Mount Neva: North Ridge (YDS Class 4) 8/25/20

Rating System

I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.


WARNING: There is a photo of an injury I sustained while climbing below, it has blood, please scroll if you do not feel comfortable seeing it, once you hit the heading that says, “Approach” you are in the clear.

The short version is that I’ve climbed Neva before, and I injured myself on it. It occurred before the crux wall. I underestimated a down-step, and my leg extended as I fell forward. When my foot finally found the ground, the pressure on my extended leg caused my knee to buckle forward…right into a sharp rock. It was a mess, I could see down to my patella. I also couldn’t turn around, so I half climbed, half dragged my bum leg up the crux, fixed a wrap around it at the top, and thanks to the courtesy of some fellow climbers, was escorted back to the main trail. Below is what it looked like when I rewrapped my leg (~2 hours after the incident). There’s a tiny thumbnail of the picture below. You can also click the blue link to see a full-size version if you choose. Be careful out there people, accidents happen.


The injury was a huge disappointment and ended my hiking season for 2019. While I didn’t need surgery or anything, I was limping for three months afterwards and the scar tissue is still very visible. Needless to say, I was itching to get back out and climb Neva again when my body healed and the weather agreed. Luckily for me, a couple of my good friends moved back into town from my trail building days of yore, and we organized a trip to make it happen.


July 4th Trailhead, west of Nederland.

From Boulder/Denver: proceed by best route to 119 (Boulder Canyon Drive) and take it up to Nederland. Lots of construction as of August 2020, no idea when the end date is, prepare for delays. Once you pass Barker Reservoir and hit your first roundabout, head south on 119 as if going to Rollinsville. Just outside of town you’ll see a sign for Eldora, take a right here (just make sure to SLOW DOWN as you pass the town of Eldora, speed limit is 25). Eventually, the road turns to dirt and passes the ridiculously popular Hessie Trailhead, keep going, angling right on an increasingly tougher dirt road for a few more miles until you arrive at the trailhead.

2WD cars can make it but its a long bumpy dirt road, watch your undercarriage if you do not have a lot of lift. The last little bit to the top parking lot is optional, but my Subaru Outback has made it up to the top every time I’ve been out there. IF YOU USE THIS TRAILHEAD ON THE WEEKENDS IN JULY OR AUGUST, GOOD LUCK FINDING A PARKING SPOT UNLESS YOU’RE UP THERE AT 5 AM.

From the actual trailhead there is only one trail, The Arapahoe Pass Trail, take it. Eventually, you pass a couple junctions, one to Diamond Lake (keep right), and another for the Glacier Trail (keep straight), there are also remnants of a mining operation here. Keep going on the well-defined trail until you hit Arapahoe Pass. From the pass, take a left (there is a sign) and proceed towards Caribou Pass. The cut off for Neva is unmarked but the mountain is impossible to miss as you start heading up the Caribou Pass Trail. It’s about three miles to the cutoff from the trailhead.

Neva summit is left. This is the view as you near the cut off for the Glacier Trail. The entire scramble is pictured against the horizon (you travel from right to left).

As you venture up Caribou Pass Trail keep an eye to your left. As the picture below shows, try to find a set of obvious rocks amongst the alpine. If all else fails, make a beeline towards the rocks to begin your climb BEFORE the Caribou Pass Trail starts losing elevation.

On the Caribou Pass Trail, Lake Dorothy to the left. Summit of Neva off-screen.

From the set of rocks in the picture above, you’ll be able to sight a fairly obvious use trail that ascends the ridge. From the ridge crest, head left across brief alpine to the summit ridge of the first Knob. The scrambling starts here.

There are three knobs to negotiate initially, followed by a Crux wall climb, then two additional knobs before the summit. The first (as shown in pictures above and below) is identified by a set of three, thin, lighter rock striations running vertically like scars. The second has a single, but wider, light-colored vertical rock stripe. The third knob has a very distinct patch of thick, green vegetation growing on its side, it’s fairly obvious from the approach trails. To the left of the third knob is a col and then a climb to and up the Crux. Beyond the crux, there is a brief option for more scrambling but the ridge mellows out until Neva’s summit. The last bit is a tundra stroll with mixed talus, leading to some larger talus blocks at the very highest point.

There are very good trip reports on Neva throughout the internet, especially on (thanks to author CarpeDM), so I will try to emulate how they broke up the route. There are three distinct sections. Section One=knobs 1-2, Section Two=Knob 3-Crux, Section Three=Final push to the summit.

