13,796 Feet (111th highest in Colorado)
Southeast Slopes Route
Guanella Pass Trailhead, 11,669 Feet
October 7th, 2007
Approximately 8 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 2,400 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy and Keith K.
The weather forecast for the weekend was not great. Snow and high winds were expected for many of the 14ers, but it looked like only a 10% chance of rain in the Lost Creek Wilderness. I persuaded Keith to join me for a summit attempt on “Peak Z,” which would be a pleasant but not particularly ambitious pursuit. We decided to eschew the alpine start, and met in Morrison at about 6:30. As we were driving down 285 near Bailey, Keith came up with a bright idea; let’s go large, and hike a high 13er instead of a low 12er. We had discussed Squaretop Mountain previously, but neither of us had done any significant research on that peak. I did not have the proper map loaded in my GPS, and did not have the correct paper map. I was aware that the route was simple and entirely above timberline, so navigation was not likely to be an issue. I hung a right at Grant and headed up to Guanella Pass.
Squaretop Mountain viewed from the Mt. Spalding side of Gomer Gully (image taken in September 2006)
We arrived at the Guanella Pass Trailhead by about 8:30. The Guanella Pass road has undergone some significant upgrades, and the trailhead is correspondingly nice. The parking lot is paved and spacious, and there is a fairly modern outhouse at the trailhead. I had no trouble getting there in a low-clearance 2WD vehicle.
Squaretop Mountain viewed from the northeast. Squaretop’s cirque is partially visible behind the Northeast Ridge
The trail started due east of Squaretop’s long, low Northeast Ridge. It was a hike through what appeared to be an endless tract of willowy tundra.
Squaretop’s Northeast Ridge concealed the summit from the lower trail, but as we bore westward, the summit came into view.
When I caught a full-on view of Squaretop from the northeast, I noticed that it was a perfect example of how glaciers shape mountains. The large semi-circular gouge (cirque) on the northeast face was caused by glacial action. The lake at the bottom of the cirque was excavated by advancing ice, and would be known as a tarn. The lake’s dam was formed by the deposition of glacial till. The boulder field (moraine) on the northeast side of the lakes is composed of rocks that the glacier transported and deposited as it advanced and retreated. This mountain was pretty interesting from a geological perspective.
The trail forked just below Lower Squaretop Lake. I headed west a bit so I could get a good look at the lake, and then headed south for about 100 yards to the spot where the Squaretop Mountain Trail ended. The trail continues to the south as the South Park Trail, but a sign directs Squaretop Mountain hikers to head due west up the grassy slope. There is essentially no trail beyond this point.
The hike was all “legs and lungs” from here to the summit. No trail, no switchbacks, just a steep tundra hike straight up the side of the mountain for about 1,600 feet.
The convex curve of the ridge made it impossible to see the upper slopes or the summit. The slope leveled off for a bit, and I could see that we had about 400 feet to go until we hit the summit ridge.
We slogged up the upper slope, and came to what appeared to be the summit. In reality, the true summit was about a quarter mile further down the ridge. The true summit was only about 50 feet higher than the false summit.
Once we were on the false summit, we could see the true summit
The summit ridge was broad and nearly level, so reaching the true summit was a breeze. This rif=dge is what gives the mountain its name; from the north or south, it looks like an ordinary peak. From the east or west, the long, flat ridge gives the summit a squared-off look. The weather at the summit was quite chilly, but the wind was negligible and the sky was blue. The rocks at the summit were white (possibly pegmatite?), and were noticeably different from the rocks on the slopes. It was well worth the long slog to take in the spectacular view. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak were nearby to the northwest.
The Mosquito Range and the Tenmile Range were clearly visible to the southwest. Fourteeners Quandary Peak, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bross, Mt. Democrat, and Mt. Sherman were the tallest peaks in that direction.
To the southeast, I could see the Platte River Mountains, the Kenosha Mountains, and the Tarryall Mountains. Collectively, these ranges are known as the Retirement Range. Bison Peak is the tallest mountain in these ranges.
There were a number of interesting peaks due east of Squaretop. Epaulet Mountain, Mount Bierstadt, West Evans, Mt. Spalding, and Gray Wolf Mountain were some of the closest peaks.
Mt. Bierstadt and associated peaks directly across Guanella Pass from Squaretop Mountain
Keith and I both posed for summit shots with Grays and Torreys behind us. Neither of us look very pleasant in the images, because we were getting chilled to the bone.
Descending the grassy slope was quick and easy. We met a couple on the way up; I’m sure that they made the summit, but they probably didn’t enjoy the sunny weather that we experienced. The weather was deteriorating, with dark gray clouds moving in from the northwest. I stepped over to the upper edge of the cirque to catch a view of the Squaretop Lakes.
We returned to the trail and wound our way back through the willows. The trail follows the contour of the land, and did not appear to have a straight stretch anywhere. We had to gain a bit of elevation to return to the trailhead. We were packed up and ready to leave when the first snowflake fell. I felt fortunate to have experienced fall hiking conditions on a high 13er this late in the season.