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After 10 days, I still don’t know what to think of that hike. Up to that day, I had never experienced the emotional and physical swings that we encountered on this hike. We had been planning this summit for two years and believed we were ready, and actually we were prepared - for most of it.
We arose early and were the second car at the TH at 5:30. Despite the steepness of the start of the trail we made great time and soon were above tree line and ready for our jaunt across Chapin’s backside (That sounds so wrong, doesn’t it?). About half way across Chapin, in the dim light of dawn, we were treated to a young bull elk taking his morning stroll across our path. As anxious as we were to gain Ypsilon, sights like this don’t happen every day, so we stopped and enjoyed the show. He finally moved on leaving us to make up some time.
We made the saddle between Chapin & Chiquita just as the sun broke the horizon, bathing the entire valley below us in golden light, and the Never Summers behind us lit up by the alpen glow. It was made all the more surreal when we found ourselves being strafed by literally thousands of birds (they looked like thick necked sparrows – YW probably could tell us who they were) flying up and out of the Poudre Valley, thru the saddle and down into the forests below us. They absolutely jetted by us, no more than 3 – 4 feet above the ground, swirling all around us and then continuing on into the morning light. I have to admit to giggling like a kid, it was as if we were caught up in a cloud of birds. The Bird Cloud finally thinned and it was time to move on again. The plan was to climb up Chiquita about 2/3 of the way and then cut across to the left to gain the saddle between Chiquita and Ypsilon. And it was a fine plan. Except for the part where we actually landed up at the summit of Chiquita. Again. Oops. I guess it’s important to look up from your feet now and again. Oh well, it was much easier this time than last. We stopped to enjoy the view, but only briefly. We hung a left and began our descent to the Chiquita & Ypsilon saddle.
We arrived at the Chiquita/Ypsilon saddle in short order and were left breathless by the views (well that and having just walked an extra 1/2 mile down those stupid rocks). We stood for the longest time soaking up the view of the Spectacle Lakes, through Horseshoe Park all the way to Estes. Some of the finest views I’ve seen in the Park. Ypsilon, even from here, still looked so imposing, so majestic. We began the slog to the summit. It probably would have been easier without the Chiquita detour, but it was still manageable. We just adopted our “50 steps & take a break” strategy and it worked – the summit of Ypsilon!!
First things first. I made a beeline to the summit register to log in and then just stood there, savoring the moment and the views. Two years waiting for that moment and worth every second of the wait! It was then, looking over the edge at the lakes below, that thoughts of Ranger Jeff Christensen entered my mind. It was a strange feeling. Looking around I could understand how his accident happened. It’s really exposed on that summit. The rocks seem more jumbled, looser some how than other peaks we’ve climbed. Maybe that’s just in my head, but still at the time I could just see it happening. That was spooky, and unfortunately, mildly prophetic.
We dropped packs and wandered about, cameras working over time, documenting our achievement. The views are incredible. The sight of the Spectacle Lakes below and the entire valley laid out before us was everything we had hoped for. This was the reason people come to RMNP. We knew what to expect and still our hearts stopped. There really are no words to describe this beauty. Sandy set up her tripod to take our summit picture. We posed off to one side of the wind shelter since it was taken by a gentleman enjoying his lunch and shooting the scenery with his phone camera. He eventually left and we decided to take another photo from there in order to get the dramatic peaks of the Mummy Range as a backdrop.
I took a seat on some rocks in front of the windbreak as Sandy set up the camera. She set the timer and then scurried over to sit by me. Click. She walked back to “chimp” her shot, declared it “not good enough” and reset the camera. She turned and hurried back over to where I was sitting. She almost made it. Sandy hung her boot on a rock and began to fall. Stuff like this always happens in slow motion. In my mind’s eye I saw her slowly falling. Over the edge. To the rocks 3000 feet below. My heart leapt into my throat and I reached out grabbing her left arm and pulled. She landed at my feet, on her knees. I reached down to help her up when “click”, the camera captured the moment. At the time it appeared that she was right at the edge, but looking later that evening, the photo showed she was at least a foot or so from going over the edge. Regardless, it left us both badly shaken. We both sat there for what seemed like hours, unable to move. Finally without a word, we gathered our belongings and began our descent.
We shuffled down Y, unfortunately straight down isn’t necessarily the quickest or best route off of Ypsilon. Do overs would have us going back the way we came up. We added about 30 extra minutes to our descent and made up several new cuss words that we hurled at the jumbled flat rocks that make up these peaks. We finally made it to the lower trail and across the meadow to the trailhead in silence. The events on Ypsilon made descending the several rock stairways back to the trailhead agony. We were both physically and emotionally spent, and each step down seemed so unsteady
We sat in the car for awhile, finally talking about her fall. She had banged her knee up pretty well, but other than that she was fine – shaken but fine. We thanked God that it had turned out the way it had. One more foot to her right and it would have ended so much differently. We were fortunate. We had experienced first hand how every single step, every instant in the mountains can change your life. Some times for the better, some times not so much. It’s a lesson we needed to learn, but unfortunately there was another lesson to come. Aaahhhh, but I get ahead of myself. That’s a story for another time
To sum this day’s adventure up. A gloriously beautiful beginning, awesome views and spectacular sights in the middle. The ending, except for the not dieing part, sucked. Yet despite all that happened we both felt like this was worth it. We haven’t seen all that the Rockies have to offer, but I can’t imagine there being a more beautiful, more energizing place than the summit of Mt. Ypsilon!