Section One: First two Knobs

As you climb to the top of the Knob 1, you’ll notice the terrain change fairly dramatically to all talus. Scrambling to the top of this first Knob is a fairly simple Class2-2+ endeavor. Below is an example of the terrain.

Terrain atop Knob 1, looking back (North).

Staying on the ridge crest is easy. After a few minutes of concerted movement you’ll come across a descent to the col between Knobs 1 and 2.

What lies ahead.

For the most part we stayed on the ridge when and where we were able. As we descended into the col we found a nice set of grippy, sloping rock (Class 3) that we took on the East (left hand) side of the ridge. That set us up to zip passed the col and begin the easy ascent up Knob 2 (Class 2).

A look back at the first, easy Class 3 downclimb off of Knob 1.
Easy up to Knob 2.

Once you get on the crest of Knob 2, the scrambling increases in difficulty. There are a multitude of roue options available, though ridge direct is the most straightforward. Staying on the ridge allowed us to keep moving relatively quickly and also gave us some nice Class 3 challenges, including a mini knife-edge section with some decent exposure.

More difficult terrain on Knob2.
Traversing the Knife (most exposure is on the East or left hand side). Staying just to the right of the ridge helps keep the heebie-jeebies down.

The ridge crest is fun but we did not find an easy way to downclimb the nose of the ridge to the next col without hitting a Class 5 section. So, after the knife edge, I’d suggest finding an acceptable gully to your left (Class 3) that allows you to circumvent the abrupt difficulties on the ridge proper .

A cliff exists below the white line. Photos down the ridge-line tend to hide features (esp. if the ridge crest undulates) but it’s deep, steep and absolutely there.
Down gully, Lake Dorothy in the background. Once you descend to a grassy shelf, take a right and head to the Col between Knobs 2 and 3.
Where you are, what you’ve done and what’s to come.

Section Two: Knob 3 and the Crux Wall

Once at the col, you’ll see a really enticing wall in front of you. I do not know if there are workarounds (possibly to the left) but upon seeing it I knew I wanted to climb it. It’s actually a really good precursor for the Crux wall difficulties so I’d suggest giving it a go. We identified two lines up it, with the East (left) line appearing slightly easier. Either line flirts with Class 4 and I would argue commits to it for at least a move or two. Have fun!

The first move or two are the hardest for the East Line (left). The West Line (right) looks harder in general but also offers some nice cracks and handholds. Routes approximated, use your best judgment for hand and footholds.
Nice perspective with some starting variations shown. The initial block is a little steep (debatable Class 3/Class 4). Once you get to where I am in the picture, if you climb left over the fin rock (1-3 moves), you can keep the rest at Class 3. You can always push it by climbing up the large slab to my right or taking the West Line further right (not shown in this pic).
Taylor taking it to the wall

Regardless of whether or not you consider the specific moves on this section to be a Class 3+ or 4, the options to make it harder are there and you get a brief idea of what will be demanded of you in the near future. Take note.

Once you climb up Knob 3, you can maintain a line along the ridge-crest until it drops you down to the last col before the crux wall. At one point along the ridge-crest, it doesn’t appear that your line will go, but if you peer around the rocks you’ll be able to maintain the crest and keep the climbing at Class 3.

Looking back: again, the ridge-ling perspective problem. Behind and below the white line (out of view) is the notch between Knob 2 and 3. Once you scramble up the Pre Crux, continue on the grass bench (Class 2) and ascend to the ridgeline as shown (Class 3).
Dropping down off of Knob3

Once in the notch between Knob 3 and the Crux, there’s a fun little scramble up some slanted blocks (Class 3). From the top of the blocks, you have a fantastic view of the challenge ahead.

Fun blocks.

Cool, let’s pan out and take a couple looks at the entire Crux section. Then, we’ll zero in on specific sections and options.

Once you ascend the blocks, this is what you see.

Below is a zoomed in version of the crux difficulties. Let’s unpack it.

Two options. Same start, same end. The right version is harder, it involves a sustained Class 4 dihedral climb, ridge hopping, and a descent back into a notch before the crux wall. The easier option traverses left across a steep grass slope before arriving at the Crux.

From the top of the blocks to the top of the crux, it’s all 3 and 4, even though there is an “easier” option, it’s in relation to a more difficult route, not because its “easy”.

