Fairchild Mountain (attempt)
January 17, 2003 - Lawn Lake Approach
With a successful winter climb to the summit of Mummy Mountain, we were ready to take on another Mummy Range 13’er. We selected Fairchild Mountain, as it seemed to be the next convenient peak and could be approached via the same trail we used for Mummy. We had the assurance of a known route and with the small amount of additional snow over the past week; we could count on a packed trail at least as far as the juncture with the Black Canyon trail.
I played hooky from school (excellent way to start out last semester) and we left Cheyenne at about 7 p.m. We were hoping for dinner at the Grumpy Gringo in Estes before settling in for the night at the nearby Budget Host. We were disappointed that the Mexican joint was closed but we had a room waiting, having made a “leave the light on for us” phone call to the innkeeper before leaving home. We found a good dinner at a new place (something Chophouse) but were left with karmic reservations about not having eaten the traditional pre climb meal. Would this mean wind, injury, frostbite or a failed summit attempt?
We planned to set out the next morning at about the same time as our previous trip and though Fairchild would require about an extra mile of total travel, we figured to make up the difference by knowing the route and having a packed trail. We left the Lawn Lake trailhead at 6:30 and walked in the moonlight without headlamps for the short period until dawn. The familiar trail made for a bit faster pace but when we got to the cut off for the Gold Banner campground, we were not greeted with a view of Mummy Mountain, but instead the sight of clouds obscuring both summits and the high ridges. The weather forecast called for partly sunny weather but also mentioned the possibility of snow showers and gusty winds above tree line. The trail to the juncture of the Lawn Lake trail and the Black Canyon trail is almost completely protected by trees therefore, the wind and its effect would not be a factor for another hour or two at least, perhaps time enough for the sun to do its thing.
We arrived at the juncture at 10:00 and stopped to take some photos, hydrate, and eat before heading up to Lawn Lake and the real heart of the climb at the head of the valley. The conditions were not looking good as we could not see the summit of Mummy Mountain, whose flank we were standing directly below or the high ridges or summit of Fairchild, our target. The packs went back on and after a bit of bushwhacking, we found the trail cut through the trees that leads upward to Lawn Lake. At this point, our luck turned positive, albeit for just a short time, when we found that another person had snowshoed the trail through the trees and left a beautiful rut with a firm base for us to follow. It was an absolute blessing as the snow was soft and we were postholing, with the shoes, to a depth of 18” while we searched for the route.
The trail led up through the trees and out into the open near the breached dam and the NPS patrol cabin. The wind now became a factor as we were out in the open and would be for the remainder of the climb. We sought shelter from the gusts in the lee of the cabin to again drink a bit and add the layers that we would need to even attempt to climb further. Our route then took us up the valley along the shore of the lake to what became our decision point. The winds were gusting at 40+ mph, the visibility on the route was coming and going and though we would get a glimpse of Mummy once in a while, we still had yet to see any of the heights on Fairchild. There was another 2400 feet of vertical to gain and we had no doubt, about what the winds and likely white out visibility at the saddle leading to the summit would entail. We turned the climb at 11:30.
Our trip out was a bit chilly down to the Lawn Lake juncture but not hurried as we had the confidence gained in traveling through now familiar ground. We took shelter in the trees at the terminus of the Lawn Lake Trail, adjusted layers, ate and drank and then saddled up for the walk to the truck, a bit over 5 miles distant. We arrived at the parking lot at 2:45 and pronounced the trip a success regardless of the missed summit. The distance came out to about 13 miles with 2450 feet of elevation gain; a viable winter training and conditioning hike by most anyone’s standards.
Fairchild Mountain (attempt)
December 6/7, 2003 - Lawn Lake Approach
Our attempt on Fairchild Mountain in January of this year met with failure due to weather. We made the long hike in past Lawn Lake but ran up against strong winds and blowing snow, seeing the summit was not even an issue. This trip was another attempt on Fairchild but also a training climb designed to work the bugs out of our winter camping technique. This summer’s plans include a trip to Peru and we had a new Megamid to try out and other “on snow” camping techniques to polish up as well.
We drove from Cheyenne to Estes, stopping at Safeway for some lunch supplies and the NPS backcountry office for a winter camping permit. We parked at the Lawn Lake trailhead and hefted our packs for the 6-mile hike into the grove of trees just shy of Lawn Lake. We were hoping for a couple feet of snow in addition to the shelter afforded by the tree cover and initially contemplated using a sled to haul in gear. However, the snow cover is pretty sparse so we figured to practice our alpine light packing technique instead. We both were using day/climbing packs, mine being the smaller BD Ice Pack with Gary using an Arcteryx model of equivalent volume. We also wanted to avoid the “big packs and winter weight” by using a BD Megalight shelter, a minimum of comfort goods, and maximum shared gear. We left the trailhead carrying about 35 pounds each, including shelter, foamies, stove, fuel, snowshoes and clothing.
