 12,195's ridge.

Point 12,195 and Pahlone Peak. Photo: Whiley H.

The ridge had a huge cornice along its southern side, and was snowy along its entire eastern side, so we'd have to find a way to get on top. There was a nearby trail but it went up into steeper snow than we wanted.

Snow on the ridge. The trail is faintly visible going up and left towards the trees and cornice.

I gave Whiley a pointy rock to use as an improvised axe, then I started kicking steps up the slope. The snow was soft and kind of steep, but overall made for easy climbing.

Kicking steps up the snow. Photo: Whiley H.
Snow all along the ridge and the cornice we avoided. Photo: Whiley H.

We topped out on the ridge and had an easy walk to the summit of 12,195.

Alright, let's go.
This... this right here is a lump. You're welcome.
The ridge is significantly longer than it looked from the start. Mount Ouray and Antora Peak keep watch over this area. Photo: Whiley H.
Chipeta Mountain, Mount Ouray, and Antora Peak. There's better views from this lowly twelver than pretty much all three of the thirteeners here.

Along the way we'd been discussing our next moves. We really didn't want to orphan Pahlone, but had already decided that was probably as far as we'd get with 1pm storms. The only problem is Pahlone was two miles farther along the ridge, and with 1,000 vert to boot.

It doesn't look too far because it's enormous, but it's a darn good distance.

In the few minutes we hung out on 12,195's summit the clouds began to noticeably build to our west and southwest, towering white puffs which quickly grew dark on their bottoms. There was no way we'd get to Pahlone and back quick enough to beat the weather, and our descent was a bit questionable and very likely snowy, so we began making our way back towards the end of the ridge and then the CDT.

Storm clouds starting to build.

In the maybe 15 minutes it took us to once again reach our steps up the snow the clouds had gotten much worse, and a stack of lenticular clouds had built up.

Lenticulars right of center. Photo: Whiley H.

We raced down and around the hump in between us and Chipeta, crossing over a rock rib so we wouldn't have to go all the way over it.

Some Class 2, but no hands-on scrambling at all.

We decided to descend into a small drainage and out the other side, then take a strip of dry ground back to the CDT closer to the Ouray/Chipeta connecting ridge.

Still a lot of snow here, so we had to take advantage of as much dry ground as possible.

When we got to the trail we went along it for maybe a couple hundred feet, all snow, and realized this would take us forever. Our only other option was to ascend high enough to either gain the ridge or sidehill along it; we chose the former, since we at least knew it was dry, and sidehilling is so slow.

Back up the ridge.
The stupid amounts of snow we avoided.

Now, gaining a ton of elevation was not what we wanted to do. This would put us higher up and at more risk of lightning, as well as be tiring, but it'd be better than slogging through the snow. We made an ascending traverse to the ridge top, then when we were on the tundra, we began running.

Rocky and annoying, but at least it's not snowy and annoying. Point 12,195 is left of center and far away now.
Already raining. No thunder yet, but very concerning clouds.

As soon as we reached a good place to drop back down to the trail near where we'd came up Chipeta earlier in the day we did, and not a moment too soon; it began raining as we descended, and after we got on the trail the thunder rolled.

About to get wet.
Soggy but familiar and generally safer terrain.

We were relieved to be back in the trees and the relative safety they offered. We of course were still exposed to the elements, but better in the trees than on the top of a ridge. We ran through the final open section of the trail, then slowed down to catch our breath. I wish we had been able to have a relaxing descent, but the storms kept us huffing and puffing the whole time. The remaining hike back to our cars was uneventful minus the rain and nearly constant thunder, some of which was quite loud. We never actually saw any lightning with all of it being contained in the clouds, but still a pretty exciting afternoon for sure. And hey, we still got something done on a less than favorable weekend! Not bad!


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Marshall Pass (2WD)
Total distance: 13.12 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,116 feet
Total time: 6:48:28
Peaks: One ranked thirteener, one ranked twelver, one unranked twelver

  • Chipeta Mountain, 13,472'
  • South Chipeta Mountain, 12,850'
  • Point 12,195


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Marshall Pass Trailhead (2WD) Marshall Pass Trailhead (4WD) 0:29:29 0:29:29 0:00
Marshall Pass Trailhead (4WD) South Chipeta Mountain 1:20:25 1:49:54 0:00
South Chipeta Mountain Chipeta Mountain 0:33:11 2:23:05 6:06
Chipeta Mountain Point 12,195 1:50:04 4:19:14 8:42
Point 12,195 Marshall Pass Trailhead (4WD) 1:56:28 6:24:24 0:00
Marshall Pass Trailhead (4WD) Marshall Pass Trailhead (2WD) 0:24:03 6:48:28 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Pointy rock?!
06/04/2020 17:50
Whiley, I sold you my old ice axe! It's for snow!

Good report Ben- was hoping for a Chipeta Banana joke, but still enjoyed it!


06/04/2020 20:11
A Chipeta Banana joke would be a real stretch. Almost as long as a banana! groan

Besides, real talk, Chiquita (the banana company; no relation to Chipeta, the Ute Indian wise woman or the mountain) is an absolutely evil company.

Thanks for reading, Rob. I'll have to chide Whiley for the rock. She didn't even use it!


That last 800 feet...
06/04/2020 20:24
Hearing YOU say that last little bit up to Chipeta seemed longer than it really is makes me feel a lot better about myself! I did this one two weeks ago and felt downright silly for thinking the same thing. Thanks for another good report!


I thought ice axes were for scree skiing?
06/05/2020 00:21
Ben gave me a rock... and I didn€„˘t use it.


06/05/2020 08:32
Some people think banana jokes are a slippery slope while others call them cartoonish. Opinions are split.
And I agree: the United Fruit Company, a.k.a Chiquita committed terrorism and crimes against humanity in Central America, not to mention wholesale environmental destruction. Rebranding and advertising will never change any of that.

Whiley, good point! Ice axes are best used for opening beer bottles, making a dinging sound on boulders, and home defense.


Don't forget...
06/05/2020 13:32
@Rob: ...looking like a total pimp to regular hikers with your axe.

@13erRetriever: Haha, this really shouldn't have been "as hard" as it was. I think Whiley and I scoffed on South Chipeta and said it'd take us like 15 minutes... Nope, over half an hour later and the darn thing wouldn't quit! Thanks for reading!


Long ridge
06/05/2020 20:26
To Chipeta. It seemed to go on forever and due to the ups and downs I nicknamed it 'Hoosier Ridge South'. I combined it with Ouray and did Chipeta first, probably a wise choice as I doubt I would have gone for the lower peak after nabbing Ouray.


Hoosier Ridge South
06/08/2020 16:41
@Andrew: That's a great nickname. That's pretty much the philosophy I use too, especially if it involves unranked peaks. Get the "less valuable" ones out of the way first or I won't want to do them as much.

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