Trailhead on Squaw Pass (10,581 Feet)
January 1st, 2008
2.67 Miles Roundtrip
Greenhouseguy, KeithK, and VWLover (Mike)
Chief Mountain is the tallest of a trio of Indian-themed peaks along Squaw Pass; the other two are Squaw Mountain (11,486 feet) and Papoose Mountain (11,174 feet). Its prominent, rocky summit offers an outstanding 360° view that surveys the Mt. Evans Wilderness, the James Peak Wilderness, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the Lost Creek Wilderness, and several 14ers between Pikes Peak and Longs Peak. The stupendous views and easy access make this a popular hike in any month of the year.
Map of Chief Mountain and the surrounding area
The Chief Mountain Trailhead is on Squaw Pass Rd. (CO 103) about 12.4 miles west of Hwy. 74. There is a numbered series of cement markers on the south side of the road, and the trailhead is just below the “290” marker. The lift for the Echo Mountain Ski Area is on the north side of the road below the trail. There is parking along the road, but due to the amount of snow, only the brave would venture far from the pavement.
The Chief Mountain Trailhead
Marker at the trailhead
It was about 15° when Keith, Mike, and I arrived at the trailhead. We donned our best cold-weather gear and strapped on our snowshoes, looking forward to starting the New Year on the summit of a mountain. We were the first ones on the trail that morning, but there was an obvious packed trench that was made by hikers in the last few days.
After we crossed the trail’s intersection with the old Squaw Pass Road (now just an unpaved trail), we arrived at a sign that gave the distance to the summit as two miles; this was almost twice the actual distance. We kept hiking to the southeast, heading for the saddle between Chief Mountain and Papoose Mountain.
I was surprised at how rapidly we arrived at the saddle. It was a broad, flat area loosely forested with Bristlecone Pines. The wind had erased most of the trail through the snow in this area, but we quickly picked it up. We headed south on the saddle, then turned west to ascend Chief Mountain’s slopes.
Looking north on the saddle between Papoose Mountain and Chief Mountain
Excellent views to the north began to appear between gaps in the trees. The near-blizzard conditions of the past couple of days had covered the landscape with a generous amount of snow.
View to the north from 11,342 feet on the Chief Mountain Trail
The trail was easy to follow as long as we were in the trees, and the grade was gentle from start to finish. Although it was cold, the sky was clear and sun was bright. The wind presented no problems below timberline.
Following the trench high on the upper slope
As we approached timberline, we got our first glimpse of the summit.
Looking towards the summit through sparse tree cover
The trail became hard to follow on the wind-blown upper slope, so we just headed straight for the summit. The snow was shallow, so we looked for a good place to stash our snowshoes. A huge rock provided some shelter from the wind while we geared down.
This interesting rock sheltered us from the wind while we stashed our snowshoes
The Bristlecones near the summit showed the effects of the incessant wind. Pines like these inspired the Japanese to begin the cultivation of the literati style of bonsai trees.
Wind-sculpted Bristlecone Pine
We found the trail behind the rock where we stashed our snowshoes, and headed for the summit block. The summit block was just a low pile of talus that didn’t require any fancy moves to scale.
Summit block on Chief Mountain
We assembled on the summit, and posed for a summit shot with Mt. Evans in the background. The temperature on the summit was about 10°, and there was a stiff breeze.
Left to right: VWLover, Mt. Evans, KeithK, and Greenhouseguy
The Mount Evans massif dominated the view to the west.
Rosalie Peak, Epaulet Mountain, Mount Evans, Mount Spalding, and others
Grays and Torreys Peaks, as well as many others on the Continental Divide, were visible to the northwest.
Zoomed and cropped image of Grays and Torreys Peaks as seen from Chief Mountain
To the north, we could see James Peak, South Arapaho Peak, Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and others.
View to the north from Chief Mountain
The view to the south was not as impressive, but we could see Bison Peak, much of the Lost Creek Wilderness, and possibly Pikes Peak. I saw a long stretch of prairie to the northeast. This lowly 11er offered scenery that was superior to the view from some 14ers.
We retrieved our snowshoes and headed back down the trail. The snow was packed well enough that we didn’t bother to put our snowshoes back on until we started to posthole about 2/3 of the way back to the trailhead. We passed several small groups of hikers on the way back down, which made me grateful that we had gotten an early start.
Heading back to the trailhead
Our roundtrip was 2.67 miles, which was shorter than the 3.0 miles that I had anticipated after reading several route descriptions. The trail was short, the grade was gentle, and it did not present much of a physical challenge. I was mildly disappointed that Chief Mountain was so easy to climb, but all three of us raved about the outstanding scenery. It was an enjoyable winter outing.