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!

The Citadel and Mt. Hagar (Citadel E. Summit-E. Face: YDS 4, Citadel W. Summit-standard route: YDS 3. Mt. Hagar from Citadel: YDS 3+)

Preface/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.


The weather was supposed to be fairly iffy today but my mountain weather app said we had a window, so the question of should we hike? morphed into, what can we hit quickly while we’ve got a bit of good weather? Often times it isn’t a good idea to play with weather forecasts but you really don’t know unless you go. Mountains tend to create some funk in the atmosphere, one ridge may bear the brunt of bad weather while another might not see a drop of rain. Nick and I knew our ability levels and decided to give it a shot, even if it meant turning around, which we had no problem doing. Nick had previously accompanied me on the Ten-Mile Traverse so we knew we had good communication, speed, and scrambling chops. We carpooled up I-70 in the dark and reached our trailhead at around 4:45 AM.

Table of Contents

To the Citadel

The mountains we settled on are in a highly-trafficked corridor but don’t often see a ton of use due to their committing nature. The Citadel is a fortress-looking double peak that requires Class 3 scrambling at a minimum, and Mount Hagar is connected to it via a ridge that, at it’s hardest, can run at a 3+ or 4. The kicker was the short distance, we could bag both and be back at the car in under 8 miles. With an early start, we’d be well off the summits before the t-storms and rain rolled back in.

The trailhead we used is not well known because it’s not really a trailhead. We decided to give it a shot after reading that there was a fairly good dirt road and an unofficial path up to the ridge-line. The alternative would’ve been Herman Gulch which is insanely popular and makes for a longer approach. The benefit of Herman Gulch is the well-defined trail, so if starting early and going off-trail gives you pause, use the Herman access. The way we went is known as Dry Gulch and is little more than a dirt road next to the off-ramp on I-70 (exit 216). Unlike Herman Gulch, however, when we pulled up to Dry Gulch, we were the only car there.

Dry Gulch is decidedly NOT dry and was especially wet after consecutive rainy afternoons. The navigation was fairly easy but we were both soaked by the time we finally broke through the trees. Generally speaking, you park by the gate, walk the dirt road until it ends, hang a left, pick up an obvious unofficial trail and follow it through the valley bottom until it juts up to the right at an unforgiving pitch. Be aware, if you start before dawn, there are multiple trail braids, they usually lead back to one another but some require more stream and puddle jumps than others.

Not too complicated, just very wet.

As you can see above, it’s not an overly difficult approach but because it is not an official trail, there are literally no switchbacks. Once you machete your way through the dense, wet vegetation near the valley bottom, the herd path goes straight up the ridge that the second arrow in the photo is pointing towards. If you start early, don’t panic at the myriad creek jumps and braided trails in the beginning, after a mile or two, the brush does clear and you very obviously begin to gain elevation. If, for some reason, you miss the turnoff, once the pine trees and willows begin to clear, point your boots to the right and begin climbing. Regardless of circumstance, you need to gain the ridge to your right.

Good overview of first parts of hike

The map above is really helpful. I supplement with pictures later on but the first hour was too dark to photo. The map is oriented correctly (Up=north, Down=South, Left=West, Right=East).

Once you gain the ridge, make your way towards the saddle outline in the pic above.

From the saddle in the photo above you connect with the trail coming up from Herman Gulch and the rest is a cake walk until you get to the Citadel’s upper difficulties. Another perspective of where we came from is shown below.

From the saddle, looking back into Dry Gulch.

From the saddle, continue up the ridge until The Citadel’s imposing East Summit takes shape. Before then, enjoy the views. We had a really excellent morning.

Looking north across the saddle to cloud covered Pettingell Pk.
Sun rising over the East, Herman Gulch below.
Mt. Hagar is the one in the clouds to the right, looking West.

Continue up the well-worn trail from the saddle passing some rock towers en-route to the summit block of The Citadel. From the saddle up to the base of the block you can really only see the Eastern summit and it is intimidating. The trail up to the summit block veers around any towers and rock ribs until the summit is right in front of you.

Easy strolling above the saddle.

Right before the tower feature in the above picture you get your first look at the Eastern (harder) summit of The Citadel.

The trail (easily Class 2) veers left around the tower.
All routes on the Citadel from this approach head to Saddle #2, marked with the arrow and the little snow-patch. From there, it’s time to choose how you want to climb.
Despite the clouds, this still gives the best perspective on the Standard route (Class 3).

Once you get to your second saddle, as indicated in the picture above, the standard route veers left, hugging the base of the Eastern Summit cliffs. If you choose this route, it culminates in a loose Class 3 gully OR you can climb better rock just to the left of it, still Class 3. This is depicted by the red arrow in the picture above. The standard route begins above the snow-patch in the picture. Hang to the left of the gully and find suitable rock to scramble up to the taller (and easier) Western Summit. From the top of the standard route gully, you also have a Class 4 option to climb the backside of the Eastern Summit. This is the standard approach for both summits.