As you approach the split in options, ascend a few rock steps, and then arrive at a sharp diagonal fin. Here, if you ascend about 10-20 feet and take a look left, you’ll see a break in the fin that drops you into a grassy area (standard route). If you try to traverse across the fin much lower, you will be in serious 4/5 down-climb territory.

However, if the Class 4 Dihedral option to your right has drawn your attention, you’ll want to ascend into it before crossing the rock fin. My buddy Taylor, an excellent scrambler, will model the climb.

If the dihedral doesn’t look interesting, the standard route is your go to. Below, we’ll unpack that route until the notch before the Crux wall.

From the split option, ascend broken rock slabs to the prominent fin in front of you (Class 3). Pick the line of least resistance, and know that once you reach the fin, you will most likely need to climb uphill a bit until scouting an acceptable way to cross it.

Looking back to the Rock Fin.

Once on the grassy slope, perform an ascending traverse into the prominent notch in the ridge just to the right of the crux wall. Below is a shot looking toward the crux. The crux climb consists of the purple arrow and higher red arrow in the photo.

The hardest moves are ahead, but at this point you’ve been tested. If you’ve made it this far, you can climb the wall.

At the top of the grass slope, the optional dihedral route comes down to meet you. From that point, both routes converge on the crux wall.

Three things to keep in mind before you hit the Crux wall. A) It’s only a 30-foot wall and I’d argue only half (possibly less) is Class 4. B) There’s a little sprout of vegetation above where you start climbing that serves as a good first half marker. C) Halfway up, angle left on a Class 3 ramp until you exit the wall. In pictures below.

So, there’s this grassy plant up on the wall, super handy for nav. Find your way to it, options abound, I’ve only tried to show where some Class 4 moves may be encountered on the lower (and steeper) portion of the wall. Once you ascend past the plant, angle left on a Class 3 ramp.
Roslyn beginning her climb, taken from the Class 3 ramp above the steepest part.
In the above photo, Roslyn has just climbed passed the plant, Taylor is at the bottom of the wall.
On the ramp, almost done.

Once you take the ramp, the crux is over! Below is an overview.

Boom. Nicely done.

Section Three: To the top

Most of the climbing is behind you, all of it if you’re just sick of scrambling. However, if you want to add a little extra spice, once you get above the crux wall, sight the narrow ridge highpoint and ascend towards it.

Reference shot.

Below is a closer shot. Options are limited to ridge direct, and there are two short sections but it’s a fun side quest. Alternatively, you can traverse around to the west side and reconnect after the ridge eases up.

1st section (red arrows)
2nd section
Recap view

From the last scrambling to the top of Neva the going is quite easy. You have to cross a sub-summit with orange rocks that are not stable, in contrast to the stable darker rock you’ve encountered already. After a quick Class 2+ jaunt to the sub-summit, only alpine fields and a small rise separate you from the peak. About 20 feet before the true summit rock you have to do some talus hopping, but it isn’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination.

Getting up to the Sub-summit with the suddenly orange rock
The serpentine nature of the ridge is very striking. From back to front you can see Knob1, Knob2, the back of the Crux wall, and the last optional scramble ridge before the orange rock comes in.
Target in sight.

The Way Down

From the summit, travel south along the continental divide until coming to a sandy pass. Head left, descending on Class 2 slopes oscillating between big sturdy rocks and sandy garbage. Pick the best line for you, there is a use trail visible here, but it tracks through the slippy stuff. We stayed to the left of it for most of the descent.

FYI: The lake in the middle pic above is DEEP and can support a shallow dive at a few points, it was very cold.

After passing in-between the lakes, stay left as much as feasibly possible. The rest is an off-trail jaunt back to the Arapahoe Pass Trail and can be made easier by clinging to a set of grass and rock ribs to the LEFT (West) side of the main creek running down from the lakes. If you stay to the right, you’ll have to descend much more before finding a suitable crossing and be forced to negotiate a lot of marshy areas. Either way it’s a slow descent, watch for uneven ground that can twist ankles. No path is 100% immune from krummholz or willows, but it’s much less painful to head left after descending the talus below the second lake. Try to intersect the Arapahoe Pass Trail before it descends out of the talus. Once you reconnect with the trail, take a right and blast down to your car, nicely done!


Summits: One

Mileage: ~9 miles

Elevation: Yes

The Desolation Peaks: West (YDS Class 3) East (YDS Class 3+ or 4)

Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Location and Prep

The Desolation Peaks are located at the western fringe of the Mummy Range in the Northern Rocky Mountain National Park. There are fees required to enter the park; please click the park website link here, for pertinent information. Note: if you enter the park without the appropriate entrance pass, you will be ticketed.

