Amongst Colorado ultrarunners there are a couple of routes that discussed with equal parts fear and excitement. These routes include things like the Four Pass Loop, the High Lonesome Loop, and pretty much anything on the Hardrock 100 course in the San Juan mountains. One that is rarely discussed, and rarely done, is the Mummy Range Traverse (aka Mummy Mania or Mummy Kill) in a relatively low-use area of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Mummy Range Traverse summits all of the 12,000 and 13,000 ft mountains in the Mummy Range, and ascent of more than 7,000 feet, in a distance of 15 to 19 miles. Of the few that do the traverse, all of them that I could find have done it when Old Fall River Road is opening, reducing the need for an exceptionally long car shuttle and 2ish miles on the dirt road. Since we were leaving Colorado, we didn’t have time to wait for Old Fall River Road, so we decided to attempt the traverse as a really long lollipop.
We woke up at the crack of dawn and drove the 2ish hours to the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Trail Ridge Road. The wind was whipping and the temperature was a cool 36 degrees so we decided to hang out in the car until the sun rose. As the sun slowly rose, and Jason reluctantly got out of the car, I realized that we definitely weren’t completing the loop so I resigned myself to just making this a scouting mission for a future attempt. The sunrise was pretty spectacular and, thanks to the smoky air, the fiery red sun seemed to hang on the top of the mountains as it rose.
Despite the beautiful sunrise, the wind was still whipping, battering us with pebbles and small rocks whenever we were walking into it. Needless to say it wasn’t very pleasant. Unfortunately once we got into the trees, the snow started so we couldn’t even really enjoy the break from the wind. A handful of people (maybe 3 tops) had been on the trail in the days before us, so there was a bit of a trail through the trees that appeared to mostly follow the summer trail.
At about 2.5 miles from our starting point on Trail Ridge Road we finally crested treeline and the snow mostly disappeared. There were a couple of steep sections coated in snow that made for some spicy traverses, especially since you could see where a couple of people had postholed into the mess of boulders that were under the snow. Luckily we most stayed on top of the snow and certainly didn’t make it all the way down to the boulders. I kept expecting the trail to start heading straight up the side of Mt Chapin, but instead it continued it’s traverse all the way to the saddle between Mt Chapin and Mt Chiquita.
At the saddle we took a break to have a snack and assessed how we were feeling. Jason was still feeling pretty low so we decided to summit Mt Chapin and call it a day. The “trail” up Chapin was mostly a choose-your-own-adventure up the scree and tundra. Eventually we made it up to the top, with views of Trail Ridge Road, Longs Peak, and the last part of the Mummy traverse across the valley.
After turning around we decided to try the lower trail back to treeline that looked like it would avoid the snowy traverses. The trail was awesome, loose but really fun, until we finally made it back to treeline and it completely disappeared in deep snow. Luckily I had the route on my watch so we knew where we needed to go, but that didn’t make it any easier. At one point, I was holding on to little tufts of evergreens to pull myself up a snow slope that was still too frozen for me to kick steps in. Luckily those evergreen tufts were strong enough to hold my weight or I would have ended up in the mess of branches and rocks that were below me. Eventually we made it back to the main trail and were able to follow our own footsteps in the snow back to Old Fall River Road.
Once back on the road, we realized the wind was still whipping, even though we had mostly been protected from it on the summit of Chapin. We were glad we decided to call it a day because the rest of the summits were much more exposed to the wind and were probably pretty miserable.
After a stop in the Visitor’s Center to use the bathrooms and check the wind speed we headed back towards Boulder. Since we knew it would be our last Rocky Mountain National Park visit for a while, we made sure to stop at our traditional post-hike lunch spot in Boulder, Kathmandu II for some of the best Indian and Nepalese buffet food you can find!