Nick and I opted to climb the Eastern Summit directly. Our decision was helped by a climber in front of us. He had chosen to head up a loose gully parallel to the standard route and was dropping rocks down towards us. We didn’t want any part of that. Though there is a lot of solid rock on The Citadel (part of what makes it fun), not every route is solid and the fist-sized rocks the climber was sending down would’ve done some serious damage to us.

Eastern Summit Direct (Sustained Class 4 Slab Climb)

Instead of hugging the cliffs left towards the standard, we opted to head right and climb the Eastern face. This was a fantastic/exposed/heart-racing climb. I think in drier conditions it would’ve been more firmly on the fun side, but since we’d had so much rain, some of the open slab climbs were slick and forced some really exposed scrambling. Let’s unpack the route.

Fairly mellow beginning from Saddle #2. Loose Class 2.

As indicated by the picture above, the beginning was not difficult, just loose, especially as you traverse to the right of the organ pipe lookin cliffs and locate the first access gully. Once in the gully, use the solid rock on the right-hand side to climb up until just before the end of the second blue arrow in the picture above. Here, if you look to the right, you will see an exit that allows you to climb out of the gully and onto the main face.

Nick, at the exit from the gully. The exit involves substantial Class 3 climbing.

Right before we found the exit, we took a hard look at the head of the gully (circled in purple) and decided against going that way. If you wanted a challenge, I think it would go with a few upper Class 4 moves, possibly a Class 5 move or two, however, the exit to the right was the easiest escape.

The exit gully.

The photo of the exit gully above looks downright maniacal but it’s not, just a strange perspective looking up. There were great hand and footholds along the exit and I’d rate it at Class 3+ but no more. What the photo does a great job of doing is showing how wet the rocks were.

Sweet, let’s back it up and see where we’re at.

About 1/3 of the way up

So, after the gully exit we were now firmly on the main face and ready to take on the crux of the climb, a series of exposed, wet, Class 4 slabs with marginal holds. Here’s what that looked like, and unlike the gully exit picture, this one does not distort perspective.

VERY steep and exposed.

I’ve marked up the picture below and will try to explain why we chose the route we did.

We sighted a few lines of possibility and were attracted to the furthest right purple arrow because of the obvious seam running up the rock. This was a bit of a ruse as the seam had OK handholds but not much for your feet, especially with the slick conditions. Ultimately, we chose to use the seam for as long as we could and then traversed left as able.

Class 4 route options bordered by Class 5.

As all the purple arrows indicate, the ultimate goal was to shoot the gap between the Class 5 moves, though they are there for the taking if you choose. This was a tough, tough section and on more than one occasion we felt our tread slip on the rock. The key is to keep moving, not quickly, but consistently and only move one body part at a time, keeping three points of contact on the rock. If you stop on one of these slabs, you risk losing grip and may start to overthink your next moves which could lead to mental paralysis. Keep…moving…

Once you make it past the first slab, you have a tiny break in a dirt bed interspersed with some alpine vegetation, before the next slab begins. Don’t get too comfy, you’re not done yet.

Upper Slab section

Above are two lines you can take, the left side starts at Class 3 and uses some cracks in the rock to get closer to the end, however, there is a caveat. Once the crack system ends, you have at least two open slab moves that involve leaving the crack system and traversing right in order to keep the climbing at 4th Class. The little vertical orange marks in the picture indicate a small lip that runs between a 5.0-5.2. The traverse is necessary to avoid this. If you are thinking about attacking the lip, keep in mind, I saw no good finger holds above it, so any 5th Class moves you make will need to account for that. If you choose the crack system, also note that the vegetation is growing in dirt, not rocks. When that dirt gets on your shoes, you’re going to lose traction. On wet or damp mornings, this will absolutely be an issue.

Alternatively, if you have a dry day and good traction, you can attack the slab directly (purple arrow to the right) and work your way to the right side of the large rock sitting on top of the slab.

After the second slab you are back down to Class 3 climbing.

Making progress! As you can see, the 4th Class section is not long, but it is challenging.

Now, after the slab climbing, you’ll find yourself on a grassy ramp, which is not obvious from any point (so far) in your summit block climb. From the above picture it’s easy to pick out, but the ways into it (our way, traversing into it earlier, or continuing up the gully) all require some Class 4 moves. From what we saw, you really can’t avoid that reality.

A little easier but some Class 3 still required

Use the grassy ramp to get up to the next set of blocks, taking care to avoid pricking your hands on the sharp thistle plants growing there. If you hug the right side of the ramp as shown, you can keep the scrambling at mid Class 3. Once you are above this step, the grassy bit begins to peter out and you have one last, short Class 3 section before you are on the summit.