The Desolation Peaks are part of a ridge that runs north from the bulk of Ypsilon Mountain and includes (from South to North) UN12718, UN12768, The Desolation Peaks, UN12341 and Flatiron Mountain before dropping down to the upper reaches of the Cache La Poudre valley as it flows north out of the National Park. As evidenced by their names (East and West Desolation), the peaks themselves are East-West oriented and just off of the main ridge to the east (or right-hand side if you approach from Chapin pass). This is a beautiful and seldom explored area, although the approach trail along the Mummy crest can be quite popular.

The best places to view the peaks (and the scrambly ridge between them) are from Chapin Peak, Trailridge road at the Lava Cliffs pullout, the top of Marmot Point trail from the Alpine Visitors Center and at the second u-curve above tree-line on Old Fall River Road, where a pullout and unofficial trail give you some great looks. I would also assume views from Fairchild and Hagues Peak are good. Mount Chiquita is unfortunately hidden by Ypsilon and Ypsilon itself is a very broad peak so the view from the actual summit isn’t the best. From most visible points along Trail Ridge Road, East Desolation is identified by its blocky, triangular shape.

While the first part of the approach is on identifiable trail, you do leave the trail about a hundred feet above the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle and the rest of the route is off-trail. It is fairly straightforward route finding to get within a few hundred yards of West Desolation, but once you attempt the scramble be prepared for sustained Class 3 and 4 climbing, a very small amount of easily missed cairns, and lots of loose rock. The route finding was surprisingly difficult on the peaks themselves which is one of the main reasons I’m writing this report.


Chapin Pass on Old Fall River Road. The road is one way, accessed from US34 by Bighorn Flats. An approach via US36 is also possible but would take a longer amount of time. The trailhead is distinguished by a very large Forest Service sign on the right side of the road as it winds its way towards tree-line. Parking is on the left side of the road, with the best, and flattest parking spots above the start of the trail.

There is only one trail on the actual side of the road, take it, immediately gaining elevation. A few minutes later, after the elevation gain begins to mellow out, look to the right for a clearly marked sign. The park service sign says something like “All Summits this way”, and points to the right, follow that, it’s hard to miss.

Another ten minutes of meandering through stands of trees and occasional fields will bring you to a second NPS sign that declares the end of trail maintenance, with two trails extending behind it. One goes slightly right (higher), one goes slightly left (lower). The lower trail is a bypass of Chapin that runs you to the saddle between Chapin and Chiquita. The higher route is also technically a bypass, though it gains enough along the ridge to feel like an alpine trail. Choose either one, if you wanted to quickly tag Chapin along the way to the Desolations, veer right, otherwise, it’s really a preference thing, neither version is difficult.

Taken from the Higher trail, shows destination. The line of smoke across the ridges is from the Cameron Pk. Fire

The Cameron Peak Fire (as shown below) would provide some stunning shots in the clear morning. Unfortunately, during the day it ballooned in size and the smoke would eventually dominate the second half of the outing. Please respect Fire Bans, really felt post-apocalyptic towards the end when ash was raining down around us…

One of the clearest views of the original ignition area. The peak behind the wisps of smoke is Cameron Pk.
Fire, in relation to us. At the bottom left of the pic, the “lower” Chapin bypass is visible.

We (my wife Alli and I) elected to take the higher bypass and arrived at the Chapin-Chiquita saddle with 0.0 problems. From the saddle, you can see a steeper rise up Chiquita followed by a mellower section. We made our way a couple hundred feet up the initial rise before looking for a way to parallel the slope (left) and get around Chiquita. The trail from the saddle is off and on with patches of dirt, don’t focus so much on finding the “trail.” It’s better to focus on gaining some elevation and then hanging left of the ridge crest when able. This will allow you to pass around the bulk of Chiquita. However, if you can’t bear the thought of leaving any summit untagged, hopping up to both Chapin and Chiquita along the way to the Desolations is simple.

The traverse around the north (left side) of Chiquita was straightforward and consisted of traversing a mixed talus and grass slope. We even saw a Pine Marten up there, but the slippery buggers are notoriously hard to take pictures of.

Better look at the two Desolation Summits and the increasing size of the fire smoke.

