Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Square Top Mountain

Square Top Mountain
Thunderstorm season is in full swing in Colorado right now.  Brian and I had troubles finding a mountain to climb while avoiding the storms this week, so we decided on a mountain not too far from Denver.  Square Top Mountain is a high 13er, with its summit reaching 13,794ft.  With the drive only being about and hour and a half from home we knew we could get up there before the 1pm thunderstorm predictions.  The trailhead is at the popular Guanella Pass, which is where most people start the climb of the popular Mount Bierstadt.

We met at the T-Rex lot off of I-70 at 5am and hit the Guanella Pass TH at 6am.  Within 5 minutes we were off on the trail.  There was only one other car in the upper lot at the time, but the lower lot (Bierstadt Lot) already had 7-8 vehicles present.  About 100yards down the main trail we happened upon a USFS employee who asked us to carry a GPS tracking unit with us today so they can get a good idea of trail usage in the area.  After that meeting we were trail blazing for the rest of the day.

Grays, Torreys, Argentine, Edwards
The trail is very good leading to the Square Top Lakes.  Unlike the other side of the road leading to Bierstadt and all the willow/mud bogs, this trail avoids the nasty and is in great shape.  The trail drops and gains a few times before reaching the lakes, but it maintains a low grade traverse not feeling like too much elevation gain is taking place early in the hike.  Once near the lakes there is a trail split and we headed to the left to the supposed “Square Top Mountain Trail.”  We followed the trail around the rib of the mountain to the south and started following a much less used trail that was marked with large rock cairns.  Soon we reached a sign telling us where to break off for Square Top.  As we checked out the route we noticed there was a large herd of Elk below us to the south.  They were on the move, and could probably hear me breathing a mile away. 

The sign pointed to west, so we started up the rib.  There was no obvious trail, but here and there an old beaten trail would emerge through the rock and grass.  The ridge does not waist any time, the steepness is in your face practically till you arrive on the summit.  It was a good calf burner, unlike any of the other mountains I have climbed this year.  Since there wasn’t much of a trail we were just heading straight up the rib.  There wasn’t too many cairns leading the way, on about every rise we could find one so not too many overall on the rib.

Summit Pic Brian and Me
Brian was off and he seemed to be moving pretty fast today.  I was huffing pretty hard since this was much more of a direct stair climb.  The sky was still blue and cloudless above the mountain, but I could see clouds building off to the west.  After what seemed like a couple hours but was probably not much more than one hour I had finally caught up with Brian on the summit ridge.

The conditions were still good but it was getting pretty breezy on top.  I had just shorts today and could feel the chill, but nothing too bad.  Brian was in his jacket and gloves waiting for me; after I met up with him we started the ridge walk to the true summit.  I would say it was about a quarter mile to the true summit from where we came onto the ridge.  The terrain turns to boulders and rocks unlike the hike up which was mostly on grass.  A little before 9am we were sitting on the true summit of Square Top. 

The view was still clear all around.  There were the clouds off to the west and the north, but nothing close to us.  Originally we were talking about combining Argentine Peak also, but after we discussed it we opted for just one mountain today.  The steepness really wore on us both I think, so an easy one peak day was welcomed.  We hung out on the summit for at least half hour, and enjoyed having it all to ourselves. 

Mount Bierstadt Clouded In
As we were heading down a few groups of people passed us on their way up.  We took our time since it was so early and weather was not a factor for a change.  There was a few geocaches on the trip down so we stopped and hunted for them and ended up collecting 4 along the rib.   The steep sections were less than enjoyable on the descent, but once we made it to the trail all was good.  My new hiking shoes love trails, but are a bit harder on my ankles and foot bed through the off trail sections.  I still enjoy wearing them over the boots, my feet don’t sweat like before and I love the increased range of motion.

I collected some more wild flower photos on the way out.  Slowly I’m trying to get a picture of all kinds; it is a way to help educate me while living in the new area.  The geology of the climb was really neat as well.  I think I found some mineral combinations while around the 12,500ft range, but am not positive on what I did find.  I think the mineral in my photo album is a plagioclase feldspar with quartz and muscovite.  I have yet to see any muscovite or mica type minerals while out in the mountains.  These are really neat and unique because they are thin paper like layers that flake off, they appear to look silver but there is a pinkness to the color.

After we made it back to the parking lot we both enjoyed our climbing beer.  Today is was a Colorado Native, which wasn’t too bad.  The parking lots were full and the road was loaded with vehicles.  The clouds by now had covered Mount Bierstadt, so hopefully everyone in those cars made their way down without any issues.  As I’m finding in Colorado, if you don’t get a early start just stay home.  Weather moves in quickly here and can be very dangerous if you can’t read it.

Next week I’m off to Idaho, so Brian and I will take a week off of climbing the mountains of Colorado.  My plan for next Sunday is to climb Hyndman Peak in central Idaho again.  This is one of my favorite places to climb, so I’m looking forward to getting back there. 

GPS Track
Date: 7/16/2012
Starting Elevation:  11,600ft
Square Top Mountain: 13,794ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,500ft
Distance: 6.96 miles
Time:  4:17 moving, 1hr stopped 
Climbing Partner: Brian

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