The last little section.

You’re almost there! The last section is shown above and compared to what you’ve already done, it’s easy pickins. If you’ve just about had enough of scrambling you can also bypass the block on the left and attack it from the other side at 2+.

On top! Looking over at the Western (and higher) summit.

Take a sweet moment to relax, you’ve earned it, but stay sharp, you’re scrambling isn’t over yet. Even by the standard route, the Eastern Summit is a Class 4, which means in order to exit the summit you have to perform at least one more set of Class 4 moves, and this time it will be a down-climb.

Quick comment on Citadels Eastern Summit: the whole climb was awesome and a little hair raising. We chose our route based on factors on the ground but that does not mean it is the only route. I think the gully exit was a great find and the slab climbing was supreme but I would love to go back and test some other routes on that face. Even though it isn’t large, I could see starting a line further to the right or testing the headwall of the gully to see if it goes. When I go back to try new routes I will undoubtedly report on them!

Extra photo below, as zoomed in as I could get without sacrificing route details. I hope this helps!

GREAT route, hopefully this give more detail!

From East to West

Standing on top of the Eastern Summit, we realized that despite our successful climb, eventually, we’d need to find a way off the thing. This is where some pre-climbing research came in handy. The standard route (which we avoided coming up) had a 10-12 foot Class 4 section from the split between the summits that we could down-climb to relative safety. Knowing its existence, we began to hunt for it.

It’s hard to tell but right in front of Nick (circled in Purple) is the vertical split that separates the two summits. The Class 4 down-climb is to his right about 7 feet.

Nick found it relatively quickly and performed the required moves with ease. To get to the down-climb from the Eastern Summit requires no more than a few Class 2+ moves. This is what the drop looked like from the top.

Here’s a view from the bottom-up. It is by no means an easy descent (or ascent if you scale the Eastern Summit this way) but it is thankfully short.

Class 4 down-climb.

I am not the greatest down climber in the world so to say I went down this section gracefully would be a stretch. I was forward-facing for the duration of the highest arrow in the picture above, turned to face the mountain for the middle arrow, and then flipped back around to face out for the bottom part. Why? Well, there was a sneaky step I couldn’t see while facing toward the mountain near the bottom, and it ended up being the crux move for me. I was still a good 5-6 feet from the end of the down-climb and I had good foot purchase and the ability to shift weight easily, so I did. I do not recommend this method as it exposes you to increased risk, however, if you down-climb this section, note that there ARE footholds there, but you may not be able to see them from above.

Below is yet another look, taken from the Western Summit that I think shows the best angle of the down-climb.

Class 2+ from the summit, brief Class 3 to get to the top of the drop, Class 4 down.

Once you are down off the Eastern Summit take stock of where you are. In front of you is the imposing Western Block, which you cannot attack directly from where you stand, to the right, the loose slope drops back down into Herman Gulch, and to the left, the slope rises to a small saddle between the peaks. IF YOU COME UP THE STANDARD ROUTE THIS IS IMPORTANT. Coming up the standard gully, the access climb to the Eastern Summit is BEYOND the height of land, crest the small saddle and then look to your right. If you take the dihedral BEFORE the saddle, it will be a tougher down-climb later.

From our new position, we hung left, crested the small saddle, and began looking for weaknesses in the Western Summit to climb up. This did not take very long and within five minutes we were on top of the Western Summit, having used a handful of moderate Class 3 moves.

From the Eastern Summit, you can get a sense of what awaits you on the Western Summit. Keep in mind, as before, between Nick and the route up the Western Summit is the split between the mountains, you cannot just hop over it.

Sorry about the fog, gotta use what nature gives yah.
Nick on the Western Summit, the route stays well to the left of the ledges shown.
A short Class 3 section right below the summit, which is just behind the slanted rock on the left.

That’s that, you’ve conquered both of Citadel’s summits! For added spice, you can continue across a small knife edge (North) towards a sub-summit that has some nice throne rocks to sit on. The moves do not exceed Class 3 but the exposure is SEVERE.

Extra Credit.

The summit rock only has space for one person and there was a very lovely Marmot Turd on top of it, so I elected to just touch the highest part of the rock and avoid the fecal fun.

The best part about the Western Summit is the great preview it gives of the traverse to Hagar. Even though we’d done a lot of scrambling at this point, we topped Western Citadel by 7:30 AM, a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes into our hike so time was, for once, on our side.