Once you make it around Chiquita, it’s important to proceed to the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle. From there, hike up at least 100-150 feet towards Ypsilon. Multiple trip reports have indicated that a traverse around Ypsilon directly from this saddle forces you to sidehill across class 2+ terrain. If you climb up the extra couple hundred feet before traversing, you avoid all of the unnecessary difficulties. Side-hilling off trail is always tough on the ankles anyway, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Nice visual as to why traversing Chiquita is an appealing option. Much less effort.

Once you’ve gained 100-150 feet up Ypsilon, following broken sections of trail, pick a nice place and as before, begin traversing to the left. There is no reason to keep gaining elevation as you traverse (assuming you performed the requisite climb from the saddle) so find the best option and maintain your elevation left along the bulbous north side of Ypsilon.

Taken later in the climb, the below photo shows why it’s so important to gain the little bit of elevation after the saddle. The dominant diagonal ridge shown is the massive north side hulk of Ypsilon, Chiquita is hidden behind (not visible), and the diagonal gray stripe on the ridge to the right of my black circle is part of Chapin.

Blue = best way. Everything in the black circle = why would you even want to?

This is the biggest traverse of the day and is substantially longer than the Chiquita traverse. Take your time and watch for loose rock. As you move around Ypsilon you’ll be given some stellar views of your ultimate destination. The Desolations can either inspire or frighten from this angle.

West Desolation (left), East Desolation (Right)

It was around this time that we started to notice the wildfire smoke beginning to rise.

Cameron Pk, no longer visible behind the smoke plumes

Eventually, after traversing around Ypsilon, you can see the saddle connecting the main ridge of the Mummies to the Desolations. Proceed down to it. The introduction is now over. Below is a heavily doctored photo showing the progression of the fire smoke. It would engulf us within the hour.


Ridge to West Desolation

Making progress! Map is oriented correctly. Up=North.

From the Ypsilon-Desolation ridge saddle, proceed north towards the Unnamed peak in front of you. FYI you’ll notice unnamed peaks are often abbreviated to UN followed by the elevation. The one in front of you now, is UN 12718. Attaining the summit of this one is a simple Class 2 affair, though the rocks are loose, you can always skirt the summit to the left for a little bit of an easier ascent.

What’s left. Smoke creeping into the skyline.

After UN 12718 you have a fairly quick descent to a saddle before you climb up (or around) a ridge Nubbin. The nubbin has a smattering of larger rocks that seem stable, sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Be careful.

After traversing around the Nubbin, we regained the ridge at a pile of significant rocks. Alli decided to hang out here, as she wasn’t too keen on the scramble ahead. I set off to obtain the peaks.

The rest of the ridge approach.

After depositing some backpack weight with Alli, I polished off the rest of the ridge approach with ease. Now, I was staring at West Desolation and the two Gendarmes in front of it (visible to the right of the second arrow in the pic above). It’s really only here that you realize West Desolation is also off the main ridgeline. The first order of business is to descend off the main ridgeline and bypass the two Gendarmes.

This is a relatively simple task, although it doesn’t look it. Immediately upon descending the main ridgeline, I skirted left around a pink rock rib, regained the height of land in front of Gendarme 1, and took a right around both Gendarmes, staying as close as I could to the towers. Don’t drop too low, stay as close to the ridgeline as is reasonable, until you are right in front of the summit block. If you do this, you can keep the Gendarme skirting at a Class 2+. Now begins the climbing.

In it to win it.

West Desolation Peak (Class 3)

This is a fun and challenging climb with a ton of variety. There are a couple of key takeaways: A) do not go lower than you need to, the slope angle increases, the rocks become unstable, and there are broken cliffs to navigate. B) don’t be impatient, there are harder ways to attack the summit, but those require at MINIMUM Class 4 skills with a couple of Class 5 moves. C) hug the summit cliffs on your left until you find a cleft that runs at mid Class 3.

Let’s break it down.

Once you pass the 2nd Gendarme, the front of the summit block is staring at you. A left gets you to what looks like a “gully direct” option, although I do not know if further difficulties are encountered past what I could see. A right gets you to the Class 3 way I went.

I mean…look at it

Below is a close up of the gully direct approach. Didn’t try it but it feels like a 4+ minimum, with an interesting chockstone that may be avoided using a little ledge to the right (or crawling underneath it if there’s enough space?)

Chockstone circled in Orange.

Didn’t want to speculate too much on the ultimate route, but that doesn’t look very easy.

The Class 3 way was much more agreeable, although the exposure was substantial at times. If you take the Class 3 route, head to the right side of the summit block and hug the cliffs until arriving at a large flat rock. Looking to your left, there should be a quick Class 3 jaunt up to the top of the rock. This is where I found the first cairn on the route, it is not visible from below.

