I asked my friend Melanie to include me on one of her bucket list adventures before she moves away in less than a month. She suggested doing the Mummy Kill, casually describing it as an all-day hike that traverses a few peaks in a less-frequented area of RMNP. I did a brief Google search, saw it described as having “minimal traffic”, forgot about the intimidating numbers that I also saw, and responded, “I’m down.” Maybe the fact that “Kill” was in the name should have been a hint to what I had agreed to.
14 hours, 15.8 miles, and 5600 feet of elevation gain later, I can say the Mummy (-less) Kill is very much of the Type 1.5 Fun variety. Hiking up and down hundreds of feet of sketchy terrain, we summited 5 peaks (Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues), 4 of which were 13ers. The route offered relentlessly demoralizing moments as well as views and sense of accomplishment that made all those moments worth it. Here’s how the long day went for us.
Melanie, Emerson, and I left Boulder Saturday morning at 1:30am. We caravanned to Lawn Lake Trailhead where Melanie parked her car before we continued to our starting point at Chapin Creek Trailhead. Only 8.5 miles sit between the two trailheads but most of those miles are on the windy, dirt Old Rivers Falls Road. With darkness thrown into the mix, this drive took longer than expected. We set off from Chapin Creek Trailhead at 3:30am.
Getting to Mt. Chapin was simple. The ascent in the first quarter mile will wake you up but then it mellows out onto a distinct trail that quickly goes above tree line. We had read that it’s easy to miss the recommended summit route to Chapin so we took extra precautions to look for that trail. We missed it anyway.
Luckily, we found the cairn by the descent route and hiked up a short, faintly beaten trail directly onto the dark summit. The most exciting part of getting to Chapin happened right below tree line. Emerson heard a disturbance in the trees and when we shined our headlamps in that direction, we noticed two glowing eyes about 30 yards away down the slope. Besides that spooky encounter, Mt. Chapin felt like it never happened in context of the entire day.
Next stop, Mt. Chiquita! We retraced our steps down Chapin and reconnected with our original trail. The higher we got, the fainter the trail became, fading in and out among the rocks and tundra plants. Every so often, a cairn would pull us back on route. Chiquita’s ascent was much like Chapin’s in that it was steep but doable just by steadily putting one foot in front of the other. By the time we reach Chiquita’s summit, the sun had just started rising, allowing us to get some dramatic sky shots before moving on to Ypsilon.
Our pre-reading for the hike recommended treating everything up to Ypsilon as a warmup for the rest of the route. Standing at its summit, we were full of adrenaline and overconfidence from our fast pace bagging three peaks and the magnificent sunrise illuminating the magnificent views around us. We only half-heartedly acknowledged that things would get much from harder from here. As we descended Ypsilon towards Fairchild, we encountered the realness.
After Ypsilon’s summit, we could no longer step over or around everything we encountered. The slope grew steeper, the rocks taller, and where there weren’t rocks awaited loose, cat litter dirt. Away went the poles and out our hands for balance and hoisting ourselves over and down things. The unpredictability of the rocks added to the sketchiness. There was no reliable way to tell what a rock would do when contacted. It might do nothing, or it might teeter-totter, roll out, flip up and donk your ankle.
Depending on your route, or how ambitious you feel, you might encounter solid class 2+/3 sections going up Fairchild. We aimed for a snow field near what we could see of the summit in the distance, skirting to our right, under notable chimneys. It took us about an hour from the base of Fairchild to 300 feet below it’s summit where we hid from the wind and snacked at 9:30am.
Looking at Hague in the distance, we knew we were in for more of the same so we quickly and unceremoniously descended Fairchild. We took large, precarious steps all the way down to the few football fields worth of mellow meadows at The Saddle.
About halfway up Hagues, Melanie, who has already gone farther and harder than I ever could on post-14er legs and 2 hours of sleep, called it for herself. Since my Suunto said we were only 500 feet from the summit, we decided Em and I would finish Hagues, skip Mummy Mountain, backtrack down Hagues, and meet Melanie back at Lawn Lakes.
Hagues’ last 500 feet proved more difficult than its first 500 feet. It required noticeably more exposed scrambling and demanded mental energy that was already at a premium. The route we took up Hagues was more technical than our route up Fairchild.
And then we made it!
Not knowing what to expect from Mummy Mountain, I’m uncertain if we saved time by down climbing Hagues. It felt equally precarious going down as up. At the very least, backtracking gave us a great tour down to Lawn Lakes where we encountered the only 2 other hikers we saw that day.
A nicely defined trail descends the entire way to Lawn Lakes, passing by theme park worthy frontier scenes and in our case, two chill AF moose. Once we reached the end of Lawn Lakes, a sign informed us that another 6 miles and 3000 ft of descent sat between us and Melanie’s car. That was exasperating. After the day that just transpired, every second of flat, uneventful trail felt like mind-numbing minutes. But we made it! Almost exactly 14 hours later, we were back in a car, heading to well-earned burgers and milkshakes.
The day after, we felt accomplishment in our muscles and heavy eyelids. Our Mummy-less Kill hike was physically demanding but the mental challenges it dealt us were more rewarding to overcome. Multiple times on the hike, we would look ahead and think, “There’s no way.” Our target destinations looked impossibly far, tall, and rocky to reach on foot and hand. But the way the route goes, one fully experiences how simple small actions, like a step, can build up to conquer seemingly insurmountable challenges, like Fairchild. The day rewarded us with great views, memories, and valuable life lessons, all the things needed to fortify a friendship that will soon be separated by thousands of miles.