Hagar in the distance and the connecting ridge.
Hagar’s summit block difficulties. A lot of people rate it as low 4th, I wouldn’t, 3+ max, based off of what the Eastern Summit gave us, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

Citadel to Hagar Traverse

Onwards! Having taken care of The Citadel, we turned our sights southwest towards Hagar and kicked it into high gear. The descent off the Western Summit is a bit of a no-brainer, it’s more difficult if you hug the ridge, less if you skirt to the left and then regain the ridge a little lower. The first few minutes are low Class 3 on loose rock, so watch your step and never descend directly above someone else. If you kick loose a rock, yell “ROCK!” as loudly and as often as you can until either the rock stops rolling or it is safely beyond ALL routes on the mountain where people may be.

For the most part (i.e. 90% of it) the ridge is an easy 2 to 2+ tundra stroll with occasional (and always optional) Class 3 moves along the way. It’s the summit block of Hagar that makes the traverse worth doing.

Taken about 2/3 of the way down the traverse, looking back at the formidable-looking Citadel.

Ok, so there’s a lot going on in the picture below that’s worth explaining and a lot of it is subjective. The trip reports I read online classified the Hagar summit block as two sections of possible Class 3/4 climbing (ie 3+), the first section is up the summit block, the second is a knife-edge traverse to the true summit. I agree with the 3+ distinction but shy away from calling the main difficulties on Hagar Class 4, based on our experience on the Eastern Summit of Citadel. You can certainly find some Class 4 moves on the block, but you would need to be actively seeking them out. For the risk-averse, if you do not take the bypass, the summit block of Hagar runs at 3+.

1) The Class 2 bypass. 2) Solid Class 3 with good rock. 3) Class 3+ gully. 4) 3+ rocks to the right of the gully. 5) Maybe Class 4 option. 6) An in-betweener with some 4th Class moves early. These are not ALL the routes, but some clear lines I was looking at on the approach.

If you get to Hagar and you’re just doggin it and hating life, you can traverse left, around the summit block, come up the other side and keep everything at a 2+ ( with maybe a low Class 3 move tossed in there). Most people when writing trip reports on this peak tend to take route 3 or 4 in the above photo.

I believe route 3 to be the most common approach as it’s right on top of the ridge crest. What the route ends up looking like once you are at the base of the gully is roughly the same as the Gully Exit we used on E. Citadel, which is to say, harder Class 3, but calling this gully option Class 4 seems like a stretch. It also reminded me of the summit block moves on Navajo Pk. which is a Class 3, so I was fairly skeptical of calling it something more. See for yourself below.

The only way to make this a 4 would be to peel right into harder terrain or tackle the chockstone at the head of the gully. I just don’t see it reaching that level any other way.

My impression was that the variations up the summit block were all sorts of Class 3 with a couple of Class 4 options if you swung right and found harder rock or if you went between some of the routes (like Route 6). However, the obvious routes up the block (2, 3, and 4) are all Class 3. This is not to say that the moves are easy, it is still very much a scramble and after The Citadel you may be feeling tired. Take breaks as you need them, remain vigilant, find the best route, and go at your own pace.

We found that a route to the left of the gully was a relatively safe and enjoyable Class 3 scramble up stable rocks with plenty of hand and footholds so we opted for that (route 2 in the summit block photo). Here’s a look at the route entrance and the first section.

First few Class 3 moves.

The route swings right and gives you the following look.

Blocky terrain with good holds.

The last little bit is pictured below. Nick is standing on the ridge.

Once you regain the ridge, you walk along it for a minute until you encounter the next section, which is oftentimes described as a Class 4 knife edge. Below is the approach to it.

The “knife-edge” is in front of Nick in this photo.

Just like the Ten Mile Traverse’s Class 4 section, we debated this one at length. The conclusions we reached were similar. If you hung off the north side of the edge with rampant exposure beneath you, I’d call it a soft 4. If you, like most, moved across the top of the knife-edge, I’d call it a 3+. Why? Because, despite the HUGE exposure on the north side, at any point along the edge (save maybe 3-5 small moves) you can keep all of your focus on the south side of the ridge. The exposure on the south side is all of 5-6 feet and you can bail out at almost any point. Move for move it is Class 3+ and unless you flirted consistently with the more severe side (as in, hung off the north side and traversed it like a via-Ferrata), it would take some convincing for me to call it a 4. Take a look below.

Quick note: Why do I take on the ratings discussion consistently? Because it IS subjective, and therefore open to scrutiny. It is not my goal to make hard scrambles appear easier but I do expect people to own their actions, accuracy matters. If you do not have a lot of experience climbing exposed 3+ ridges, don’t do the Hagar knife-edge, especially since you can easily bypass it. At its hardest, this section is a 3/4 with exposure and toes that line for the duration.

Once you pass the knife-edge, the actual summit is just a short scamper away. Congrats! We were descending off Hagar by 8:30 AM. If you followed our route and took dry gulch up, you can descend into the head of the valley below Hagar. Then, contour left and maintain your elevation as much as possible until you run into your ascent trail. We were back at the trailhead by 10:30 AM.

Nice overview, excellent alpine day of scrambling!