Route (Red), Flat Rock (circled).
Up to the top of the Flat Rock
First Cairn encountered, looking back to the main ridgeline I came from. Smoke getting crazy in the background.

From the flat rock, your next challenge is to ascend onto a sloping face, traverse it and continue paralleling the sharp summit cliffs on your left. Along this part of the traverse, there are a few options to head further left and ascend difficult breaks in the cliffs. I’ve tried to highlight what that entails in the next few images. If you are set on the Class 3 option (I was), ascend the crack and continue paralleling towards Dingus Rock.

From the flat rock, traverse along the bottom of the slanted face until you find a large Class 3 crack (shown below), ascend it.
Locate this obvious crack running up the slanted face for the easiest ascent.
After ascending the slanted face, traverse right. The first two options to climb directly to the summit ridge are shown. Purple=Class 4, Orange= Class 5. I kept traversing (red)
(Looking back) Now above the slanted face, parallel it and the summit cliffs until more breaks appear in the cliffs.

After you’ve traversed to within a dozen yards of the Dingus Rock, look for the most agreeable gully on your left. The one I chose is pictured below and offered Class 3 to 3+ moves on good rock. There is another one further on that I would discover on my descent later, but as long as you traverse passed the sloping face, either option is well within the Class 3 range.

My ascent gully, straightforward, pick your best line and have at it.

Once you climb above the cliffs guarding the top of West Desolation, you end up on a large summit plateau. The true summit is the highest in a series of upthrust rocks roughly 30 feet in front of you. Find a logical break in the rocks and skirt up them to tag the summit. Note: there are 3 or 4 rocky points that may be the summit, I touched all of them although the one pictured looked highest from most angles.

The summit plateau: taken from just below the summit rock. View is South-Southeast.
Looking to the East. I’m assuming you can see more on most days.

Summit number one complete! The view to East Desolation and its intense summit block from here are particularly impressive. An overview of your route from before the first Gendarme is shown below.

Blue= Class 2, Red= Class 3. The purple line (Class 4) is the direct gully approach as mentioned earlier.

Traverse and Summit of East Desolation Peak

East Desolation from the summit of West. The imposing summit block reminded me a lot of Sunlight Pk. down in the San Juans.

Right, so after hangin out on top, descend the summit rib back to the summit plateau and begin heading east. It’s difficult to miss the imposing view of your next target. Below is my approximate route back onto the summit plateau and towards East Desolation.

First few moves off the summit rock (Class 2).

Eventually, the broken summit plateau ends and you have to make some decisions. These decisions are helped along by identifying a few key markers. I gotta be honest, it’s hard naming features on a mountain or a ridge, especially when there are so many of them, but I tried my best and in the picture below there are two towers, or gates. You have to pass between them, and then diagonal right in order to get into a mini canyon. As I was writing this report a random shuffle on Itunes brought me an Avenged Sevenfold song. I suddenly remembered that their guitarist is named Synyster Gates. Therefore, the towers are henceforth known as the Synyster Gates and you must travel betwixt them.

The descent through the gates sets you up to aim for the right side of the Wave Wall.
Ignore my face, good quick look back to a steepening descent as you approach Synyster Gates.

Once through the Synyster Gates, you can clearly see East Desolation ahead. A steep wall (which I’ve dubbed the Wave Wall) lines the left edge of the canyon you’re heading for. You can descend to a flat bench and re-climb a small rise to enter the canyon (Class 3), or you can hug the right gate and find a ledge system that prevents most of the down-up dance (2+). I went with the ledge system, both ways will work.

Heading towards the Canyon, Wave Wall on the Left.

Upon reaching the beginning of the canyon you have to descend down. This isn’t overly difficult but don’t let your guard up. Many low-mid Class 3 moves are required, augmented by 2+ moves. The rocks are stable but there are deep holes and gaps between boulders that you absolutely do not want to fall into or become stuck in. Use your best judgement to find the most acceptable path and admire the prominent wave rock on your left.

Approx. route through the Canyon, up to you to pick individual moves.

Once you exit the canyon, another seemingly innocuous but very important decision awaits. The mouth of the canyon turns you towards the edge of the ridge (Southeastish) where logic may convince you to descend off the ridge and traverse underneath the crest. Nope. Don’t do that. At the canyons mouth, re-climb left to the ridge crest, it’ll save you a lot of effort later.

