Two trails lead from the Chapin Pass Trailhead on the Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are the only trails along this one-way, one-lane, dirt road that goes to the top of the park, which is open only for about two months of the year.
I knew that this was where I wanted to go today. But I couldn’t decide which of the two trails to take.
Why not take both? I will eventually take both, but not on the same day. First I decided to climb the mountain.
Mount Chapin, Chapin Creek, and Chapin Pass commemorates the name of someone who is probably a relative. I have again become family-conscious after sharing notes with Erica and learning that we are both descended from a man and a woman who came to this country in 1620 on the Mayflower.
But it was a different part of the family tree that captured my attention today. Deacon Samuel Chapin, my eighth great-grandfather, emigrated from England to America in about 1624 and was one of the founders of Springfield, Massachusetts. My family visited Springfield in 1954, and I still remember seeing the big sculpture of his proud pose rendered by master sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, He and his lineage was so important to my mother that Chapin is my sister’s middle name. My mother had a paper that said all Chapins in the country are related.
Wait Chapin, my second great-grandfather, was a pioneer settler of Michigan in the 1820s. A carpenter, he made a deerskin-covered chest that once was my most prized possession. But since I was attached to it, I gave it to my niece Julie. She is the family member who is most interested in our ancestors. Anyway, it belongs in the female line, having come to me from my mother, my grandmother, and Wait’s daughter Rosa. I hope that she eventually gives it to her daughter Samantha or my niece Kathy’s daughter Breanna.
The Chapin whose name is remembered where I hiked today is Frederick H. Chapin. He wrote the book Mountaineering in Colorado: The Peaks Above Estes Park after his first visit here in 1886. Since we are probably related and both of us have been hikers and writers, I bought a copy of his book last night.
And today I hiked to the top of the mountain that bears his name. Discounting three peaks that are only about 8,000 feet, this is the first real mountain that I have climbed.
The hike starts at the Chapin Creek Trailhead, one of the highest trailheads anywhere at 11,020 feet. One unmaintained branch of the trail goes down Chapin Creek for three miles. The other goes up to Mount Chapin at 12,454 feet high. But the park maintains only the first half, which is as far as I went on it a couple of years ago.
I hiked with my trekking poles, which nowadays I use only to climb mountains, backpack, and snowshoe. I used my newer fanny pack to give my shoulder a rest. Today my shoulder was fine, probably because my resistance training class yesterday loosened the muscles.
En route to the mountain I stopped at the one big tourist attraction right along Old Fall River Road, Chasm Falls. Leaving my apartment at 6:30, I got to the falls at 7:30, which was exactly first light:
When I got to the summit of Mount Chapin at 11:15, I was disappointed that no one else was there. I hoped that somebody could take a photograph of me on Mount Chapin.
So I wandered around, shooting pictures to capture the 360 degree view. The closest mountain is Mount Chiquita, which could have been named for my sister’s beloved dog, but probably wasn’t. Here is 13,069-foot Mount Chiquita with the top cairn in the foreground pointing the way to Mount Chapin’s summit:
Most of my hike today was in the tundra above treeline, as shown in this photograph of the Chapin Creek area. But much of the trail was rocky — talus or scree.
After returning to earth, the only way out was to drive up the Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. From there I drove down Trail Ridge Road.
At the center it began to cloud over, and snowflakes began to fall. They were still falling at the so-called “Rock Cut” on the way back, where I stopped to shoot Flattop:
I was on a wildlife watch today. I saw even more beautiful animals than I could have hoped for.
Marmots were all over the place, because the place was rocky, their preferred habitat:
Four big bulls up 100 yards above Trail Ridge Road caused the biggest traffic jam I have ever seen in the park. So of course I pulled over and hiked up to the elk:
Between Chasm Falls and Mount Chiquita, I found something really special — a herd of five Rocky Mountain Sheep. They are much less common than marmots and elk. In fact, a ranger stopped there too. He told me that he had been taking a sheep survey for the past six weeks, and these were the first that he had seen this season: