Mount Chiquita, 13,075 feet (MODERATE)
named for the fictional Ute woman Chiquita, from a 1902 novel
|Mount Chiquita from Fall River Pass|
(Photo by my dad, Richard H. Hahn -- visit his gallery, Alpenglow, in Estes Park)
Getting to the trailhead: Follow Fall River Road from the Fall River entrance of the national park. Turn right at the turnoff for Old Fall River Road. Remember this is a one-way gravel road, and -- while almost any car can handle the drive, not every driver can handle the view of drop-offs! Drive up the Old Fall River Road 7.8 miles to the Chapin Pass trailhead. The park is crowded all summer; go very early if you want a parking space. When you go home, you’ll need to drive up and over onto Trail Ridge Road. Stop at the Alpine Visitor Center to admire the views first.
Roundtrip distance to the summit from trailhead: 5 miles RT
Elevation gain: 2,057 feet
Map: (to be included)
|The stars above (L to R) Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon|
(photo by my dad, Richard H. Hahn)
How to reach the summit:
1. The trail is well-marked, like most popular trails in the national park. Basically: keep going up! At an informational sign 500 feet past the trailhead, turn sharp right on the clearly-signed Chapin Pass trail (continuing straight takes you down into the creek drainage).
2. After another 0.5 mile, the trail forks. The lower fork (to the left) is a slightly more gradual climb with a steep push up toward the Mount Chapin summit (12,455 feet), which is easy to reach and worth including. The upper fork (to the right) is a more direct climb (also with that option to zip up Mount Chapin before continuing on). I prefer the righthand trail. Hike one mile to the junction with the Chapin summit trail.
3. After the junction with the trail to the Chapin summit, the Chapin Pass trail continues another 0.5 mile to another junction. To hike Chiquita, take the righthand trail and continue ascending another 0.4 mile to the summit. The views are glorious up here, and it is very difficult for most mountain lovers not to add the summit of Ypsilon, only 1.2 miles away. Just watch the weather (another reason to start very early).
On the search for Chiquita:
I hesitated to include Mount Chiquita in this book at all, but the reference is interesting (if problematic) and the hike is glorious. I first hiked Chiquita from the Chapin Pass Trailhead on Old Fall River Road when I was a teenager. It is a moderate 5-mile round-trip hike to the summit, with the option to zip over to Mount Chapin on the way and to add Ypsilon Mountain out of the sheer joy of being up in the alpine with stunning views in all directions. In a national park that gets more and more crowded each year, it’s still possible to find some true alpine solitude on Chiquita.
But who was Chiquita? The word is Spanish for “little girl,” but the mountain’s name is actually a now obscure reference to the main character of a 1902 novel by Merrill Tileston, Chiquita, the Romance of a Ute Chief’s Daughter. In the book, which is less than masterfully written, a New Englander named Jack travels away from the repressive culture and Christian religion of the East Coast to Colorado, where he finds freedom in the wildness of nature. In his adventures, he sees this freedom reflected most in the Ute religion, particularly in an Uncompahgre Ute chief’s daughter named Chiquita. Jack becomes good friends with Chiquita and pledges to help her receive a nursing education in the East so she can help her people.
In the novel, Tileston dramatizes the historically true violent Meeker Incident (sometimes called the Meeker Massacre) at the White River Ute Indian Agency in western Colorado. Boldly, he describes the subsequent forced removal of Chiquita and her people, compassionately showing how the so-called “Manifest Destiny” was destroying good people’s lives. With the help of Jack and his wife Hazel, Chiquita survives, but she converts to Christianity and adopts white ways in order to earn her nursing degree at a college in the East. Ultimately, the book is a criticism of the forced removal of Native Americans and of the constrictions of Christian “civilization,” with Chiquita a tragic victim of it all. Only once in her adult life, in a visit to Estes Park with Jack and Hazel, does Chiquita feel true happiness again: “her restive spirit broke through the bonds of captivity as soon as the first campfire was lighted. Like a golden-winged chrysalis she broke her civilization fetters and became again the forest-born maiden, Chiquita. No longer did she feel the restraint which society demanded.” On her deathbed, Chiquita rejects Christianity and embraces her Ute religion again.
It was Enos Mills who named Chiquita on the maps, inspired and moved by Tileston’s heroine. Mount Chiquita shows up on a 1919 topographical map of the park. However, why honor Tileston’s romanticized Chiquita and not a real Ute woman, like She-towitch (also known as Susan or Shawsheen), sister to Chief Ouray and sister-in-law to Chipeta (Ouray and Chipeta are both honored with mountain names in southern Colorado) and protector of Arvilla and Josephine Meeker in the Meeker Incident?
It seems likely that Mills, a naturalist, appreciated that scene in Estes Park, when Chiquita longs to discard all of “civilization” and return to the freedom of the West. That moment captures the longing of so many lovers of wilderness in the early 20th century. However, it fails to record the absolute and violent destruction of Ute (and Arapaho and Cheyenne) culture in the area and the removal of those people from their ancestral lands. By memorializing a fictional girl, the mountain’s name makes it too easy to forget the real Ute women who lost their lands and family members and ways of life as Progress roared its way toward them.
And yet -- hike the mountain. On its summit, think about Chipeta and She-towitch, about the women and men and children who journeyed up the Ute Trail each summer, following the elk. Think about the real women who, like Chiquita, had to make impossible choices and sacrifices to survive. Consider the wilderness and all it has witnessed.