The re-climb, don’t go right unless you enjoy punishing yourself.

Once you regain the ridge, you’ll have the rest of the route in front of you and its a fairly straightforward affair. Descend on the ridge crest to the saddle and then either re-climb the ridge crest all the way up to the summit block, or take a line a little further left with less rock hopping. Both ways (and any combination of the two) will get you up to the summit block.

The ascent up to the summit block itself is relatively straightforward. Climbing the summit block is another story.

The summit block of East Desolation is imposing no matter how you look at it. As with most mountains, there are a few competing theories regarding how difficult the climb is. Lisa Foster, in her book Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide, ranks the block at an airy 3+. The three or four other trip reports I pulled from online to corroborate, rank it as a Class 4. I think in regard to the standard gully, its a 3+ with two Class 4 moves, the first of which is scary from an exposure standpoint. If you are a robot and unfazed by exposure, move for move you could make an argument that it’s only 3+.

Below is a great overview picture of what the standard route offers. Each arrow is numbered and has various moves associated with it. Arrow number 1 is the least difficult as it really just sets you up for the route. From the end of Arrow 1 you can also veer left to explore alternatives up the summit block. Arrow 2 is the crux for me. Why? well, its a side hop to get to a steep gully with a giant hole at the bottom that spits you down a vertical wall. A slip here will be the last thing you do in this life. On top of that, the gully above the Class 4 move is angled towards that hole, so if you slip above the side hop, you’ll get funneled out of the hole as well. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Assuming you make it up to the end of Arrow 3, you crest a rock fin and have a sneaky descent down the other side to connect with another airy gully (Arrow 4), that finally leads you up to the summit. The descent between Arrow 3 and 4 is not shown due to the picture angle, though I will attempt to clarify it later. For now, take a look below.

East Desolation, summit block problems

Below is the first part of the standard.

A note about the picture below, while it shows the first three sections of the summit block, keep in mind, for the duration of the purple arrow, there is nothing to your right. It’s just air, in order to capture the route, I tilted the phone vertically and it makes it seem tame, but this is one of those sections where its really damn hard not be worried about exposure.

The alt. route will come into play soon

So I went ahead and wigged out, wondering if there was any easier way to accomplish this tough climb. I’m no stranger to exposure having completed all the 14ers previously and 3 of the 4 great traverses (Diente-Wilson, Crestones, Bells), but sometimes that lion inside you is a neurotic house-cat and it’s very unwise to push limits. Today, I was the house-cat and set about considering my other options. Fortunately, after a bit of exploring, I found a sneak that stays at a 3+ comfortably.

Utilizing the picture above, veer left (following the alternative route arrow) and begin to circumnavigate the summit blocks. A couple things should spring out at you, namely, that the summit block is actually a series of blocks locked together with large gaps underneath them. This is a little terrifying because it all looks like a badly built jenga tower, but those gaps hold the key to what I’ve dubbed the Cave Sneak.

If you’d rather deal with exposure instead of tight spaces, read no further, the standard is for you. Essentially, I found a cave that led me behind the rock fin you climb as part of Arrow 3, from there I could attack the last gully (Arrow 4) and hit the summit while avoiding the Class 4 section on the standard route. Whoop whoop!

Possible cave entrances. Why 2 circles? Bc I’m writing this all from memory and as you’ve noticed, it’s a complicated area. If the right circle doesn’t go, check the other one.

I took my backpack off for this route, I don’t know if thats necessary all the time, especially if you have a tight fitting Camelback or something. I am 5 ft. 9.5 inches tall and weigh between 160-165 pounds. Without a backpack, I was able to fit through the cave a multitude of ways (legs forward, belly down head forward, and even managed to get into a weird crab walk without any appendage hitting the sides or roof of the cave). There is not enough space to stand or kneel (with torso vertical) for several feet.

Once you find the cave opening, you’ll see light directly ahead on the other side, however, that’s not the ultimate direction you want. Advance towards the light but keep your eye on the right hand wall of the “cave”. Once the wall on your right ends, you’ll see another path that leads to an open area. You want to make this right hand turn (basically between a 45 and 90 degree right turn) and waddle your way out.

Looking back at the Cave Sneak. Once out (essentially where the picture was taken from), spin around and perform a few 3+ moves to get to the numbered arrow at the top of the picture.
Taken from same position as the last pic, panning up. Final climb, now back on the standard route. Not a lot of real estate to your right, keep your eyes focused on the top.
If you use the sneak, as shown, you completely bypass Arrows 2 & 3 on the standard route, saving some time and some exposure anxiety.

