A Little Madness – Chiquita, Ypsilon and Fay Lakes

“A man needs a little madness….”  -Nikos Kazantzakis

Saturday Aug 6th was spent doing mundane chores needed for my vastly expanding ‘grown-up’ life:  Oil changes, tires, errands, this and that.  All things I neglected doing the decidedly non-responsible things that make life so much richer (name, spending a week in the Colorado backcountry). But all ‘adult’ things that need to be done no matter how non-fun they are.

I still wanted a hike Sunday, though. Or I should say  NEEDED IT.   When I don’t have my backcountry experience, I get quite cranky and irritable to put it bluntly. More so than in the past.

Perhaps I am starting to recognize I have real responsibilities now (admitting to having a career, starting a life with someone, planning for a future and so on) and have a job that also is a non-stop pace too often. The job situation I hope to  will change at some point (assuming my plans pan out), but for now, I need the escape valve of the backcountry. A chance to decompress and revel in what I love.

Even if I only have a day for it.

And on this day I had free, I thought of a hike popularly called Mummy Madness.

The Mummy Madness hike is approx 17 miles and 6000′ gain of beautiful alpine terrain over seven peaks that have all but one towering over 13k ft.  Problem is that this classic hike requires a car shuttle.

What’s a solo hiker to do?

He modifies, looks at the map and makes his own route.

The route I took  involved hiking up to Chiquita via the southeast ridge , working my way to Ypsilon and then heading down to the saddle between Yspilon and Fairchild. From there I would follow the drainage to Fay Lakes and eventually back to the trail that would lead to the Lawn Lake trailhead to finish the loop.

A challenging hike of about 15 miles or so with 5500’+ elevation gain. Throw in the the steep snowfield and scree field crossings and the addition of  thick woods involved with ‘swchacking down the drainage from Fay Lakes. All of this before getting back on trail and this hike is perhaps more demanding than the traditional Mummy Madness hike.

But it is one I enjoyed. Perhaps the best day hike I’ve had a in a long time.

The day started at the busy Lawn Lake trailhead.

I powered up the trail perhaps two miles or so and came to the social trail I wanted. Before taking the trail, I walked two minutes or so to Chipmunk Lake and took in a view of my favorite peak (in terms of aesthetics): Ypsilon


Yspilon just before Chipmunk Lake

The distinctive “Y” couloir can be seen from miles away and always catches my eye. It would also be the high point of the day.

I backtracked to the social trail, left this trail and headed west along the ridge.

Eventually I popped out above tree line and soaked in the views to where I came from and where I was headed to…

Looking back on the southeast ridge

The climb went up further. Many lakes were spied below.  The water was a rich blue color that only seems to be found in high alpine lakes.

Chiquita Lake below

I continued to climb. I reveled in the views of the aptly named Never Summer range and the solitude I was experiencing.

I made it to Chiquita and saw a small amount of people. I then remembered that the “CCY” hike is a popular option in this area.

The views from 13k+ feet were naturally outstanding on this clear Rocky Mountain summer day.


I made it to the top of Ypsilon and saw my friends Mark and Julie on the summit. As they are residents in nearby Estes Park and it was indeed a beautiful day, I was not completely surprised to see them!

After Ypsilon, there were no more people. I seemingly had the mountains to myself.

At the saddle between Ypsilon and Fairchild, I made my way down.  Both a scree field and a snowfield were crossed.

At the end of the snowfield, I enjoyed both the view and the water from a small tarn.


After leaving the tarn behind, I encountered more scree and another (steeper!) snow field.

The going was slow…but the views continued to impress.  I felt joy and freedom being by myself in the mountains. It was only me, the mountains and a map to guide me. I paused and reveled what was around me as had a snack and some water.  Fay Lakes waited below.

Upper and Middle Fay Lakes.  Lower Fay Lake is hidden in the trees.

After some more scrambling and talus hopping, I reached the lakes. The water was quiet and soothing.


Eventually lower Fay Lake was reached. Then the real ‘schwacking began.

Over and under trees, through bogs and crossing the creek back and forth. My arm was scratched. My feet were wet.  My shoes were falling apart. A water bottle fell out of my pack holster.

I was tired….

….and I was happy.

Sometime there is need to push yourself. To really feel like you are doing something that taxes your limits. To feel alive.

I was indeed a little tired. 🙂

After nearly eight hours of off-trail travel, I reached the Lawn Lake trail The rest of the hike would prove to be easy and mellow. Almost meditative.

The view towards the alpenglow on Longs Peak was seen near the end of the hike. A great way to end a memorable hike.



My vehicle was reached. I sat down, drank some water and drove away.

Home waited. Work was going to start again on Monday.

But for one, long and intense day I was back to where I love to be: Deep in the mountains and alive.


Note on the photos: This trip was done partially as a test run for a Canon A1200 I bought. A good, light , inexpensive and small P&S. Unusual for a P&S camera, it has an optical viewfinder. Great for outdoor photos!  This camera also takes AA batteries (a plus for me). The DSLR takes better photos, but sometimes a smaller camera is more desirable. I am attempting to climb Grand Teton again this August, and a P&S is much easier to handle on climbing trips vs a DSLR. 🙂  Overall, I am pretty pleased with this little camera. Should work well not only for climbing, but for traveling to Germany later this year and other trips where I don’t want to lug the DSLR.


The route: Mainly described above. The key is to look for an obvious social trail when heading to Chipmunk Lake. Just before the descent to the lake, you should see the trail on your left. I will add it is worth the short (~2 minute) hike to the lake. The views towards the mountains are awesome! When the social trail starts descending, head west and up. Eventually, you’ll come near tree line. The rest of the route is easy (if interesting at times!) in terms of navigation.    I guesstimate the route to be about 15 miles r/t and 5500’+ elev gain.

The map: Trails Illustrated Map #200 – Rocky Mountain National Park.  You may want to print out this map as well to help navigate the SE Ridge to Chiquita.

Getting there: Good directions are found at this hiking website

Post Trail Nourishment:  I was hungry when I finished. Famished even! 🙂 Alas, things were starting to close down in Estes on a Sunday night. And I just felt too tired to be social in Oskar Blues (my usual post-RMNP watering hole). My plans quickly went from “I’ll make myself a nice meal when I get back”  to   “Screw it. I’ll get take out“.  I’m ashamed to admit I did Subway.    The food at Casa Mags is undeniably good (if I do say so)…the food at Chez Subway? Not so much. Go to Oskar Blues if you can instead.  The Silo Burger is awesome!   The beers are delish.  (And I did have  a cold six pack in the fridge at Casa Mags for when I arrived home).

Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steven Magnanti
Steven Magnanti
12 years ago

A great story to read Paul and as always fantastic pictures.
You really are living a full, content life. A life many can only dream of.
Until your next entry, take care, stay safe and much happiness.

Love Dad