We had some beautiful weather for the trip in with wonderful fall temperatures for most of the way. We covered the distance in about 4 hours and did not have to put on the shoes until the last mile. We could have postholed it but why get worked if not necessary? We came to the trail juncture at about the 6-mile mark and headed into the trees to find a flat spot to set up for the night. The spot we chose fit the NPS bill for distance from the trail, was flat, and had plenty of room for the shelter. Our next job was to set up the Megamid, something we had done in the yard but not yet in the woods. We compacted a pad and the shelter went up, each corner being held down by snow anchors. We filled along the sides of the “mid” with snow blocks and went about putting down foamies and setting up the stove.
As I mentioned before, much of the push for this method of climbing Fairchild had nothing to do with the peak but was instead preparation for this summer’s trip. We had never melted snow for water before and simply needed to do it. How long would it take, how do you do it efficiently? We also plan to use this style tent for cooking and socializing in our summer base camp and we needed to practice setting up, anchoring, locating, you name it. Within a few hours, we were set up, melting water, plenty warm, and looking forward to a night in the . . . wind.
Yes, the wind had come up and we were once again wondering what the odds of getting to the top of Fairchild would be. Things were looking like a repeat of last winter. The lights went out at 7 in the evening and we set the alarm for 4 a.m. We awoke to the sound of the wind in the trees and the general overall din (think of the tarmac at O’Hare) of the winds rolling through the valley, a real lousy sign for a fun climb due to start with melting snow in just two hours. I looked at G and he looked at me and we agreed, if it is blowing at 4.am., we’re going to sleep in.
We started melting water at 7 a.m. and wondered briefly if we made the right call. Briefly is probably an understatement as we’ve been climbing together for a few years, done most of the 14’ers and peaks as far afield as Canada and Bolivia. Neither of us needed to get blown off some peak for the sake of having climbed after hiking in 6 miles and spending the night on the ground. No, instead, we made breakfast, warmed up, fought out way into frozen boots and packed for the relatively quick hike out. We were on the trail at a bit after ten and in the car at 1 p.m. No summit but a well conducted training exercise that answered a bunch of questions, honed techniques and left a few other winter camping issues to be contemplated and cleaned up prior to this coming summer. I guess that means there will be a Fairchild III effort sooner than later . . .
Fairchild Mountain (attempt)
December 5, 2004 - Lawn Lake Approach
Attempting Fairchild Mountain is becoming a bad habit. Rather than bore you with the grisly details, I will summarize. Dinner at Grumpy Gringo, good night’s sleep, 6 a.m. start on the trail. No surprises there. The new factor was the lack of snowshoes in favor of AT skis, hopefully to make the downhill trip a smoother and less time consuming affair.
The route into the Mummy Range is long, 5.7 miles just to get to the head of the valley below Mummy Mountain and that is just the start of the real trip up valley toward the Saddle and hopefully the top of Fairchild. Saturday had been a beautiful day and we hoped for more of the same for our planned Sunday climb. We left the trailhead at 6 a.m and were on snow from the very start. Not much snow, but enough to do the first ¾ mile and then put the new skis on to skin our way slowly up the hill for the next five miles. The grade is really quite tame for the next 3 miles or so before the trail begins to switchback and gain vertical footage more quickly, surmounting a steep section in the bed of the Roaring River. We kept skinning and though the view of Mummy Mountain was clear as a bell from the mid point campsite cut-off, the clouds were starting to obscure the flanks of Fairchild. On we went.
By the end of the fourth mile, the storyline had been written. The winds had blown clouds across the whole of Fairchild and plumes of snow were rising from the ridge of Mummy Mountain. The gusts were dropping into the valley and the temperature was falling. We stopped to drink about a mile from the trail juncture and decided to keep going for the love of physical conditioning. We made the junction an hour later and saw the all to familiar view, a shrouded summit and the end of our climb. We turned and skinned down about one half mile to where the trail began to descend steadily . . . off came the skins and the fun began.
New skis are fast and the next mile was a bobsled run without the fiberglass shroud to protect the human cargo. The snow that looked so deep from Cheyenne was a thin blanket, rarely more than one foot in depth. The rocks the lined the trail made any attempt to snowplow a pitiful act and after more than a half dozen bruising falls, I put the skins back on the skis to brake the descent. We covered the next mile with skins and then after the final switchback, tried the bare skis again, this time with success. We made good time over the next two miles stopping only for short uphill stretches, which although short, proved a hard workout on the poling muscle groups of the anatomical machine. The glide; however came to an end as we reached the brink of the Fall River valley and the snow mushed and trail steepened too much for any more gliding. We finished the hike out on foot.
Fairchild once again eluded us on a winter ascent. The means of success; however, appears to have defined itself as an overnight trip on a good weather weekend. This abortive trip was almost 12 miles in length but still left us a few miles and 2500 vertical feet from the summit. We’ll give it another shot but achieving this goal is going to be an overnight affair.