Once you finish climbing the last gully, you arrive on the summit block, find the highest rock, touch, or stand on it, and relax, you earned it!

Please note: while the cave sneak alleviates some exposed climbing it does not eliminate all of it, the last rock gully up to the summit is quite exposed as well. However, it has a multitude of holds and is thankfully very short.

Below is an attempted overview. The numbered (and colored) arrows belong to the standard route. The white arrows and circles highlight the cave sneak. Again, there is only one cave entrance, I just forgot which of the two circles it was, check them both out, they are only a few feet apart.

As shown, with the cave sneak, you literally crawl behind Arrows 2 & 3, arriving at the base of Arrow 4.

Back to West Desolation

When you’ve soaked in the views (harder to do when inundated with wildfire smoke) you have to descend off the summit block. I retraced my steps going down the gully until I arrived at the Cave Sneak once again. Utilizing what I already knew, I dropped down into it, spun around, headed into the cave and this time veered hard left the first chance I got. From there the mouth of the cave opens up and you’re once again, below the summit block. I retrieved my backpack and focused on reascending West Desolation.

Looking back to West Desolation. The area in the black circle is zoomed in below. Stay close to the ridge for the first sections.

Once you pass the saddle and begin re-climbing West Desolation, pay close attention to the ridge line. If you don’t cross the ridgeline, eventually it will force you to climb the backside of the Wave Wall in a series of diagonal steps. Before that happens, look hard left between some white rocks and the darker fin rock of the Wall. This is where an easy descent back into the canyon is located, if you climb too high you’ll have to backtrack.

Make sure to cross back over the ridge (to the South side) before the canyon or you’ll have to backtrack.
Where to cross the ridge to avoid backtracking later

Once back in the canyon, continue climbing towards the Synyster Gates and pass between them. Hang left and work your way back to the summit plateau. As you ascend to the summit plateau, look for a logical break and begin your down-climb off West Desolation (to the South).

Makin it happen.
I descended a slightly different (and easier) way than I ascended, although I did really enjoy my ascent route, dealers choice.

Once back on the north side of West Desolation, remember to stay close to the summit cliffs you just descended and hug them until you see the sloping face to your left. Spy the obvious crack splitting the face and descend that back to the bottom of the face, take a sharp right and traverse your way back to the flat rock. On top of the rock, you’ll see the cairn again, descend off the right hand side of the rock. Parallel the summit cliffs as much as possible until you are in front of the gendarmes once more. Traverse left underneath their upper reaches until both are behind you. The last thing to do is climb back up to the main ridgeline. Congratulations! You did the hard climbing! But you’re still way out there! Conserve energy, the way back always hurts more.

Options back to Trailhead

There are two main options. If weather is threatening, try to make it to the Ypsilon-UN12718 saddle, then descend a series of grassy chutes interspersed with rock ribs. Break out left and parallel the base of Ypsilon and Chiquita along grassy stretches (careful the grass is clumpy and can still twist ankles), until you reach the basin in front of Chapin. From there, angle to the right and gain elevation as you need until running into the lower Chapin bypass. The rest is a cake walk, take the trail back to where it ends, hang a left and walk down to your car. If the weather is REALLY THREATENING, descend from the Desolations to tree line immediately and begin the longer (but similar) route between the mountains to your left and the thick forest to your right.

Option 2 is to redo exactly what you did, including the long ascending traverse around Ypsilon to the Ypsilon-Chiquita saddle. Traverse around (or tag) Chiquita, make your way to the saddle with Chapin and then you can take either the upper or lower bypass on good trail. This route is the best if you have the weather on your side.

Alli and I dropped down and traversed, the smoke was just too much up high. We eventually found a pocket of cleaner air and as we made our way back, the wind helped clear the smoke from our basin and carry it off to another.

Heading back to the Ypsilon-UN12718 saddle
Approx route down
Alli telling the descent how she really feels
Taken from right as we rejoined the “lower” Chapin bypass trail

This hike doesn’t look so hard on paper but it kicked my butt. Long stretches of climbing, and a seemingly endless amount of talus hopping makes it tough on the knees, you also lose and gain elevation often. While the incredibly fit will make little work of the distance, for mortals, this is a tough day.

As has become custom in our household, post successful hike, we treated ourselves to milkshakes and made our way home. Thanks for reading!